I travel alot around in Germany via railway. All total, I would imagine that I've stopped at over two-hundred different cities, towns and villages via a train. Typically, there's one odd aspect that you come to recognize after a while....as you step off the the train....there are varying amounts of space between you and the platform. Sometimes, you are actually two feet above the platform....sometime, inches above the platform, sometimes inches below the platform, and sometimes even two feet below the platform.
So the question is begged....in a land where standards ought to exist....why so many variations?
Well, there are four basic answers.
1. For 150-odd years, no German ever wrote a basic standard for trains or platforms. I know, you'd think some idiot committee should have written a standard but they never did.
2. Someone came long in the 1970s and had this idea for development of double-decker trains, which meant you needed to lower the car closer to the ground, and it meant that the platform would be at least a foot....sometimes two feet....above the car-door.
3. While some stations modernized their platforms to meet new trains....others did absolutely nothing (mostly because of cost).
4. In the 1990s as the national and regional railway networks modernized....they often went out and bought trains which had unusual advantages or varying designs. Having a particular exit level....wasn't often on the list of priorities. Just in my local region, I'd say there are at least eight different train designs.
ARD (public TV, Channel One, in Germany) picked up the story today.
It's a great quote: "In Mainz there are 55 cm, in Leipzig also, in Mülheim, Neuss and Hamminkeln in North Rhine-Westphalia it is 76 centimeters. And then there are still platforms with 33 centimeters, 38 centimeters or even 96 centimeters."
The problem here is money. If you went to one single standard around the entire nation, it'd get into the billions to modernize all of the platforms to meet one single standard. No one really knows how to fund this. Just to suggest a twenty-year program to meet one standard....it'd scare the tax revenue folks to a great degree. The Bahn folks? They might take on a couple of projects a year in major cities to meet some standard, but it might take them decades if they said it was a 100-percent Bahn project. So the question is....would German states go and funnel money into this? The general answer is no.
Does it even matter? The local train stop for me is mostly a grassy area next to the tracks and a two-foot built up concrete area, with a covered area for rain, and one single machine for tickets. I would take a guess in the mornings....maybe sixty people (mostly kids) get on and ride into Wiesbaden. To get into the train, you have to step about 1.5 feet up, to get into the car. For older folks with limited mobility, it's an issue. When you arrive in Wiesbaden at the main station, then you find that you have to step about 1.5 feet UP, onto the platform.
The odd thing is then....same station, mind you....I might walk two platforms over to catch a train into Mainz and find that I need to step 1.5 feet UP (higher) to get into that train, and arrive in Mainz to find an absolutely level platform.
On my list of 10,000 things in Germany that probably do need fixing....I would be the first to admit that this is way down on the list. I might even rate it between number 3,000 and 4,000. It's just an odd problem which people note on a daily basis and continually pops up in your mind.