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How reliable is Deutsche Bahn?

How reliable is Deutsche Bahn?

Old Nov 21, 19, 7:50 pm
  #1  
mhy
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How reliable is Deutsche Bahn?

I am going to Germany from NYC next week, and I am ending my trip in Dresden in early December on a weekday morning. My flight from Frankfurt departs that afternoon at 3PM.

Currently I have a high-speed train (first class) booked departing at 6AM on the day which arrives at Frankfurt Airport at 11AM. This gives me about 2.5 hours of realistic buffer.

Should I worry about further delays / cancellations or is the train generally reliable? The cheapest Lufthansa ticket from Dresden to Frankfurt that morning is about 100 EUR which I would be willing to purchase (and forfeit as a sunk insurance cost if I manage to get on my train within a reasonable time) if it means significantly better peace of mind. The flight back is BA in CE / F via London.

Thanks all!

Last edited by mhy; Nov 21, 19 at 9:42 pm
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Old Nov 21, 19, 10:31 pm
  #2  
:D!
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I wouldn't be worried about the train being cancelled. It is of course possible that there is a crash or other accident that physically blocks trains along that route, or there is an unexpected equipment failure which is not detected until the train is coming out of the depot at 5am, but this is rare.

Long delays are unlikely although short delays of 5-15 minutes are common. Your train has 15 minutes slack at Leipzig and 6 mins at Frankfurt(Main) Main Station so it may be able to catch up on minor delays.

If your train is unexpectedly not running, you would be allowed to take subsequent trains. The next direct service runs 2 hours later and should give you just about enough time to still catch the BA flight; but the DB website also provides an option leaving 1 hour later along the same route, changing at Leipzig and Frankfurt(Main) Main Station, arriving FRA at 1214 which is plenty of time.



I thought that flights from DRS were quite sparse, but having looked at the flight timetables, there are actually 3 flights that would suit you. I would be a bit nervous about taking the 1050-ish flight as there are no alternatives if that is delayed or cancelled, which to me is more likely to happen than the train being delayed significantly or cancelled. But you have already booked the train, and the 0630-ish flight is super-expensive on most dates, you aren't flying LH to the US, and you probably don't want to spend hours at FRA should everything go to plan.

If you have checked bags you will have to go landside and re-check at FRA, and there is a non-zero chance that BA will not let you check in online because it wants its agents to inspect your passport manually for "security". If you were flying LH to the US I suspect you may have chosen the flight from the outset, but in this case I'd stick with the train.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 4:57 am
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Though question to answer. While in general it is some kind of national sport to complain about Deutsche Bahn and its on-time record and reliability it is actually reliable. As ! said a 5-15 minute delay is quite common and you should never book a trip where you have less than 10 minutes changing trains. Said this, there is always a very slim chance of longer delays or even cancellation due to technical problems, weather or blocked tracks (almost the same risks as if you fly) . The only way to be 100% sure to arrive on time would be to take a train the evening before and staying the night close to the airport. In my opinion it all depends what would be the consequences if you missed your flight. Is it just a minor inconvenience than I would not be worried about the reliability of Deutsche Bahn. If on the other hand missing your flight would cause some big problem for you (missing important business meeting, being late for an important family event) you should investigate alternatives and/or have a back-up plan (for example somthing like ! outlined).
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Old Nov 22, 19, 6:50 am
  #4  
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The punctuality rate of long distance ICE train was 74.9% in 2018. The objective for 2019 is 76%. If your train is direct this is OK. If there are any connection the risk increase significantly.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 8:05 am
  #5  
mhy
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Originally Posted by :D! View Post
I wouldn't be worried about the train being cancelled. It is of course possible that there is a crash or other accident that physically blocks trains along that route, or there is an unexpected equipment failure which is not detected until the train is coming out of the depot at 5am, but this is rare.

Long delays are unlikely although short delays of 5-15 minutes are common. Your train has 15 minutes slack at Leipzig and 6 mins at Frankfurt(Main) Main Station so it may be able to catch up on minor delays.

If your train is unexpectedly not running, you would be allowed to take subsequent trains. The next direct service runs 2 hours later and should give you just about enough time to still catch the BA flight; but the DB website also provides an option leaving 1 hour later along the same route, changing at Leipzig and Frankfurt(Main) Main Station, arriving FRA at 1214 which is plenty of time.

I thought that flights from DRS were quite sparse, but having looked at the flight timetables, there are actually 3 flights that would suit you. I would be a bit nervous about taking the 1050-ish flight as there are no alternatives if that is delayed or cancelled, which to me is more likely to happen than the train being delayed significantly or cancelled. But you have already booked the train, and the 0630-ish flight is super-expensive on most dates, you aren't flying LH to the US, and you probably don't want to spend hours at FRA should everything go to plan.

If you have checked bags you will have to go landside and re-check at FRA, and there is a non-zero chance that BA will not let you check in online because it wants its agents to inspect your passport manually for "security". If you were flying LH to the US I suspect you may have chosen the flight from the outset, but in this case I'd stick with the train.
Thanks, yes I would really only be in trouble if the delay is >2 hours, which based on my research does happen, but rarely. Looks like this particular train originates in Dresden so short of some major issue it will depart on time. Based on Zugfinder it has a 83% on-time rate within 5 mins.

