'Very British' trains build steam in Germany

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
'Very British' trains build steam in Germany
The flagship National Express train in the Rhine-Wupper region. Photo: National Express

A British rail company is expanding into Germany offering a “very British” quality of service. Do the Germans have any idea what they’re letting themselves in for?


It's hard to imagine that rail services are high on the list of things British expats most miss about their home country.

But those who pine for the days of long delays, overcrowded carriages, soggy tuna sandwiches and weak tea will have eagerly received news that a British rail company is chugging into the German transport market.

National Express have since December 13th been running trains on two lines in North Rhine Westphalia between the Rhine and Wupper valleys.

On their German website, National Express proudly announce that they will be offering a “very British” service, which includes painting their carriages in the colours of the Union Jack and promises “an especially high emphasis on service.”

And on Wednesday the Bavarian Rail Company announced its intention that as of 2018 National Express would be take over the entire overground rail infrastructure for the city of Nuremberg and its suburbs - making the city of 500,000 the first German metropolis whose overground services aren’t provided by the state-owned Deutsche Bahn.

For Winfried Karg from consumer group pro-Bahn, National Express moving in to Nuremberg is a positive development.

“Competition always invigorates business,” he told The Local, adding that the move should act as a wake up call to Deutsche Bahn to improve its service in other German metropoles.

“National Express need to provide reliable and punctual transport,” he said. “They need to provide information about delays, place where people can pick up a lost umbrella, and clean and comfortable carriages.”

Increasing prices?

But a quick comparison of the cost of travel on National Express’ lines in the United Kingdom with current prices in Nuremberg show that one downside for commuters could be an upward pressure on prices.

To buy a single ticket from Shoeburyness into London Fenchurch on National Express’ City to Coast service, commuters have to pay out €17.07 for the hour-long journey.

Currently with the Deutsche Bahn, if one were to make the comparable trip from Bamberg in to Nuremberg central station, which takes and hour and ten minutes, one would only have to spend €10.80.

Meanwhile if a Nuremberg commuter were to give out less than a Euro more than the cost of a single with National Express in the London area, they could purchase a day ticket for €18, giving them 24 hours of travel across the entirety of the regional transport network.

Luckily for the Nuremberg commuter, though, the company itself will not be in control of prices, these being set by the Travel Company for Greater Nuremberg, a state-owned organization.

But National Express will have the ability to lobby for higher prices on the basis of increasing overheads, Karg of Pro Bahn confirmed.

On the plus side, National Express do appear to run a surprisingly tight ship for a British rail company.

They boast the best punctuality figures in the UK, with 97.4 percent of their trains arriving within five minutes of the stated time, significantly better than the British average of 89.5 percent. They also hold the record for punctuality over a 12-month and a four-wekk period.

So a British rail company that isn’t known for its delays and won’t be able to set exorbitant ticket prices? If that doesn’t sound like something to quell the homesickness, there is more bad news to come.

The company confirmed to The Local that “in our carriages no sandwiches or tea will be sold.”


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