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I'm traveling from point A to point B in Germany, by train (an ICE line to be exact). I have my ticket, which lists the origin and destination stations and the ICE train number.

So I go to the train station, walk along the platforms and find the relevant one. But - I notice something weird on the electronic display: Another ICE train (to another destination, with a different number) is scheduled on that platform for exactly the same time today!

What gives? Will the trains leave one after the other? Will one be delayed or be switched to another platform? Or - could it be a system error?

  • 12
    Where? Which destinations? When? Could it be that the train splits along the way? – Henning Makholm Sep 2 '17 at 8:57
  • @henningmakholm : I asked & answered. – einpoklum Sep 2 '17 at 9:02
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    Not enough information: does the second train have the same number, or a different number? It helps if you give a specific example with real city names and train numbers. – smci Sep 2 '17 at 13:58
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    @smci: Added. But you'd be missing information even if I made my example specific. If you really want to know it's ICE 1224 and I was going from Munich to Kassel – einpoklum Sep 2 '17 at 19:37
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There are several possible scenarios how this can happen.

  • The train might be split at some point in the journey. This happens regularly for both regional trains and long distance trains. Usually the train consists of two independent units and you can not walk from one unit to the other during travel. If you're in the wrong part of the train, you don't have to worry. Splits always take place at a train station and take a few minutes, so you can always change to the right part later. Curiosity: There is even an ICE service from Munich to Dortmund which gets split at Würzburg and the two parts of the train go to Dortmund on different routes...

  • There are actually two separate trains on the same platform. Platforms at major stations are often up to 400m long while many trains are only 200m or shorter. There might be two shorter trains waiting at the same platform at the same time. They either leave at the same time (in opposite directions) or with a delay of a few minutes in the same direction. Stations known for this are Cologne central station (normally trains are shown as "platform 9 A-C" and "platform 9 D-F") and Frankfurt central station where one train is marked as "außerhalb der Bahnhofshalle" (outside the hall, at the far end of the platform)

  • If it's just the display at the platform there might be a malfunction. Either one of those trains doesn't exist at all or has been rescheduled to another platform and the display has not yet been updated. In case the train has been diverted to another platform, there is usually some information given via loudspeaker.

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    That's actually the one I'm one I'm on right now... – einpoklum Sep 2 '17 at 11:23
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    It is in almost all cases the third explanation. Explanation 2 can almost certainly be excluded for safety reasons. Explanation 1 would be most likely a display malfunction which falsely shows a train fitting explanation 3.... – HRSE Sep 2 '17 at 12:59
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    @HRSE: 2nd point happens a dozen times each day. The platforms used for this do have additional signalling and allow two trains to enter at the same time, the second train arriving at a very low speed though. 1st point is also quite likely, because of delayed trains and changed platforms. This is usually well visible by notes on the display, but not always. – asdfex Sep 2 '17 at 13:28
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    @HRSE there's a procedure for that, it's no big deal. Notably you do a safety/brake check stop before inching up the last few hundred meters at "not gonna kill anybody" speed. – Harper Sep 2 '17 at 15:51
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    @asdfex: I doubt that point 2 happens for ICE trains, which the OP asks about - I've only seen that for regional trains. – Martin Schröder Sep 3 '17 at 22:30
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Unless a delay is indicated for one of the trains, it is quite likely that these will actually be the same train for some part of the journey, and get split up at some way point. Check the map for the routes of these two trains, see if they coincide initially - to make sure.

If you can spare the time, go to the Reisecentrum - the DB service center at the train station - and ask. You can skip the line and go to the "reception" counter if they have one.

Also, when the train doors open, go inside and look at the LED display which is (always?) present and will tell you which part of the train you're on. Some trains may have these LED displays outside instead of / in addition to the inside displays, YMMV.

Note: If you're travelling past the point of separation, then at that point you must be on the part continuing to your own destination. On most/all ICE trains with this partition - you can't move from one part to another while on board. You might be able to make the switch at a station before the partition, but don't risk it - make sure you board the right part to begin with.

  • Very interesting split – Hanky Panky Sep 2 '17 at 9:05
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    Regarding your first half-sentence: For delayed trains, the original departure time is displayed. – user35543 Sep 2 '17 at 10:19
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    Be careful to board the right part of the train, as it's not always possible to walk through the inside from one part to the other. – gerrit Sep 2 '17 at 10:45
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    Destinations are shown more often outside the train than inside. There are many cars without any display still in service. Second, you should go the information desk, not the "Reisezentrum" - only in smaller stations there might be only one desk. Or even better, ask one of the service people with a usually red cap and "DB" logo. – asdfex Sep 2 '17 at 13:38
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    For multi-part ICEs it is never possible to change to the other part of the train except in stations (and the same holds for almost all other multi-part trains as well). – Philipp Wendler Sep 2 '17 at 15:20
14

Usually, those would be multiple units going to different destinations. It's quite common in several European countries, for ICE in Germany, TGV and Thalys in France, regular Intercities in the Netherlands, etc. Both halves of the train will travel together on part of the route and be split at some intermediary stop. Concretely:

  • If you don't need/have an assigned seat and your destination is on the first part of the route, you can get in either unit.
  • If seat reservation is mandatory, the trains will typically have different numbers and/or a different set of carriage numbers and you need to pay attention to the signage on the train itself (nowadays usually LED but sometimes still sheets of papers attached to the doors' windows).
  • And if there are no seat reservation and you need to go to one specific half of the train, you have to figure what the final destination of your half of the train is and orient yourself based on that.

Although it is rare, another possibility is that there are really two distinct trains on that platform. The platform names might be slightly distinct (“1a” and “1b”). Either the trains will leave in different directions or one of them will use a switch to go to a third track in-between the platforms. Personally, I have never seen that with ICE in Germany and, more often than not, there will be a few minutes between the departure times but that's something to keep in mind if you encounter such a confusing situation elsewhere.

  • 3
    These "split platforms" are fairly common in the UK for stations which handle both long distance and shorter local trains. For instance my local city station has 6 platforms and 5 of them are split into 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, etc, (The other one is a short platform that only has a track leaving one end of the station - logically it should have a "b" suffix with no corresponding "a", but it just has a number). There are often two short (i.e. only two or three carriages) local trains using the two parts of a platform simultaneously. The main access to all the platforms is via a central bridge. – alephzero Sep 2 '17 at 12:40
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    ... the platform design is logical, because many local trains terminate at this city "hub" and then do the same journey in reverse, but most long distance trains travel through the station and continue in the same direction, arriving via one end of the platform and leaving via the other end. – alephzero Sep 2 '17 at 12:44
  • @alephzero I am not familiar with the UK rail system, thanks for the feedback! I know a few other places where split platforms on through stations are not uncommon but my experience is that they are not always used separately and two trains leaving at the same time would be rare. – Relaxed Sep 2 '17 at 13:15
  • Today I used Haarlem station (near Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and they have one platform that is split between 3A, 3B, 4, 5, 6A and 6B. And very often there is one train stopped and ready to leave at 3B while an other train passes it (on the third set of tracks) to then be shunted to 3A. – Willeke Sep 2 '17 at 17:32
  • I’ll want to argue that for practically all German stations ICEs are too long for two different ones to be departing in two different directions at the same time (i.e. they will either depart together as a single train out of two units or they will be coupled/split at that station). But I guess this is not news to you ;) – Jan Dec 24 '17 at 15:28

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