The Anonymous Widower

More ICE Sprinters Offer Alternative To Flying

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

The first two paragraphs, give an overview of the changes being made.

Deutsche Bahn introduced more limited-stop Sprinter ICE services on long-distance inter-city routes with the timetable change on December 12.

Sprinter-branded ICE services now operate on eight domestic routes, while a daily Frankfurt am Main – Paris service calling at Mannheim and Karlsruhe also carries the branding. Intended to appeal to business travellers, many of the Sprinter services are timed to depart early in the morning with return trips in the evening. This ensures a full day at the destination and offers a viable alternative to domestic flights.

It would appears that these services now have trains that are under the acceptable four hours.

  • Cologne and Berlin
  • Cologne and Munich
  • Hamburg and Frankfurt Airport

If Deutsche Bahn are serious about competing with the airlines, they must surely increase the frequency.

In 2018, I travelled between Berlin and Munich in under four hours and wrote about it in From Berlin To Munich In Four Hours By Train.

This is how I started that post.

The length of the East Coast Main Line between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh is 632 kilometres.

Deutsche Bahn have recently completed an upgraded High Speed Line between Berlin and Munich, which has a length of 623 kilometres.

Both lines are not the very fastest of High Speed Lines, but lines where a consistent two hundred kilometres per hour is possible.

The East Coast Main Line was built in Victorian times and services typically take around twenty minutes over four hours, with nine -car InterCity 225 trains running twice an hour.

The Berlin-Munich route was originally built over two centuries ago, but the Germans have spent twenty-five years and many billions of euros punching a new route between Berlin and Nuremberg, through the difficult countryside of Thuringen Forest.

The route may allow the Germans to travel from Berlin to Munich in three hours fifty-five minutes, but at present you can only do it three times a day in a six-car train.

I took the lunchtime train and sat in First Class for a hundred and fourteen euros.

Deutsche Bahn have increased the trains on this route to five trains per day, but compared to London and Edinburgh on LNER, it is too infrequent, expensive with questionable customer service and not enough seats to give the airlines a run for their money.

A quick look on Rail Europe indicates that these routes have fast services at an hourly frequency or better.

  • Madrid and Barcelona
  • Milan and Rome
  • Paris and Bordeaux
  • Paris and Cologne
  • Paris and Marseilles
  • Venice and Naples

German rail services might be getting better, but not fast enough to take on the airlines.


December 26, 2021 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , ,


  1. In Germany there are only two trains between Cologne and Munich which do it under four hours, but DB does not
    offer a single train in the other direction which does it under four hours (although that would be possible of course).
    On the other hand the average flight time at Lufthansa and other airlines for that destination is 48 minutes.
    DB cannot be proud of that product.

    Comment by Wolfgang Maresch | December 26, 2021 | Reply

    • Thanks!

      Cologne and Munich is only a short route, which is about the same as London King’s Cross and York which is on a 200 kph Victorian railway. But then it is straight and Mallard set the world record for steam trains on that line.

      There are currently two direct nine-car trains per hour between London and York. One is non-stop and takes around one hour and fifty minutes.

      It is also likely that when the new timetable is brought in next year, that York and Newcastle will get a third service from London.

      Few fly between London and York, as there is no airport with good ground connection near York.

      It will be interesting to see what effect low-cost rail operator; Lumo has on this route. It will offer five trains per day in both directions between London and Edinburgh, with some stopping at Newcastle.

      I can see rail killing off all flights between London and Leeds and London and Newcastle and making a severe dent in London and Edinburgh services. Germany needs a few operators like Lumo to shake up DB.

      Comment by AnonW | December 26, 2021 | Reply

  2. No, London – York is 340 kilometers only, whereas Cologne – Munich is more than 570 km.

    But when you say “Germany needs a few operators like Lumo to shake up DB” you are perfectly right.

    Comment by Wolfgang Maresch | December 26, 2021 | Reply

    • Sorry about that. I couldn’t find the exact German distance, so I estimated it from the crow flies. It can’t be a very straight line.

