Jena Says Adé to the ICE Train

Photo courtesy of Bahn Ansage

The last ICE high speed train leaves Jena at 9:00pm on December 9th. Regio-Trains to pass through after December 10th. Future of Long-Distance Train Service Questionable.

JENA, GERMANY-  It has been in the making for over 25 years, the same time as the introduction of the ICE Train along the Saale River Rail Line through Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels connecting Munich and Berlin. Come December 10th, the new ICE Line connecting Erfurt with Bamberg will be open to traffic, and thus the completion of the multi-billion Euro project which features high-speed trains going up to 350 km/hrs. from Berlin to Munich via Leipzig, Erfurt and Coburg.

And with that, a bitter farewell to the service going through Jena. Despite protests and events designed to convince the Deutsche Bahn (DB) Rail Service to continue with the train service once the new ICE-line opens, the train service provider has decided to pull the plug on long-distance train services, which provided passengers with service to both major cities without having to change trains.

From December 2017 onwards, only regional trains will be passing through Jena on both the N-S and W-E axes, thus providing longer travel times to the nearest train stations that serve ICE-trains. To provide a pair of examples: With Regio-Service to Leipzig, it takes up to 90 minutes due to stops at every single station. With the ICE-train, it would have taken less than an hour. Going to Nuremberg, one needs three hours with the ICE. With Regio, it would be an additional two hours. Even if one takes a Regio-train to Erfurt to catch the ICE-train, one needs a half hour just to get to Erfurt.  Reports have indicated that Jena will get the worst end of the bargain in the history of the city’s rail lines and some have compared the service to that of 80 years ago.

IC trains to debut in Jena come 2019

But there is a silver lining to the deal. DB has not completely abandoned long-distance train services, and the state government under Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow is stepping in to provide support for the people in Jena affected by the new ICE rail line. There will be one ICE-train going to Berlin, which leaves at 5:30am every weekday morning and arriving back in Jena at 9:30pm. An Inter-City (IC) train connecting Leipzig with Karlsruhe will pass through Jena on a daily basis, but mainly in the afternoon. Come 2019, InterCity trains will pass through Jena, on the W-E axis, providing service to Gera (east) and Cologne via Erfurt and Kassel (west). This will be a first since 2002, the last time an IC train has passed through. By 2023, it is planned that IC-trains will pass through Jena on a two-hour basis going on the N-S axis between Leipzig and Karlsruhe.  Yet this will not be enough to soften the blow of residents who had been used to travelling with long-distance trains from Jena and need better services.

This is where Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow stepped in, during a conference in Jena on 29 November. The state will provide over 33.9 million Euros between the end of 2018 and 2024 for long-distance trains connecting Jena and Leipzig to ensure that passengers can reach their destinations faster than what is expected. In addition to that, a brand new Central Station in Jena is being planned in the southern suburb of Burgau, where all trains can stop for passengers. Alone with the second proposal came a massive amount of criticism from opponents who claim that with six train stations in Jena it was not necessary to construct another train station. Furthermore, Jena has a long-distance train station in Jena-Paradies, which was built in 2003. Work is already in the making to convert another station, Jena-Göschwitz, into a long-distance train station. Already the train station building is being renovated so that people can wait inside or pick up their food. In addition, the platforms are being rebuilt to include elevators and other handicap-accesses.

Older version of the IC, most of which are owned by Locomore

With the Bahn not committed to long-distance trains along the N-S axis before 2023 and the small number of IC-trains passing through on the W-E axis daily (three in each direction), all using the stops currently used by Regio-Express trains, Ramelow will have to look at private train providers to fulfill the promises of the residents of having long-distance trains between the end of 2018 and 2024. Already on the radar include Locomore, which is owned by Czech provider Leo Express and German bus provider Flixbus. Despite having gone through bankruptcy last year, train services are being reintroduced for lines connecting Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin, competing with DB’s long distance lines in terms of pricing and services. It is very likely that Locomore could take over the former ICE line between Bamberg and Leipzig, thus providing residents in Jena and neighboring Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg rail service until 2024.

Also in the running is Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), which has expanded services in Saxony and could even reintroduce the Inter-Regio train connecting Leipzig with Jena, with an option of going to Bamberg. The Inter-Regio was last used in 2002 and functions as an Inter-City train with a snack bar and compartments for bikes.  Unlike the IC, college students could use the train with their student ticket, which is a big plus. Currently one Regio-Express line serves the Nuremberg-Hof-Chemnitz-Dresden Magistrate, starting in Hof.

