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Train Speeds Up Hamburg-Berlin Commute

Mark Caldwell (ktz)
December 13, 2004

The launch of a high-speed rail connection between Berlin and Hamburg reduces the journey between Germany’s two biggest cities to 90 minutes. But the country’s rail operator still has a ways to go to please commuters.

Hamburg to Berlin in 90 minutes at 230 km/hImage: AP

On Sunday Germany’s national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, inaugurated a high-speed rail line connecting Berlin to the northern port city of Hamburg. Reaching a top speed of 230 kilometers (143 miles) per hour, the journey between the two cities has been reduced by more than half an hour.

With only 90 minutes of travel time separating the two popular destinations, Deutsche Bahn’s chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn proclaimed that Hamburg was now a suburb of Berlin and Berlin was now within commuting distance of Hamburg.

But the jubilation among train travelers is likely to be muted. On the same day the new line was launched, Deutsche Bahn announced it would be introducing a new round of painful ticket price increases.

Updating a historic stretch

Deutsche Bahn has invested €650 million ($858 million) on the modernization of the Berlin-Hamburg route that dates back to 1846. In the 1930s, the legendary Flying Hamburger needed just two hours and 18 minutes to complete the journey to Berlin. During the Cold War and the division of Germany, the trip could take as long as six hours. It was cut back to two and half hours once German reunification had removed border controls and the track had been improved.

ICE-3 Hochgeschwindigkeitszug
The Deutsche Bahn operates a high-speed rail connection between Cologne and Frankfurt, linking the cities in just 75 minutes.Image: AP

Deutsche Bahn has said it hopes its new, faster line will attract a further 400,000 passengers a year, luring them away from their cars and air travel. But a faster Hamburg Berlin train route is also a more expensive one. A ticket now costs €55 as opposed to the previous €49.

German Transport Minister Manfred Stolpe said the new northern line is just the beginning in a longer development of upgrading rail lines. Frequently traveled connections from Berlin to Leipzig and Berlin to Warsaw also need to be modernized, he said.

More passengers needed

In order to attract more passengers for other routes as well as the Berlin-Hamburg line, Deutsche Bahn is considering selling tickets in supermarkets as well at stations and in travel agencies. The rail operator is currently in talks with retailers and customers are being surveyed about what they think of the idea.

Whether tickets for German trains are sold at their traditional sales points or at more convenient locations, train travelers are saying the same thing: tickets are expensive. The cost for long distance routes increased by 3.1 percent on Sunday for the second time this year, and the cost for shorter journeys rose by a bit more than that.

Berlin's governing mayor Klaus Wowereit has described the new Hamburg-Berlin line as an absolute alternative to the car. It remains to be seen whether motorists agree with him, but as long as the cost for gas continues to rise, it may only be a question of which is the more convenient mode of transport.

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