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More staff, longer transfer times: How rail travel in Germany is being improved

Germany's state-owned railway operator wants to make life easier for passengers with longer transfer times and a boost in staff numbers.

Stralsund train station
Passengers board a DB train in Stralsund, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

For most people who have travelled by train this summer, the frustration of delayed and cancelled services and missed connections will be all too familiar. 

Since the pandemic, Deutsche Bahn – Germany’s primary rail operator – has struggled to offer a reliable service to passengers, with just 58 percent of trains departing within five minutes of the scheduled time. To make matters worse, this figure doesn’t take into account the numerous services that have been cancelled outright – a situation that is also happening much more frequently.

READ ALSO: The shocking state of German trains exposes the myth about punctuality

To try and improve the customer experience, DB plans to shake up the way long-distance rail journeys are planned and advertised.

In future, potential delays to services will be factored into the journey plan on the DB Navigator app and internet booking portal. 

In concrete terms, this will mean that customers are given longer times to transfer so that the chance of missing their connection is much less likely. 

For example, if the quickest connection is five or six minutes after the first train is scheduled to arrive, the app may suggest the next train 10 or 15 minutes later to give passengers more of a buffer in the event of delays. 

“We no longer show tight connections that are difficult to achieve in the current operational situation when planning and booking,” said DB board member Michael Peterson.

There won’t be a set transfer time that the company believes is realistic. Instead, current issues and performance statistics on certain stretches of the train line will guide whether an eight or 12 minute transfer seems realistic. 

‘Easier to plan’

Though the quickest connection may not automatically show up on DB’s app or website, customers who end up making an earlier train won’t face any issues with the ticket inspector.

This applies even if the ticket appears to tie the passenger to a specific train service, Peterson said. 

Customers will also be given the flexibility to choose shorter or longer transfer times based on their preferences. Though this may lead to longer journeys, it could help prevent missed connections. 

“We want to make travelling easier to plan,” explained Peterson. “The fastest connection is not always the most reliable.”

READ ALSO: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

The change to the ticket planning system will also have an impact on the company’s reimbursement policy.

If customers pick a connection that’s shown on the DB Navigator app or website and then miss their second train and face delays to their journey, they’ll still be entitled to compensation. For instance, an hour-long delay would equate to a 25 percent refund of the ticket price. 

However, if the quickest connection isn’t shown on the app but customers decide to risk it anyway, they won’t be entitled to their money back in the event of delays.

According to passenger advocacy group Pro Bahn, the new ‘buffer’ system for transfers should have a positive impact and reflects what many savvy rail travellers have been doing of their own accord.

Pro Bahn also assumes that the new transfer times will run until around 2024, when widespread construction work will begin on the railways.

More staff and seating

Alongside the more generous transfer times, Deutsche Bahn announced on Wednesday that it would be running a staffing offensive to help prevent delays.

This involves deploying almost 1,000 additional staff on long-distance trains and at stations.

This will include 750 additional staff on trains, 130 on particularly crowded platforms, and 100 assistants who will help passengers get on and off the train and find their seats.

They will join around 8,000 existing employees in DB’s long-distance division.

In addition, the company plans to invest around €10 billion in expanding its fleet and adding more seating by 2029. As a first step this year, the ICE fleet will grow to 360 trains, adding around 13,000 more seats for passengers. 

Though long-distance passenger numbers are still slightly below their record of 151 million in 2019, Peterson said DB was experiencing a “historic run on the railways” this year. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

Transport performance, i.e. the number of kilometres travelled, reached a record high between May and July, according to the rail operator. “People are travelling further distances by rail than they did before the pandemic,” the company explained.

When it comes to the larger problems faced by German railways, such as the need to upgrade large stretches of the network, improvements could take years.

Speaking to Welt, Peterson said that the current changes were more than just a token gesture. 

“These are not decisions taken out of desperation, but measures that will help in a concrete way,” he stated.

However, the DB board member admitted that there was still a “long way to go” in solving the rail networks’ wider problems.

