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EXPLAINED: How Germany’s long-distance train services will change from December

On Monday, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn presented its new timetable for 2023, which will come into force on December 11th this year. Here’s what you need to know.

A special ICE train travels over the ICE line Munich - Berlin near Erfurt (Thuringia) in 2017.
A special ICE train travels over the ICE line Munich - Berlin near Erfurt (Thuringia) in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Martin Schutt/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Martin Schutt

Whether from Cologne to Munich, from Hamburg to Frankfurt or from Berlin to Warsaw, the timetable change for Deutsche Bahn’s long-distance services will enable passengers to travel more frequently and quickly on important routes from mid-December.

Deutsche Bahn’s head of long-distance passenger transport, Dr. Michael Peterson, said that, with the new timetable the rail operator is “clearly setting the course for further growth.”

“Our passengers will benefit directly from the investments in infrastructure and new vehicles. In 2023, for example, our train fleet will grow by three new ICE trains every month. That is a record,” he said.

Here are some of the key changes that the new timetable will bring in. 

Better connections between North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria

The existing Dortmund/Düsseldorf-Stuttgart ICE line will be extended to Ulm, Augsburg, and Munich via Cologne and Mannheim and trains will run every hour from Cologne directly to these destinations.

READ ALSO: 7 of the best destinations for an autumn break in Germany

A new high-speed route between Wendlingen and Ulm will also open, making connections between Cologne via Stuttgart to Munich and Stuttgart via Ulm to Munich around 15 minutes faster, while increasing the number of services. 

More connections to Frankfurt Airport

There will also be more connections to Germany’s largest airport – Frankfurt – especially from cities in the north.

A Deutsche Bahn ICE train leaves the long-distance train station at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Travellers from Münster, Osnabrück, and Bremen will be able to reach Frankfurt Airport even more frequently without changing trains.

Faster and more frequent connections are also planned from Munich and Augsburg to Germany’s largest airport. On these routes, Deutsche Bahn is increasing the number of available seats by up to 60 percent.

More services through central Germany

Central Germany will also benefit from the updated train plans. In the future, for example, there will be a daily direct Intercity (IC) connection from Warnemünde via Rostock, Waren to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Bitterfeld and Leipzig.

Another new service will be an early, daily connection from Dresden via Berlin to Hamburg and back. 

There will also be a new IC connection from Magdeburg to Berlin via Brandenburg and Potsdam. The double-decker trains will run once a day there and back from Monday to Friday.

Passengers will also be able to travel every two hours from Dresden via Leipzig, Halle, Magdeburg, and Cologne to Bonn, Koblenz, and Mainz.

New ICE 3 Neo trains will go into service

The first trains of the new ICE 3 Neo type will go into service from mid-December.

The new generation trains will run several times a day between Cologne and Frankfurt, as well as on the Cologne-Wiesbaden-Mainz and Dortmund/Cologne-Stuttgart-Munich routes, Deutsche Bahn announced on Monday.

Seats and fold-out tables in the first class area of a new ICE 3 Neo train. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The latest ICE variant can travel at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour and has more doors. According to Deutsche Bahn, it offers more space for families, more room for luggage, and has tablet holders and coat hooks on every seat, among other features.

READ ALSO: ‘Trains of the future’: German rail operator plans huge modernisation 

Next year, Deutsche Bahn intends to expand its fleet by three dozen new ICE 3 Neo trains, which will gradually increase the number of ICE seats to around an extra 19,000 by the end of 2024. 

More trains to Europe

The upcoming timetable will also include an early direct IC connection on Sundays from Vienna via Leipzig, Lutherstadt Wittenberg via Berlin to Neustrelitz, Waren, and Rostock.

A new night train line operated by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) between Prague, Berlin, and Zurich will also be launched in mid-December, Deutsche Bahn announced on Monday.

The connection from Berlin to Warsaw will get an additional sixth train from March 2023 in cooperation with Poland’s PKP. The connection between Berlin and Warsaw will also be around 10 minutes faster.

Higher Prices

The launch of the new timetable and services will be accompanied by an increase in fares from December 11th. Deutsche Bahn will raise long-distance fares by an average of five percent, while so-called Flextickets will cost almost seven percent more.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to raise ticket prices by almost five percent

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‘Double processing time’: Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Germany, Austria and another of other countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

'Double processing time': Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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