Whether you’re just dealing with your daily commute or planning a big train adventure, you could be in for a nasty surprise, fellow expats.
Coming home from Stockholm last month, I nearly ended up stranded for the night at Dusseldorf Airport.
The train from the airport to Duisburg, where I needed to make my connection to Amsterdam, never showed up.
I was certainly not alone … there were perhaps 100 people standing on the platform, waiting for a train that never came. The sign over the platform just read something about “aktualisiert.” (To be updated … but it never was.)
With minutes to spare before I was going to miss my connection, I had to literally run out of the station and hail a taxi to get to Duisburg Hauptbahnhof. The 14 euro train ticket turned into a frantic 50 euro taxi ride.
Once on the ICE train to Amsterdam, I was talking with the Deutsche Bahn conductors, and they told me that across Germany, local train service was sometimes suspended during certain construction phases, either for new lines, or major maintenance of existing track bed. So, fellow expats, you could be in for some big surprises this summer.
A few days later, I found a post on the global edition of Handelsblatt, the English-language website for Germany’s top business news daily, that explained that missing train in Dusseldorf. That train probably did ultimately show up, but far too late to get me to my rendezvous with the international ICE train.
According to the post “Why German trains don’t run on time,” by reporter Dieter Fockenbrock, a $60 billion-plus plan to modernize Germany’s rail infrastructure has set off an “epidemic of unpunctuality” throughout Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail service. What happens is, if construction workers have to shut down service, the do it without alerting travelers.
Which is more than an issue of inconvenience for a hundred people stranded in the cold at Dusseldorf Airport. It’s an issue that has international ramifications. Like earlier this year when work on long-distance track completely shut down high-speed service to the huge Hannover Messe trade fair for industrial technology.
How is that for cosmic irony?
Worse, all the European train systems that run through Germany pay Deutsche Bahn to use its rail network. With delays interrupting their service, those companies are threatening to sue.
From the post:
Deutsche Bahn is between a rock and a hard place. It could end up liable for those other companies’ losses due to delays. But at the same time, if it fails to achieve its infrastructure targets, it might have to pay back hundreds of millions of euros in government subsidies.
Here are some of the amazing details about Germany’s rail matrix from the Handelsblatt post:
• On any given day there are as many as 850 construction sites on the on the 33,000-kilometer (20,460-mile) Deutsche Bahn rail network. “These are often poorly coordinated, both within the company and with external events,” according to the post.
• In the past 12 months, German passenger and freight trains lost a total of 174.63 million minutes, or 7,945.21 hours per day.
• For 2016, there are plans to restore 150 bridges, 2,000 sets of switching points and 3,200 kilometers of platforms.
When it’s all done, Germany again will have the best rail service in the world. But to get there, you can count on delays and phantom trains throughout this summer.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
We’ll leave you with this line we keep hearing: “If you want to experience German efficiency, go to Switzerland.”
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.