Then there is the ALEX Rail, which serves lines connecting Munich with Landau, as well as Regensburg and Hof, mostly operated using diesel trains. If extended from Nuremberg to Leipzig it would provide passengers with direct service to Nuremberg and could thus switch onto the ICE-train to Munich, Frankfurt (via Wurzburg) or Vienna.

All options are currently open, but one variable is certain, due to the adjustment period with the new ICE-line, especially with regards to the pricing and the train access, as well as construction along the N-S axis both south and north of Jena and the planned electrification of the line along the W-E axis which will connect Weimar and Jena first before heading eastward towards Gera and Glauchau, residents of Jena and areas along the N-S axis will have to face the inevitable: the DB is committed to Regio-services in the short and middle terms. Already planned is more Regio trains connecting Jena with Erfurt as well as Jena with Halle(Saale) to provide more access to the ICE-stations. In addition, Erfurt Bahn is seeking to extend its Peppermint Line to Jena, enroute to Possneck via Orlamünde. Currently, the line connects Sommerda (north of Erfurt) with Grossheringen (near Naumburg). Should the plan to realize long-distance train services be in the cards, chances are most likely Jena will have to face prospects of either hand-me-down ICs from DB or Locomores in order to accommodate services.

And this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many who are reliant on the train services. Instead of dealing with multiple train changes and delays while waiting at small train stations with little or no services, many are thinking of investing in a set of wheels and calculating traffic jams on Germany’s Autobahn. Given Jena’s proximity to two of the busiest Autobahns (M9 between Berlin and Munich and M4 between Cologne and Dresden), this would make sense and would even fulfil the prediction once made by OTZ Newspaper Columnist Tino Zippel: In the end, DB will have invested billions for the new ICE-rail line……. and for the automobile.

On the map below, you can see the illustrations based on the information in the article.


Jena has six rail stations on both axes. On the N-S we have Jena-Zwätzen, Jena Saalbahnhof and Jena Paradies, the last being the ICE stop. On the W-E, we have Jena-West and Neue Schenke. Both lines cross at Jena-Göschwitz, which is currently being remodeled to become the new Jena Central Station, where all long-distance trains are scheduled to stop. Each station is heavily connected by city bus and street car services, which stops an average of every 10 minutes on a daily basis; 20 minutes on weekends.


A farewell ceremony to the ICE-train is scheduled for 9 December beginning at 7:00pm. A flashmob similar to people saying farewell to AirBerlin (when it ceased operations in October) will take place at 9:00pm, when the last ICE stops in Jena Paradies. Details here.

For information on the new train schedule, especially for those wishing to visit Jena can be found via DB here.

Panoramic view of Jena Paradies ICE Station. Built in 2003, this station will soon lose its ICE-stop after 9 December. Photo taken by Michael Sander 

More Personell for the Customers, Please!


Typical at a station like the one in Flensburg: Empty ticket counter not in use (left) and ticket machines with a 50% functionality rate (right) Photo taken in May 2010

It is a nightmare of every passenger travelling by train; especially those who commute between towns on a daily basis: A person rushes to the train to catch it, for he has an important meeting with clients at his company- catching it in the last second before the doors close- and not having the time to pick up a ticket at the train station. It is a regio-train and the German railways (a.k.a. Die Bahn or DB) had just installed ticket machines to ensure that everyone is obliged to buy a ticket- only to find that the ticket machine does not work. He panics as he sees the ticket controller come by to check and stamp tickets. As a general rule, ticket controllers also have the right to sell tickets to passengers unable to buy tickets at the station or in the ticket machines, right?

Not this one! The person asks for a ticket only to be asked: “Personal ID, right now!” Why? “You travelled without a ticket and that means 40 Euros for being a stowaway!” You react objectively by saying “Wait a minute! The ticket machine is kaput! How the h*** am I supposed to buy a ticket on this train if the machine does not work?” Then the responses that followed justified that 40 Euros was a necessity to “teach everyone a lesson”- to buy a ticket before boarding the train; whether it is “You ran past me and said ‘s***!’ in the process,” or “You should have bought a ticket at another station,” or my favorite excuse “You should have smelled that you were going to be late and waited for another train, so that you can buy a ticket!” (This is a very raw translation of “Sie hätten es riechen sollen, Ihren Zug zu verpassen und auf den nächsten zu warten!”) Now how is someone supposed to assume that he/she is going to be late and plan ahead of time, let alone explain to the boss why the person is late because of the trains?

