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Every hour, at the same time, all over Germany! People travel more often by train if the service is correct. Key elements are intelligent and coordinated trains connections in train stations.
Half of the long-distance travelers in Germany use local transport on their journey to reach their destination. This means that one should not focus solely on the main lines traffic. What is the point of a trip from Buxtehude to Cottbus, with an ICE between Hamburg and Berlin at 230 km/h, if the traveler must to wait more than three quarters of an hour on the platform for connection? So there would be no clock-face schedule in Germany?
Not the same requirements
In reality, the clock-face schedule is operated on two separate commercial segments. The first concerns long-distance traffic entirely managed by Deutsche Bahn and its many ICEs. Since 1979, Deutsche Bahn has been offering connections every hour between the big German cities, with the success we all know. So far, the idea was that few long-distance travelers would take a local train to continue their journey. This is the principle of air travel.
The second segment is the local traffic: it is not the same customers. Deutsche Bahn managed – and still manages – this traffic separately, without paying too much attention to long-distance segment travelers. The main argument that is often defended is that local customers have other expectations compared to long-distance customers. It is therefore necessary to construct timetables adapted to school hours, offices, etc.
The networks that have adopted the clock-face schedule have shown that it favors connections and that it increases traffic, as in the Benelux countries or in Switzerland. The Lander have also built a clock time schedule on the regional segment, adapted to the requests of their customers. What is problematic is the coincidence between the arrival of the long-distance Intercity and the immediate connections with the local trains. In some cases, there is a gap of 20 to 40 minutes, which is dissuasive for the long-distance traveler.
From everywhere to everywhere
Associations have taken up this problem of connections between long-distance trains and local traffic. In 2008, the VCD (Verkehrsclub Deutschland), an environmental association, as well as other German associations, founded the “Deutschland-Takt” initiative (literally the “German clock”). The future of transport in Germany is becoming clearer every day: more inhabitants tomorrow means more trips and a carbon footprint that must absolutely be controlled. For this growth of travel to be sustainable, we must move the population as much as possible towards trains services. But the rail network is not able today to absorb this growth.
In 2015, the project is taken seriously. A study by the Federal Ministry of Transport concludes that a clock-face schedule in Germany is possible. The report states that this concept will increase the number of connections and reduce the total duration of journeys. The German clock time schedule is to make the railway system more attractive for a large number of people by means of tailor-made synchronization of the network in passenger rail transport. The trains must be running at regular intervals, for example every 30 or 60 minutes, and go to each hub stations in Germany. They leave after a short time to avoid waiting and transfer time too long. This connected network multiplies the connections and therefore the attractiveness of the railways. In rail freight transport, the introduction of an clock time schedule should allow for greater train path availability. Enak Ferlemann, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Transport, conveys the vision of the federal government for the year 2030 and told Die Welt: ‘The railway will have state-of-the-art trains, be on time, will no longer produce greenhouse gas emissions and will offer much better supply than today, especially in metropolitan areas.’ In theory…
To take the realities into account
The clock-face schedule is not a miracle pill. Current realities of the infrastructure and the reliability of the trains also count for a lot. At the moment, the German rail network can count on nearly 1000 worksites per day. Punctuality is catastrophic: less than 70% of trains arrive on time while Deutsche Bahn has already set a rate of 85% for years. Only one on six ICE initially works without technical problems (toilets or air conditioning down, no restaurant, missing car, bad maintenance, faulty reservation system, etc.). It is the CEO of the DB, Richard Lutz, who says it. Added to this is a growing number of “non-railway” incidents, such as theft of cables or people along the tracks. Whereas rail traffic is paralyzed, highways do not have these problems. And the citizen knows it: with the Waze app, the citizen is able to bypass incidents and traffic jams…
These negative elements strongly degrade the clock-face schedule, since the schedule is no longer respected. Except in one case: when the local traffic is composed of a train every 15 minutes, the delay of an ICE is “less serious”. But such local traffic only exists on regional high-traffic lines, around big cities like Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Berlin or Munich. For lower traffic lines, the Lander build generally schedules with one train per hour. In this case, the delay of an ICE is much more problematic. In the best case, the local train is waiting for the latecomer. But it irritates the local commuters who suffer a delay that does not concern them!
At the political level, the Lander are responsible – and pay – for local train traffic. They are very attentive to the quality of the service and the punctuality provided by their operators. They do not intend to “pay” for the setbacks of the national DB by delaying “the trains of their own voters”, as recalled by a fiery regional minister.
