Express train vision: In 2.5 hours from Berlin to Munich

If there were fast railway lines in Germany, as in France, domestic flights would be superfluous. But such a network will probably never exist - the Ministry of Transport and the railways have other priorities.

Germany is not France - that's no surprising finding. But what if at least the express train network in this country would be structured like in our neighboring country? The travel times between the big cities would then be significantly shorter, as model calculations of SPIEGEL show.

For example, a trip from Munich to Hamburg would only take three hours and twelve minutes - and from Berlin to Cologne it would take just two hours and 21 minutes. That would be two hours less compared to the currently fastest ICE connections on both routes - see the following diagrams.

These calculations are based on the assumption that the tracks are built a few kilometers from the start station to a few kilometers from the destination station consistently to a top speed of 300 km / h - as is the case in France on the fast TGV routes. For example between Paris and Marseilles (765 kilometers) or Paris and Bordeaux (540 kilometers). In Germany, there are such continuous high-speed lines virtually no - an ICE must keep its pace on the road repeatedly to 200 or even 160 km / h throttling.

For the simulated connections here, the ICE travels on the same route as the current timetable. The mileage does not change - but because of the assumed much higher speed, the travel time. In the fictitious railway network, the ICE does not have to drive or stop slowing anywhere - just like the fast TGV in France.

Necessary time buffer

The diagram above shows the theoretically achievable shortest possible travel time (blue bar) - the ICE always drives as fast as allowed on the respective track section. Added to this is a buffer (magenta), which is inevitably included in the timetable, and which is typically 10 to 13 percent of the travel time for current TGV connections in France.

We expected the fictitious ICE network to have a buffer of around 14 percent. This means that a train instead of 300 is almost 260 km / h fast, if he drives the developed route at constant speeds. So he can compensate for small delays such as when leaving or because of a temporarily blocked route section by a faster ride again.

Why still fly?

If the ICE network in Germany were as fast as the TGV, it would have been difficult for providers of domestic flights. This would also save a lot of CO2, because the ICEs are already running 100 percent with green electricity. Even on the long route Munich - Hamburg, the train with a travel time of just over three hours would usually be faster than the plane, because passengers still have to consider the arrival and departure to the airport as well as the necessary waiting times.

The following map shows a scenario for a high-speed network that allows significantly faster connections. In order to reach anywhere at 300 km / h, some of the blue routes would have to be expanded because they are sometimes only up to 250 or 280 km / h.


Three factors determine whether or not an ICE can travel quickly between cities:

1) A continuous route to 300 km / h

If only parts up to 300 km / h are allowed, the train has to slow down again and again to 250, 200 or even only 160 km / h. As a result, the average speed drops rapidly - the travel time increases accordingly. This is also evident on the new ICE route Berlin - Munich. Of the total of 620 kilometers only 238 kilometers (38 percent) are approved for 300 km / h. At almost 200 kilometers, the permitted speed is a maximum of 160 km / h. In addition, there are buffers in the timetable, so that the ICE ultimately comes only to an average speed of 150 km / h. The fastest TGV in France reach an average of 240 to 260 km / h.

2) A non-congested route

In Germany, the ICE railways share regional and freight trains. However, the more trains run on a stretch of road, the greater the risk that high-speed trains will have to slow down or stop their journey because areas ahead of them are not cleared. A separate network exclusively for high-speed trains avoids such problems.

3) As few as possible, ideally no intermediate stops

Each stop costs time - for braking and accelerating and for standing at the station. A three-minute hold will lengthen a ride by at least six minutes compared to a train passing the station at 200 km / h. If the journey is 300 km / h fast, the loss of time for the same stop is at least eight or nine minutes because of the longer braking and acceleration phases. On the ICE route Munich - Hamburg, the current timetable currently provides at least seven stops. The stops extend the ride by at least 30 minutes.

With Tempo 300 from Munich to Hamburg

We simulated the fictitious ICE route Munich - Hamburg, which was extended to 300 km / h with three stops - in Nuremberg, Kassel and Hanover. By Ingolstadt, Würzburg, Fulda and Göttingen, the ICE would then have to race through at 300 km / h, which of course is currently hardly possible. For the entrances and exits in Nuremberg, Kassel and Hanover, in turn, a limit of 160 km / h would apply. Under these assumptions, the ICE would take 20 minutes longer than a nonstop ride because of the three stops - see the diagram below.

