Last weekend, I had a ticket on ICE 276 from Frankfurt to Berlin. When I arrived at the station, I was informed that the train was cancelled, but I need not worry because a "replacement" train, ICE 2096 was running on the same schedule and I could take that one, with the caveat that my reservation was nullified since the new train was entirely non-reservable. (I got my refund on the reservation)

So, why was the "original" train cancelled, considering the "new" train had the same stops, same times, and even the displays within the trains still showed the "cancelled" train number of 276?

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    Are you sure about the number? ICE2096 doesn't appear - there is only an IC2096 (That doesn't go to Berlin) – Sebastian J. Feb 26 '18 at 19:09
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    Are you sure it had the same stops all along the way - or only for the part that you were travelling on that train? ICE276 runs from Basel to Berlin, and if it was cancelled from Basel to maybe Karlsruhe or Frankfurt, a train running only for the remaining part of the journey might get a different train number (I've experienced similar things on regional trains). – Sabine Feb 26 '18 at 19:45
  • @SebastianJ. Yes, it was ICE2096, it was displayed as such on the Departures board and the information desk also wrote that on my ticket. Perhaps it was an extra number they used for this "special" run. – a2xia Feb 26 '18 at 20:27
  • @JacobHorbulyk That sounds like the most likely answer! Although I didn't pay close attention to the configuration, I do remember that the carriages didn't line up at the position that was indicated on the stoppage chart on the platform (although I didn't have a reservation anymore, I still stood in the position for the same carriage). I asked the Information Desk and the attendants on board, no one knew why the train number was changed! – a2xia Feb 26 '18 at 20:29
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    @a2xia The replacement train number was most likely ICE2906. Replacement trains are numbered each day starting with 2900, then 2901, 2902 and so on. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Feb 26 '18 at 23:11

The rolling stock they planned to use on that day was not available. There are a variety of reasons for that, e.g. it was used on a delayed route the day before and has not arrived at the destination or there was unplanned maintenance. If that happens, the train is usually replaced by one of the same kind, which is entirely transparent to the passenger, i.e. you would not notice. In your case, they did not have rolling stock of similar kind available. So why did they assign a new number to that service?

Foremost, the train number is used by the dispatcher and the driver to reference the internal schedule of a train. For safety and operational reasons, once a number has been assigned for that day it can't be transferred to rolling stock with different performance parameters (e.g. speed, brake type, clearance gauge). Only additionally that number is also used in communication to the passenger.

In cases like that Deutsche Bahn used to have diverging train numbers in internal and external communication. As this led to confusion by staff in stress situations, this is now avoided and the passenger is communicated the same train number that is used internally.

Seat reservations do not play a consideration here, this is done for purely operational reasons. Announcing that all seat reservations are cancelled is easily be done in the system without assigning a new number. The latter involves a lot more operational units (namely both the train operator and the network operator which are separate companies), has costly consequences, and would not be done purely for reservations. This is for example seen when an ICE 1 train is replaced by an ICE 2 train. Those are operationally interchangeable (internally called ICE-A) and thus no new train number is assigned. Nonetheless, as the seating plan is different seat reservations are cancelled which is communicated to the passenger.

This is all in sharp contrast to the way an airline would handle all of that (switching between Airbus and Boeing aircraft or even different callsigns do not result in changing flight numbers). In the world of German rail, internal operations and passenger communications are much closer aligned.


Credit for this answer goes to Jacob Horbulyk.

If the new train had a different seating configuration than the new train, then existing seat reservations would have to be nullified. I suspect cancelling the train and then providing a replacement was the easiest way for their system to process that.

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