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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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TRAVEL NEWS

When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, considers the beginning of March to be a realistic start date.

The only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023.

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket is continuing to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

Burkert from EVG said that the federal government should be prepared to provide more than €1.5 billion for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

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