The new “Germany clock” is supposed to make many things better for Deutsche Bahn. It should start between Hamburg and Berlin in December. But of all things, there could still be various construction sites on this route.
Train drivers know the problem too well. If you want to travel from one city to the next, but don’t yet know exactly when, you better arm yourself with the departure times before departure. 5.40 p.m., 6.31 p.m., 7.54 p.m.: The timetable often does not make it easy for frequent drivers to keep an overview. At least on the first long-haul routes, this could soon come to an end if it were up to the company and politics. The solution has a bulky name: Germany clock.
What sounds technical should trigger a revolution in the rail network. The rhythm would not only be the end of the yellow timetable on the tracks and in the station halls. By 2030, ICE trains throughout the country should always run at the same time as S-Bahn trains in city traffic. The railways are planning a 30-minute interval between the largest cities, which is much more connections than today. A 60-minute interval is planned between others. On branch lines at least one every two hours. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) spoke of the “largest project in the railway sector since the railway reform of 1994” when the plans were published in autumn. Since then, experts have been tinkering with the details.
Since Tuesday it has been clear when to start. Scheuer met with industry representatives in his ministry to sign a future plan for the railways. Central element: the introduction of the Germany tact. From the end of this year, precisely at the change of timetable in early December, trains on the route between Hamburg and Berlin are to run every half hour in Germany for the first time. And thus much earlier than previously planned. Actually, the railway had only planned to start the clock change in 2021.
But Scheuer’s Ministry of Transport apparently put pressure on people to get on board. The change had to be experienced quickly by the customers, Scheuer demanded on Tuesday. After all, the group and the government want to quickly win back customers who are away from the trains because of the Corona crisis. By 2030, the number of passengers using the climate-friendly means of transport is expected to double from seven to 14 million daily.
But the plan triggers irritation in the industry. According to experts, the infrastructure is not yet ready for the system change. Extensions are necessary to make the route between Hamburg and Berlin more trafficable. However, it will be difficult to achieve by the end of the year, it is said in circles of the railway. In addition, the route will be blocked for ten weeks next year according to the Group’s plans to complete construction work. The clock is probably stopped after a few months because the trains are diverted over a different route. As if that weren’t enough problems, experts also fear negative consequences for freight and local transport on the route. Hourly detours threatened for freight trains because the route between Hamburg and Berlin was not yet designed for so much traffic, warns, for example, Peter Westenberger, Managing Director of the Network of European Railways and thus representatives of the private freight railways. “We expect massive collateral damage.”
The most important routes are already overloaded
The bumpy start to the German tactic makes it involuntarily clear what dimension the project has – and how difficult it will be to introduce the system nationwide. After all, on the pilot route alone, six ICE trains per day and direction will run at new intervals, based on previous plans by Deutsche Bahn. Capacity increases by 20 percent on the route that is already frequently used today. According to earlier calculations, if the entire long-distance traffic was to be converted and the passengers were to be doubled, the train would need hundreds more. The train expects 200 trains by 2024 alone. Even more will be needed if a train will travel every 30 minutes on all major axes such as the Hamburg – Frankfurt – Munich, Berlin – Munich, Dresden – Mannheim – Basel and Hamburg – Cologne – Stuttgart routes .
But not only new trains are needed, but also the expensive expansion of routes. After all, the most important routes are already overloaded. More traffic is impossible in many places on the network. In order to realize this, additional capacities in the area of the heavily used corridors and large nodes are necessary, according to railway circles. In order to keep the clock nodes, the travel time between Berlin and Düsseldorf has to be reduced significantly to around three and a half hours. A good five hours of driving time between Stuttgart and Hamburg should become four and a half. The result: slow routes have to become high-speed routes.
The future system is also intended to initiate a paradigm shift on the railways. So far, the timetables have been planned depending on the load limit of the train. Now the system is to be expanded for the planned schedule. Railway chief Richard Lutz said on Tuesday what he thinks is the most important prerequisite for starting the future system: “The first step is to expand the infrastructure.”