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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Special Projects: German High-Speed Rail

ICE trainset in Saarbruecken

Germany, like much of Europe, has a high speed rail network which interties with surrounding countries. Traveling at 200+ MPH this train system can exceed the travel time of airplanes, especially considering security checks and transfers.

I was able to experience this system in August 2008, traveling from Paris, France to Saarbruecken, Germany on board the ICE (Inter-City Express). The trip took about 2 hours, close to what the flight to Frankfurt would have taken; however that would have also involved a several hour drive to Saarbruecken as well.

We left from the Gare de l'Est station in Paris. Using our ticket to pass through the turnstile we came upon the sleek looking ICE train. We entered our car and took our seats (seats and cars were assigned when we got our tickets). The cars were nice; a rack above the seats along both sides held luggage. Seats were comfortable and similar to airplane seats. A few of the seats had a table you could work at and power outlets for a laptop.

Also inside the cars was an electronic reader board that provided information such as the next stop and the current speed. A restroom existed at the end of the car, very roomy and comfortable. As compared to commuter or Metro rail or some Amtrak services, the cars were very fancy inside, with wood paneling.

We left Paris, headed through some train yards, including passing the TGV high speed rail center. As we left the city we picked up speed. Acceleration of the electrically-powered train was smooth and quiet. Even at near 200 mph it didn’t feel that fast. As with all trains, there was some rocking back and forth but not bad. On the way back in fact I slept.

Access was also simple. At the Paris end of the line we were able to use the extensive Metro system to travel from our hotel to the train station. At the Saarbruecken end our hotel was just a couple blocks away. Even if we had to go further into town the Saarbahn, a light rail system, had a stop right at the front door of the station.

The line was fully grade separated as far as I could see, and the engineering standards appeared higher than much of the rail in the United States. In fact, much of the line looked new, or almost new. Of course to support such high speeds having grade separation and modern rails is required.

While this type of system may not be efficient for long distances, such as across the continent, it is perfectly suited for 100-400 mile distances such as between states. I would hope that we would see similar systems in the United States in the future.

German High Speed Rail from Ben Brooks on Vimeo.