Rail transport in Germany

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Rail transport in Germany
ICE 3 Köln Hauptbahnhof 2015-12-17-03.JPG
An ICE 3 approaching Köln Hauptbahnhof
National railwayDeutsche Bahn
Ridership2.87 billion (2018)[1]
Passenger km97.8 billion (2018)[1]
Freight116 billion tkm (2018)[1]
System length
Total33,331 kilometres (20,711 mi)
(2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[2]
Double track18,201 kilometres (11,310 mi)
(2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[2]
Electrified19,983 kilometres (12,417 mi)
(2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[2]
Track gauge
Main1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Main15 kV 16.7 Hz
Bahnstrecken Deutschland Karte.svg

Map of the railway network in Germany as of 2020.

  Main lines
  Branch lines

As of 2015, Germany had a railway network of 33,331 kilometres (20,711 mi), of which 19,983 kilometres (12,417 mi) were electrified and 18,201 kilometres (11,310 mi) were double track.[2] Germany is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC Country Code for Germany is 80.

Germany was ranked fourth among national European rail systems in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index assessing intensity of use, quality of service and safety.[3] Germany had a very good rating for intensity of use, by both passengers and freight, and good ratings for quality of service and safety.[3] Germany also captured relatively high value in return for public investment with cost to performance ratios that outperform the average ratio for all European countries.[3]


In 2018, railways in Germany transported the following amount of passengers and freight.[1]

Passenger/payload-distance Passenger/payload Average distance
Passenger Long-distance 42,886,000,000 pkm 148,629,000 289 km
Local 54,919,000,000 pkm 2,724,800,000 20 km
Sum 97,805,000,000 pkm 2,873,429,000 34 km
Freight 116,273,000,000 tkm 354,430,000 t 328 km

In 2014 (local passenger) and 2015 (other), there were the following amount of railway cars in Germany.[4]

Passenger Freight Sum
Long-distance Local
High speed Other Railways Tramways
EMUs 143 5581 6371 12114
DMUs 19
Electric locomotives 164 228 1142 1627 4174
Diesel locomotives 29 984
Carriages 972 1706 4397 786 8013
Control cars 45 107
Wagons 141143 141143

Deutsche Bahn (state-owned private company) is the main provider of railway service. In recent years a number of competitors have started business. They mostly offer state-subsidized regional services, but some companies offer long-distance services as well. In 2016, Deutsche Bahn had a share of 67% in the regional railway market and 68.6% in the inland freight market.[5] As of October 2016, there were 452 railway operators registered in Germany, among them 124 regional passenger operators, 20 long-distance operators, and 163 freight operators.[5]

In 2018, public sector subsidies accounted for 25.6% of the cost of short-distance passenger transport including all rail and bus services.[6] Subsidies are generally not paid in the long-distance market.[7]

Long distance Deutsche Bahn services[edit]

InterRegio services, introduced in 1988 to replace the former Schnellzug and InterCity, were abolished in 2003. UrlaubsExpress, national night trains to the Alps and the Baltic Sea during vacation times, were abolished in 2007.

Deutsche Bahn is gradually increasing the percentage of InterCity-Express services and downgrading the remaining InterCity services to the role formerly played by InterRegio.

Other long distance services[edit]

Regional and local services[edit]

Regional and local rail traffic is organised and subsidised (as the fares usually do not cover the running costs) by the federal states. The usual procedure under EU legislation is to award the contract to the lowest bid by means of a tender procedure. The respective states are free to announce short- or long-term contracts as well as to stipulate further conditions such as on rolling stock. In recent years, many bids have been won by private rail companies like NordWestBahn or Arriva, although some states have awarded long-term contracts to local DB Regio subsidiaries. The train types for regional and local traffic are as follows.

