Traveling in Germany? Use the Autobahn or railways

NEW ULM – Traveling is one of the best things to do during vacations – at least for most people.

When Germans go on a trip, they either take the car and go on the Autobahn to get to places very fast or they hop on the train. Americans use their cars as well. Nevertheless, it seems like there are some striking differences between the two country’s transporting infrastructures due to the land expansion. Still, comparing the two systems seems worth a try.

Why not start off with one thing the U.S. do not have? The Autobahn.

Autobahn

The Autobahn is the federal controlled-access highway system in Germany. The official German term is “Bundesautobahn” (abbreviated BAB), which translates as “federal motorway”. This type of road has existed since 1929.

German autobahns have no federally mandated speed limit, although limits are posted and enforced in areas that are urbanized, substandard, accident-prone, or under construction. On speed-unrestricted stretches, an advisory speed limit (Richtgeschwindigkeit) of 130 kilometers per hour (81 mph) applies.

The 16 Federal German states have the authority to set speed limits for any or all autobahnen they control. In 2008, Germany’s smallest state, the paired city-state of Bremen and Bremerhaven, imposed a 120 kilometers per hour (75 mph) limit on its last 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) of speed-unlimited autobahn in hopes of getting other states to also impose general limit. However, none have.

Germany’s Autobahn network has a total length of about 12,845 kilometers (7,982 miles) as of 2012, which ranks it among the most dense and longest systems in the world.

The only roads comparable to the German autobahn here in the U.S. would be the freeways. Like in Germany, they are separated from the rest of the traffic and can only be accessed by ramps. Opposing directions of traffic on a freeway are physically separated by some kind of central traffic barrier. But there is always a speed limit.

Railway

A second striking difference between Germany and the U.S. is the railway transportation system. Here in the States, the railway system length adds up to 224,792 kilometers (139,679 miles) – whereas the German system (Deutsche Bahn, short DB) has a total of 41,981 kilometers (26,085 miles). But even if the network in the U.S. is longer, it does by far not have as many passengers as the German railway.

The DB operates approximately 25,000 powered rail vehicles and has already carried over 1 billion people in the first six months of 2014.

There are a number of train types in Germany ready to transport passengers both day and night. The main rail network in Germany is made up of different kinds of regional and intercity trains. A regional express, for example connects regional destinations with larger cities. It makes frequent stops and connects with high-speed ICE trains.

The S-Bahn (suburban trains) is a network of trains that operate within most big cities, including Berlin and Munich. Intercity and Intercity Express trains operate domestically and internationally between key cities. The express ones are high-speed trains and do not stop very often.

You can take the express train to Paris for about $50 and there are several very good deals if you book early.

The fastest train in the United States is the Acela, traveling between Washington and Boston at an average of 70 miles per hour. In contrast, the French TGV runs at an average of 140 miles per hour. In addition, American trains are often late with only a 77 percent punctuality rating compared to European trains that are on time 90 percent of the time.

It is a great experience driving on the autobahn and enjoying the comfort of the German railway system at least once in a lifetime.

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