ICE versus TGV: German slow train

Theoretically, the ICE of Deutsche Bahn could race at up to 300 km / h through the countryside. In fact, most of the time he sneaks over the tracks. The comparison with the French TGV shows the reasons.

9.10 clock leaves the TGV Stuttgart Central Station. The trip to Paris will take exactly three hours and 23 minutes. And it will consist of two parts. A rather cozy gondola on Karlsruhe to Strasbourg. And a rapid break from Strasbourg to the Gare de l'Est of Paris.

The express train from France can briefly hint in Germany its Sprint assets only behind Stuttgart. The 180-kilometer drive to Strasbourg takes about 90 minutes - that's an average of 120 km / h.

The remaining 450 kilometers to Paris then sped down the TGV in less than two hours. He is allowed to drive up to 320 km / h and on average twice as fast as from Stuttgart to Strasbourg.

The fact that the TGV dawdles in this country and gives full throttle in France is not due to its French technology. The reason is rather the routes in Germany, which are only allowed for a few tens of kilometers for speeds over 160 km / h.

Like the TGV in Baden-Württemberg, the ICE is also involved - in many places in Germany. Too often, the trains have to slow down because the tracks do not allow high speeds, pass through a place, wait a few miles ahead for a red signal, or because track sections are still occupied by other trains.

France and Germany have invested billions in their high-speed networks. But the trains only run really fast on French tracks.

Example: Munich - Hamburg versus Paris - Marseille

How extreme the differences are, shows the comparison of two long distances. From Paris to Marseille it is about as far as from Munich to Hamburg - 765 to 780 kilometers. The TGV drives the route nonstop in three hours eleven minutes - so it can certainly keep up with the plane. One of the fastest ICE connections, however, takes five hours and 35 minutes from Munich to Hamburg, and some ICE also take an hour longer.

The following animation shows the comparison of TGV and ICE on the two almost equal distances:



The most important reason for the much longer ICE journey is to look in the eighties: The then Federal Railway decided that the high-speed trains unlike in France or Japan should not get their own route network . They share the tracks to date with slower IC, regional and freight trains. This inevitably leads to delays on more busy routes.

The mixed operation also increases the cost of route construction: while the relatively light TGV simply drives up small hills, the train had to build more tunnels in Germany because heavy goods trains can not cope with increases in excess of 1.25 percent.

The high-speed rail networks also reflect fundamental differences between countries: in centralized France, the so-called Lignes à Grande Vitesse lead from Paris to the south, to the Atlantic and to London and Brussels - largely through sparsely populated areas without high mountains, resulting in a straight line without time-consuming Stopover eased.


In decentralized, densely populated Germany, valleys and low mountain ranges make it difficult to build the track. The network is reminiscent of a patchwork quilt: High-speed routes with speeds of 250 km / h and over are always interrupted by slower passages - see map below.

Stop in smaller cities such as Göttingen, Fulda, Erfurt, Montabaur or Wolfsburg extend the travel time also fast times to four or five minutes. And even if the ICE does not stop, he has to throttle his speed sometimes when driving through town.


In the case of the TGV, however, the route is optimized for maximum speed. On the way from Paris to Marseille, the train could travel through Lyon and stop there, as happens with some connections. However, SNCF has built a long-distance Lyon bypass for a particularly fast non-stop connection. The TGV does not have to slow down.

"We can not be satisfied with the high-speed network in Germany," says Dirk Flege, CEO of the lobby organization "Allianz Pro Schiene". Since you do not look good compared to other countries such as France, Spain and Italy.

Time buffers extend the journey

But the German route network is better than it appears. At least theoretically. The SPIEGEL has calculated the possible travel times on the ICE tracks. The basis for this is the freely accessible data set with all railway lines in Germany. For each section, among other things, the permitted maximum speed is noted.

If all the signals on the way from Munich to Hamburg were green and the ICE could always run as fast as the respective section of the track would allow, a non-stop journey would only take four hours. Including all scheduled stops it would be four hours and 29 minutes - see the following diagram.

But why does the ICE need at least an hour longer in real terms? The analysis of the 780-kilometer track shows that the train has often included time buffers in the timetable - among other things, so that the trains are not immediately delayed for smaller delays.


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.

How big the reserves on the route Munich - Hamburg are, passengers can experience with some luck themselves. An ICE can leave in Munich with 28 minutes delay - and catch up to Hamburg the 28 minutes delay completely. The scheduled travel time should be five hours 37 minutes, actually needed the ICE on a Sunday in March, only five hours and 9 minutes. So it would be faster.

The fact that Deutsche Bahn does not use the potential of its high-speed network too little is also evident on other ICE lines. From Hamburg to Berlin, the fastest train takes an hour and 43 minutes - in theory, it could be 23 minutes faster. There are also larger reserves between Frankfurt and Cologne as well as Frankfurt and Munich - see the following diagram.

A railway spokeswoman said on request, maximum line speeds are not equated with continuous mobile speeds. Although theoretically a shorter travel time would be possible, a node may not be able to "pick up" the train earlier. The timetables are "highly complex". In addition, there would be necessary buffers in peak hours because the passengers getting in and out would take longer than the scheduled stop time according to the timetable.

Incidentally, the SNCF also does not have its own buffers on its TGV timetables - although these are significantly smaller than those of Deutsche Bahn. For example, Paris-Marseille is just 19 minutes away. The reserves in France are about 10 to 13 percent of the total travel time, in Germany it is 17 to 27 percent.

The ICEs could possibly travel faster and smoother if the railways introduced the ETCS train control system. It tells trains via digital radio how fast they are allowed to drive and where they have to stop - the usual signals next to the tracks would be superfluous. This should increase the capacity, especially on busy roads. Travel times as in France seem so hardly possible, however, as long as there are still too many sections with a speed limit of 160 or 200 km / h.

This is also what the railway wants to change, at least in the long term. On routes between Frankfurt and Mannheim, Würzburg and Nuremberg as well as Hanover and Berlin, the ICE should be able to drive up to 300 km / h in the future. That sounds good. However, if only parts of the routes for high speeds are expanded, the effect is relatively low.

This shows the end of 2017 opened route from Berlin via Erfurt to Munich. On the new road through the Thuringian Forest drive the fastest ICE up to 300 km / h - yet the average speed on the entire route at just 150 km / h. So the journey to Munich takes four hours. A progress compared to the previous six-hour drive - but still too slow to rival the plane.

ref: spiegel