German train travel almost back to ‘pre-pandemic levels’

Regional train at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof
A regional train pulls into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. DB's director of regional trains is considering increasing weekend services once again after limiting them throughout the pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt
After the lockdowns and Covid anxieties of the past year and a half, Germany's main rail operator says passenger volume on regional trains is finally bouncing back.

“We are already almost back to pre-Covid levels at weekends,” Jörg Sandvoß, director of Deutsche Bahn’s regional trains, told DPA on Friday.

On local services, he said, the company is seeing significant more day-trippers and short leisure trips out to the countryside.

“People noticed during the lockdowns that it’s beautiful in the Odenwald, the Mecklenburg Lake District and the Bavarian Forest,” Sandvoß said.

“What we’re still missing at the moment are passengers to the football matches, Christmas markets, Oktoberfest – after all, these are always big days for us whenever they roll around.”

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Deutsche Bahn has grappled with billion-euro losses over the past two years due to the combined impact of the flooding in western Germany and multiple pandemic-related shutdown.

But there are signs that people are regaining their confidence in the safety of public transport and are using the trains more regularly, both for leisure and commutes.

Though services remain quieter in rural areas, cities are generally seeing more than 80 percent of pre-pandemic passenger levels on trains. 

“We are now at a level of 70, sometimes 80 percent of pre-Covid passenger volume,” Jörg Sandvoß, “We have invested a lot in additional hygiene and safety.”

Together with the transport associations, DB’s regional services are now considering whether to increase weekend rail services in some areas.

“On the Stuttgart S-Bahn, for example, we will increase the service to a 15-minute frequency on Saturdays as early as mid-December,” he said.

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A ‘turnaround’ in public transport

His comments come just days after it was revealed that around 55 million people in Germany have insufficient access to public transport.

According to a study by Deutsche Bahn subsidiary and mobility startup ioki, less than half of public transport access points in rural areas is served hourly or more frequently. 

One challenge to transform Germany’s public transport network is to offer increased services in these rural areas, the regional trains director explained. 

Visitors climb over large rocks in the Odenwald
Visitors climb over large rocks in the Odenwald near Lautertal in Hesse. Linking patchy transport connections in areas like this is one of the biggest challenges facing Deutsche Bahn. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

“That’s why we need to take a big step to go the last mile. The connection to public transport on the doorstep has to be facilitated and improved,” said Sandvoß. “That’s easy in the big city, but in the Odenwald it starts to get more difficult.

“That’s why the question is, how do I get the regional express trains or suburban trains to the people and vice versa?”

One solution, he said, is seen in integrated mobility to create flexible feeders to existing bus and train lines.

“We decided at DB a few years ago to invest in this new form of mobility, for example in our bus sector,” Sandvoß said. “Now that the older generation of 70 plus is also good with mobile phones, we have a real opportunity to offer integrated mobility with the solutions of small vehicles plus app control.”

READ ALSO: German public transport slammed as ‘failure’ as half of users switch to car

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