Train Travel

Rail Travel in Europe and Germany: Introduction

Other than by car, train travel is the most popular way of getting around in Germany and Europe. Deutsche Bahn AG, sometimes known as German Rail in the English-speaking world, is one of Europe’s most advanced rail systems. On a typical day, 7.3 million passengers ride the rails of Deutsche Bahn (DOYTSCH-uh BAHN) on 27,000 trains. Deutsche Bahn (DB) ranks number one in freight and number two in passenger traffic in Europe.

ICE train, Frankfurt

Germany’s high-speed ICE trains, like this third generation ICE in Frankfurt’s main station, have cut hours off previous rail travel times between German cities. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Germany’s sleek white high-speed ICE (InterCity-Express) trains are some of the best in Europe or the world. The third generation ICE (ICE 3) can reach speeds of 320 km/h (200 mph). DB’s ICE trains not only zip between Germany’s cities, but also between Germany and many European cities, including Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Vienna and Zürich. For instance, passengers can now travel between Paris’ East Station and Frankfurt’s Central Station via the ICE 3 in just under four hours. Successful DB tests in early 2013 promise direct ICE 3 service to London via the Chunnel soon. Until now the Chunnel route under the English Channel has been served exclusively by the Eurostar train between London and Paris or Brussels. The new ICE route between London’s St. Pancras Station and downtown Frankfurt will offer morning, midday and evening service, connecting the two cities in only five hours, according to Deutsche Bahn.

More on The German Way

Train Travel in Germany
Types of trains, buying a train ticket, the German Rail Pass, etc.

German Train History
Germany’s very first train line, the Ludwigsbahn, was already running between Fürth and Nürnberg in 1835. However, Deutsche Bahn has only been in existence since January 1994. Until that time, German trains had been run by two separate state-owned, deficit-ridden operations. The Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) or German Federal Railway was the old West German railway that had been running things there since Germany’s division in 1949. The Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) or German Imperial Railway in former East Germany kept the pre-war name of the railroad that Hitler and those before him had known. The 1994 privatization was a merger of the two German state railroads that had tried to act as one since German reunification in 1990. However, the privatization was also an effort to get the government out from under billions of marks of mounting debt.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) officially opened for business in May 2006. It was built on the site of the historic Lehrter Bahnhof, a former S-Bahn station. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

DB’s ICE trains have been running since June 1991 when they were first introduced on several high-speed lines between major German cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt. Today the newer ICE trains still whisk passengers along in quiet, comfortable, air-conditioned comfort. Like jetliners, ICE cars are pressurized, sparing passengers any ear discomfort in the tunnels required to keep the roadbeds straight and level for high speed. ICE trains usually have a dining car or “Bistro” snack facilities. In first-class there are usually extras, like periodicals, power outlets, audio channels and video screens.

The newest type of ICE train in Germany is the ICE Sprinter, aimed at business travelers. These special ICE trains connect Germany’s main cities (Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne and Düsseldorf) with non-stop service during morning and evening hours.

DB Arriva
Through its Arriva subsidiary, Deutsche Bahn also runs passenger rail and bus lines in the UK, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and several other European countries.

Austria’s state-owned Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB, Austrian Federal Railways) and Switzerland’s Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB, Swiss Federal Railways) have vast networks of rail lines in those countries. Switzerland also has several private railways, most of them in mountainous regions.

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