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Useful Notes / Deutsche Bahn

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"Ladies and gentlemen welcome aboard I.C.E. [inaudible] from Munich main station to Hamburg Altona, via Nuremberg, Würzburg, Fulda, Kassel Wilhelmshöhe, Göttingen, Hannover and Hamburg Hauptbahnhof."

Ah... Germany... Wedged between two seacoasts and the foothills of the biggest mountain range of Central Europe. Criss-crossed by Autobahns and full of people who love complaining about one thing: Deutsche Bahn. Why? Nobody knows.

Deutsche Bahn (officially Deutsche Bahn AG) is the state owned railroad company that owns almost all of the German rail network and still runs most of the trains, despite attempts to introduce "competition" on the regional lines. Formed in 1994 as a merger of Deutsche Bundesbahn (also abbreviated DB albeit with a slightly different logo) from West Germany and Deutsche Reichsbahn from East Germany. Deutsche Bahn runs the longest train network in Europe and carries about two billion passengers a year, mostly without a hitch. Its flagship product is the Intercity Express or ICEnote  that runs at speed up to 300 kmh note . Germans love complaining about Deutsche Bahn being always late - despite the fact that the airlines are not a bit better and driving only very rarely is faster than even a train that is an hour late. They also love complaining about the prices and the - admittedly bizarre - price system with a number of discounts and surcharges that seem to make no apparent sense (though they are nothing compared to the British National Rail). And unfavorably compare it to either France - where trains stop less and are therefore faster - Switzerland - where almost every place is served by a train several times an hour and connections are timed for each other - or Japan - where, as Germans are quick to point out, getting the train on time is a question of personal honor for the operator. Deutsche Bundesbahn (the West German predecessor) ran a now (in)famous ad which said "Alle reden vom Wetter - wir nicht"note , which is still present in the public consciousness of many Germans (and has been parodied to death and back) so naturally every time something weather related interferes with the smooth running of trains, people will complain about this "false advertising" from decades ago, some will even claim back in the day the railway actually lived up to its Badass Boast. Another point of contention is the traditionally horrible English of conductors and announcers (all announcements on long distance trains are made in German and English) famously summed up in the phrase "Sank u for dravelling wis Deutsche Bahn, goodbye". This was Truth in Television for a long time, mostly due to the fact that the East German railways had almost as many employees as their West German counterpart despite East Germany being about half as big in size and having only a third of the inhabitants of the West and it was virtually impossible to fire them before they would retire. However, twenty five years after reunification the Easterners that remain either took an English class or are close to retirement anyway. Deutsche Bahn was also increasingly aware of the PR disaster this had created and tried to have someone who actually speaks English make the announcements whenever possible. Deutsche Bahn also runs a couple of S-Bahn systems, most famously Berlin S-Bahn, which they severely fucked up in the late 2000s due to cutting costs in order to appear desirable for a stock market flotation, which ultimately got cancelled by the same politicians that had been clamoring for it for decades. During most of its Audience-Alienating Era, the CEO of Deutsche Bahn was one Hartmut Mehdorn, who made a number of controversial purchases in an attempt to turn Deutsche Bahn from a national rail company into "the greatest logistics company in the world". Like many business decisions at Mehdorn's previous job, many of those purchases are now rolled back at substantial loss, although DB styled freight locomotives can be commonly seen in other countries, including the UK. Since Rüdiger Grube has taken over, many of the above complaints were actually addressed (Deutsche Bahn's Facebook team for instance is acknowledged to be pretty good at its job even by people who otherwise complain about every single aspect of train travel) but a law change that made long distance buses legal throughout Germany in 2012 has significantly eaten into Deutsche Bahn's profits, even resulting in a loss for fiscal year 2015. (the 2016 numbers were much better, though). Grube however threw in the towel when what was supposed to be a routine contract extension turned out to be yet another round of negotiations about how far to extend his contract (an issue which politicians had promised him to be settled) and Richard Lutz, an accountant and son of a railway worker who had been with the company since 1994 took over. While Lutz is lauded for his calm demeanor and being genuinely a Rail Enthusiast (as evidenced by his gleeful demeanor when opening the new Berlin-Munich high speed line and riding in the cab), he lacks the easy-going charisma and charm of his predecessor and is frequently seen as a transitional solution until Ronald Pofalla (former Chief of Staff of the chancellor) who was a political appointee to the board can take over.

