The trains no longer run on time

Red Deutsche Bahn train

Deutsche Bahn Credit: Foster, Flickr

Fragrance buttons, digital towels and private compartments with tinted windows: will innovations appease passengers?

New developments in train design, digitalisation and the stations of the future were presented on Wednesday 17 April at the Kraftwerk events venue in a repurposed power plant in Berlin.

The cliché that the trains always run on time in Germany is no longer true. Some delays are inevitable, such as when swans are on the tracks, but most are due to ageing networks.

The latest network status report for the state-owned of the Deutsche Bahn revealed crumbling infrastructure, with almost half the signal boxes in poor condition, leading to one-third of its trains running late.

The use of AI technology is expected to streamline engineering works, particularly highlighted by the planned overhaul of the 78km stretch between Frankfurt and Mannheim scheduled for after the Euro 2024. Instead of the usual ten-year timeframe, the project is ambitiously set to be completed in just five months.

Enhancements are also focused on improving passenger comfort. A new two-seater compartment with sliding privacy doors and adjustable tint controls could be installed in long-distance trains in the future to allow greater privacy. More than a year in the making, it is now being tested among customers.

Another new feature is scent buttons located in doorways and lifts at stations, aimed at easing passenger comfort.

Digital towel to claim seat

Other novelties are real-time occupancy displays on long-distance trains. Travelers can bag their seat with a “digital towel” during their entire journey, even without a seat reservation, by setting the display to “Occupied from <station> until”.

Significant investments are also being made in training guards and train managers to handle upset passengers. According to a spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn, “They need to be thick-skinned, and a sense of humour is a vital quality during recruitment”. He also noted that due to a persistent labour shortage, many workers from outside Germany were being recruited.

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Annette Christmas

Annie Christmas loves language and communication. A long-time resident of Mallorca, she enjoys an outdoor life of cycling, horse riding and mountain walking, as well as the wealth of concerts and cultural events on the island. She also plays fiddle in a traditional Mallorcan dance troupe.