Review of Main Line Timetables in Five European Countries – 2016

Introduction

Five years ago I wrote an article on changes to main line timetables in Germany, Denmark and Spain. As a follow up, I describe in this article the major changes in December 2015 to train services in 5 European countries: Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria. The changes have been driven in part by major improvements in railway infrastructure: (1) in Switzerland the full opening of the new low-level through platforms at Zürich HB and approach lines, (2) in Denmark some track doubling and forthcoming electrification, (3) in Sweden the opening of the 8.7 kms Hallandsåsen Tunnel, (4) in Germany the opening of the new high speed line from Leipzig / Halle to Erfurt, and (5) in Austria the full opening of the new Hauptbahnhof main station.

Please assume unless I have stated otherwise that the changes described apply in both directions and 7 days per week. I have drawn the information primarily from the European Rail Timetable, successor to the previous Thomas Cook publication. During the winter, I am expecting to receive paper timetables for some of the relevant transport administrations. Depending on content, I may need to produce a 2nd. edition.

Switzerland

It is 8 years since the last major changes to Swiss train services. On that occasion it was driven by the full opening of the Lötschberg Basistunnel in December 2007. This time it is the full opening of the second stage of the Zürich cross-city link and the 4 new low level Löwenstrasse platforms at Zürich HB. When the previous low level platforms were opened in 1990 it was just for S-Bahn trains. This time the new platforms are served by through InterCity trains which avoid reversal in the main line terminal platforms above.

The InterCity train operator SBB has taken this opportunity to revise comprehensively main line services which previously reversed at Zürich HB. The prime hourly service from Genève Aéroport via Bern to Zürich to St. Gallen saves a quarter of an hour by eliminating reversal time at Zürich HB and running non-stop between Winterthur and St. Gallen. The intermediate stops are covered by extending the IR service from Basel to Zürich via Aarau and Lenzburg on to St. Gallen.

There are fundamental changes to the group of services worked by ICN tilting trains interconnecting hourly at Biel / Bienne. Previously these ran hourly but in a 2-hourly alternating cycle from Genève Aéroport and from Lausanne to Biel / Bienne where they interconnected and then alternated running on via Solothurn to Zürich and St. Gallen and via Delémont to Basel. These services now operate on an hourly cycle about half an hour apart between Yverdon, Neûchatel and Biel / Bienne rather than in pairs. Consequently (1) they have dropped the inter-connections at Biel / Bienne and (2) trains from both routes now continue as far as Zürich. Trains originating at Lausanne continue hourly to St. Gallen. Basel is served by an hourly ICN shuttle from Biel / Bienne. As far as Zürich the extra hourly ICN has replaced the previous hourly IR train from Biel / Bienne to Zürich and Konstanz. Overall train ‘mileage’ is unaffected.

CFF (SBB in ‘French speak’) provides the main service in the Rhône valley in the form of 2 trains per hour from Genève Aéroport to Lausanne and Brig. The stopping patterns in the Rhône valley have changed but the detail must be found in the Swiss paper timetables. A number of regional services have been reorganised, for example Morges – Bière, Solothurn – Burgdorf – Thun, around La Chaux de Fonds and some railway lines connecting with CFF’s IR services in the Rhône valley. Most trains now run through to Vallorcine in France on the TMR line from Martigny where previously about half the service terminated at La Châtelard Frontière.

There are changes in the working of through EC and ICE trains from Germany. 4 ICE workings each way now run through beyond Zürich to Chur, 1 less on Sundays. In December 2016 we can expect major changes in the Gotthard line services to Ticino with the opening of the Gotthard Basistunnel and temporary diversion of trains between Zug and Arth-Goldau for engineering work.

Denmark

I reported 5 years ago that Danish operator DSB was finally succeeding in putting into service several years late new IC2 and IC4 dmus ordered from the Italian firm Ansaldo-Breda. In practice this didn’t really happen. Only about half the fleet is operational and these trains cannot yet split and join en route. Main line services are still necessarily largely in the hands of the previous generation of trains (the IC3s) especially since DSB main line services originating from København make extensive use of splitting and joining sections when they reach the European mainland in Jylland (Jutland). On the other hand, double tracking between Lunderskov, Vamdrup and Vojens in Jylland on the way south to Germany has no doubt assisted timetabling. Train ‘mileage’ is unaffected. Completion later this year of electrification to Esbjerg has no doubt prompted disentangling Esbjerg services from the portion splitting on Jylland.