READ ALSO: How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal

Member comments

  1. Maybe they could staff the restaurants on board, so at least we can have a drink while suffering through this mess.

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REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Planning to travel by train across Europe but not sure where to start? Here are the best websites to help make it happen.

REVEALED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Travelling across Europe by train is quickly becoming the preferred mode of transport for many people – mostly due to environmental concerns.

For others though, making the switch from cars or planes to trains is not so simple.

With planes, there are well-known websites like Skyscanner and Expedia, which makes it easy to find cheap flights. As well good connections across the continent from most major airports.

Then there is the convenience of travelling by car, which can be hard to beat – especially for those living in more rural areas. 

So what are the options for trains? Are there websites like Skyscanner but for train travel? And where can you find cheap tickets or the best routes?

Here are the websites you need to know when planning a trip across Europe by train.

Seat 61

The Seat 61 website provides tips on how to travel comfortably and affordably by train, while aiming to help visitors to rediscover the “pleasure, romance  and adventure of the journey”.

It includes an introduction to train travel in Europe, as well as an extensive search feature to find trains by starting location.

For example, The Local searched for trains from Salzburg to Italy and found routes to Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples, including on Nightjet sleeper trains.

The guide then describes the features of the Nightjet service, such as air conditioning, showers and room service all useful information for any newbies starting out with train travel.

Seat 61 is run by Mark Smith, a train enthusiast and former manager at the UK Department of Transport.

READ MORE: Discover Austria: 19 ways to make the most of autumn this year

Trainline

The Trainline is an international platform focused on train travel. The company is based in the UK but has extensive coverage of train travel in 45 countries across Europe.

The aim of the Trainline is find to the cheapest tickets for a selected route. Most of the time, this means booking in advance.

The site also highlights some great offers, such as €7 tickets between Barcelona and Madrid, and Paris to Amsterdam from €20.

As an added bonus, the search function on the Trainline is very user-friendly and allows people to search by location, as well as add extras such as railcards or return tickets.

The Trainline can be accessed via the website or app.

Rail Europe

Rail Europe is a leading distributor of European train tickets. The website covers 25,000 destinations and 11,000 routes across the continent.

The search function on Rail Europe works in a similar way to other websites and users can view tickets by destination to get the best price. It’s also possible to purchase railcards direct from Rail Europe.

Additionally, the site includes a useful overview of the latest ticket releases and sales, such as special offers on journeys between Paris and Geneva.

Users can pay for tickets in Euros, Sterling or Dollar (US, Canada and Australia) on the website or the app.

Rail Europe is headquartered in Paris but was founded in New York in 1932.

READ ALSO: Ryanair to raise flight ticket prices in Austria

Interrail

The Interrail Pass is a railcard that is available for residents in Europe. For people that live outside of Europe, they can purchase the Eurail Pass.

The passes are aimed at backpackers, or anyone spending time travelling across Europe.

The Interrail website has details about the different passes on offer under the umbrella of Interrail, like the Global Pass, One Country Pass and the German Rail Pass

For example, prices for the One Country Pass for Spain start at €182 for three days of travel within one month. Or you can pay €235 for five days of travel within one month.

Whereas the Global Pass starts at €251 for seven days of train travel in one month, but goes up to €677 for a three month unlimited travel ticket.

Interrail or Eurail Pass holders can buy tickets and make reservations via the desktop website or the Rail Planner app.

Omio

Omio is a travel platform where you can book train, bus and flight tickets. It has a free app to download or users can search and book on the website.

The Omio site has a dedicated section just for train travel. It even highlights 28 routes in Europe that are faster by train than plane – as well as the amount of carbon dioxide saved on the trip.

Examples are London to Brussels, which takes just two hours, or Frankfurt to Cologne in one hour.

There is also a handy FAQ section with information about booking train tickets in Europe, baggage conditions and travelling with pets.

At the time of writing, The Local found a ticket from Zurich to Vienna on Omio for €60 (when searching for dates two months in advance).

Do you have other suggestions for websites we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below or email [email protected]

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