Punctuality (train)

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Delay in winter due to frozen points

Punctuality in rail operations , as in general in the transport sector , describes the consistency of planned or previously published departure and arrival times ( timetable ) with the arrival and departure times actually achieved.

In the area of Deutsche Bahn AG , a train is considered to be on time if it arrives or leaves within 5 minutes and 59 seconds after the time specified in the timetable. Basically, it should be noted that the times are calculated and determined internally in tenth of a minute, so that a departure shortly before the next full minute does not necessarily have to represent a delay, as these fractions are always rounded off in the published timetable and are therefore not visible to the passenger .


Achieved a train a train station or an operating agency before noted in the schedule time, it is called an earliness driving. In Austria this is called Vorsprung . In the event that the train does not reach the operating point until after the time specified in the timetable, the train is said to be delayed . A distinction must be made between arrival and departure delays, as a delayed arrival at an operating point does not necessarily result in a delayed departure (e.g. if the train stays in the station for a long time). Likewise, a delayed departure does not have to lead to a delayed arrival elsewhere, as trains can, under certain circumstances, make up for a delay. Furthermore, an early arrival does not usually lead to an early departure, since passenger trains generally have to wait until the scheduled departure time.

An early or a lead is abbreviated by a number of minutes of earliness preceded by a minus sign (e.g. −10 for ten minutes early or a lead), a delay correspondingly with a plus sign (e.g. +5 for five minutes late) .

In common parlance, an arrival before the scheduled time is not referred to as being unpunctual because the majority of passengers do not find it annoying or even problematic. However, in actual operation, such situations can cause significant problems.

At Deutsche Bahn AG, trains are only considered to be delayed if they arrive too late for more than five minutes and 59 seconds. On the Berlin S-Bahn, an arrival or departure that deviates from the timetable by more than two minutes is classified as delayed. The amount of bonus payments for 4500 Deutsche Bahn managers depends, among other things, on how punctual the train is.

In all other EU countries except Portugal, trains are only considered delayed 15 minutes after their scheduled arrival. With the Swiss railways, the term delay is understood more strictly. So there is a loudspeaker announcement with minute-by-minute information from a two-minute delay. Very often connections in Switzerland have transition times of only 4 minutes, which explains this greater sensitivity.

On the Japanese Japan Railways (JR), a delay of one minute is considered to be unpunctuality, which is announced. Delays of more than 30 minutes are so rare that they are on the main news. In 2004, JR Central managed a year-round delay on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen of just 0.1 minutes / train, including natural disasters.

Signaling and passenger information


The signals Zs4 (left) and Zs5 (right) as light signal (above) and form signal (below)

Special were to influence the punctuality of trains in earlier times signals used, which consist of inscribed metal sheets and the dispatcher from the window of a signal box the drivers were presented. They were introduced to the Deutsche Reichsbahn in 1934 in the shape of the K-disk as a triangle and the L-disk as a rectangle standing on top. Railway radio or light signals permanently installed on the route have replaced this form of signaling. These signals have disappeared from today's rail operations.

The following two signals were used in Germany:

  • Shorten driving time ( additional signal Zs 4 (called acceleration indicator or K-disk ): This signal consists of a white, acute-angled triangle with a red border and a printed black "K". It instructed the driver to fully extend the maximum permissible speed of his train and the route in order not to obstruct subsequent trains. The corresponding light signal showed a white glowing angle with the tip up.
  • Drive slower (additional signal Zs 5, deceleration indicator or L-disc ): This signal consisted of a white oblique rectangle with a red border and a printed black "L" and instructs the driver to reduce his speed to 70 percent of the schedule speed, to a stop in front of a space occupied by a preceding train Zugfolgeabschnitt be avoided. The corresponding light signal showed a glowing white angle with the tip pointing downwards.

The recording of these signals had to be confirmed by the driver with an attention whistle ( Zp 1 ).

Passenger information

Delay notifications on a departure board

Passengers are generally informed of unpunctualities by electronic or mechanical display boards. In modern display board systems, the display of the delay is linked to the train control system via data links. This enables the punctuality data to be transferred to the passenger information systems in real time .

In addition, loudspeaker announcements alert passengers to unpunctual trains at larger train stations.

To answer customer inquiries, DB employees have access to the RIS traveler information system , which, in addition to the information on the Deutsche Bahn website , provides detailed information on the cause, development and amount of delays.