Moreover, the question arises of which compensation that should be paid when local operators, ready to leave and perfectly on time, are ordered to wait for an Intercity late. These details are not regulated everywhere in the same manner. It is true that the question also arises in the opposite direction. Should an Intercity wait for a local train late? On another scale, we know that buses often wait for trains, but that trains never wait for buses late because they paralyze the tracks …
Improvements for a clock-face schedule involve infrastructure solutions and the adoption of digital tools. This is what Enak Ferlemann recalls: ‘The construction of new tracks is expensive, the approval process is long and faces fierce resistance from the inhabitants.’ Putting more trains on existing tracks ‘means that current control and safety technology of signalization needs to be replaced by electronic systems, which means that trains can travel at shorter intervals, allowing for more dense traffics. Therefore, the railways must be digitized section per section. It is expected that it will increase rail capacity by 20%. I think it’s too optimistic. If we reach 10%, it would be good.’ says the Secretary of State.
The other part is the reliability of the trains, denounced by the CEO of the DB. Digital tools can help. But they cannot solve all problems encountering either. Team management in the workshops will have to be adapted, which is often a problem at the social level.
The clock-face schedule can obviously extend to urban transport and local buses. That becomes a large public transport organized and connected. But how to deal with incidents of only one operator of the chain? That’s the whole question. The concept of Mobility As A Service (MaaS) should be an help. But the MaaS presents in real time only what is actually operational and available. This is not a problem around the big cities, where service offers are plentiful. In case of incident, we can fall back on other choices. This is not the case in less urbanized areas, where the offers would remain weaker, MaaS or not.
The clock-face schedule is in any case part of the BVWP 2030 government plan. 41.3% of the projects are for rail transport and alone represent around € 109.3 billion. Which is considerable. It is no longer a question of engaging in sumptuary spending, but to upgrade the rail network.
Deutsche Bahn, meanwhile, must put pressure on quality and operating costs. It has lost 27% of regional traffic over the last decade, to other companies that can make the train cheaper and more efficient. The DB faces a vast shortage of train drivers. The job maybe have to be upgraded but without creating billionaire employees, which would have an impact on the ticket prices. Digital tools will also be able to evolve the whole sector, such as semi-automated driving, predictive maintenance, traveler orientation and mobile service offerings.
Regarding the latter theme, Secretary of State Enak Ferlemann wonders: ‘Of course, passengers want a door-to-door service, so a complete chain of transport. The question is whether Deutsche Bahn has to offer a complete offer, from the train to the bike and the rental car. Or if the company should focus only on its core business and if other operators could take over the last few miles.’ The federal government’s job will be to ensure that the interfaces work perfectly when changing means of transport. A huge challenge …
More space, more comfortable trains, faster and better connections, for passengers, Berlin-Brandenburg’s new transport plan includes many projects that will improve passenger rail transport in the years to come.
On 4 October 2017, the Lander of Berlin and Brandenburg signed with Deutsche Bahn AG the framework agreement “i 2030” for the development of rail transport in Berlin and Brandenburg. This step becomes concrete because the national parliament deliberates on the supplementary budget and thus on the financing of the first measures.
‘The time for cancellations is over. The 2018 rail traffic plan provides for an additional 10 million train kilometers in the next ten years. In other words, we will make more connections, put more trains on the rails, develop infrastructure and improve the quality of service. We do not just want to make a bigger but better offer, with a better bus and train service, a wireless LAN on trains and more accessibility. To achieve all this, we need to invest in the infrastructure that we have already developed. The new plan is an important step to the implementation of the 2030 mobility strategy.’
Rail transport in the Berlin region.
The greater Berlin area consists of two Lander: Berlin and Brandenburg. The VVB is the transport organizing authority (AOT) covering the two Lander.. It is a private limited company owned jointly by the states of Berlin and Brandenburg (with one third each) and the 18 counties and cities of Brandenburg with 1.85% each. It was founded on 30 December 1996. VBB is one of the largest transport associations in Europe based on the area covered of 30,367 km² with nearly 6 million inhabitants. Common ticketing was launched on 1 April 1999 on a 27.561 km network including :
– 499 km of tram
– 146 km of underground
– 557 km of S-Bahn and
– 3.461 km of regional trains
This network, which also includes 906 bus lines, transported in 2017 nearly 1.47 billion, or 4 million passengers per day.
Like in London, the entire network is shared by many railway companies, including the legendary S-Bahn:
– Deutsche Bahn (DB)
– S-Bahn Berlin (DB subsidiary)
– Hanseatische Eisenbahn (HANS)
The i2030 project
So far, the Lander development plan, the public transport plan and the draft mobility strategy have not been sufficient and, above all, insufficiently ambitious targets for the quality of regional rail transport between Berlin and the Brandenburg cities. However, the Berlin-Brandenburg Capital Region is developing very dynamically.The number of commuters is increasing. The additional rail service orders have repeatedly exceeded the limits of the infrastructure. In the Berlin-Brandenburg region, several extension projects have been launched, such as the extension of Karower Kreuz or Dresdner Bahn. But more needs to be done.
