Three months of delays on Berlin-Hamburg route

After 25 years the tracks need renovation and capacity will be expanded to meet expected demand.

It's just going to take longer and there will be more stops and fewer seats.
It's just going to take longer and there will be more stops and fewer seats.dpa

Berlin-One of Germany's busiest but also oldest rail links needs an update. Commuters between Berlin and Hamburg will have to deal with delays this fall during three months of work - 52 separate projects - on the nearly 290-kilometer route. The €100m investment will also ready the stretch of track for a planned increase in traffic. Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway, unveiled Tuesday.

The route was previously home to such curiosities as the Flying Hamburger train and a propeller-driven rail zeppelin but now hosts much more traditional trains. "80 long-distance trains, 70 regional trains, up to 80 freight trains - each per day," said DB's Renado Kropp. Pre-corona, that meant 17,000 long-distance passengers daily, according to Kropp's colleague Karlheinz Breitenbach.

The route is also popular for local commuters between Berlin and the distant suburbs of Falkensee and Nauen. And, in June, discount private train operator Flixtrain will join the route. 

To accomodate the expected growth in passenger numbers and renew worn out sections, construction will run from 11 September to 11 December, DB said Tuesday.

An extra 50 minutes

"After almost 25 years of continuous operation in some cases, many facilities have reached the end of their life cycle," Kropp said. The track was upgraded between 1993 and 1997 to accomodate trains at speeds up to 160kn/h and then, after the dream of the Transrapid maglev train died early this century, the track was again upgraded for speeds up to 230km/h.

400 kilometres of new tack will be laid between Berlin-Spandau and Büchen in Schleswig-Holstein and 24 switches will be replaced along with the refurbishment of a bridge and 11 culverts.

High-speed ICE trains will have to be widely diverted and stops will be added in Stendal and Salzwedel as well as one every two hours in Uelzen. Stops in Wittenberge, Ludwigslust and Büchen will be cancelled. While the journey from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof now takes between 103 and 128 minutes, during construction it could take up to nearly 50 minutes longer. Flixtrains will need an additional 20 minutes on top of that.

The bad news doesn't end there. To avoid too much strain on the detour, many trains will be cancelled with one train per hour in each direction rather than the current two. Eurocity trains on the Prague-Hamburg line are already turning around in Berlin, further lowering capacity. Local service between Salzwedel and Hamburg will also be thinned out.

No construction at least in 2022 and 2023

"Unfortunately, the opportunity hasn't been taken to expand single-track sections," said Michael Wedel who represents a German passenger assocaition.

The connection between Schwerin, Ludwigslust and Hamburg will also suffer from bus replacement service through 31 October with eight buses per day in each direction.

Those who want to travel from Berlin to Nauen and Wittenberge can continue to use local transport. The regional RB10 and RB14 lines will continue to run almost continuously, according to the railway. On the heavily frequented regional express line RE2, there is always rail replacement service with buses - but this is mostly concentrated on sections beyond Wittenberge, Dietmute Graf from the private Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn (ODEG) said.

From November 22, the situation should at least relax somewhat. Then, on the direct route, two ICE trips a day will be possible again in the morning and afternoon - with stops in Wittenberge and Ludwigslust, sometimes also in Büchen.

Will that be it? "There will be no construction on the Hamburg line at least in 2022 and 2023," Kropp said. The line will then be needed as a bypass because the high-speed route between Hanover and Würzburg will have to be renovated. In the years after that, construction work could be necessary again on the Berlin-Hamburg link, Kropp said.

"We've started planning."