Fast train in Germany

September 23, 2022
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A German Ice trainComfort and speed: a German Ice train. Photograph: Torsten Silz/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's high-speed rail network has put paid to short-haul flights between several cities. Once, there were hundreds of flights a day transferring tens of thousands of passengers between Berlin and Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Bremen and Cologne. All have been closed down due to cheaper and faster rail travel.

Eighteen years after the introduction of modern high-speed rail to Germany the overwhelming verdict is that the Ice – Inter City Express – and Icec – Intercity Eurocity – have transformed travel around the country and put the rail network on a par with Japan's Shinkasen or France's TGV. Germany's 21, 000-mile rail network now boasts about 800 miles of high-speed track, averaging 150mph.

The journey considered to be the nearest modern equivalent to magic carpet rides is the Cologne-Frankfurt route, which used to take over two hours but has been cut to just over an hour. Taking the car is hardly an alternative, when even whizzing in your BMW on the speed limit-free autobahn would take twice as long as the train. Berlin to Hamburg by rail now takes about 90 minutes, whereas a few years ago a flight would have taken at least two hours, taking check-in time into account.

"There was a time, " says Karl-Peter Naumann, of the train passengers' association Pro Bahn, "when some people still chose planes above trains, for comfort reasons. It was a question of prestige for some, for others of collecting their air miles. But now rail travel can be as comfortable, if not more so, than flying."

There is a rule of thumb, says Naumann, according to which "by every 1% you decrease the journey time, your passenger numbers increase by the same amount".

There are plans to extend routes, some of which are still in the pipeline. Others are in the building stages, including Stuttgart to Ulm, Fulda to Frankfurt, and the most prestigious, long-awaited and controversial project, Nuremberg to Leipzig, which is expected to cost upwards of €8bn and to be completed between 2015 and 2020. The new stretch is expected to shave three hours off the current seven-hour journey between Munich and Berlin.

"The biggest challenge is the relationship between the price of building, the cost of running the system and the passenger growth potential, which in turn is linked to the price of flying, which is still relatively cheap, due to the low taxes on kerosene for airlines. So there remains a question mark, " says Naumann.

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Train in Germany
Train in Germany
Fast Steam Train of the HSB arriving in Sorge, Germany
Fast Steam Train of the HSB arriving in Sorge, Germany
Fast Steam Train of the HSB in Beneckenstein, Germany
Fast Steam Train of the HSB in Beneckenstein, Germany
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