In order to launch the necessary planning processes, the Land of Berlin and Brandenburg have signed a framework agreement with Deutsche Bahn AG in October 2017 for an infrastructure development concept called i2030. This agreement plans to study and develop eight lines:
- Tramway de Potsdam
- Prignitz Express / Velten
- Nordbahn / Heidekrautbahn
- Berlin-Dresde / Rangsdorf
- Berlin-Cottbus / station Königs Wusterhausen
- Élimination des goulots d’étranglement et développement du réseau S-Bahn (par exemple, Wannsee-Griebnitzsee).
The Brandenburg Ministry of Transport has drawn up a list of 80 projects for which the Land wants to invest 36 million in the current 2018 budget. This shows the importance of regional power in German transport.
Most of the measures are aimed primarily at implementing accessibility and expanding cycling and hiking options as well as parking options. At peak times, the capacity must also be increased on several lines. The measures provided for the new 2018 transport plan are adapted accordingly. The share of the alone Land of Brandenburg in regional and suburban railway traffic in 2017 achieves 35 million train-kilometers. Traffic will be increased by 10 million train-kilometers over the next 10 years.
Other improvements of the transport offer are still under study. The implementation of these measures will increase the performance of approximately 2 million train kilometers from 35 to 37 million over the next two years. From December 2022, additional offers and decreases of travel times are planned.
Beyond project i2030
Beyond the Berlin suburban network, extension by new tracks is necessary. The Federal Government and Deutsche Bahn AG are involved in projects that improve traffic conditions in the rural areas of the capital region.
Various instruments are available to finance the projects. The use of public funds should be increased gradually. With the reorganization of regionalization funds decided in 2016, the Lander have financial security until 2031. From the mid-2020s, spending will increasingly exceed the available regionalization funds. Therefore, others funds for public transport will have to be used.
The same goes for investments in infrastructure, such as the extension of railway stations or the construction of P + R car parks. Since 2013, the State has used a considerable part of what is called unbundled funds for that investments. The Public Transportation Act was revised in 2017, and unbundled funds will no longer be provided directly by the federal government from 2019. The new policy contains provisions and adaptations necessary to help counties and cities become “municipal” public transport authorities.
The objective of transport policy is to continue to promote investment in public transport from 2020. In 2018, 36 million euros will be spent on 80 projects. For example, the reconstruction of Cottbus station, two new bus stops in Brandenburg on the Havel and a new Park and Ride car park in Tuckow. Additional funds will be made available to the transport authorities for the implementation of accessibility in trams, buses and transit stops. This helps to facilitate entry and exit in vehicles for people with reduced mobility.
Other measures are added to this panel. Berlin is crossing the border and extending its services to Poland. The expansion of cross-border rail traffic beyond the Oder River is also part of the projects. But it does not end only in the transport sector.
Living near train stations
The development of new towns and neighborhoods along the railway lines is also planned, which is new. Finally, housing is associated with transportation. It also supports an affordable urban development and housing strategy, the development of city centers and station environments. The surroundings of Berlin have developed dynamically. The Falkensee / Brieselang region is one of the most promising areas. The particularly fast connection to regional traffic in Berlin’s city center, which has been built since the mid-1990s, has clearly played the role of growth driver for the city and the entire region.
The clear majority of citizens of Brandenburg live – unlike many Berliners – not in villages, but in small or medium-sized cities, ie in urban and peri-urban structures 20 or 40 minutes from the capital. More than 2.45 million people in the state of Brandenburg live in this type of urbanization, which represents 80% of the population. This is why urbanization is part of a larger plan that combines the i2030 public transport project.
With its projects, Berlin is trying to upgrade face to major German cities such as Frankfurt or Munich. We will have the opportunity later to see in detail the promising development of this region.
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The Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR) is a regional public transport authority that ensures the integration of public transport (prices, offers, quality …), and which finance and provides grants to operators, whether train, tram or bus . The zone managed extends to the Ruhr, the Niederrhein, to part of the Bergisch Land and the state capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf, totaling 8.2 million people. Founded in 1986 as an association of public transport companies, VRR has gradually gained duties and responsibilities and is now seen as a mobility service that acts upstream, in cooperation with service providers to form an integrated transport system. This authority has nearly 49 rail lines and 935 bus lines, for a traffic of about 4 million passengers every day.