But as attractive as a high-speed network may seem - there will not be any in Germany for the foreseeable future. The course was already set in the eighties. At that time, government and railways decided not to build a separate network for the fast ICE - unlike France (TGV) and Japan (Shinkansen). Result: The network is repeatedly overloaded at important nodes, delays are the result.

Against travel times as in France also speaks the completely different settlement structure in Germany. In the area there are many more cities where the train does not want to pass or because of political reasons can not pass. Thus, the high-speed train designed ICE becomes a D-train with more luxury.

"The high-speed network will hardly grow in Germany in the coming years," says Dirk Flege, Managing Director of the lobby organization Allianz pro Schiene. The route Wendlingen - Ulm near Stuttgart is currently the only route under construction - in addition to remaining work on the route Munich - Berlin. According to Flege, the latest announcements for the expansion of further routes, such as Hanover - Bielefeld, are merely statements of intent: "Implementation has not yet been decided."


Which data is the basis of the evaluation?

Driving time calculations are based on the infrastructure registers of SNCF and DB AG. These contain the most important information about each section of the route, such as maximum speed, route ID, length and electrification. The route information is freely available via the open data portals of the railway companies: Link to SNCF and DB AG.

How were the train rides simulated?

The TGV or ICE drove as fast as possible in each section. The train has thus always accelerated to the maximum speed allowed there . Prior to lower-speed sections, the train was braked in time. The calculations contain the exact course of the braking and acceleration phases.

For the sake of simplicity, the same acceleration values ​​were calculated for ICE and TGV:

  • a = 0,5 m / s * s when braking and at speeds up to 100 km / h
  • a = 0.3 m / s * s at speeds above 100 km / h to 200 km / h
  • a = 0.15 m / s * s at speeds above 200 km / h.

How realistic are the calculated travel times?

Of course, the shortest possible travel times can not be achieved in practice, because there are always small delays - be it only a train still occupied by another train. Therefore, the actual travel times are 10 to 25 percent longer. When calculating the speed profiles for the routes Strasbourg - Paris, Munich - Hamburg and Paris - Marseille, the maximum speeds in all sections were lowered evenly, so that the trains in each section come to the actual travel time.

And even if the federal government, as the owner of the train, decides to build, the routes would probably be completed in 10 or even 20 years due to the necessary planning, approval procedures, public participation and long construction times.

The head of the Pro-Rail alliance considers a high-speed train to make domestic flights superfluous one day "a very charming option". But this train was already long gone. "We would have had to make such a decision years ago," says Flege. On the other hand, the newest express train generation of the railways speaks against it. The ICE 4 are optimized for energy-efficient operation and can only reach 250 km / h.

Even the Federal Ministry of Transport has long had other priorities in the railway network. A high speed is at most still a secondary goal. Under the catchword Deutschlandtakt, the routes should be developed and optimized in such a way that, ideally, every 30 minutes a train departs from every important station in every direction. Passengers would then no longer have to consult the timetable, but could simply go to the station and take the next train.

Not too early and not too late

A central building block in the German cycle are short transit times, for example from the ICE to the regional train. Currently it can happen that you have to wait 45 or 50 minutes for a connecting train, because the timetables are not well matched.

If perfect timing is the goal, it can even happen that trains have to drive single distances slower than before, so they do not arrive too early at an interchange station. On other routes, however, the speed would have to increase - depending on the location and distance of the nodes.

If you want to experience the advantages of a developed high-speed network, you must continue to travel to other countries. France makes it, Spain and Italy catch up. The longest routes are in China. It has already built 27,000 kilometers - that's two-thirds of the world's high-speed rail lines.

The longest connection in China is nearly 2800 kilometers long. The shortest travel time is 13 hours, which corresponds to an average speed of 215 km / h. This is a bit slower than the TGV - but still much faster than almost all ICE connections in Germany.