  • Regional-Express and InterRegio-Express – medium-distance semi-fast trains for regional services
  • Regionalbahn – basic local service, usually calling at all stations
  • S-Bahn – suburban rail services mostly provided by Deutsche Bahn
  • U-Bahn – underground train services provided by the various cities' transport bodies (not Deutsche Bahn)
  • Tram/light rail services – in a few major cities these run underground in the city centre (often called Stadtbahn, especially if they have been upgraded to railway standards)


A German mine cart with a guide pin (in Fig. F), in a 1556 drawing by Georgius Agricola (De re metallica Libri XII), the forerunner of all modern railway wagons

The earliest form of railways, wagonways, were developed in Germany in the 16th century. A wagonway operation was illustrated in Germany in 1556 by Georgius Agricola (image right) in his work De re metallica.[8] This line used "Hund" carts with unflanged wheels running on wooden planks and a vertical pin on the cart fitting into the gap between the planks to keep it going the right way. The miners called the wagons Hunde ("dogs") from the noise they made on the tracks.[9] Such wagonways soon became very popular in Europe.

Modern German rail history officially began with the opening of the steam-hauled Bavarian Ludwig Railway between Nuremberg and Fürth on 7 December 1835. The first long distance railway was the Leipzig-Dresden railway, completed on 7 April 1839. The following years saw a rapid growth: By the year 1845, there were already more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) of railroads in Germany, and ten years later that number was above 8,000.

German unification in 1871 stimulated consolidation, nationalization into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth.[10] Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialization, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, and forged ahead of France.[11]

Under the Weimar Republic, the Deutsche Reichseisenbahnen (later Deutsche Reichsbahn) was created on 1 April 1920.

During the Second World War, austere versions of the standard locomotives were produced to speed up construction times and minimise the use of imported materials. These were the so-called war locomotives (Kriegslokomotiven and Übergangskriegslokomotiven). Absent a good highway network and trucks, the Germans relied heavily on the railways, supplemented by slower river and canal transport for bulk goods.[12]

After the war, the German railway system was split into the Deutsche Bundesbahn of West Germany and the Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Train frequency rapidly increased on the existing East/West corridors; closed links which had formerly crossed the border were re-opened. On 3 October 1990, Germany was reunified; however, this was not immediately the case with the railways. Administrative and organisational problems led to the decision to completely re-organise and reconnect Germany's railways. The so-called Bahnreform (Railway Reform) came into effect on 1 January 1994, when the two state railways were formally reunited to form the current German Railway Corporation (Deutsche Bahn).[13] At the time the Bahnreform was seen as a "first step" towards future railway privatization and Deutsche Bahn operates as a joint stock company (AG) even though the federal government owns all stocks. However, plans for privatization were delayed by the Great Recession and ultimately cancelled altogether. The railway sector was however liberalized insofar as Deutsche Bahn lost its railway monopoly status in 1996;[14] regional services are now subject to open bidding ("Regionalisierung" or "regionalization", as the responsibility for local rail services was transferred from the federal government to the 16 state governments) whereas long distance services are subject to open access operation. However, while the share of DB in the market of regional rail has declined since 1994 - in the context of an overall expanding market of regional rail service - the vast majority of long distance trains are still operated by or in cooperation with Deutsche Bahn AG.

The German railways were long protected from competition from intercity buses on journeys over 50 km. However, in 2013, this protection was removed,[15] leading to a significant shift from rail to bus for long journeys.[16]

Track gauges[edit]

Gauge Notes
name metric (mm) imperial
1,800 5 ft 10+78 in Oberweißbacher Bergbahn (funicular section only)[17]
Irish gauge 1,600 5 ft 3 in Grand Duchy of Baden State Railway 1840–1855[17]
Russian gauge 1,520 4 ft 11+56 in Only at Sassnitz/Mukran ferry terminal for freight train ferries to Klaipėda and Baltijsk
1,458 4 ft 9+25 in Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe AG
1,450 4 ft 9+15 in Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG
Standard gauge 1,435 4 ft 8+12 in The standard gauge both domestically and internationally
Metre gauge 1,000 3 ft 3+38 in Harz Narrow Gauge Railways, trams
900 2 ft 11+716 in Mecklenburgische Bäderbahn Molli
750 2 ft 5+12 in Lößnitzgrundbahn; Weißeritztalbahn; Döllnitzbahn GmbH; Zittauer Schmalspurbahn

