Germany: On the Fast Track

German Rail (Deutsche Bahn) is adding new high-speed services on key routes within the country, working to bring the high-speed Thalys trains from its western neighbors into Cologne, and developing new and innovative on-board services for leisure and business travelers alike.

Earlier this year, the rail company opened up the newest link in its growing system of high-speed Inter City Express (ICE) trains when work was completed on track improvements between Hamburg and Berlin.

On the ICE high-speed lines, the new dedicated track permits trains to travel at speeds of up to about 175 miles an hour. The other ICE trains, which run on standard tracks, usually can't go faster than about about 100 mph.

The new Hamburg-Berlin service cuts the rail journey between the two cities from two hours and 45 minutes to about two hours and 15 minutes. The fast train is called Fliegender Hamburger, which translates in English to the Flying Hamburger.

Other high-speed ICE lines currently in operation are between Hannover and Wurzburg, and between Stuttgart and Mannheim. Regular ICE services criss-cross the country, mostly in the western part of Germany, although ICE trains operate now from Hannover to Berlin and from Berlin to Dresden in the east.

The two-class ICE service offers a number of special comforts and conveniences for passengers, such as an in-seat audio system with headphones, offering three programmed audio channels and three radio stations; on-board recycling of refuse; storage lockers for hand luggage; on-board newspapers; restaurants and bistros; baby-changing facilities, and telephones in first class.

As if that weren't enough, the rail company -- which was privatized five years ago -- now is bringing on what it calls ICE 2 service, which adds even more passenger amenities as well as new technology to make the trains themselves even quieter and smoother.

The ICE 2s, which are in operation now between Frankfurt and Bremen, and between Cologne and Berlin, feature innovations like a family compartment with space for strollers, a socket for bottle-warmers and en-suite baby-changing facilities. Displays on the outside of each car include information on train routes and numbers, and an electronic display in each car shows the route, speed, next stop and the time. Individual video screens are on all first class seats.

New services, some of them aimed at the business traveler, are being tested on selected routes as well, and passenger reactions are being evaluated to determine whether they will be rolled out system-wide.

In one key construction project for the ICE network, German Rail is building a new ICE passenger terminal at the Hannover fairgrounds, which will serve as the primary venue for Expo 2000 Hannover, a world's fair that is expected to draw millions of visitors during the summer of the millennium year.

The new train station being built at the fairgrounds will be able to accommodate high-speed ICE trains that will be running into the city for the Expo.

Meanwhile, the rail company is building another ICE station specifically for high-speed trains at Frankfurt airport, which has been served by a regular rail station since 1972.

The new high-speed ICE terminal, due to open in the spring of 1999, is expected to attract 25,000 to 30,000 passengers a day, and ultimately will shift much of the airport's short-haul traffic from planes onto trains.

High-speed rail services are not only expanding within Germany; they're coming into the country from other parts of Europe as well.

The most notable development in 1998 will be the extension of the high-speed red Thalys trains into Cologne from their existing network, which currently runs from Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels.

The Thalys system, with trains running up to 180 mph, is a joint venture of the French, German, Dutch and Belgian railways.

When Cologne is first added to the network (it was scheduled to start this week), the trains will not be able to run at top speed all the way to Cologne; that will require more track improvements. But it will mean an immediate reduction in the Paris-Cologne travel time from five hours and 15 minutes to four hours and 2 minutes.

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Rail Pass Availability

DER Travel Services in Rosemont, Ill., is the official sales agent for German Rail in the U.S. For point-to-point ticketing and reservations, call (800) 337-8724; for rail passes, (800) 782-2424.

DER has a variety of German Railpasses, including first and second class flexipasses, for five, 10 or 15 days of travel in one month; second-class youth passes (under 26 years of age) for the same periods of travel; twinpasses, for two adults traveling together, also for five, 10 or 15 days of travel in a month; and railpass/drive combinations, with four or five days of rail travel and three days of car rental. German Railpass holders can also buy tickets at special rates to Vienna, Copenhagen or Prague.

Meanwhile, Rail Europe this year started offering a single-country Rail 'n' Drive pass for Germany in cooperation with Hertz. Rail Europe's German Rail 'n' Drive Pass is good for four or five days of first or second class rail travel and three days' use of a Hertz car with unlimited mileage.

Contact Rail Europe at (800) 848-7245, or on the Internet at www.raileurope.com.

In addition, rail travel within Germany and other countries is covered by the Eurailpass or Europass, which can be obtained from either DER or Rail Europe.

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