Rail transport in Germany

As of 2015, Germany had a railway network of 41,315 kilometres (25,672 mi) of which 19,857 kilometres (12,339 mi) are electrified and 18,201 kilometres (11,310 mi) were double track.[3] Germany is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC Country Code for Germany is 80.

Rail transport in Germany
ICE IGB3.jpg
National railwayDeutsche Bahn
Ridership2.01 billion (2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[1]
Passenger km79.3 billion (2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[1]
Freight75 billion tkm (2015, Deutsche Bahn only)[1]
System length
Total41,315 kilometres (25,672 mi) [2]
Double track18,201 kilometres (11,310 mi)
Electrified19,857 kilometres (12,339 mi)
Track gauge
Main1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
15 kV 16 2/3 HzMain network
Bahnstrecken Deutschland Karte.svg

Map of the railway network in Germany as of 2020.

  Main lines
  Branch lines

Germany was ranked fourth among national European rail systems in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index assessing intensity of use, quality of service and safety.[4] Germany had a very good rating for intensity of use, by both passengers and freight, and good ratings for quality of service and safety.[5] Germany also captured relatively high value in return for public investment with cost to performance ratios that outperform the average ratio for all European countries.[6]


As of 2006, there were around 23,500 powered rail vehicles in Germany, operated by the main operator Deutsche Bahn as well as around 150 smaller private railway companies:[7]

  Passenger transport Goods Sum
  Long-distance Short-distance    
Multiple units 538 15,224 0 15,762
Locomotives 2,650 1,950 3,134 7,734
Sum 3,188 17,174 3,134 23,496

In 2006, railways in Germany carried around 119,968,000 passengers on long-distance trains (at an average distance of 324 kilometres (201 mi)), and 2,091,828,000 passengers on short-distance trains (36 kilometres (22 mi) on average). In the same year they carried 346,118,000 tonnes of goods at an average distance of 400 kilometres (250 mi).[8]

Volume-Percentage of private railway companies in Germany

Deutsche Bahn (state-owned private company) is the main provider of railway service. In recent years a number of competitors have started business. They mostly offer state-subsidized regional services, but some companies offer long-distance services as well.

InterRegio services, introduced in 1988 to replace the former Schnellzug and Intercity, were abolished in 2003. UrlaubsExpress, national night trains to the Alps and the Baltic Sea during vacation times, were abolished in 2007.

Deutsche Bahn is gradually increasing the percentage of InterCityExpress services, and downgrading the remaining InterCity services to the role formerly played by InterRegio.

  • Thalys – high-speed services to Belgium and France, using modified French TGV trains
  • Veolia Verkehr (Now merged into Transdev) – offered services on certain former Interregio routes (long-distance services by Veolia Verkehr were ceased in 2014)
  • Cisalpino – to Italy, service discontinued mid-December 2006
  • Regional rail and local rail traffic is organised and subsidised (as the fares usually do not cover the running costs) by the federal states. Usual procedure under EU legislation is to award the contract to the lowest bid by means of a tender procedure. The respective states are free to announce short- or long-term contracts as well as to stipulate further conditions e.g. on rolling stock. In recent years, many bids were won by private rail companies like NordWestBahn or Arriva, although some states have awarded long-term contracts to local DB Regio subsidiaries. The train types for regional and local traffic are:
    • Regional-Express and Interregio-Express – medium-distance semi-fast trains for regional services
    • Regionalbahn – basic local service, usually calling at all stations
    • S-Bahn – suburban rail services mostly provided by Deutsche Bahn
    • U-Bahn – underground train services provided by the various cities' transport bodies (not Deutsche Bahn)
    • Tram/light rail services; in a few major cities these run underground in the city centre (often called "Stadtbahn", especially if they have been upgraded to railway standards)


A German mine cart with a guide pin (in Fig. F), in a 1556 drawing by Georgius Agricola (De re metallica Libri XII), the forerunner of all modern railway wagons

The earliest form of railways, wagonways were developed in Germany in the 16th century. A wagonway operation was illustrated in Germany in 1556 by Georgius Agricola (image right) in his work De re metallica.[9] This line used "Hund" carts with unflanged wheels running on wooden planks and a vertical pin on the truck fitting into the gap between the planks to keep it going the right way. The miners called the wagons Hunde ("dogs") from the noise they made on the tracks.[10] Such wagonways soon became very popular in Europe.