Platform height[edit]

Application of the EU standard platform heights for new constructions; Green = 550 mm, Blue = 760 mm, Turquoise = both, dark grey = New builds in other heights than the EU standards

The European Union Commission issued a TSI (Technical Specifications for Interoperability) on 30 May 2002, (2002/735/EC) that sets out standard platform heights for passenger steps on high-speed rail. These standard heights are 550 mm and 760 mm.[18][note 1]

In Germany new builds are 550 mm and 760 mm. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has new builds with 550 mm.[20] Hesse, NRW, Berlin had new builds with 760 mm.[20]

Rail links to adjacent countries[edit]

Germany has rail links with the following countries. All are to countries of the same gauge (1435 mm), although electrification (15 kV AC 16.7 Hz) and other systems such as signalling may differ.

International passenger trains[edit]

Local border services are not listed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In reference to EU documentation on interoperability of trans-national high speed rail (see EU Directive 96/48/EC) platform height is measured from the top of the running surface of the rail.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) (2019-11-29). "Fachserie 8 Reihe 2 - Verkehr - Eisenbahnverkehr - 2018" (PDF). p. 4. Retrieved 2021-09-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b c d "Railway Statistics 2015 Report" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b c "the 2017 European Railway Performance Index". Boston Consulting Group. 8 January 2021.
  4. ^ Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) (2021-03-18). "Fachserie 8 Reihe 2.1 - Verkehr - Eisenbahnverkehr - Betriebsdaten des Schienenverkehrs - 2019" (PDF). pp. 10–11. Retrieved 2021-09-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b Barrow, Keith (2017-09-01). "German Monopoly Commission challenges DB dominance". International Railway Journal: Rolling Stock. Simmons-Boardman Publishing Inc. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  6. ^ Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen. "VDV-Statistik 2019". p. 36. Retrieved 2021-09-12.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Market Analysis: German Railways 2014" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-11-27. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  8. ^ Georgius Agricola (trans Hoover), De re metallica (1913), p. 156.
  9. ^ Lee, Charles E. (1943). The Evolution of Railways (2 ed.). London: Railway Gazette. p. 16. OCLC 1591369.
  10. ^ by Colleen A. Dunlavy, Politics and Industrialization: Early Railroads in the United States and Prussia (1994).
  11. ^ Allan Mitchell, Great Train Race: Railways and the Franco-German Rivalry, 1815-1914 (2000)
  12. ^ Alfred C. Mierzejewski, The most valuable asset of the Reich. A history of the German National Railway: Vol 1: 1920-1932 (1999); Vol 2: 1933-1945 (2000)
  13. ^ Lutz, Friedrich; Lange, Bernd & Müller, Matthias (2003). "DB launches new locomotive strategy". International Railway Journal. 43 (11): 42.(subscription required)
  14. ^ Berlich, Carolin; Daut, Felix; Freund, Anna C.; Kampmann, Andrea; Killing, Benedict; Sommer, Friedrich & Wöhrmann,Arnt (2017). "Deutsche Bahn AG: a former monopoly off track?". The CASE Journal. 13: 25–58. doi:10.1108/TCJ-07-2014-0051.
  15. ^ "Derailing the Train: How Intercity Buses Are Changing the Way We Travel in Germany". 2018-01-25.
  16. ^ Logistics, Oliver Wyman on Transportation &. "European Bus Upstarts Snatch 20% of Passengers from Rail".
  17. ^ a b Rieger, Bernhard (2006-04-23). "Breitspurbahn". Retrieved 2007-11-29.
  18. ^ 2002/735/EC , sections 7.3.4 and 4.2.5
  19. ^ "Commission Recommendation of 21 March 2001 on the basic parameters of the trans-European high-speed rail system referred to in Article 5(3)(b) of Directive 96/48/EC". eur-lex.europa.eu. European Union. 21 March 2001. section 6.1. Platform height is measured between the track running surface and the platform surface along the perpendicular
  20. ^ a b http://www.pro-bahn.de/pbz/articles/104_barriere.pdf[bare URL PDF]

External links[edit]