Unpunctual trains not only annoy passengers, they also lead to a whole range of other problems. The problems perceived by passengers include in particular:

  • Loss of connection when continuing the journey, which can lead to a considerable overall delay for the passenger at his destination. An additional night may even be required if the last train on a connection was missed.
  • Unpunctuality at appointments
  • Overcrowding and chaotic conditions at train stations and in individual trains when many trains are late

In the operational management of the railway network, unpunctuality (both delays and prematures) creates significant problems, including:

  • Delays of individual trains often lead to a chain reaction , because due to the properties of a rail network, they also hinder trains behind it and on single-track lines and oncoming trains, and these also become unpunctual.
  • Because of the start of connections, several trains have to wait for a delayed train at railway junctions, as passengers of the unpunctual train want to change to these trains.
  • Premature journeys (head start) cause frequent, sometimes strong braking and signal stops by the train “running into” slower trains in front of them, which not only have a negative effect on driving comfort, but also on energy consumption and wear and tear on rolling stock.
  • Long delays can also be delayed by a subsequent transfer of train sets (e.g. when turning a train set in a terminal station), locomotives or drivers to other trains.

The problems listed last do not only occur at the operating points (train stations or stops) perceived by the passenger, but can also apply to the operating points listed in the timetable . A train journey between two train stations that is perceived as punctual by the passenger does not necessarily have to actually have been on time, as premature or delayed events may have occurred at operating points in between (block stations, overtaking stations, etc.).

Measures to ensure punctuality

For example, the following measures are taken by the railway companies to ensure the punctuality of their trains as far as possible:

  • Room for maneuver in scheduling : The journey times of trains are deliberately kept longer than absolutely necessary in order to be able to better cushion minor delays. Punctual trains then run at a lower than the maximum permitted line speed, which also has a positive effect on energy consumption. In July 2018, it became known that Deutsche Bahn intends to increase the top speed of its 4th generation ICE trains from 250 to 265 km / h.
  • Timetable information : In Germany, tight connections with a transfer time of less than five minutes are usually not listed in timetable information systems, in order to reduce subsequent delays caused by connections. Secured connections that are marked as such usually have a transfer time of up to 15 minutes in Germany.
  • Loss of connection : In the event of significant delays of an individual train, secured connections are also given up, as there is either a reasonable alternative for the delayed connecting travelers (e.g. a train moving later) or, due to a few delayed transfer passengers, the annoyance of many who are affected by the connection drawn travelers should be caused.
  • Train priority : If a faster train is delayed behind a slower or even punctual train, the slower train is often stopped at a suitable operating point in order to give the faster train priority and to enable the delay to catch up, even if this causes the slower train (which is usually classified as lower by the type of train).
  • Overtaking : If the route via passing places has or way working is suitable, a faster train can a slower overtake .
  • Use travel time reserves : In October 2017, Deutsche Bahn will start an experiment in which trains can also be on the move ahead of schedule on selected routes. If the on-board computer indicates that the train's performance can be reduced to save energy, the driver should ignore this recommendation. After evaluating the test, the train returned to its usual driving style because punctuality did not improve. The time gained on the route was used up again in front of the major hub stations, such as Hanover or Frankfurt am Main.
  • Use capacity teams : For the route from Cologne to Dortmund and, from November 2018, also for the route from Mannheim to Fulda, so-called capacity teams are to begin their service, which are supposed to accelerate the handling of delayed trains and thus ensure more punctuality.
  • Driver assistance systems for the train drivers: The buffers and reserves have to be activated sensibly during operation and trains have to be controlled according to their use. This can take place, for example, through an overarching disposition regime or the expansion of driver assistance systems for the train driver.

Causes of unpunctuality

The following incidents in particular are possible causes of unpunctuality:

  • Vehicle malfunctions: Technical malfunctions on locomotives or wagons can delay the continuation of a train or make it completely impossible.
  • Signal disturbances : Disturbances in the control and safety technology (signaling technology) usually result in the capacity of certain tracks or routes being temporarily restricted. Often time-consuming issuing of commands or the arrangement of slow travel is necessary.
  • Damage to the track : This includes short-term closures and slow-speed areas (e.g. due to broken rails), but also longer-term damage (e.g. track sagging, bridge defects), which are often only repaired after several years. However, the long-term speed restrictions can only be taken into account when the timetable changes next, until then the trains are regularly delayed. In 2012, the theft of cables and other metal parts on the German routes caused a total of 4,000 hours of delay.
  • Construction sites : Construction sites often lead to delays due to speed limits and track closures.
  • Accidents / emergencies : In the case of train accidents or emergencies on the train (e.g. medical or safety-related), the greatest unpunctuality occurs, which usually also affects many other trains that are not directly affected.
  • Delays in passenger changes : If there is an increased number of passengers, the passenger change may take longer than planned in the timetable. The loading of many bicycles or the blocking of doors by passengers can unpredictably extend a train's stay on the platform. In the course of the coronavirus crisis, Deutsche Bahn identified long stopping times as the main reason for delays - the trains were disproportionately punctual due to the drop in passengers in April 2020. In addition to the network utilization, the faster passenger change at the train stations is the main driver for punctuality. Optimizing stopping times, especially for "metropolitan traffic", could therefore lead to a massive improvement in punctuality.
  • Circulation design : At the terminal stations, there is not enough time to turn around, i.e. for the next train to depart, to compensate for a delayed arrival. As a result, an initial delay is "taken along" at the starting station on the new train journey.