Trains of Deutsche Bahn can roughly be categorized into two main categories, which are Color-Coded for Your Convenience - Long distance trains make less stops and have maximum speeds well above 160 kmh (100 mph) and are usually colored white, whereas other trains usually have top speeds at or below 160 kmh and stop much more frequently, which are usually red. The latter are sometimes run by competitors and all of them receive a state subsidy paid by each of The 16 Lands of Deutschland; the competitors may choose their own names or paint jobs, but the contract that establishes the amount of subsidy usually dictates pretty much every other aspect of the trains as well as their frequency. As such DB Regio (the regional traffic subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn) or its private sector competition are very often Mis-blamed for everything from too small trains to unrealistic schedules or a lack of air conditioning. Long distance trains on the other hand receive no subsidy note  and can (in theory) be run by anybody. However, in practice the Loophole Abuse on the part of DB Netz (who owns the tracks and sets the prices for track access) as well as economies of scale have kept the long-distance market limited to Deutsche Bahn and a handful of other state-run railway companies serving international routes as well as state run joint ventures like Thalys, which also serve international routes mainly. This was beginning to change until a 2012 law made long distance buses legal (they had been limited to a few pre-approved routes before), which started out by vastly undercutting DB's prices - even at a cost of an operating loss - thus eliminating the few niches there were for private long distance trains. After Flixbus virtually cornered the German long distance bus market shortly after its emergence they decided to dip their toe into the long distance train network, but they only run a handful of routes a couple of times daily, so they are more of a curiosity than real competition on the rails.

The most iconic ICE - Germany's high speed train - is actually several different types of train

  • The ICE 1 - the first one to be built (1989-1993) and the only one ever involved in a deadly accident (the 1998 Eschede rail crash) - recognizable for its "bump" above the restaurant car
  • The ICE 2 - built 1995-1997. It is a relatively subtle evolution of the ICE 1, distinguished by two major design differences: The ICE 1's restaurant car has a noticeable raised ceiling while the ICE 2 does not, and the ICE 1 features locomotives at both ends while the ICE 2 features one locomotive with the other end featuring a cab car with passenger space.
  • The ICE 3 - actually two different types of train the "old" ICE 3 (built 1997-2006) and the "Velaro D" or "new ICE 3" (built 2009-2012). The old ICE 3 was the first multiple unit to enter high speed service in Germany also the first train to have a scheduled maximum speed higher than 300 kmh. Its snout is recognizably rounder and looks more aerodynamic than that of its predecessor. The Velaro D is the localized variety of a train that was already sold to Russian and Spanish operators by the time it entered service in Germany. It spent some time in Development Hell because the Eisenbahnbundesamt (the German railway control officenote ) argued with Siemens (the manufacturer) about a software bug that delayed braking by a second.
  • The ICE 4 to enter service with the schedule change in December 2017. Described as looking like Angelina Jolie by then DB head Rüdiger Grube (it does have "eyelashes" on its snout if you squint real hard) with a top speed of "only" 250 kmh it is intended to replace the IC as well as the first two generations of ICE on routes where higher speeds are not possible or don't make that much of a time difference. The first ICE to regularly allow bicycles on board.

Apart from those there are also three ICE varieties that are intended for use on legacy tracks, filling a gap between IC and ICE services.

  • ICE T - the T means "tilt". Its maximum speed is 230 kmh It was originally intended as an Intercity (hence the lower maximum speed) but ultimately "uptitled" to ICE service without much change to the technology behind it. Interior design and seat pitch are similar to the ICE 3 though.
  • ICE TD - a tilting train that runs on Diesel with a max speed of 200 kmh intended for minor lines now runs service to Denmark which has a largely non-electrified network. Its service on domestic lines in Germany was notoriously plagued with technical problems as the additional stress of the tilting made the axles crack and while the problem is (mostly) solved now, most ICE TD are still run without tilting and many routes they used to run on are now only served by regional trains with DB making clear that for long distance trains to return there would have to be electrification first. Given the Development Hell large scale rail projects tend to get stuck in in Germany this means No ICE for You! on many routes. The last ICE TD was withdrawn in 2017, with little interest from buyers. One set is still in-use as a test train, while the rest are likely destined for the scrapyard.
  • ICE L - a future trainset; the 'L' stands for 'low floor'. These sets are locomotive-hauled and capable of speeds of up to 230 kmh, making them Deutsche Bahn's Alternate Company Equivalent to ÖBB's RailJet trainsets. The ICE L is primarily intended for international services and for upgrading existing domestic IC lines. Flexibility is also a major selling point of these units; although the carriages will be delivered with dedicated electric locomotives, the ability to swap them out with other locomotives is also in the design brief with the intention of using bi-mode locomotives (or diesel or whatever option replaces diesel in the futurenote ) on certain routes in mind. The ICE L will be manufactured by Talgo, making it the first ICE set to not be made by a German company.