One will think that these excuses are made up, but sadly, these are real-life scenarios that I and other passengers have been dealing with ever since the German Railways introduced the concept of having ticket machines do the work for the passengers instead of the personnel themselves in 2008.  7 in 10 passengers have complained about the ticket machines not working and the ticket personnel being snarky at those unfortunate not to buy a ticket before or wanting to buy one shortly after boarding the regio-trains. Before I elaborate further, the regio-trains refer to not only the RB trains which stops at every single train station and stop, even in Timbuktu, whereas the RE (Regio-Express) stops at cities with 10,000 or more inhabitants, whose stations are the main points to get on. Even worse is the fact that one arbitrarily finds a ticket machine on the train. It is not customary to have a ticket machine in a Regio-Express train for it provides cramped space and some areas where they should be installed are reserved for bicycles and baby carriages only. And even then, these spaces are limited. While ticket machines can be found in one out of three Regio-trains (99% in diesel trains), there is only one per train and the functions are questionable. That means, the process of obtaining a ticket is too bureaucratic and the machines are choosy at accepting certain forms of payment. 3 in 4 reject debit cards, leaving many passengers scrambling to muster up the remaining lunch money they have to buy a ticket for their destination.

One would think that if these problems persist and there are more people travelling by train than by car that the DB would think about dollars and sense and hire more personnel to improve its quality of service. After all, the customer is king and their wishes should be respected. But unfortunately, the DB, like many companies, is trying to work for profit and efficiency and not for the benefit of the customer. This includes shortening the time needed to travel from one point to another- including the time needed for passengers to get on and off the trains, focusing on the profitable lines and abandoning the others that might get passengers to their destinations more quickly, having porters and ticket agents on the train to assist in luggage and selling tickets, providing more space for bikes, baby carriages and EVEN ticket machines, and lastly not having enough people with computer knowledge to maintain these machines. While the information age is making service faster and more efficient, there seems to be a loss of attention to the customers and their needs. While the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to many financial institutions and the governments because of their corruptive ways of doing business with clients and the public, it would not be surprising if many disgruntled passengers decide to take their frustration out on DB and occupy their headquarters in Berlin and other important offices in Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg, just to name a few. It is just a question of one incident that will cause passengers to snap and the German networks of ARD and ZDF will be broadcasting the protests as early as January of next year.

More personell for the station and the trains, please! Stations like the one in Flensburg could use it, as with the trains. Photo taken in April 2011

It is time that the DB starts rethinking the way they do business with the customers. The easiest and most viable solution is to have more personnel in the trains, not just to check on the tickets, but also to sell them to those who could not buy them at the station because the ticket machines do not work or are full of passengers wanting to reach their destinations. The fine system should remain in place for those who refuse to buy a ticket and board the train as a stowaway, but should be more objective- not subjective and for the purpose of milking more away from those who can barely afford to buy a ticket. If the board of directors of DB insist that the ticket machines are the most effective way of providing passengers with tickets, then there should be more people with IT experience to ensure that the problems are fixed and the machines are back in service as quickly as possible. We are seeing more and more people studying IT at various universities and technical colleges who are looking for a job after graduation and therefore, that source should be tapped so that they have some experience with computers. Yet having train station personnel at the functioning train stations working in shifts can also improve service and make travelling by train less complicated, even for the commuter dependent on daily train travel.

But until reforms to improve customer service do take place, we will still see passengers disgruntled because of malfunctioning ticket machines and ticket personnel treating them as criminals when in all reality, it is not their fault. Even more alarming is the fact that passengers who use the bike to travel to work from the station may be forced to pay daily fees to have their bikes transported by Regio. The argument is one that I’ll remember a ticket personnel at Flensburg Station saying when I bought a ticket (and was forced to by one for the bike as well) for a day trip to Kiel this past April: “We don’t like bikes on trains! They’re unprofitable!” The Bavarians already introduced that two years ago; it is becoming a norm in the southern part of the country. It could be a reality in a couple years in all of Germany and will force people, like me to reconsider other forms of transportation; especially if the work place is far away.

As for travelling without a ticket, it would not be surprising if the DB, which is partially owned by the German government, will introduce the Flensburg Point System, to use against stowaways, regardless if it was their fault or not. After all, when caught, it is obligatory to show the personnel your driver’s license and ID to report the incident. Why not penalize them with 1-2 Flensburg Points? But before that happens, unless they recently took bribes by the DB and other lobbyists, the judges at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe will most likely shoot that proposal down as unconstitutional. If that happens, then perhaps they should remind the DB to respect the people’s rights to be treated fairly, as stated in the Basic Laws of the Federal Republic of Germany. It would be one step in the right direction of improving service, at least….

Mural and clock at Flensburg Station. Photo taken in May 2010