Modern German rail history officially began with the opening of the steam-hauled Bavarian Ludwig Railway between Nuremberg and Fürth on 7 December 1835. The first long distance railway was the Leipzig-Dresden railway, completed on 7 April 1839. The following years saw a rapid growth: By the year 1845, there were already more than 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) of railroads in Germany, ten years later that number was above 8,000.

German unification in 1871 stimulated consolidation, nationalization into state-owned companies, and further rapid growth.[11] Unlike the situation in France, the goal was support of industrialization, and so heavy lines crisscrossed the Ruhr and other industrial districts, and provided good connections to the major ports of Hamburg and Bremen. By 1880, Germany had 9,400 locomotives pulling 43,000 passengers and 30,000 tons of freight, and forged ahead of France.[12]

During the Second World War, austere versions of the standard locomotives were produced to speed up construction times and minimise the use of imported materials. These were the so-called war locomotives (Kriegslokomotiven and Übergangskriegslokomotiven). Absent a good highway network and trucks, the Germans relied heavily on the railways, supplemented by slower river and canal transport for bulk goods.[13]

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Train frequency rapidly increased on the existing East/West corridors; closed links which had formerly crossed the border were re-opened. On 3 October 1990, Germany was reunified; however, this was not immediately the case with the railways. Administrative and organisational problems led to the decision to completely re-organise and reconnect Germany's railways. The so-called Bahnreform (Railway Reform) came into effect on 1 January 1994, when the State railways Deutsche Bundesbahn and Deutsche Reichsbahn were formally reunited to form the current German Railway Corporation (Deutsche Bahn).[14]

The German railways were long protected from competition from intercity buses on journeys over 50 km. However, in 2013, this protection was removed,[15] leading to a significant shift from rail to bus for long journeys.[16] In addition, Deutsche Bahn officially lost its railway monopoly status in 1996;[17] since then its share in regional railway market has dropped to 67% (for year 2016), and in the inland freight market it dropped to 68.6%. As of October 2016, there were 452 railway operators registered in Germany, among them 20 being long-distance operators.[18]

Track gaugesEdit

Gauge Country/region Companies Notes
name metric (mm) imperial
Irish gauge 1,600 5 ft 3 in Germany Grand Duchy of Baden State Railway 1840–1855[19]
Russian gauge 1,520 4 ft 11+56 in Germany Only at Sassnitz/Mukran ferry terminal for freight train ferries to Klaipėda and Baltijsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.
Standard gauge 1,435 4 ft 8+12 in Germany Deutsche Bahn This is the standard or international gauge
Metre gauge 1,000 3 ft 3+38 in Germany Harz Narrow Gauge Railways, trams
1,800 5 ft 10+78 in Oberweißbacher Bergbahn (funicular section only)[19]
1,458 4 ft 9+25 in Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe AG
1,450 4 ft 9+15 in Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe AG
900 2 ft 11+716 in Mecklenburgische Bäderbahn Molli
750 2 ft 5+12 in Lößnitzgrundbahn; Weißeritztalbahn; Döllnitzbahn GmbH; Zittauer Schmalspurbahn

Platform heightEdit

Application of the EU standard platform heights for new constructions; Green = 550 mm, Blue = 760 mm, Turquoise = both, dark grey = New builds in other heights than the EU standards

The European Union Commission issued a TSI (Technical Specifications for Interoperability) on 30 May 2002, (2002/735/EC) that sets out standard platform heights for passenger steps on high-speed rail. These standard heights are 550 mm and 760 mm.[20][note 1]

In Germany new builds are 550 mm and 760 mm. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has new builds with 550 mm.[22] Hesse, NRW, Berlin had new builds with 760 mm.[22]

Rail links to adjacent countriesEdit

All these links are to countries of the same gauge, although electrification and other systems (such as signalling) may differ.

