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November 13, 2006

The Art of being Punctual

I remember The Monk telling me once with deep conviction 'All your German trains are punctual'. I wondered what had put that idea into his head for my own perception had been quite different. And it is corroborated by an article in the newspaper today: The Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) wants 87% of her long-distance trains to be punctual but only 78,5% are! Interestingly, only 51% of the ICE Sprinter, which should provide the fastest connection between two cities, are punctual on the Frankfurt/Main - Berlin line. 60% are punctual between Hamburg and Cologne and 79% between Hamburg and Frankfurt/Main.

The reasons are numerous but mostly due to old railroad tracks that are in urgent need of repair and replacement. Quite a number of 'low-speed sections' are found nowadays even on tracks that are used by high-speed trains. Railroad works cannot catch up fast enough.

Not good enough, if you ask me. What is the justification for demanding an extra charge for the ICE Sprinter if the Deutsche Bahn doesn't get you to your destination on time? And what's even more annoying Deutsche Bahn has creatively redefined 'punctuality'. It means you don't arrive somewhere more than 5 minutes late (at least I think it is 5 minutes, might be 3, but still). That doesn't sound like much but it may easily wreck your schedule if you have to catch a connection.

I remember a particularly nightmarish journey from Wiesbaden to Zweibrücken in the Southwest of Germnay. I was due to appear in court there at 3 p.m. The first leg of the journey was from Wiesbaden to Mainz by a local train, a very short journey, as Wiesbaden and Mainz are situated opposite each other on the banks of the River Rhine. Believe it or not the train managed to lose 10 minutes during a few kilometers. I would have missed my connection from Mainz to Mannheim but luckily that train was late as well. Bit of luck! And still a few minutes to spare for changing trains in Mannheim. I needed those because I had to go to another platform in Mannheim. Or rather run! Good thing I only had a briefcase to carry! I jumped into the train, the doors closed and we were on our way to Homburg. There I would have to take a bus to Zweibrücken which ran every half hour. I had timed my arrival in Homburg so that I would be able to catch the bus at 2 p.m. which would give me half an hour in Zweibrücken to find the right building. Great plan! For some unknown reason the train stopped only a few hundred meters from Homburg and would only continue in its own good time. Okay. I finally arrived in Zweibrücken at 3 p.m. The bus stop was just outside the court building and I rushed breathlessly into the courtroom. Only to find out that the Court had taken the opportunity to have a coffee break!

The journey back wasn't much better because I missed a connection in between and had to wait for ages for the next train. Not much fun in winter! Well, I probably shouldn't complain because I got back home before midnight. If you have to travel with Deutsche Bahn you learn quickly to be thankful for little things.

Posted by Mausi at November 13, 2006 06:13 PM

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Ah, you see, we in the UK are constantly told how much better the train services are in Germany, in France or anywhere except here ....

Media bias perhaps?

Posted by: The Gray Monk at November 14, 2006 09:04 AM

Definitely! :-)

Posted by: Mausi at November 14, 2006 05:37 PM