Mondays until 31st July 2017, then daily except Sundays through August 2017: DB “Rabbits” to Berlin

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218 330 and 218 474 at Berlin Ostbahnhof, 19/06/17 (JW)

An intriguing service operates in northern Germany on selected days until the end of August 2017, in some ways winding the clock back 20 years.

In mid-May, in a move that seemed out of the blue to many, IRE18447, the 06:55 Hamburg Hbf to Berlin Ostbahnhof, usually hauled by a class 182 electric, became a diesel diagram on Mondays only.  This is because for these days only, it is booked to run over the non-electrified classic “slow” lines between Stendal and Rathenow.  There is a recurring Sunday night possession on the Neubaustrecke which is not given up in one direction until mid-morning on Monday, meaning that single line working needs to be implemented; this train being diverted onto the non-electrified section to keep it out of the way of the ICEs.

This is a one-way diagram retaining the booked electric dead in the consist, the diesel(s) returning from Berlin to Hamburg light engine.

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The traction

The two “celebrity” class 218 “rabbit” diesel-hydraulics – altrot liveried 218 387 of the Brohltalbahn (currently on hire to the Kurhessenbahn), and ozeanblau-beige liveried 218 460 “Conny” of the Westfrankenbahn – have been moved north to Hamburg to act as motive power for these trains.

This is a welcome return to the north for 218 460, which is “northerner” through and through, having been allocated to Lübeck depot from new in 1978 until 2007, before migrating south to Kempten.  Indeed, in 1996/97, it was numbered 210 460, denoting that it was one of the twelve Lübeck 218s renumbered into the 210.4 subclass.  The need for these came about as part of the development of the post-reunification cross-country network; DB wanted to create a Hamburg – Berlin – München InterCity axis, but the former cross-border section from Hamburg to Berlin via Ludwigslust had not yet been electrified.  Lübeck depot selected the 12 of its “rabbits” in the best condition and re-plated them from 140km/h (87mph) to 160km/h (99mph) to work this section in pairs at high speed.

Although 2017’s temporary diesel services are more sedate – and via the fairly-recently-reopened through route via Uelzen, Salzwedel and Stendal, rather than via Ludwigslust – it is still nice to be able to have ‘460 from Hamburg to Berlin once again.

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Heritage-liveried 218 460 “Conny” at Kiel Hbf, 18/06/17 (JW)

However, ‘387 (especially) and ‘460 have sadly proved somewhat less than reliable.  Ostensibly the train is booked for the pair of them, but so far (19 trains in) it has only made it to Berlin with the pair of celebrities powering once, for various reasons, and timekeeping has been an issue.  Caterpillar-engined 218 329 and 218 330 from DB Regio at Kiel have settled in to become “Conny”‘s regular partner (when “Conny” itself is operational…), but 218 474 from S-Bahn Hamburg – making its first passenger workings in nearly three years – was drafted in to work the train with ‘330 on 19th June 2017, and they put in an absolutely storming run, waiting time at every station along the way until being held at Rathenow to take additional passengers from a failed ICE.  218 474 took charge of the train solo the week after, arriving in Berlin less than 10 minutes late.  3rd July 2017 saw 218 473 drafted in from DB Regio at Kiel to partner “Conny”, but this has been ‘473’s only appearance on this working to date.

17th July 2017 was also lined up to see hit-listed 218 314 from Niebüll partner 218 460, however the failure (again) of the latter prior to departure time meant that by the time the defect had been diagnosed, ‘460 failed and the pair split, the train was sufficiently late to not require diesel haulage at all.  Indeed, 182 021 worked alone under its own power, and we reached Stendal after the possession had been lifted.  To date, this has been the only time that the train has not enjoyed 218 power when it has been booked to do so.

Times & Fares

This one-way 190-mile journey takes just over 3 hours and definitely winds the clock back decades.  It requires the locos to work at design speed for most of the way, and it is lovely to be able to sit in a compartment with an opening window behind a pair of more than 40-year-old diesels on a long distance service this late in the day.  I would certainly recommend it as the place to experience 218s in 2017.

The train itself runs at an almost unsociably early hour, and short leaps are theoretically not too possible (the first stops being pick-up only and the last set-down only), but the train is best done throughout.  As one of the Berlin-Hamburg Express services, DB offer a €19.90 single fare (£17.54 at currently prices) – with a limited number of €14.90 fares if booked online very much in advance.  If returning later in the day (necessarily by electric), a return ticket can be purchased for €29.90 (£26.36).

