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Berlin S-Bahn set to introduce new ‘express trains’ for commuters

Staring on December 15th, passengers on Berlin’s S-Bahn may see their transportation time reduced.

Berlin S-Bahn set to introduce new 'express trains' for commuters
Commuters exiting Berlin's S-Bahn at Alexanderplatz. Photo: DPA

The S3 line, which travels from Erkner in Brandenburg to the northwestern suburb of Spandau, is slated to arrive at the destination station four minutes faster than regular trains, reported the Berliner Morgenpost.

However, the amount of time saved could increase to 10 minutes, as passengers at Berlin’s Ostkreuz station can switch – and consequently catch – other trains earlier than before, according to S-Bahn boss Peter Buchner, who presented the new plans Monday on “S-Bahn Passenger Day” in Berlin. 

While the regular trains stop eight times between Friedrichshagen and Ostkreuz, the express trains will avoid the stops Hirschgarten, Wuhlheide, 'Betriebsbahnhof (Depot) Rummelsburg' and Rummelsburg.

Still, the waiting time for express trains, as with regular S-Bahn trains, will remain 10 minutes as before, and the trains will only run in the mornings and afternoon. 

The following map shows where the new express trains will avoid stopping in order to save time. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The S-Bahn will be seeing other changes with the new schedule: the S75 will be able to accommodate more passengers as new trains will be equipped with six instead of four wagons. 

Starting in 2021, 10 new express S-Bahn trains will be coming to the S-Bahn network, with the additional routes not yet announced. 

READ ALSO: 'Install AC and reduce ticket costs': How Berlin should improve its public transport

The S-Bahn has seen a spike in passengers in recent years. In 2018, there were 471.8 million passengers, up 21 percent from 2012.

The S-Bahn currently runs special trains between Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and Charlottenburg, skipping the Heerstraße station, when there are special events.

Years in the making

A plan for having trains pass through individual stations was already drafted by the S-Bahn, which is run by Deutsche Bahn, two years ago. 

At the time, transportation experts were working on a programme to improve punctuality. 

READ ALSO: People think life in Berlin ends outside of the Ringbahn. They're wrong.

The transport experts reasoned that, if trains skip individual stations, they could quickly make up for their delays, which the crowded 'Ringbahn' trains are particularly susceptible to due to the high number of boarding and exiting passengers.

They proposed that express trains pass through less-frequented Ringbahn stations such as Halensee, Hohenzollerndamm and Heidelberger Platz. Yet after a storm of indignation, the S-Bahn quickly dropped this plan.

Yet, in the current plan, the express trains are an addition to the existing service, meaning that regular trains will still be stopping every 10 minutes at Hirschgarten and Rummelsburg as usual. 

'Ghost stations'

The idea for a rapid transportation system stretches back to the 1930s, when so-called “banker trains” with a speed of 120 km/h ran from Zehlendorf in west Berlin to the former Potsdam station in the city centre without stopping. 

The “banker trains”, named for the group of commuting professionals most likely to take them, ran every 20 minutes in the morning and hourly during the day.

Starting in the 1950s, special “Durchläufer” (Running through) trains were politically motivated, and simply excluded stops on West Berlin territory during journeys from the surrounding countryside to the eastern part of the city.

Several of these, such as Berlin’s Nordbahnhof, now host photo exhibitions inside documenting the time when they were “ghost stations”.

READ ALSO: 'They were so rude': Berlin newcomer shares S-Bahn horror story

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.