What keeps a train on its tracks

The grape of those who know

"Being on the wrong track" is an aging metaphor. However, Deutsche Bahn is doing everything to ensure that the old saying outlasts the digital age. At least my trains are currently constantly leaving on different tracks than announced. So I come to platform 6 at Frankfurt Central Station, from which my train is supposed to depart, and on my head I find the cluster of knowledgeable people. These are the people who take the train regularly and have often found out how annoying it is to be on the wrong platform - and not on your head, i.e. where you can quickly get to another platform, but rather around to stay in the picture, on his hip or little toe. In other words, places that can be several hundred meters away from other platforms. Those in the know also know: The announcement “Intercity Express X, today different from platform Y instead of Z” is never earlier than five minutes before the train departs. Then it's time to run - down the entire platform and up the next one again.

Unfortunately, the only thing that helps at the moment is that you have to develop a feeling for when an unexpected track change could be imminent. The most important indication of this: the track on which the train is supposed to arrive is still occupied. It is the same in Frankfurt today. Our train should arrive in seven minutes - and there is still an ICE to Kiel on the track that should have left a quarter of an hour ago. There is no information via app or display board, and an announcement has not yet been made, but everything smells like a platform change, so I join the people at the head of the platform who have the same suspicions as I do - in the cluster of the knowing.

The location for sudden track changes can be even more uncomfortable than in Frankfurt, where there is an underpass to the other platforms in the middle of the platform - so you don't have to go all the way to the head of one track and down to the desired wagon on the other run, but can shorten the route a little. It is worse in Munich - there is no such option and maybe the situation escalated on a Sunday evening that I was there, precisely for this reason.

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Two men clashed next to me. Short roar in the crowd, then one of them hit the other in the face without warning - and ran on towards the train

I had booked the last train from Munich Central Station that would arrive in Frankfurt at a reasonable time. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I had reserved in a wagon that was as far as possible from the head of the track. And unfortunately I had a lot of luggage with me. Trolley case, backpack, travel bag. So I gasped up the entire platform a quarter of an hour before the train left. Three minutes before departure came the announcement: "Today ICE X is running differently on platform Y." The platform was full of people - and they all started to run. I in the middle of it, as fast as I could, hunched over under my burden. I glanced at the station clock, saw that it was now only a minute before the train's regular departure time. At the head of the track, people pushed their way into the curve, everyone wanted to run as close as possible to the buffer stop, where the route was the shortest. Fortunately, I was padded on all sides in the inside curve and by my luggage. But next to me two men clashed. Short roar in the crowd, then one of them hit the other in the face without warning - and ran on towards the train. The victim held his bleeding mouth, shook his head in disbelief, but still hurried up the platform. Anywhere else he or someone else would have called the police, but here it was all about getting the last train going north. In order not to have to spend half the night at the station and on later trains, you can swallow a few drops of blood.

Fortunately, the train did still have some understanding and waited until all the platform changers had boarded before leaving. Suggestion for improvement: How about announcing a change of track a few minutes in advance? Perhaps with a reassuring word: "The train leaves a few minutes later so that the platform changers can still reach it." Of course, the other day in Frankfurt the platform change also came, announced five minutes in advance, not just three. From the head of the track, I made it onto the train without running. As far as I can tell, there was no blood this time.