In recent years the core of the InterCity timetable west from København to Jylland has been 3 services each hour. The faster service branded as Lyn ran from København Lufthavn and then København H main station to Århus, Aalborg and on some hours to Frederikshavn. In the new timetable only alternate trains run between Lufthavn and København H main station. More trains extend through from Aalborg to Frederikshavn. Lyn trains now have an additional portion every 2 hours detached at Fredericia for Sonderborg. By comparison with previous portions of ICs referred to below through passengers save a quarter of an hour. Return trains to København run through a quarter of an hour earlier, as do the IC trains described below. In consequence local services in much of Denmark have been extensively retimed.

The slower services branded IC have been substantially reorganised. The hourly trains from København to Esbjerg have been repathed to cross-connect with Lyn trains at Odense. Passengers prepared to change there can save 20 minutes overall. These trains used to split and join on the way at Kolding alternately with portions south to Sonderborg and to Flensburg in Germany but no longer do so. The København to Esbjerg service is likely to change to electric traction during the timetable year.

The other IC service ran hourly from København H to Aalborg. This service now consistently starts at København Lufthavn and collects a through portion at Fredericia from Flensburg every 2 hours.

Sweden

Many train services in Sweden benefit from the opening of the new 8.7 kms  Hallandsåsen tunnel on the main line from Göteborg to Malmö and København on which construction began in 1992! Hourly Øresundtog trains between København, Malmö and Göteborg are a quarter of an hour faster while SJ’s Snabbtåg trains from Malmö and Göteborg benefit somewhat less. One Snabbtåg train in the morning now runs through from Malmö via Göteborg to Stockholm, returning in the evening.  At the time of writing services between København and Malmö over the Øresund bridge are being disrupted by new and hopefully temporary Swedish border controls.

No doubt reflecting competition on the prime Stockholm main lines, SJ have started a prime morning Snabbtåg service on Mondays to Fridays from Malmö to Stockholm with only 3 stops, back in the evening. Especially noteworthy is the southbound working running the nominal 416 kms from Stockholm to Alvesta non-stop in 2h 50m = an average of 147 k/h. The distance assumes routing via Norrköping.

In recent years train operators have shown little interest in connecting the two capitals of Stockholm and Oslo by running only 2 slow trains each way. SJ now run 3 Snabbtåg train pairs on Mondays to Fridays (fewer at weekends) saving about an hour.

Changes in Germany’s DB InterCity services

Background

DB’s long distance services are operated by the subsidiary DB Fernverkehr, although I have used their InterCity brand name here for convenience. The last major changes in infrastructure were in December 2006 reflecting the opening of two major elements of infrastructure, firstly the new 2-level main line Berlin Hbf. station with a new north-south main line through the city, and secondly the high speed line from Nürnberg to Ingolstadt and München.

Since then, various economies have tended disrupt the previous tidiness of service patterns. In 2009 the ICE service between Stuttgart and Zürich went over to loco worked trains and in 2010 technical problems led to the tilting system on ICE-T tilting trains being turned off extending journey times of the services they worked. Despite the delivery since of 17 x class 407 320 k/h ICE emus intended for international services, rolling stock availability continues to be a serious constraint. DB Fernverkehr’s longer term strategy is to revive a denser network and to improve service frequencies we take for granted on prime InterCity routes in the Britain. To achieve this, they will need substantial deliveries of new rolling stock already on order, but there won’t be enough till the early 2020s.

This year one major infrastructure improvement dominates timetable changes: opening of about 94 kms of high speed line from Halle and from Grobers (between Leipzig and Halle) to Erfurt as a major stage in completion of a high speed route through from Berlin to München. While it is a 300 k/h railway, almost all trains using it for the next 2 years will be 230 k/h maximum speed ICE-Ts. The 280 k/h ICE1s will operate at least the Berlin – München trains eventually. Commercial service on the remaining section south of Erfurt to Ebensfeld north of Bamberg should begin in December 2017. I presume that the extensive pathing changes on the old Deutsche Reichsbahn already represent the eventual December 2017 service timings.

