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High speed train, ICE Deutsche Bahn

‘Berlin-Munich connection a good example for fast Berlin-Amsterdam service’

The rail connection between Berlin and Munich is a fine example of a fast train service between Amsterdam and Berlin, says Jean Koulischer from Alstom, which supplies ERTMS systems for the high-speed trains on the Berlin-Munich line. After this line opened in December 2017, the journey time between the two German cities fell from six to four hours, leading to a 200 per cent increase in the number of passengers.


Koulischer, as Alstom’s Director of Business Development, is responsible for track safety in northern Europe. He will give a presentation at the ERTMS Conference of RailTech Europe on the 26th of March in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

In recent years he has been involved in various projects for Deutsche Bahn. For example, Alstom delivered on-board units (OBUs) for ICEs on the Frankfurt-Brussels, Frankfurt-Paris, Frankfurt-Vienna and Berlin-Munich lines. The company also won all four of the separate contracts to convert the ICE train fleet to ERTMS.

Fast train service

The fast Berlin-Munich train service, which was the last DB project Koulischer was involved in, encountered its fair share of problems before being realised. “It was a very complex project, which began life way back in 1991 as the German Unity Transport Project. The complexity was partly due to Germany’s fragmented government system, which meant that permits had to be requested in every small municipality, and any resultant objections had to be dealt with. Consequently, it took a decade before construction work could start.

“Between East and West Germany there used to be just one train line, with a maximum speed of 80 to 100 kilometres per hour”, explains the train safety expert. “The German government decided to lay a new high speed line next to the existing line, and to make it compatible with ERTMS. With these changes it was possible to raise the speed to a maximum of 250 kilometres per hour, meaning the journey could be done in around four hours rather than six.”

New track

230 kilometres of new track have been laid between Munich and Berlin. The total length of the journey is over 623 kilometres, with the track going over 27 bridges and through 27 tunnels. Siemens delivered the ERTMS system for the infrastructure, and Deutsche Bahn opted for Alstom to supply on-board units (OBUs) for the trains. “It was brave to choose another supplier for the trains, but because of the experience Alstom had built up through supplying the ERTMS systems for other ICEs, DB awarded the contract to Alstom in 2014”, says Koulischer.

The project to speed up the Berlin-Munich connection had to overcome a number of problems. Because of the complaints procedures and the bend to Erfurt, construction work took years. As a result, the total costs rose to ten billion euros, which was much higher than originally forecast.

Doubling the number of passengers

Once the train service finally got underway, successes were soon realised. “In the first 100 days of the new train service, the number of passengers per train doubled. As the occupancy per train doubled without more trains being run, the costs of the trains and personnel remained the same while Deutsche Bahn got twice as much money from ticket sales.”

For the Amsterdam to Berlin connection, much can also be gained from smart measures, believes Alwin van Meeteren, Director at Alstom Utrecht: “It would be good to build a smart new track with ERTMS, as has been done between Berlin and Munich. At the moment there is a 50-kilometer stretch of the route on which trains can only travel 95 kilometres an hour. If we build a new track there, on which ERTMS can be used, it will save a great deal of time.”

Furthermore, not swapping locomotives at the border, and skipping certain stations, can reduce the journey time, he believes. “If the Netherlands and Germany truly aim to make mobility more sustainable and to realise the shift to rail, we must choose smart options.”

Jean Koulischer will give a presentation at the ERTMS Conference of RailTech Europe on the 26th of March in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Please visit the conference website for more information.

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Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of RailTech.com, RailFreight.com and SpoorPro.nl, online magazines for railway professionals.

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