I travel to Germany by train most years, and this year I finally realised that my major frustrations with Dutsche Bahn are not just bad luck, it really is bad. Online research quickly confirmed this: the average reliability of DB’s ICE (InterCity Express) trains has been around 75% for several years, whereas the recent figure for Virgin Crosscountry is 92%!
For a Brit, reading the annual report on the Dutsche Bahn website is gratifying – it sounds like British Rail in the 1970s. Each year, DB lament the ongoing appalling punctuality of ICE, and trot out a variety of reasons all too familiar from over here.
Whilst many of us have got into the habit of knocking Virgin XC, as a regular user, I have to admit that it’s mostly not bad, and it really is a good deal better than German ICE trains, not only on punctuality, but several other respects:
- Refreshments: astonishingly, many ICE trains which run right across the country with a total journey time over 8 hours, have no refreshments on board whatsoever.
- Information: in general, the information on ICE about delays (both how long and why) and fall back options if you miss your connections, is considerably poorer. This is not about language: when announcements are made, they are at least made in German and in fluent English.
- Humour: I appreciate the elements of humour on Virgin trains, and as you might suspect, ICE is 100% humour free.
- Comfort: the large number of old-style ICE trains have mediocre seating, and appalling air conditioning. On a couple of trains this year, several carriages were sealed off because the air-con didn’t work at all, leaving the passengers herded into the few which were usable.
- Connections: Dutsche Bahn is clearly in severe denial about its punctuality problems. If you book on their generally efficient website, they assume ridiculously tight connection times of a few minutes. So my top tip if you are booking online, is to use the facility to specify a connection time of at least 20 minutes. Even that may not be long enough, since I have had delays of over 2 hours…