Two major temporary changes are missing from the printed timetable: (1) restriction on train services between Düsseldorf and Dortmund until 20 March 2016 while fire damage to the signal box at Mülheim (Styrum) is repaired and (2) withdrawal of through InterCity service between München and Salzburg due to temporary border controls between Austria and Germany at Salzburg.

Changes largely on the former Deutsche Reichsbahn

The prime changes directly driven by opening of the Grobers to Erfurt high speed line affect 2 service groups. The first service group covers through services from Berlin to München in 2 ways. For the full period of the timetable they are repathed and all now serve Leipzig rather than half the service running via Halle on the way from Berlin. Short workings from Hamburg to Leipzig covering the service gaps between Berlin and Leipzig have now been withdrawn. Stopping patterns between Leipzig and Nürnberg have been changed, and fewer trains run via Augsburg between from Nürnberg and München; additional loco-worked services appear to cover the gaps between Nürnberg and München.

However for the period 12 January till 3 September the old route between Lichtenfels and Bamberg is closed for engineering work related to completion of the high speed line. During this period the service between Leipzig, Nürnberg and München is reduced to 2-hourly and rerouted from Leipzig on the new high speed line to Erfurt calling there and then calling further at Fulda and Würzburg on its way to Nürnberg. Remarkably this takes no longer.

The second service group affected by the high speed line runs from Dresden to Wiesbaden. Previously there were 2 x 2- hourly services worked by a mixture of ICEs and loco-worked trains as follows: (1) from Dresden to Leipzig and running through Frankfurt (Süd) to Frankfurt Flughafen and (2) starting at Leipzig and running via Frankfurt Hbf. to Wiesbaden. These 2 services have now swapped origins in Dresden. Both these services now run direct on the high speed line from Leipzig to Erfurt and allowing for changed stopping patterns save half an hour. A new hourly local service operated by Abellio Rail Mitteldeutschland covers intermediate stops between Leipzig and Erfurt.

There is also a new service group potentially running every 2 hours from Berlin Hbf. via Halle to Erfurt and Frankfurt Hbf taking under 4 hours, but only about 4 of the possible paths each way are used. Which paths are used depends on the day of the week.

Associated with the service changes on Hamburg – Berlin – Leipzig – München is a reconstruction of the service between Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden and Praha. This now tolerably tidy 2-hourly repathed service from Hamburg to Praha now has only one train pair continuing to Budapest instead of 3 to Budapest and 1 to Bratislava. Connecting trains cover the paths beyond Praha. Retiming of Wismar – Ludwigslust RB trains and tidier main line services now enable more consistent connections at Ludwigslust for passengers in particular from Schwerin towards Berlin. The previous København –  – Hamburg – Berlin ICE dmu train pair no longer runs through across Hamburg.

No doubt consequent on the changes to main line services, there are extensive changes to the linkages of the long 2-hourly RE north-south services across Berlin: (1) trains from Stralsund via Neustrelitz to Falkenburg (Elster) now terminate at Berlin Südkreuz (2) trains from Rostock to Lutherstadt Wittenberg now run to Elsterwerda (3) trains from Stralsund via Angermünde to Elsterwerda now run to Falkenburg and finally trains from Schwedt to Berlin Südkreuz now run to Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Overall service levels seem unaffected, as elsewhere on the former Deutsche Reichsbahn where there have been significant changes. The main loss has been on the previous service from Leipzig to Döbeln and Meissen where the service over the 40 kms from Döbeln to Meissen has been withdrawn.

For international services, some of the Berlin-Warszawa Express services are repathed by an hour. Koleje Dolnoslaskie have commenced operating 3 through train pairs plus shorter workings from Wroclaw over the border to Görlitz.

Changes largely on the former Deutsche Bundesbahn

None of these are of great consequence. Unlike in the area of the former East German Deutsche Reichsbahn, there are no significant pathing changes.