For completion's sake, there are a few extra ICE trainsets that have served odd roles over the years:

  • ICE V - the V stands for 'Versuch', or 'Experimental'. This one-off trainset is the grandfather of all the ICE sets, developed in the mid-80's to both test German high-speed rail technology and to serve as a showpiece for the upcoming ICE system in West Germany. It is noteworthy for having achieved a top speed of 406.9 kmh in 1988, which set the record for the highest top-speed achieved with a conventional train, and it still holds the record for the highest speed achieved in Germany. Even after the start of proper ICE services, it continued to conduct the occasional test until it was properly retired in 2000.
  • ICE S - the S stands for 'Schnellfahrt', or 'High-speed'. This was the ICE V's successor, and was essentially a modified ICE 2 consisting of two power cars with a single passenger car in-between. Its main purpose was to test technology that would later be implemented on the ICE 3. In 2006 it was rechristened as the ICE R ('Referenzfahrzeug', or 'Reference Train'), and it continues to be used for testing to this day.
  • MET - for 'Metropolitan Express Train'. This was an attempt in 1999 to create a luxury-oriented train service that would operate between Hamburg and the Rhein-Ruhr, using distinct train sets with their own branding and ticketing. This service was ultimately cancelled in 2004 due to low ridership as it struggled to attract the kind of jetsetting business travellers it was aimed at (future examples of a similar service have generally been more successful by aiming at more budget-conscious travellers instead), but it left behind an oddity in the kinds of trains it used: These were Class 101 locomotives as are typical on IC services, hauling semi-permanently coupled carriages based on those found on the ICE 1 and 2 sets. After the Metropolitan's retirement, the MET sets were refurbished and continued to be used on both IC and ICE services, thus still making them ICE trains by a technicality!

Introduced in the 1970s, the Intercity was in some sense a predecessor of the Intercity Express, but Intercitys are still available on marginal routes or routes between secondary cities. They stop somewhat more frequently, usually are limited to a top speed of 200 kmh and often still include rolling stock that has seen better days, but recently a new order of bilevel cars in a design more akin to the ICE is intended to remedy this problem. Those are however limited to a top speed of only 160 kmh and due to being bilevel there isn't all that much space for luggage, which led critics to call them "regional trains with a white paintjob". As of 2016 no IC line has a frequency of more than once every two hours, but Deutsche Bahn has announced to change this in the foreseeable future.

Rolling stock for regional trains is much more of a mixed bag and there is no real difference in terms of rolling stock used between Deutsche Bahn and its private sector competitors. Despite the fact that there are clear differences between Regionalexpress (makes more stops than a ICE or Intercity, but less than a Regionalbahn, abbreviated RE), Regionalbahn (a regional train serving pretty much every station, primarily deployed in rural areas abbreviated RB) and S-Bahn (an urban rail form serving every stop in an urban agglomeration, often serving as an addition to U-Bahn (such as in Berlin) or regional trains - usually not abbreviated), some trains serve all three roles. For example the Bombardier Talent II serves as a S-Bahn train in Nuremberg, but also a RE between Dresden and Leipzig, which requires it to be quite a Jack of All Stats.

Germany has a long history of producing railway carriages, especially the factories in the former GDR. Many sleeper carriages in the former Soviet bloc were built in East Germany and ex-DR stock is becoming increasingly common in places like Romania. Israel's rolling stock consists near-entirely of the same double deckers as German regional lines – in fact, the Israeli buyers decided to change the color scheme to the German white-stripes-on-red after seeing the finished product run in Germany.

Thank you for travelling with Deutsche Bahn, Goodbye.