What is now changing at the railway

The trains are slowly filling up again. The railway is adapting to the Corona crisis: more hygiene, longer trains, take-away food. What customers need to know now.

Ticket inspection on a regional train

Dhe next flight has slipped on the wish list for the coming year. Rail travel in Germany or perhaps even in neighboring countries has suddenly become the lure of this summer. The images of yawning empty open-plan cars are still in our minds, but since the shutdown has been relaxed, more people have been getting on the train again.

Deutsche Bahn is gradually returning to normal operations. From Monday on, the ICE trains from Berlin to the Rhineland will again run at regular hourly intervals and with two train units. At Pentecost, the first long-distance trains are on their way to the tourist destinations on the North and Baltic Seas and in Bavaria. From this Saturday on, travelers can book tickets to Sylt, Rügen, Oberstdorf or Berchtesgaden.

But how does train travel work in times of Corona? Do we need masks, clearance, or even a reservation?

The trains are slowly filling up. The CEO of DB Fernverkehr, Michael Peterson, reports a current occupancy in the long-distance trains of 20 to 30 percent – before the pandemic, the occupancy was 57 percent on average. “However, individual trains can also be above or below this section,” emphasized Peterson.

No sprinters for the time being

The Berlin-Cologne / Düsseldorf connection was already 50 percent full this week, which does not mean that every second place is always free. Therefore, the trains would be lengthened. “We are increasing our offer step by step in line with demand. The stable basic offer of the past weeks makes it possible that we can now expand the train service flexibly and quickly. “

The railway is now slowly expanding its offer again.
The railway is now slowly expanding its offer again.: Image: EPA

On many connections, the ICE trains ran at the usual hourly rate, even in strict shutdowns. The railway only saved itself the “amplifier trains” on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

Until further notice, the fast sprinters between the metropolises, which are used by business travelers in particular, will be canceled. “At the moment our hourly offer is still sufficient,” explains Peterson. Business customers continued to book cautiously – also because many people work in the home office and also avoid travel. If demand grows, however, the Sprinter should be used again from June 15.

For the railways, the larger offer is a way of giving travelers the recommended distance to the next. Selling only every second seat in the wagon – for example in connection with a reservation requirement – is out of the question for rail companies, bus and airline companies.

This consideration was not only rejected because it would not make economic sense. “We cannot and must not control who is allowed to sit together – eight people from two households or two business partners, for example – and who is not,” says Peterson. Instead, the train attendants should ensure that the passengers are evenly distributed across the train.

“The train is not the hotspot”

If there are conflicts about the necessary distances, the conductors should mediate if possible – or, if necessary, make it clear to the very sensitive that traveling by train might not be the right thing for them. Peterson points out, however, that even in times with the highest number of corona infections, Deutsche Bahn did not observe any increased chains of infection. “The train is not the hotspot.” Among employees in long-distance transport, the infection rate is even a third lower than the average.

The railway would like to enforce the obligation to wear a face mask, which is already common in local urban transport, in ICE and IC trains. To do this, however, it needs the legal basis for a mask requirement in all federal states; this is currently still missing in six north and east German states. Many travelers, however, already wear masks.

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In order to meet the new requirements, Deutsche Bahn is also stepping up its efforts to improve hygiene. “On the way cleaners” clean handrails, handles, buttons or surfaces while driving. In the evenings at the factory, the trains are completely cleaned and disinfected. On-board catering will initially be limited to take-away items, but will be expanded – for example to include chili con carne in a disposable cup that guests can consume at their seat. In about three weeks, Peterson estimates, there will be dining cars again.

Does the railway anticipate a rush of travelers during the summer holidays? Peterson is cautious in his prognosis: “That will depend very much on the announcements of the politicians. Germans like to go abroad, in the sun. If the way to other European countries is opened for travel, people will take advantage of this opportunity. We will be prepared for it. “