A Deutsche Bahn IC Bus service on the Nürnberg-Mannheim route, Germany (image by Mef.ellingen).
With rail operators now entering the bus business, let’s take a look at how long-distance coach travel stacks up against the train on a key route in Germany.
Late last year, Deutsche Bahn (DB) launched a new InterCity rail service linking two important cities in the south of the country: Freiburg (in Baden-Württemberg) and Munich (in Bavaria). It was a renaissance of the old Baden-Kurier service which linked the two cities in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The InterCity from Freiburg to Munich makes 11 stops along the way. The service runs six times a week in each direction. The revival of the Baden-Kurier was good cause for cheer. But, also late last year, DB launched a new express coach route between the same two cities — with just one stop along the way. The coaches run under the new IC Bus brand which DB is actively promoting.
The air-conditioned coach has Wi-Fi, and that’s something you’ll not find on the InterCity train. There are 32 coaches each week from Freiburg to Munich, so the frequency gives the road service a strong edge over the train. The downside is that the coach takes about ten minutes longer than the train. But who worries about an extra 10 minutes on a journey of almost five hours?
Looking at prices for the coming month (ie. for August 2014), the one-way train fare from Freiburg to Munich on the Baden-Kurier is normally €79. There are two days on which a €69 fare is offered, and two days when an even cheaper €59 fare is available.
By contrast, the coach fare is normally €19. Real bargain hunters will find that, on a handful of days next month, a €9 fare is there for the taking.
Any bets on how much longer the Baden-Kurier train service will survive? This is a new rail service facing pretty fierce competition from a coach service run by the very same operator as the train.
Similar tales might be told of other long-distance coach services run by DB. Frequency on DB’s IC Bus route from Berlin to Wroclaw has recently increased from one to three services per day. The coaches undercut the time taken by the once-daily train. No surprise, perhaps, that now there’s talk of cutting the train service altogether. It would mean the demise of another cross-border EuroCity rail service. And it would be a big blow for those who, like us, actually prefer travelling by train to sitting on a coach (even if the coach is run by a rail operator).
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, 22 August 2014
Of course it's a shame if the Wawel goes, but for those wanting to go by train from Berlin to Krakow the fastest route has for many years been via Warsaw. We have used the Wawel on more than a dozen occasions in the last 5 or 6 years - it's a direct train from Berlin to Krakow following the historic Wawel route across the German-Polish border at Forst. But, it's never been packed and often has less than 20% seat occupancy. We see the good sense in Herr Biermann's comment re Railjets to Berlin. The EC Vindobona has been a little artefact of timetable history. It's been wonderful that it's survived as long as it has. But in truth it's hardly been the first choice for travellers from Berlin to Vienna. We use this train a lot, but we see from the seat reservations slips in the carriages that there are perilously few travellers travellers from Germany to points beyond Prague. Perhaps the way forward is to persuade ÖBB or CD to launch a proper modern train service from Vienna via Prague to Berlin using Railjets. We are genuinely dedicated train travellers. Over the last 5 or 6 years, we have used the EC Vindabona on perhaps 30 occasions. But never once to Vienna, let alone to Villach which is its final destination. Here's to campaigns to support trains that are really used by regular long distance travellers. We are deeply sceptical of initiatives that seek to prolong snippets of timetable history which, if they are to survive, will require massive public subsidy.
Hans Biermann, 21 August 2014
I do not think the EC WAWEL is being cut completely. It will be withdrawn in December, but perhaps only temporarily. In the Polish media, reports say it will be restarted in 2016. There is track work on the Polish side of the Odra. It's good in some ways to see these old EC routes being phased out. They use very outdated rolling stock and carry high overheads. Would be great to see the CD Railjets extended north from Prague to Berlin. That's what needed to give impetus to this key N-S rail axis.
About The Authors
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book will be published in mid-April 2022. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.