If on a holiday in the Hamburg area, this is an ideal way to have a day trip to the capital, and allows you over six and a half hours in what I believe to be the world’s most interesting city, before returning on the 16:52 with the class 182.

The route the train takes is quite an interesting one.  Heading south from Hamburg, it leaves the main line at Uelzen and takes the cross-country route through Salzwedel to Stendal.  This route – part of the former “Amerikalinie”, the erstwhile trunk route between Berlin and the great sea port of Bremerhaven and its opportunities for trans-continental import and export – was severed, literally, from 1946 as it crossed what was to become known as the Iron Curtain.  It was only reopened as a through route in 1999, and is now a fantastic bit of fast railway, although most of it is still only single track.  Even now, although the exact line of the former “inner-German border” is barely discernible, the atmosphere still feels a little different once you cross into the former DDR.

After a brief stop at Stendal, the train takes line 6107, the classic route towards Berlin which is not electrified, running adjacent to the Neubaustrecke high-speed double-track railway.  It regains the electrified stretch after Rathenow, before making its grand entrance into Berlin, running right through the former West Berlin and out the other side before terminating at Berlin Ostbahnhof station, within sight of a remaining section of the Berlin Wall, at 10:11.

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Sweeping right through the middle of reunited Berlin, along its elevated “Stadtbahn” (JW) 

The Future

Although this service was initially booked for 218 haulage on Mondays only, throughout the month of August this train is booked to be 218-hauled on Mondays to Saturdays.

Traction Log

Monday 15/05/17 218 460 218 387 failed with pre-heat defect
Monday 22/05/17 218 460 218 387 remained defective
Monday 29/05/17 218 460 + 218 387
Tuesday 06/06/17 218 387 218 460 used for Schleswig-Holstein RE services. Ran on 06/06 as 05/06 was a public holiday.
Monday 12/06/17 218 387 + 218 460 218 387 failed en route, shoved the rest of the way by 218 460
Monday 19/06/17 218 330 + 218 474 218 387 unserviceable, 218 460 on Kieler Woche services
Monday 26/06/17 218 474 218 387 still unserviceable, 218 460 on RE21602
Monday 03/07/17 218 473 + 218 460 218 387 still unserviceable
Monday 10/07/17 218 330 + 218 460 218 387 undergoing repairs at Niebüll
Monday 17/07/17 182 021 Planned for 218 314 + 218 460, but ‘460 failed before departure.  By the time they had been split for ‘314 to go alone, there was no need to diesel-haul it – ran sufficiently late to go main line from Stendal
Monday 24/07/17 218 330 + 218 460
Monday 31/07/17 218 330 218 460 failed before departure
Tuesday 01/08/17 218 330 218 460 still defective
Wednesday 02/08/17 218 330 + 218 460
Thursday 03/08/17 218 460 + 218 330
Friday 04/08/17 218 330 + 218 460
Saturday 05/08/17 218 460 + 218 329
Monday 07/08/17 218 329 + 218 460
Tuesday 08/08/17 218 460 + 218 329
Wednesday 09/08/17 218 329 + 218 387 218 460 had run north light to Niebüll
Thursday 10/08/17 218 387 + 218 329
Friday 11/08/17 182 001
Saturday 12/08/17 182 001
Monday 14/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Tuesday 15/08/17 218 484 + 218 387
Wednesday 16/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Thursday 17/08/17 218 460 + 218 387
Friday 18/08/17 218 387 + 218 460
Saturday 19/08/17 218 460 + 218 387
Monday 21/08/17 218 387 + 218 484 Via Magdeburg due to signal damage at Spandau
Tuesday 22/08/17 218 484 + 218 387 Via Magdeburg due to signal damage at Spandau
Wednesday 23/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Thursday 24/08/17 218 484 + 218 387
Friday 25/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Saturday 26/08/17 218 484 + 218 387
Monday 28/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Tuesday 29/08/17 218 484 + 218 387
Wednesday 30/08/17 218 387 + 218 484
Thursday 31/08/17 218 484 + 218 387

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One thought on “Mondays until 31st July 2017, then daily except Sundays through August 2017: DB “Rabbits” to Berlin

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