In Germany, the railway is only liable in the event of delay or cancellation if the journey cannot be continued on the same day, and only to the amount of the accommodation and notification costs. That is the legal regulation according to § 17 Railway Traffic Regulations . However, many railways provide voluntary compensation by paying additional costs for other trains, buses and taxis.

Fare refund

Since December 4, 2009, passengers on all national and international trains within the European Union have received a fare compensation of 25% of the fare for 60 minutes or more, and 50% of the fare for 120 minutes or more. The compensation is made in cash at his request. This is stipulated by Regulation (EC) No. 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of October 23, 2007 on the rights and obligations of passengers in rail transport ( HTML PDF (PDF) ).

Before that, the fare was reimbursed without the passenger incurring any financial damage, in Germany only in a few cases:

  • The Aachen Transport Association granted from 2002 to the end of 2009 bus and rail passengers a free ride when the bus or train at the departure station had more than 20 minutes late.
  • The Verkehrsverbund Hannover grants bus and train travelers a free ticket if the bus or train arrives at their destination more than 20 minutes later than the current timetable.
  • Rail travelers have been reimbursed for delays in local transport in Schleswig-Holstein since May 28, 2006, in Bavaria since May 1, 2007 and in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia since January 1, 2008; In the case of a delay of more than 60 minutes at the destination station, the reimbursement is 25% of the fare, in the case of more than 120 minutes 50% in the form of a voucher .
  • In the case of cross-border train journeys with the start and end of the journey within the EU, Norway or Switzerland, as well as long-distance trains within Germany, the traveler receives a travel voucher worth 20% of the ticket if a day train is delayed by more than 60 minutes or a night train is delayed by more than 120 minutes is.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Martin U. Müller : Train drivers should drive as fast as possible. In: Spiegel Online . October 11, 2017. Retrieved October 11, 2017 .
  2. Delay in the EU according to Statista.com , accessed on April 28, 2018
  3. Norimitsu Onishi: In Japan Crash, Time Obsession May Be Culprit. The New York Times , April 28, 2005, accessed October 23, 2009 .
  4. Oliver Mayer: Learning from Japan ... means learning quality. How the Japanese run their railways . In: Pro Bahn (ed.): DerFahrgast . No. 2 , 2004, p. 15–16 ( online (PDF file; 82 kB)).
  5. Tokaido Shinkansen Sets an Outstanding Record - An Average Delay of 0.1 Minutes per Train for FY2003 -. (PDF; 4.2 MB) JR Central, April 8, 2004, p. 22 , archived from the original on August 25, 2009 ; accessed on October 23, 2009 .
  6. Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft (ed.): Official Gazette of the Reichsbahndirektion Mainz of August 18, 1934, No. 40. Announcement No. 463, p. 188.
  7. Eberhard Jänsch: Energy-saving driving of fast trains and the role of control technology  ( page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.eiba.tuwien.ac.at
  8. bahn-lexikon: Energy-saving driving style ( Memento from October 10, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  9. Gerald Traufetter: Deutsche Bahn: With 265 km / h against the delay . In: Spiegel Online . July 28, 2018 ( spiegel.de [accessed July 28, 2018]).
  10. Martin U. Müller : Struggle for punctuality: the railroad's express offensive unsuccessful . In: Spiegel Online . April 14, 2018 ( spiegel.de [accessed April 14, 2018]).
  11. Gerald Traufetter: Deutsche Bahn: With 265 km / h against the delay . In: Spiegel Online . July 28, 2018 ( spiegel.de [accessed July 28, 2018]).
  12. Martin U. Müller , DER SPIEGEL: Due to the corona crisis, trains run more punctually - DER SPIEGEL - Wirtschaft. Retrieved May 11, 2020 .
  13. Silke Bigalke / Daniela Kuhr / Uwe Ritzer: The big stealer, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung No. 98, 27./28. April 2013, p. 36.
  14. Martin U. Müller : Bahn is more punctual due to the corona crisis - DER SPIEGEL. Retrieved May 11, 2020 .
  15. Punctuality guarantee ( Memento of December 16, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) AVV
  16. GVH customer guarantee
  17. ^ Reimbursement ( memo from December 19, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) DB
  18. ^ Passenger rights ( Memento from December 3, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) DB
  19. ^ Passenger rights ( Memento from December 5, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) DB
  20. Customer Charter ( Memento from December 5, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) DB
  21. Customer charter regulating national long-distance traffic ( memo of December 1, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) DB