International passenger trainsEdit

Local border services are not listed.

Railway subsidiesEdit

Public sector subsidies accounted for 23.7% of the cost of short-distance passenger transport including all rail and bus services.[23] Subsidies are generally not paid in the long-distance market.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In reference to EU documentation on interoperability of trans-national high speed rail (see EU Directive 96/48/EC) platform height is measured from the top of the running surface of the rail.[21]


  1. ^ a b c "Railway Statistics 2015 Report" (PDF).
  2. ^ The World Factbook: Country Comparison :: Railways
  3. ^ http://www.uic.org/IMG/pdf/synopsis_2015_print_5_.pdf
  4. ^ "the 2017 European Railway Performance Index". Boston Consulting Group.
  5. ^ "the 2017 European Railway Performance Index". Boston Consulting Group.
  6. ^ "the 2017 European Railway Performance Index". Boston Consulting Group.
  7. ^ Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Fachserie 8, Reihe 2.1: Verkehr, Eisenbahnverkehr/Betriebsdaten des Schienenverkehrs 2006
  8. ^ Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Fachserie 8, Reihe 2: Verkehr, Eisenbahnverkehr 2006
  9. ^ Georgius Agricola (trans Hoover), De re metallica (1913), p. 156.
  10. ^ Lee, Charles E. (1943). The Evolution of Railways (2 ed.). London: Railway Gazette. p. 16. OCLC 1591369.
  11. ^ by Colleen A. Dunlavy, Politics and Industrialization: Early Railroads in the United States and Prussia (1994).
  12. ^ Allan Mitchell, Great Train Race: Railways and the Franco-German Rivalry, 1815-1914 (2000)
  13. ^ Alfred C. Mierzejewski, The most valuable asset of the Reich. A history of the German National Railway: Vol 1: 1920-1932 (1999); Vol 2: 1933-1945 (2000)
  14. ^ Lutz, Friedrich; Lange, Bernd & Müller, Matthias (2003). "DB launches new locomotive strategy". International Railway Journal. 43 (11): 42.(subscription required)
  15. ^ "Derailing the Train: How Intercity Buses Are Changing the Way We Travel in Germany". 2018-01-25.
  16. ^ Logistics, Oliver Wyman on Transportation &. "European Bus Upstarts Snatch 20% of Passengers from Rail".
  17. ^ Berlich, Carolin; Daut, Felix; Freund, Anna C.; Kampmann, Andrea; Killing, Benedict; Sommer, Friedrich & Wöhrmann,Arnt (2017). "Deutsche Bahn AG: a former monopoly off track?". The CASE Journal. 13: 25–58. doi:10.1108/TCJ-07-2014-0051.
  18. ^ Barrow, Keith (2017-09-01). "German Monopoly Commission challenges DB dominance". International Railway Journal: Rolling Stock. Simmons-Boardman Publishing Inc. Retrieved 2018-08-02.
  19. ^ a b Rieger, Bernhard (2006-04-23). "Breitspurbahn". Retrieved 2007-11-29.
  20. ^ 2002/735/EC , sections 7.3.4 and 4.2.5
  21. ^ "Commission Recommendation of 21 March 2001 on the basic parameters of the trans-European high-speed rail system referred to in Article 5(3)(b) of Directive 96/48/EC". eur-lex.europa.eu. European Union. 21 March 2001. section 6.1. Platform height is measured between the track running surface and the platform surface along the perpendicular
  22. ^ a b http://www.pro-bahn.de/pbz/articles/104_barriere.pdf
  23. ^ "Daten & Fakten Personenverkehr 2018".
  24. ^ "Market Analysis: German Railways 2014" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-11-27. Retrieved 2015-10-29.

External linksEdit