ICE versus TGV: because German express trains are much slower


The 9.10 clock leaves Stuttgart's central TGV station. The trip to Paris will take exactly three hours and 23 minutes. And it will consist of two parts. A rather cozy gondola on Karlsruhe in Strasbourg. And a quick break from Strasbourg to the Gare de l'Est in Paris.

The express train from France may briefly suggest its Sprint assets in Germany only behind Stuttgart. The 180 km journey to Strasbourg takes about 90 minutes, or an average of 120 km / h.

The remaining 450 kilometers in Paris then accelerated the TGV in less than two hours. He is allowed to drive up to 320 km / h and on average twice as fast as from Stuttgart to Strasbourg.

The fact that the TGV delights in this country and registers all the gas in France is not due to its French technology. The reason is rather the routes in Germany, which are allowed only for a few tens of kilometers for speeds above 160 km / h.

Like the TGV in Baden-Württemberg, even the ICE is involved – in many places in Germany. Too often trains have to slow down because the tracks do not allow high speeds, they cross a place, they wait a few miles ahead for a red light or because the routes are still occupied by other trains.

France and Germany have invested billions in their high-speed networks. But the trains run really fast on French tracks.

Example: Munich – Hamburg versus Paris – Marseille

How extreme the differences are, shows the comparison of two long distances. From Paris to Marseille it is more or less far from Munich to Hamburg – 765 to 780 kilometers. The TGV drives the route without interruption in three hours eleven minutes – so it can certainly keep pace with the plane. One of the fastest ICE connections, however, takes five hours and 35 minutes from Munich to Hamburg, and even some ICEs use an extra hour.

The following animation shows the comparison between the TGV and ICE on the two almost equal distances:

The main reason for the long journey ICE is to look in the eighties: then Federal Rail decided that high-speed trains unlike France or Japan no route network should arrive. They share tracks to date with slower ICs, regional trains and goods. This inevitably leads to delays on busier routes.

The mixed operation also increases the cost of building the route: while the relatively light TGV simply drives over small hills, the train has had to build more tunnels in Germany because heavy freight trains cannot cope with increases above ; 1.25%.

High-speed rail networks also reflect the fundamental differences between countries: in centralized France, the so-called Lignes à Grande Vitesse leads from Paris to the south, to the Atlantic and to London and Brussels – largely through sparsely populated areas without high mountains Straight lines without long stops facilitated.

In decentralized and densely populated Germany, valleys and low mountain ranges make it difficult to build the trail. The net is reminiscent of a patchwork quilt: high-speed tracks with speeds of 250 km / h or more are always interrupted by slower steps – see map below.

Stopping in smaller cities like Göttingen, Fulda, Erfurt, Montabaur or Wolfsburg extend travel time even fast times to four or five minutes. And even if the ICE doesn't stop, sometimes it has to slow down its speed when driving through the city.

In the case of the TGV, however, the route is optimized for maximum speed. On the road from Paris to Marseille, the train could travel through Lyon and stop there, as happens with some connections. However, the SNCF has built a long-distance Lyon bypass for a particularly fast non-stop connection. The TGV must not slow down.

"We cannot be satisfied with the high-speed network in Germany," says Dirk Flege, CEO of the "Allianz Pro Schiene" lobby organization. Since you don't have a beautiful appearance compared to other countries like France, Spain and Italy.

Time buffers prolong the journey

But the German route network is better than it looks. At least theoretically. SPIEGEL has calculated the possible travel times on ICE tracks. The basis for this is the freely accessible data set with all railway lines in Germany. For each section, among other things, the maximum allowed speed is indicated.

If all the signs on the road from Munich to Hamburg were green and the ICE could always run at the speed allowed by the respective section of the track, a non-stop journey would only take four hours. Including all the planned stops would be four hours and 29 minutes – see the following diagram.

But why does ICE need at least one more time in real terms? The 780 km route analysis indicates that the train is frequently used in the time time buffer miteingebaut – among other things, so that trains with smaller delays have not been delayed.


What data are the basis of the evaluation?

The basis of travel time calculations are i infrastructure register by SNCF and DB AG. These contain the most important information on each section of the route, such as maximum speed, route ID, length and electrification.
Information on the route is available free of charge via the open data portals of the railway companies: Link a

How were train journeys simulated?

The TGV or ICE drove as quickly as possible in each section. The train is always on allowed us maximum speed accelerated. Before the low-speed sections, the train was braked in time. The calculations contain the exact course of the braking and acceleration phases.

For simplicity, ICE and TGV were used with

the same acceleration values

  • a = 0.5 m / s * s under braking and speed up to 100 km / h
  • a = 0.3 m / s * s at speeds above 100 km / h at 200 km / h
  • a = 0.15 m / s * s at speeds above 200 km / h.

How realistic are the calculated travel times?

Of course, the shortest possible travel times cannot be reached in practice, because there are always small delays – just a train still occupied by another train. Therefore, actual travel times are 10-25% longer. When calculating the speed profiles for the Strasbourg – Paris, Munich – Hamburg and Paris – Marseille sections, the maximum speeds in all sections were lowered uniformly, so that the trains in each section arrive at the actual travel time.

How big are the reserves on the Monaco – Hamburg route, passengers can experiment with a little luck. An ICE can leave for Munich with a delay of 28 minutes and fully reach the 28-minute delay in Hamburg. The planned journey time should be five hours and 37 minutes, in reality the ICE of a Sunday in March was needed, only five hours and nine minutes. So it would be faster.

The fact that Deutsche Bahn does not use too little of the potential of its high-speed network is also evident on other ICE lines. From Hamburg to Berlin, the fastest train takes an hour and 43 minutes – in theory, it could be 23 minutes faster. There are also major reserves between Frankfurt and Cologne, as well as Frankfurt and Munich – see the following chart.

A spokeswoman for the railway said that on request, the line's maximum speeds are not equated with continuous mobile speeds. Although theoretically a shorter journey time would be possible, a node might not be able to "pick up" the train first. Times are "very complex". In addition, buffers are needed at peak times because passengers entering and leaving take longer than the scheduled stop time depending on the time.

Incidentally, the SNCF does not even have its own buffers on its TGV timetables – although these are significantly smaller than those of Deutsche Bahn. For example, Paris-Marseille is only 19 minutes away. The reserves in France represent about 10-13% of the total travel time, in Germany 17-27%.

ICEs could travel faster and easier if the railways introduced the ETCS train control system. It tells the trains via digital radio how fast they are allowed to drive and where they have to stop – the usual signals next to the tracks would be superfluous. This should increase capacity, especially on busy roads. Travel times as in France seem so hardly possible, however, as long as there are still too many sections with a speed limit of 160 or 200 km / h.

This is also what the railway wants to change, at least in the long run. On the routes between Frankfurt and Mannheim, Würzburg and Nuremberg as well as Hanover and Berlin, the ICE should be able to drive up to 300 km / h in the future. Sounds good. However, if only parts of the high-speed routes are expanded, the effect is relatively low.

This shows the end of 2017 route opened from Berlin via Erfurt to Munich. On the new road through the Thuringian forest leads the fastest GH ICE up to 300 km / h, but the average speed on the entire route at only 150 km / h. So the trip to Monaco lasts four hours. A progress compared to the previous six hours of driving – but still too slow to compete with the plane.


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