Thursday, May 26, 2016

Documentary on the Bahn

Last night, I watched a documentary piece (40 minutes) on "Die Bahn und Die Kunde".....the Railway and the Customers....a 2015 news documentary.

The news people went out and spent a week with actual customers of the German railway service, and noted that most have frustrations and anger over how the Bahn has developed over the past decade or two.  It's not a happy crowd of customers.

First, some people who are over fifty can remember when trains ran in the 1970s faster than they run today, from point A to point B.  You would think because of modern technology, better equipment, innovation, and competency....things would be better, and they simply aren't.

Second, most train stations are now unmanned, and you have no choice but to buy your ticket via the machine by the station, or buy via the internet.  The news team cut to two guys on bikes, who'd finished up a day of biking and wanted to take the train back home.  This meant having to buy a ticket for themselves, and a ticket for each bike.  As they demonstrated....the machine just isn't that customer friendly, and they missed their first connection back home because nothing made sense.  In the end, they had to call a 1-900 number (paying for the service) to get advice on how to buy the bike ticket.  You might want to note.....even if you have a regular ticket....if you drag that bike with you on the's supposed to have a ticket, and not all trains allow bikes (another curious thing about networks today).

Third, they spent ten minutes covering the problem for handicapped or older people in getting onboard trains.  You'd think there would be one single standard for height from the step of the ramp to the height of the train step.  Well....NO.

I've noticed this issue in Wiesbaden.  There are around four different sizes for your step onto a train.  There's one class which has a 1.5 foot step get into a train.  There's another class which has the step equal to the platform.  Another has a half-foot step up.  And yet another which a 1.5 foot step up.  Why not one standard?

Fourth, they covered hazardous situations which went on for weeks before maintenance fixed the problem.

Fifth, they went to the vision of the Bahn ahead.  It's an interesting thing because what you will see in less than 20 years is mostly a railway system built along major rail corridors (say Mainz to Kaiserslautern and onto Saarbrucken) and the lesser track operations which hit twenty-odd smaller towns in the region being shutdown and covered by bus traffic instead).  What the Bahn is admitting is that they can't provide the amount of rail traffic that Germany had in the 1970s (it's hay-day) at the cost that it takes to run the operation.  It simply isn't that profitable.

You kinda shake your head.  I can remember in the late 70's being in Germany and you had all kinds of options to get from point A to point B.  None of this was computerized, and you had to have their schedule book in your hands and rely upon schedule posters in each bahnhof to keep you on track to your next destination.  Rarely did trains run behind schedule.

Today?  I can sit on a bus heading toward the bahnhof and ask my smart-phone about the options of getting from Wiesbaden to point A, and get the answer in 30 seconds.  Then I will notice that if I miss that one train.....I'll be waiting for 90 minutes for the next connection.  I'm continually in a plan 'B' thinking pattern when messing around with the Bahn of 2016.  Air Conditioning failure?  In the midst of July and August, I'm always worrying about this and if the inside temperature is 90 degrees or more.....I will likely not sit for more than 30 minutes on a train before I have to get off and cool off.

It'll be a sad day in 2030, when I walk into the Wiesbaden station and realize that for the entire day....there's only 25 trains to make a run....instead of the sixty they currently run now.

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