The Berlin Spectator
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Germany: Big Mess Expected on Long Distance Trains Around Christmas

Because of Corona, Deutsche Bahn is supposed to make sure only about half the seats on its trains can be reserved. But, as it turns out, this measure will most likely not change anything.

Berlin, November 27th, 2020 (The Berlin Spectator) — It is good to travel by train. In Germany, the ‘ICE’ races from city to city at up to 300 km/h (186 mph). No Lamborghini or Tesla can win this race. Those high speed trains are comfortable and they have restaurants and electric sockets. Splendid.

Christmas + Corona = Chaos

But the enthusiasm can dissolve rather quickly. There are two periods of time in which traveling by train is a curse, namely around Christmas and during a Corona pandemic. These two aspects together will create a big chaos in late December.

An ‘ICE’ train is waiting at Berlin’s central station. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The problem Christmas creates is the high number of travelers. In normal times, especially Deutsche Bahn’s ‘ICE’ trains are crammed from December 20th to 24th, and once Christmas is over, on and around December 27th. Many passengers usually stand in the aisles or sit on the floor.

No Change On Board

Because of Corona, mandatory reservations were discussed, and opening window seats for reservations only. That way, far more than half of all passengers would have been kept out of the trains and the danger of infection would not have been that big. But it did not happen. Only part of the idea survived.

Today, Deutsche Bahn was supposed to change its reservation system. As originally planned, only about half of all seats per train will appear in the system. But the remaining seats will still be usable for passengers. What this means is that absolutely nothing will change on board those ‘ICE’ trains, because passengers can fill all seats they want, and the aisles, without making reservations.

Spoiled Plan

Traveling couples and families will be able to reserve adjacent seats in some parts of each train. But that does not change the overall situation or the general danger of Corona infections either. When useful plans are being destroyed, they might do more damage than good.

ICE trains are comfortable indeed. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Luckily, there is good news too. Deutsche Bahn, a state-owned company, was ordered to add more trains on popular routes. Whether increasing the number of seats by 10 percent will actually change anything is another open question though.

Antagonal Problems

At this stage, at the end of November, there are not enough passengers. Compared to November of 2019, their number slumped by up to 75 percent. This translates into huge losses for Deutsche Bahn. Then, around Christmas, it will be the opposite issue: Too many passengers will be traveling. By doing so, they will pose a danger to each other.

Flexible tickets will let passengers board any train they choose and sit down on any free seat. The fear is that Deutsche Bahn will run out of those quickly, before and just after Christmas, in spite of — or because of — the eased contact restrictions that will be in place from December 23rd to January 1st.