Rail transport in Germany

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ICE IGB3.jpg
National railway Deutsche Bahn
Ridership 2.02 billion (2013, Deutsche Bahn only)[1]
Passenger km 82.4 billion (2012, Deutsche Bahn only)[2]
Freight 105.9 billion tkm (2012, Deutsche Bahn only)[2]
System length
Total 41,315 kilometres (25,672 mi) [3]
Double track 18,201 kilometres (11,310 mi)
Electrified 19,857 kilometres (12,339 mi)
Track gauge
Main 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
15 kV 16 2/3 Hz Main network
Map of the railway network in Germany;
  lines with InterCityExpress traffic
  lines with InterCity/EuroCity traffic
  lines with other passenger traffic

As of 2005, Germany had a railway network of 41,315 km of which 34,211 km belonged to the national railway and 19,857 km were electrified, 18,201 km with double track.[4] The total track length was 76,473 km. Germany is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC Country Code for Germany is 80.


There are around 23,500 powered rail vehicles in Germany, operated by the main operator Deutsche Bahn as well as around 1,500 smaller private railway companies:[5]

  Passenger transport Goods Sum
  Long-distance Short-distance    
Multiple units 538 15,224 0 15,762
Locomotives 2,650 1,950 3,134 7,734
Sum 3,188 17,174 3,134 23,496

In 2006, railways in Germany carried around 119,968,000 passengers on long-distance trains (at an average distance of 288 km), and 2,091,828,000 passengers on short-distance trains (21 km on average). In the same year they carried 346,118,000 tonnes of goods at an average distance of 309 km.[6]

Volume-Percentage of private railway companies in Germany

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, like Veolia Verkehr offer long-distance services as well.

InterRegio services, introduced in 1988 to replace the former Schnellzug and Intercity, were abolished in 2003. Deutsche Bahn is gradually increasing the percentage of InterCityExpress services, and downgrading the remaining InterCity services to the role formerly played by InterRegio.

  • Veolia Verkehr – offers services on certain former Interregio routes
  • Thalys – high-speed services to Belgium and France, using modified French TGV trains
  • Cisalpino – to Italy, service discontinued mid-December 2006
  • Regional rail and local rail traffic is organised and subsidised (as the fares usually do not cover the running costs) by the federal states. 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 e.g. on rolling stock. In recent years, many bids were 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:
    • 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)


German Railway history 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 km of railroads in Germany, ten years later that number was above 8,000.

German unification in 1871 stimulated consolidation, nationalization into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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 State railways Deutsche Bundesbahn and Deutsche Reichsbahn were formally reunited to form the current German Railway Corporation (Deutsche Bahn).[10]

The German railways were long protected from competition from intercity buses on journeys over 50 km. However, in 2013, this protection was removed,[11] leading to a significant shift from rail to bus for long journeys.[12]

Track gauges[edit]

Gauge Country/region Companies Notes
name metric (mm) imperial
Irish gauge 1,600 5 ft 3 in Germany Grand Duchy of Baden State Railway 1840–1855[13]
Russian gauge 1,520 4 ft 11 56 in Germany Only at Sassnitz/Mukran ferry terminal for freight train ferries to Klaipėda and Baltijsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.
Standard gauge 1,435 4 ft 8 12 in Germany Deutsche Bahn This is the standard or international gauge
Metre gauge 1,000 3 ft 3 38 in Germany Harz Narrow Gauge Railways, trams
1,800 5 ft 10 78 in Oberweißbacher Bergbahn (funicular section only)[13]
1,458 4 ft 9 25 in Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe AG
1,450 4 ft 9 15 in Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG
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, Purple = 760 mm, Yellow = 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.[14][note 1]

In Germany new builds are 550 mm and 760 mm. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has new builds with 550 mm.[16] Hesse, NRW, Berlin had new builds with 760 mm.[16]

Rail links to adjacent countries[edit]

All these links are to countries of the same gauge, although electrification and other systems (such as signalling) may differ.

International passenger trains[edit]

It is also possible to travel to London, United Kingdom by changing onto the Eurostar at Brussels.

Railway subsidies[edit]

Rail subsidies in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK per passenger-km (euros)

German rail subsidies amounted to €17.0 billion in 2014,[17] and in 2013, 59% of the cost of short-distance passenger rail transport was covered by subsidies, although subsidies are generally not paid in the long-distance market.[18]

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.[15]


  1. ^ http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/financial/rising-costs-and-bad-weather-hit-db-revenues.html?channel=542
  2. ^ a b deutschebahn.de: Fahrgastrekord in den Zügen der Deutschen Bahn Deutsche Bahn AG
  3. ^ The World Factbook: Country Comparison :: Railways
  4. ^ http://ilcad.uic.org/IMG/pdf/synopsis_2014.pdf
  5. ^ Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Fachserie 8, Reihe 2.1: Verkehr, Eisenbahnverkehr/Betriebsdaten des Schienenverkehrs 2006
  6. ^ Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Fachserie 8, Reihe 2: Verkehr, Eisenbahnverkehr 2006
  7. ^ by Colleen A. Dunlavy, Politics and Industrialization: Early Railroads in the United States and Prussia (1994).
  8. ^ Allan Mitchell, Great Train Race: Railways and the Franco-German Rivalry, 1815-1914 (2000)
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ Lutz, Friedrich; Lange, Bernd & Müller, Matthias (2003). "DB launches new locomotive strategy". International Railway Journal. 43 (11): 42. (subscription required)
  11. ^ http://www.young-germany.de/topic/live/travel-location/derailing-the-train-how-intercity-buses-are-changing-the-way-we-travel-in
  12. ^ http://www.forbes.com/sites/oliverwyman/2015/10/20/european-bus-upstarts-snatch-20-of-passengers-from-rail/2/
  13. ^ a b Rieger, Bernhard (2006-04-23). "Breitspurbahn". Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  14. ^ 2002/735/EC , sections 7.3.4 and 4.2.5
  15. ^ "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 
  16. ^ a b http://www.pro-bahn.de/pbz/articles/104_barriere.pdf
  17. ^ "German Railway Financing" (PDF). p. 2. 
  18. ^ "Market Analysis: German Railways 2014" (PDF). 

External links[edit]