I did not buy a flexible ticket but I presume if there is a major issue I would be allowed to get on the subsequent train without having to pay $$. Good to know the one 2 hours later still allows me to catch the flight.

No checked bags and in CE so would be able to go through priority check-in if needed. Maybe I should into purchasing additional trip insurance that covers a missed flights due to a delayed train.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 8:09 am
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Bear in mind it is a long way from the long distance station at Frankfurt Airport to the BA check in desks. Allow at least 15 minutes, including time for Skytrain between the terminals
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Old Nov 22, 19, 8:11 am
  #7  
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Originally Posted by flyingfkb View Post
Though question to answer. While in general it is some kind of national sport to complain about Deutsche Bahn and its on-time record and reliability it is actually reliable. As ! said a 5-15 minute delay is quite common and you should never book a trip where you have less than 10 minutes changing trains. Said this, there is always a very slim chance of longer delays or even cancellation due to technical problems, weather or blocked tracks (almost the same risks as if you fly) . The only way to be 100% sure to arrive on time would be to take a train the evening before and staying the night close to the airport. In my opinion it all depends what would be the consequences if you missed your flight. Is it just a minor inconvenience than I would not be worried about the reliability of Deutsche Bahn. If on the other hand missing your flight would cause some big problem for you (missing important business meeting, being late for an important family event) you should investigate alternatives and/or have a back-up plan (for example somthing like ! outlined).
Yeah I was surprised that trains are frequently delayed (though usually < 15 minutes) in Germany. I am from Japan, so I guess I've got insanely high expectations when it comes to train travel

I would normally arrive in Frankfurt the night before, but doing so would significantly cut into my already limited vacation time. My trip is 100% leisure so no business meeting or family event, but the flight back to the US is in F so would be a significant expense if I missed the flight and had to purchase a last-minute ticket. Perhaps I should look into purchasing travel insurance to cover this specific scenario. If that is too expensive, maybe I can bite the bullet and buy a flight knowing 99% I will be throwing it away...but probably I'm worrying too much!
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Old Nov 22, 19, 8:12 am
  #8  
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Originally Posted by fransknorge View Post
The punctuality rate of long distance ICE train was 74.9% in 2018. The objective for 2019 is 76%. If your train is direct this is OK. If there are any connection the risk increase significantly.
Thanks. This is a direct train all the way to FRA airport, and it also originates in Dresden. According to Zugfinder this particular ICE 1654 is on-time within <5min 83% of the time.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 9:04 am
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The German trains aren't very reliable or punctual but I think 2.5h is enough buffer. Don't forget to reserve a seat on the train.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 9:57 am
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Originally Posted by mlin32 View Post
The German trains aren't very reliable or punctual but I think 2.5h is enough buffer. Don't forget to reserve a seat on the train.
I find the Trams a lot less reliable than the long distance trains, however if you're ever crossing borders (at least from Germany to/from Poland) be aware you may sit for a long time waiting for the respective countries conductors to take over.

Heading from Berlin back to Warsaw last month we waited almost an hour at Frankfurt (Oder) while waiting for the Polish team to arrive coming in from Russia.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 10:18 am
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A colleague recently missed his FRA flight due to an hours-long ICE delay. AA wasn’t sympathetic. I think he only left a 2 hour buffer.

You should be fine with the 4-hour buffer you set, though.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 10:21 am
  #12  
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No one can really say. There are many reasons an individual train will be delayed. Historical statistics are only marginally useful to you. In general, trains are reliable. If you MUST be somewhere at a certain time, engage your risk tolerance machine.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 10:30 am
  #13  
mhy
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Originally Posted by Sleepy_Sentry View Post
A colleague recently missed his FRA flight due to an hours-long ICE delay. AA wasn’t sympathetic. I think he only left a 2 hour buffer.

You should be fine with the 4-hour buffer you set, though.
He only had 2 hours from train scheduled arrival to flight departure time? That is definitely risky.

My “real” buffer is around 2.5 hours, due to airport formalities. If the train is delayed more than that I risk missing my flight.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 10:31 am
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No need for a flexible ticket; if at any point the estimated delay on arrival is 20+ minutes, you can take any routing/train you want. Taking a screenshot of the app (where the 20+ min arrival delay is shown) might help in case the delay happens to disappear from the system but you're already on a different train. In my experience, once you mention your original routing was delayed, DB staff just nods and doesn't bother you any further.

BTW, there are currently construction works between Frankfurt Hbf and Frankfurt Airport, so 5-10 minute delays getting to/from the airport are more or less the norm at the moment. If you go up to the airport rail station from the platform, watch for signs directing you towards shuttle buses to Terminal 2 - this is a faster option than walking to T1 and then taking the SkyTrain to T2.
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Old Nov 22, 19, 10:35 am
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Originally Posted by mhy View Post
He only had 2 hours from train scheduled arrival to flight departure time? That is definitely risky.
Lufthansa will gladly sell you AirRail connections (train w/ an LH flight no. + connecting flight) with a layover of ~1,5h (don't know what the official MCT is though). It's perfectly do-able assuming there are no delays. Of course, in those cases your train is treated like a flight, so you're protected by LH in case things go south.
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