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KEY POINTS: How Germany's long-distance train services will change next year

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KEY POINTS: How Germany's long-distance train services will change next year
ICE trains in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

Deutsche Bahn will update the train timetable at the end of 2023. The new plan includes more connections between cities and additional night trains. But the service won't get any more punctual and it will likely get more expensive.

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What's happening?

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn has published its 2024 timetable which will kick in this December. 

And there's some good news: the operator is increasing long-distance services, particularly on the routes between Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and between Berlin and Munich.

But the bad news is that the chronic unreliability of long-distance trains will not change for the time being. Plus rail customers in Germany have to prepare for higher prices.

READ ALSO: How did train travel in Germany get so bad?

“With the 2024 timetable, we are offering our passengers more new connections than we have had in 20 years,” said DB board member Michael Peterson on Friday.

Here's a look at the major changes at a glance:

- Berlin-NRW: With an additional, two-hourly ICE (high speed) line between Berlin and Cologne via Wuppertal, a long-distance train will run between the capital and Hanover every 30 minutes. According to DB, the number of seats available on the entire route will increase by 20 to 25 percent. 

- Berlin-Munich: There will also be a half-hourly service between Berlin and Munich from December, while the Sprinter connection will be operated once an hour in the future. The Sprinter also travels between Nuremberg and Berlin three times a day in each direction without stopping. The travel time on the route is being reduced to as little as three hours and 45 minutes in some cases.

An ICE long-distance train leaves Munich Hauptbahnhof.

An ICE long-distance train leaves Munich Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

- Nightjet service: From December, the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) will operate a night train connection between Berlin and Paris and Berlin and Brussels. The offer will be initially available three times a week. From October 2024, the Nightjet will operate every day. Deutsche Bahn discontinued its own night train service six years ago. However, several routes in Germany continued to be operated by ÖBB. Now the two firms want to expand their cooperation.

READ ALSO: What to know about the planned new cross-border train services between Germany and Austria

- Regionally, there will also be new services between Leipzig, Jena and Nuremberg. In future, five IC connections per day will be offered through the Saale Valley, DB said. For the first time, Magdeburg will have a connection to Hamburg as well as more direct connections to Berlin and Rostock.

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- The timetable applies from December 10th and ticket sales for the new services begin on October 11th. So keep this in mind if you're booking for the Christmas period. 

What about prices?

The timetable change in December will also likely bring higher prices for long-distance trains as inflation has continued to increase.

"Of course, we have to think about our fares in view of the general price development,” said DB's Peterson. “We will inform passengers about this in good time in October."

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Why won't punctuality improve?

Anyone travelling on trains regularly in Germany will be aware that punctuality is a major problem. 

And unfortunately, this won't improve next year with the new timetable, according to rail bosses. 

The main reason, according to DB, is problems with the overloaded and ageing rail network, as well as several construction sites that are required.

Last year, almost one in three long-distance rail travellers reached their destination at least 15 minutes late.

"In 2024, too, we will have to ask our passengers to be a little more patient than they and we would like," said Peterson. "But we will begin the general renovation of the rail network next year."

It will begin with the modernisation of the so-called Riedbahn between Frankfurt and Mannheim, which will last until 2030. DB said the Riedbahn is one of the busiest routes in Europe.

Better reliability of long-distance services can be expected from 2025, Peterson said. 

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