Why so many trains in Germany are late

To the rest of the world, Germans have a reputation for being punctual. But when it comes to the country's rail system, passengers experience shocking delays. Here's why.

Why so many trains in Germany are late
Photo: DPA

About 75 percent of long-distance trains in Germany were more than six minutes late last year.

On average 74.9 percent of ICE, Intercity and Eurocity trains reached their destinations on time in 2018, meaning Deutsche Bahn failed to meet its target of 82 percent.

And, compared to the previous year of 78.5 percent, the punctuality rate fell by 3.6 percentage points.

SEE ALSO: How tickets for long distance trains in Germany could become much cheaper

So what's keeping German trains from arriving on time? Construction work plays a big part, with much of the infrastructure in dire need of modernization.

But according to internal reports, the delays are also down to serious congestion in the network, with too much traffic packed onto the railways, reports the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, of the centre-right Christian Socialist Union, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, last autumn launched a series of working groups with politicians and industry experts to discuss how to improve the railway system as part of the “Deutschland-Takt” project.

The government is aiming to attract more passengers and goods to the railways by 2030.

On Tuesday, Scheuer, his State Secretary Enak Ferlemann and Richard Lutz, CEO of Deutsche Bahn, will discuss the results of the first report.

The findings, which were viewed by the Stuttgarter Zeitung, show how much work must be done to improve the rail system.

Too much traffic on the railways

The analysis shows that the main cause of trains not arriving on time is the overloaded network, which saw traffic increase by 23 percent between 1999 and 2017. This means that almost a quarter more long-distance, regional, local and freight traffic have to be handled on tracks and at stations nowadays compared to the 90s.

As a result, the western corridor between the Rhine and the Alps, the north-south corridor from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and the six major hubs of Cologne, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Hanover, Hamburg and Munich are increasingly congested.

A total of 85 percent of rail traffic is packed onto just 60 percent of the network, the report states.

That's because since the 1994 rail reforms, the network has shrunk from 44,600 km to 38,500 km. Less frequented regional lines have been taken out of service over the years.

SEE ALSO: How Deutsche Bahn plans to improve its service and staffing in 2019

The working group says the reduction has reduced operational flexibility. In the event of disruptions, there is now a lack of alternative tracks and reserves that can help with maintaining a good quality of service.

This has a negative effect on punctuality in German rail transport, often causing a domino effect on delays.

The conclusion of the experts was that there were already “congestion effects” and overloads in the network, meaning that the operational quality had fallen and that the expected additional traffic could not be operated in a “quality-compliant” manner.

As more people use trains in Germany, experts want to see bottlenecks addressed and infrastructure improved in order progress with other improvements.

A total of 10 projects deemed the highest priority were named in the report, including six major rail junctions: the new Frankfurt-Mannheim runway, the Rhine-Ruhr Express, the Rhine Valley route Karlsruhe-Basel, the new construction and expansion from Karlsruhe to Molzau, the improved connection of the North Sea ports of Hamburg and Bremen and the modernization of the network for 740-metre freight trains.

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How successful was Germany’s latest ‘Warning Day’?

For Germany's second emergency 'Warning Day' Thursday, all cell phones were set to sound off at 11am, but many stayed silent. Here's the verdict from the country's latest attempt to check its emergency systems.

How successful was Germany's latest 'Warning Day'?

Using so-called cell broadcast technology for the first time, all cell phone users in Germany with a German phone number were to receive a blaring emergency notification for the second Warntag (warning day). This was to test how well they would be alerted to an actual urgent situation, such as flash flooding or a blackout.

The technology sends out alerts regardless of the phone provider or if a person is signed up for them. Even if their phone is switched to silent mode, phone users receive a loud buzzing notification that’s hard to ignore.

READ ALSO: All cell phone users in Germany to be part of disaster ‘warning day’

But on Thursday at 11 am that was not the case for everyone.

According to initial information from the BKK, many Telekom customers in particular did not receive the warnings.

Another warning day is already planned for September of next year, in what will now be an annual test.

Deactivated test warnings in the phones’ system settings could also be a reason for the phones remaining silent. Many older models, such as the iPhone 6 or devices with Android 10, are also unable to use cell broadcast.

But the day was still deemed a “success”, according to BKK President Ralph Tiesler in a statement.

“According to preliminary findings, the nationwide Warning Day 2022 was a success!” said Tiesler. “The interaction of the individual systems has worked and people have become aware of the important topic of warnings. It is still too early for conclusive results. 

“We will now evaluate the feedback and thus be able to further optimize the systems. There’s still room for improvement.”

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) called the test “an important step” in improving how well people in Germany are protected in an emergency. 

People around Germany can also chime in with how well the test worked – or didn’t – using an official survey:

Other warnings 

Even the warning apps Katwarn or NINA didn’t show an alert for all users, or only did 20 minutes past the 11am deadline.

Around Germany sirens sounded off, billboards flashed warnings at train stations and, in some communities, emergency vehicles drove through the streets broadcasting the test warning.

But some cities – including larger ones like Berlin – stayed particularly silent as they are not yet connected to a Modular Warning System. 

Berlin was also set to have 400 sirens installed by the end of 2022, although only 20 of them had been installed by August, according to the Tagesspiegel.

The importance of reliable warning systems was highlighted by the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia in July 2021, when people were not informed in time of the impending danger. Afterwards, a broad debate arose on how this could be improved.

Amid an energy crisis and war within Europe, many people are also hypervigilant about what Germany would do in the event of a wide-reaching emergency.

For previous emergencies, local authorities have relied upon sirens, loudspeaker announcements or radio and TV bulletins to warn residents of acute danger or issue evacuation orders.

There are also smartphone apps to keep users up to date on extreme weather in their area.

But Bild newspaper condemned the “failure” to take early action during the mass flooding in 2021.

“The sirens stayed quiet in plenty of places, very few alerts were issued,” it wrote, labelling the deadly flooding that followed “a disaster for civil protection, one of the state’s most essential jobs”.

The first countywide Warning Day took place in September 2020, without cell broadcast notifications, and was widely considered an abject failure. In the aftermath of the test, authorities were criticised for failing to learn from the issues they had experienced in time for the floods in 2021. 

READ ALSO: Germany questions warning system after flood catastrophe