There are new afternoon fast IC services from Hamburg Altona leaving at 15 56 to Köln in principle running non-stop from Hamburg Hbf. to Essen Hbf., returning at 16 14. Both these services run on Sundays but not Saturdays and save about half an hour. The hourly ICE services from Berlin Ostbf. to Hamm dividing there into portions generally to Köln via Wuppertal and to Düsseldorf via Dortmund now start at Berlin Hbf. (tief). They have already  done this when the main line tracks of the east-west cross-Berlin Stadtbahn have been closed for engineering works.

There have been further changes in the services over the Köln – Frankfurt Flughafen high speed line. In recent years stopping patterns and service extensions from Düsseldorf, Essen and Dortmund to Köln have become almost ‘random’ often varying according to the day of the week. The latest changes are no more systematic. International IC services between Stuttgart and Zürich have also been repathed.

The opening of the 2nd stage of the Paris – Strasbourg LGV was intended for 3 April 2016 but has been postponed. It was intended to add a further train pair to the TGV / ICE service between Paris and Frankfurt, with 2 train pairs in all to be routed via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe saving about 10 minutes. The Paris – Stuttgart – München service would have become half an hour faster. From 26 February it was also intended to divert Railjet services and some other services between München and Salzburg on the section between München and Rosenheim for engineering works slowing services by 15 – 20 minutes. However as already noted, Railjet services within Germany may be suspended because of migrant related border controls at Salzburg.

There are many changes of operator of regional services, some of which aren’t clear from the European timetable. On a brighter note, there is a new 2-hourly local service to the Czech Republic from Hof via As to Cheb restoring a pre 1945 connection.

Austria

Main line train services in the eastern part of Austria centred on Wien belong to 2 main axes: north – south and west – east. North – south services which already used the new Wien Hbf. on their route from Praha to Wien and Graz are now 10 minutes faster in the Czech Republic but otherwise little altered. The service from Wien via Sopron (in Hungary) to Deutschkreuz (back in Austria) is now linked through with the service from Wien to Bratislava (Petrzalka) in Slovakia.

There are far more extensive changes on the Westbahn main line from Wien to Linz, Salzburg and beyond. National train operator ÖBB has redirected all its main line services from Wien Westbf. to run from the new Wien Hbf. instead. Despite the extra 5 kms, they take no longer. Many called at Wien Hütteldorf in the suburbs just outside Westbf.; instead all now call at Wien Meidling in the southern suburbs. Most RailJet services run in 2 portions between Wien Hbf. and Salzburg; portions to Innsbruck and beyond now start from Flughafen Wien joining up with the other portion at Wien Hbf. The through RailJet services from Budapest to Wien, Salzburg and beyond save half an hour through not reversing at Westbf. on their way from Wien Hbf. westwards. Some regional services from Wien to St. Pölten and beyond but still running from Westbf. now use the high speed line and are branded REX200.

The ICE services from Wien to Frankfurt and beyond which until December 2015 started from Flughafen Wien and called at Wien Hbf. but avoided Westbf. no longer run east of Wien from Flughafen. As already noted, Railjet services within Germany may be suspended because of migrant related border controls at Salzburg.

Competitor Westbahn continues to run hourly from Wien Westbf. to Salzburg. A new initiative is a fast service in both directions in the morning between Wien Westbf. and Salzburg. The prime service is at 07 00 from Salzburg calling only at Linz before Wien Hütteldorf.

Other Countries

This article isn’t comprehensive. The standard gauge high speed network in Spain continues to expand, together with its gauge changer interfaces with broad gauge lines. In Italy open access operator NTV trading as ‘Italo’ and running from Torino to Milano, Firenze and Roma to Napoli and Salerno now operates out of Milano Centrale station rather than Porto Garibaldi, and more of its trains serve Roma Centrale. In Britain long distance services haven’t changed materially.

Conclusion

I noted in 2010 how both DSB in Denmark and DB Fernverkehr in Germany were suffering acutely from rolling stock problems. Both still are! Hopefully at least the problems already noted with migrants will also be resolved later in 2016.

Alan  de Burton

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