As everyone knows, in Germany, regional transport, including railways services, depends on the Lander, which award contracts and grants to operaters of their choice, and not only to the national DBAG. As a buyer of rail services for regional and local passengers, VRR’s mission is to regularly control trains services and the compliance to the contractually agreeded quality standards. As such, the VRR produces an annual barometer of all rail providers. The edition 2015 has now been published. It shows the state of rail passenger transport in the region of the Ruhr. For the tenth time, it provides an overview of the quality of service in the interests of transparency which would make the envy in other Member States of Europe. The annual report provides information on the punctuality and condition of vehicles, shows how travelers appreciate the achievements in the regional rail transport and highlights the quality of sales services. What can we see?
It is noted here that private providers seem to hold the top of the podium, with respect to the DB, but with some variations. As in previous years, the current report shows that the procedure for awarding regional railway lines has a positive effect on the quality of the offer: the assigned lines in competitive tenders are still highly rated by users than those under “bulk” contract of the DB. The barometer below delivers the details:
Services and seating
VRR has questioned travelers on various standards of quality and the level of satisfaction by railway line. Evaluation is curiously denoted as “one” ( “very good”) to “six” ( “unsatisfactory”). So you must have a low score to get the highest notes. Overall, users are more satisfied with the performance of public services over the previous year. Only six of 49 lines operated by the VRR get a worse rating than 2014. On this quotation, DB seems to record the lowest scores, as shown in the table below, with an average of 2.27. By contrast, Abellio (subsidiary of the Dutch NS) is second with 1.87 and the gold is obtained by Regiobahn, a private subsidiary owned by several cities of the Ruhr, with a score of 1.67, the best of the table. As noted in the report, an “increase” of satisfaction is thus denoted while the extremes scores of 2014 extended between 1.70 and 2.83. So there is progress, and VRR attributed this to competitive pressure between providers.
VRR has seen however an increase in the number of trains where seating capacity was less than expected. If some of the passengers seem satisfied, the report, however, gives a negative rating for lines RE2, RE11, RB 27, RB 42 and RB 48 to DB Regio AG and the line RE3 from the private company Eurobahn. Passengers assess better the state of the vehicles than before: modern vehicles or a new interior design certainly have a positive effect on the satisfaction. The report also highlights that the overhaul of the Ruhr-Sieg network (RE 16, RB 40 and RB 91) with Flirt trainsets of two or three cars managed by Abellio, begins to show its effects. On other lines, the reason for the sharp improvement in the overall score can be explained by the use of new trains. Since the last timetable change in December 2014, the S6 line earns 3.31 percentage points thanks to the introduction of the class ET 422, replacing old hauled trains. On the S68 line, rising of 1.97 points is certainly due to the modernization of class ET420.
Punctuality and infrastructure
On the side of infrastructure, if it is still necessary to prove, remains important in punctuality, even in Germany. Martin Husmann, the CEO of the VRR, clearly explains the reasons: ‘(the network) was neglected in the past. For years, the DB Group has not adequately maintained his tracks and few investments were undertaken for the technical update. This means that passengers today suffer disproportionately of many construction sites, causing many delays and cancellations.’ The regional express trains have certainly enhanced their punctuality rate compared to 2014, but the average remains around 84%. The S-Bahn, where the distance is shorter, has a better time performance. The end of 2015 was marked mainly by the fire of the Mülheim signal box, causing chaos for several weeks. Thalys has even postponed its service to Dortmund until April 2016. ‘This shows once again the importance of investing in the maintenance and the expansion of the installations to face to this kind of event with more skill’ insists Martin Husmann.
VRR is booming. By the end of 2016, the lines with high potential like Cologne-Düsseldorf-Bochum and Dortmund – Düsseldorf will spend from two to three trains per hour in Regional services. The frequency on the Duisburg-Essen line will spend from four to five trains per hour, which can leave thoughtful. Abellio will operate with a cross border service between Arnhem, the Netherlands, and Dusseldorf, thus connecting the Dutch city to the Ruhr area.
But Martin Husmann reported another interessant project: the tender for the non-electrified line Emscher-Münsterland, with services RE 14 and RB. Main feature: ‘Our intention from December 2020 is to use fuel cell vehicles. These vehicles are intended to represent a sustainable alternative to conventional diesel trainsets. Using an energy storage device, a smart power management and a favorable energy carrier, these railcars have, compared to conventional diesel units, an increased energy efficiency. In addition, noise emissions will be significantly reduced. ‘ The competitive process for the acquisition and maintenance of these vehicles on the one hand, and the operational services on the other hand, will be conducted separately. An interesting ecological and technological project to follow …