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Mythical Deutsche Bahn

Mark Arrol has had bittersweet experiences when travelling on Germany’s trains.

One of the great myths about Germany is that the trains run on time. Increasingly, they don’t. ‘We are one of the richest industrial nations in the world, but we have one of the worst railways in the world!’ screamed a recent headline in Bild.

A key issue is a lack of funding, with only €69 per capita annual spending on infrastructure compared to €165 in the UK and a whopping €362 in Switzerland.

A further issue is the sheer size of Deutsche Bahn, which has myriad business interests across the globe (including Arriva in the UK), to the point where transporting the average German by train is only a small part.
I have had plenty of personal experience of delays over recent years, with a service from Stuttgart to Heidelberg an hour late on a visit in 2016. The following year, waiting for a cancelled train at tiny Sinsheim station in the snow and ice was not an experience I’d care to repeat.

And on my latest visit when travelling from Düsseldorf to Hannover my train was 20 minutes late setting off, not great in itself, but then proceeded to lose a further 45 minutes, meaning I arrived over an hour behind schedule in Hannover.

The next day my 75 minute journey back from Hannover to Magdeburg took just over two hours, with no apparent reason for the delay. After watching a game of football in Magdeburg and needing to catch a flight back to the UK, with my faith in Deutsche Bahn precarious, I left the match early. It was a wise decision, because the train, despite leaving on time, finally arrived an hour and quarter late! Three journeys, three major delays.

All this is a huge shame because rail travel through Germany, something I first experienced whilst living there as part of my degree, is one of the great pleasures in life. The quality of the trains themselves, once they arrive, is superb, and now as the parent of a disabled child I am immensely impressed by the availability of specialist facilities, including a fully accessible toilet.

Tickets are comparatively cheap (if you book in advance) and the extensive network means that it is easily the best means of seeing great swathes of the country. There can few pleasures as great as sitting on a state-of-the-art ICE train and watching the beautiful German countryside rolling past. If only they could run on time!

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