For a short-term appointment with the Regional Express to the next big city? A spontaneous trip with the Intercity in the mountains? Or visit the family quickly with the ICE? For around 1.6 million people in Germany, this is not easily possible – and sometimes not at all.
For those who rely on the wheelchair and want to travel by train, faces many hurdles. The way to the train station can be difficult, for example, when parked footpaths make it difficult to move forward. In the station itself it is said that the elevator to the platform is in operation. And the way into the car sometimes leads to complete gambling.
Barely accessible trains in Germany
The reason for this is that a large proportion of long-distance and regional trains in Germany do not offer barrier-free access. Depending on platform height and vehicle model, it is only by overcoming a few inches up or down or even on stairs in the car. ICE and intercity trains, for example, have no stepless entry, with a few exceptions.
The railway knows about the drawback and has a – albeit complicated – solution for passengers in wheelchairs ready, at least theoretically: the mobility service center. It is to organize by appointment, assistance in boarding, transfer and disembarkation, so for example a hoist with operators on the platform. By phone (at least 20 cents per call), by fax (at least 14 cents per minute), by mail, by live chat or by online form, customers in wheelchairs can contact the state-owned company, so that railway employees are on hand, when the journey begins.
In the booking process, personal information, information on the degree of disability, details of the planned train journey are required. All in all, passengers must complete up to 46 spaces in the online form or tick to get from A to B, "no later than 8 pm on the day before the trip," according to Rail's recommendation. It is not possible to simply state the help you need while purchasing tickets on the train homepage.
"Not optimal", Alexander Ahrens calls the offer of the German course for handicapped humans diplomatisch, becomes then later however still clearer. Ahrens is responsible for barrier-free tourism in the advocacy group Self-determined Living in Germany (ISL) and sits together with representatives of other disability associations and the Deutsche Bahn in working groups for barrier-free travel at one table. His association demands that the purchase of the ticket and the ordering of support at the platform from one source, short-term and unbureaucratically possible.
All the more annoying and incomprehensible it appears to representatives of handicapped people, if the Deutsche Bahn leaves wheelchair users standing on the platform. Recently, track cycling Olympic champion Kristina Vogel complained publicly about the "largest integrated mobility service provider in Germany" (self-promotion Deutsche Bahn). Since a training accident last year, the 28-year-old sits in a wheelchair. She has registered a trip to Frankfurt airport with the mobility service of the railway. "I was told that I had to go to Central Station, because you have no people at the airport station," said the ex-Bahnsprinterin the "Bild" newspaper. But also at the Frankfurt main train station it obviously lacked personnel, no railway employee had stood ready to help her out of the train. Vogel's conclusion: "I think this is naughty, that must not be! Not even a conductor came."
An isolated case? No. Raul Krauthausen also sits in a wheelchair. The Kommunikationswirt sees itself as an activist for inclusion and accessibility and is known among other things by various TV appearances of a wider public. He described last week on Twitter his experience with the mobility service center of Deutsche Bahn: He had to change his travel plans because of a catenary damage and called the "at the Mobility Center and booked a train for tomorrow morning," wrote Krauthausen on Thursday his planned train journey to the capital. The result of the phone call was sobering: "Now it is said that there are not enough staff at Berlin Central Station to get me off the train." Is this the famous shortage of skilled workers that is always blabbering about? Lifting platform … "
A twitter user jumps in Krauthausen: "Just to understand: We're talking here from the main station of the capital, Berlin, Top 5 most frequented stations in Germany? And there is no staff on a working day to get a person out of the train in a wheelchair to enable? "
A similarly frustrating experience was made in May by a blogger who also sits in a wheelchair. She described in an article on "wheelymum.com" that a trip to Berlin could not take place as planned. After she had sought the support of the Deutsche Bahn, she had received a refusal: "In the period from May 16, 2019 to May 20, 2019, the staff at the Berlin Central Station is already planned", quoted the blogger from an E -Mail of the company.
These are just three cases from the past four weeks. They became public because they are prominent or have the ability to reach a wide audience. Alexander Ahrens of the ISL knows, however, that there are significantly more people affected. He sits in a wheelchair himself and did not find a railway employee at Darmstädter Hauptbahnhof on a Sunday evening at 9 pm, who was able to help him out of the wagon. In addition, his club is co-operator of the platform "barrierefreibahn.de". Regardless of whether there are no staff to operate the lifts at the station, or if elevators do not work and make a train journey impossible, those concerned can find out where they can submit complaints via the portal. The association also addresses itself to the competent arbitration boards and thus tries to build up pressure on the railway.
Because the problem of the group is homemade, says Ahrens, and get bigger. "If individual assistance is needed, the train will no longer be able to keep track of it." Older employees were often turned off for the tasks, these retired, the posts then remain vacant, so his impression. "There is definitely no investment in this area, but a reduction in personnel is taking place – against the backdrop of an aging society," says Ahrens. "That can not be." A charge that the German Rail vehemently rejects. The number of relief services rose from 564,000 in 2015 to over 850,000 last year, "We have strengthened our staff accordingly and continue to work to meet the growing need for mobility services even better," said a spokeswoman starRequest without giving specific numbers.
Deutsche Bahn admits "bottlenecks"
Deutsche Bahn tried to limit its claims via social media in the known cases and regretted that its mobility service center was unable to ensure mobility. Compared to the star the railway spokeswoman admitted that "bottlenecks in personal mobility service can occur when travel is particularly intense". "In these cases, the Mobility Service Center is looking for alternative travel options with travelers."
Some years ago it was still possible to ask unbureaucratically police officers, conductors or employees of the station mission to operate the lift at the platform. This is over, criticizes disabled representative Ahrens. "Meanwhile, only the employees of 'DB Station & Service', the station subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, can do this." This is also confirmed by the railway spokeswoman: "Hoists must only be operated by instructed and regularly trained personnel."
People in wheelchairs are thus increasingly dependent on the service times of the company. "As long as a train leaves, all people must be able to use it at all times," Ahrens demands. "There is the railway in the duty." Everything else is "no equal access, discriminatory and ultimately against human dignity".
One thing is clear: if traveling by rail can become a game of chance for 1.6 million potential passengers who feel they are third-class passengers, there is a need for action. And after all, even though rail and disability initiatives appear to judge the scope of the problem differently, both sides emphasize that they are in regular exchange about possible accessibility improvements.
A small bright spot is emerging on the Horizon: with the commissioning of the new ECx trains from 2023, there will be significantly more cars with barrier-free access even in long-distance traffic.
What experiences have you had with the Mobility Service Center of Deutsche Bahn? What went well, what could be upgraded? Write to us: email@example.com.
Swell: Deutsche Bahn I, German Railways II, Raul Krauthausen on Twitter, "wheelymum.com", "barrierefreiebahn.de", "Bild" (paid content)