Trains and deteriorating comfort in Germany
Deutsche Bahnw, the national railway company of Germany, is an object of very mixed feelings in the population. I belong to the large faction who considers Deutsche Bahn not merely bad, but a disaster of incompetence and customer unfriendliness. Indeed, I could write a long rant about its many problems. Today, however, I will merely discuss the matter of comfort:
The flag ships of Deutsche Bahn are the ICEw trains: They are faster than the other trains and are given preferential treatment when it comes to e.g. right of way or what trains have to wait for other trains—but are also infamous for their poor time-table adherence. Moreover, they are among the more uncomfortable trains in the fleet. Even mere S-Bahnw trains are usually better—certainly, providing far more leg room. Indeed, the second rank of trains, the ICw, are far better, despite being older and less expensive. Furthermore, it seems to me that the older the IC, the greater the comfort: More comfortable seats, more leg-room, and a more aesthetically pleasing interior.
Today, as I traveled with one of these ICs, my book turned out to be fifteen minutes too short, and I picked up one of the on-board magazines. Browsing through it, I found only one interesting article—but one which prompted me to write this entry. The topic was the next generation of trains, with the working name “ICx”, and the recent 6 billion Euro/300 trains deal that would provide these trains for several decades. Among the aspects discussed were the new chairs: Instead of having an adjustable back to allow passengers to recline, the same effect would be achieved by a seat that could slide forward. Somehow, this would safe space and (as was stated in a discreet sentence) …
… allow for a shorter distance between the chairs!
In reality, Deutsche Bahn chooses to further lower comfort in order to fit more people into the trains. While this is to some degree understandable (Deutsche Bahn does want to turn a profit), it is also likely to backfire over time as an age-old monopoly is replaced by a more competitive environment. Importantly, the reasoning used is likely to be a mere excuse: If the new chairs save space for reclining passengers, it does not follow that they do so for up-right passengers—and the leg-space (and e.g. elbow-space) is less-than-generous even for those up-right and of medium height. For 6”3’ me it is decidedly unsatisfactory, and those yet a few inches taller may be forced into very awkward positions. Spare room to fit in a bag does not exist (the available “regular” storage area for baggage is also under-dimensioned, making this a reasonable wish). Further considering that a) the population will grow taller over the planned decades of use, b) many passengers use the ICE five days a week or for uninterrupted travels of three or four hours, the decision seems highly disputable.
Was not greater comfort supposed to be one of the strongest arguments for going by train instead of aeroplane?</p