      Comment by AnonW | December 26, 2021 | Reply

  3. Cologne – Munich as the crow flies: 456 km.

    For the other calculation: will be helpful.

    Comment by Wolfgang Maresch | December 26, 2021 | Reply

    • Thanks!

      Comment by AnonW | December 26, 2021 | Reply

  4. Also relevant: any journey that starts by air is more likely to finish by air, because of the complexity of intermodal transfer and very limited availability of intermodal through tickets (with connection guarantees).

    I think Germany is a) marginally better at air-rail intermodal and b) has more regional airports compared to UK, relevant for a country which is larger and more regionalized than the UK

    The UK struggles to maintain a cost effective and widespread air service for economic reasons (would need subsidies for some cities and to improve intermodal with airport express buses for e.g. York).

    Comment by Milest | December 26, 2021 | Reply

  5. Reading an article from Handlesblatt from shortly after Deutsche Bahn enhanced services on the Berlin- Munich route in 2018 it talks about there being…. “special offers for 2nd class on the prestigious Berlin-Munich route from 29.90 euros. The regular price is 150 euros. At Easyjet, the cheapest flight prices for the one-way Tegel-Munich are currently between 56.93 and 64.00 euros. Lufthansa flights booked at short notice for the next few days on this connection cost around EUR 305, and trips for later dates cost EUR 78.07. The Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings has the route from Berlin to Munich on offer from March 25th; the cheapest offer without hand luggage is currently €29.99”. Viewed from a German perspective the train generally seems to be competitive.
    Reading further articles it seems that while competition is supposed to be encouraged the low cost carrier doesn’t exist in Germany. According to der Bundesrechnungshof, the German Court of Audit, in reality DB Netz (roughly equivalent to Network Rail) is still allowed to benefit DB Fernverkehr, and the other divisions of DB before other railway operators.
    This arises from the federal government being both regulator of the railways and a shareholder in DB.
    As a member of the Green party observed…It just doesn’t work “if the boss of the Bundesliga is also a referee”. With a FDP representative taking the role of Transport Minister in the Traffic Light Coalition I don’t think the Greens will be holding their breath.
    I have to say that with the creation of Great British Railways owned by H.M. Government and run by Network Rail it raises the spectre the current German model arising. For sure there’s little chance of it evolving that way under a Tory government but they won’t be in power forever.
    Looking at the DB travelsite this morning for the Berlin – Munich route and comparing it to the King’s Cross-Edinburgh service there appears to be a near equivalence in early and late afternoon/early evening train both in terms of frequency and journey time with the best being 4h 1min and most nearer to 4h 30m, although a few go out to 4h 45m (the longest London-Edinburgh time was 4h 40min).
    For me Lumo is still an experiment and until it’s been competing for a few years and has widened the destinations it offers I’ll reserve opinion.
    The country to look at for the introduction of low cost, high speed rail must be Spain, with Ouigo an SNCF company, Avlo run by RENFE and the anticipated Iryo branded trains (the only private venture) all offering low cost fares. Still Spain does have the advantage of its geography and newly built High Speed lines.

    Comment by fammorris | December 26, 2021 | Reply

  6. Another comparison for your Berlin to Munich and London Kings Cross to Edinburgh comparison is the line between Milan and Rome. Each day there are 36 non-stop services. According to the Börsen-Zeitung, the 670 kilometers are covered in 2 hours 59 with it taking one hour more if you travel from Turin to Rome or continue to Naples from Milan.
    This rather highlights that no matter how much you upgrade the likes of the East Coast Mainline or build Neubaustrecken you’ll not see the returns in journey time afforded by building dedicated HSR.
    It makes you wonder what rail travel would be like today had the Japanese not adopted a policy in the 1960s of creating the Nippon Dai Shinkansen.

    Comment by fammorris | December 30, 2021 | Reply

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