29

I will be travelling from Lyon (France) to Dresden (Germany) and I was looking at several options. One of them is by train, but there are a fairly big number of connections, with rather short transit times.

For instance, one of them (proposed by Deutsche Bahn) have a 14min transit at Geneva (Switzerland), 15min at Olten (Switzerland) and 12min at Frankfurt Hbf (Germany). Another travel gave me 6min at Frankfurt Hbf.

I am a bit sceptical about the feasibility of those connections, as I've never seen the SCNF propose such tight schedules (and doesn't propose this specific travel). While I can see myself going through the whole station in time at Olten, you certainly can take more time than that in some bigger stations (e.g. Paris Gare de Lyon) if you're a bit unlucky with platforms, seat location in the trains, delays and other passengers.

I wonder if such connection times are realistic in a big station like Frankfurt's.

  • 16
    Frankfurt is a terminus with tracks on one side only. So you can optimise the time it takes you by moving all the way to the front of the train. Platforms are clearly numbered with big blue signs. There are quite a few of them, but the longest it will take you to walk between the two sides of the station is probably 2 minutes. – simbabque Jan 14 at 13:49
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    As someone living in Olten, I'm just happy that my little hometown is now on a question on the front page! – Bananenaffe Jan 14 at 14:19
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    It's big but all the tracks are together in one place, so 15 mins is very doable (if you are able to walk at a fairly swift pace) even accounting for 5 mins to get off the 1st train and be on the next one 5 mins before departure, but only if first train is exactly on time. Generally, if you have that qualifier in any travel plan, it doesn't count as doable :-) – davnicwil Jan 14 at 15:15
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    Frankfurt has a total of 25 tracks above the ground (this is where your train will arrive as above the ground is for long distance trains). There are 2 connections between all the tracks. The main connection and a connection below ground. It doesn't matter which you take as you can reach all tracks anyways. The 12 minute transition is easily doable even if you need to walk through the whole station. The 6 minute transition can work if the trains are on tracks next to each other. But as already often said, the Deutsche Bahn is often late which could hinder the transition – XtremeBaumer Jan 14 at 15:18
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    youtu.be/0rb9CfOvojk this video might be of interest – steros Jan 15 at 8:34

11 Answers 11

36

Sort of. In general the Bahn is good at creating schedules and managing connections efficiently. For example when two "busy" trains intersect they often line them up on both sides of a single platform so you can directly walk out of one train straight into the other.

This being said, in my personal experience on-time performance of the trains has severely degraded over the past two years or so. Probably 8 out of the 10 last long distance trains my wife and I have taken in Germany were significantly delayed. Personally I would only do a tight connection, if there are decent alternatives when you miss it.

Often the next train is just 30 minutes or and hour later, which is not much of a problem. However, if it's the last train of the day, you are stuck over night

If you miss a connection because of a delay the Bahn will accommodate you on the next available train without charging you extra (even if it's not a flex ticket). However that's more complicated for an international ticket since there are multiple carriers involved. I recommend studying the exact rules for delays and missing connection of the issuing carrier

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    I would trust the railway company to transport me, but I would only book such a connection if I was sure there are later alternatives to get where I need to go. – Willeke Jan 14 at 8:59
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    I fully agree for a domestic trip, but things are more complex for an international trip where 3 different companies are involved. Some amount of finger pointing or administrative confusion is possible here. – Hilmar Jan 14 at 9:49
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    Not to mention, if you miss your connection and are forced to take another train, your seat reservation is gone (if you booked your ticket with reservation) and you won't have any claim to seating anymore. Given the passenger volume in Frankfurt, this could be very annoying. – QBrute Jan 14 at 10:36
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    For international connections: In general, they still have to take you if the whole journey is on a single ticket. For high-speed trains that are part of the Rail Team Alliance (which includes DB and SNCF) you also have a right to HOTNAT - Hop onto the next available train - in case of delays. – averell Jan 15 at 8:16
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    Seat reservations: If you have a bit of time, you can visit the "Reisezentrum" and have your reservation rebooked onto the next train, pending availability. – averell Jan 15 at 8:18
55

Originally I just wanted to comment on the excellent answer by Hilma, but I can't stress the chance of delays enough. The Deutsche Bahn is nowadays notorious for their delays, especially on long-distance trains (the tricks the DB uses to make the delayed trains look better was even a topic on the latest Chaos Communication Congress, English audio track available).

From my personal experience as a 20+ year resident of the Frankfurt area, I would expect a delay of at least 15 to 20 minutes after such a long trip. Hilmar already stated that it is not a problem to get a different train if you don't get your connection, and between Frankfurt and Dresden, there should generally be alternatives available.

Nevertheless, you can improve your chances to get a connection by selecting a longer transfer duration, but the option is a little bit hidden:

On the form where you enter your travel data, click on Change other data

enter image description here

Then click on More means of transport

enter image description here

Then you get the option to set a minimum transfer duration

enter image description here

This setting applies to all stops on the trip.

As suggested in the comments (thank you Sabine), you can change the time on one stop by clicking on the Transfer time text:

enter image description here

This allows you to search for later alternatives on the next leg:

enter image description here

  • Formatting question: Does anybody have an idea how to format the answer better to distinguish between image and the text between? – Gerald Schneider Jan 14 at 10:20
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    I find your answer very readable as-is, is there anything that you are specifically concerned about? – Matthieu M. Jan 14 at 13:57
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    @MatthieuM. I already formatted it after posting that comment. Placing the images in quotes provides the distinction, before that everything was just black text on white background. But it bothers me that the images are in quotes. – Gerald Schneider Jan 14 at 14:43
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    You can set the connection time of a single stop/change, although only afterwards: Search for the connection with "normal" settings, "show details" on the one you prefer and choose "Adjust the transfer time". While this doesn't run an entirely new search, it allows you to see how long you have to wait in case of a missed connection... – Sabine Jan 14 at 16:08
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    To add to this, while Frankfurt is actually a modestly sized railway station (I'd say 5-6 mins is in theory way enough for transit, it's something like ~22 platforms only, not that far to walk, really) not only is DB notoriously late, but Frankfurt in particular is notorious getting gates wrong and doing last minute "surprise changes". So you may run forward to platform 6 as indicated on your plan (and on the plan hanging there), only to find that actually you need to be at platform 15, and wagons are in reverse order. Which is awesome if you've only got some minutes and are late already. – Damon Jan 16 at 19:04
18

One important information that could help a lot in making those decisions is that DB (and CFF, and probably a few others) actually plan in advance which track which train is going to use, contrary to SNCF which seems to just throw dice at the last minute.

This information is readily available on the DB or CFF websites, even for trains running in several weeks.

For instance, here:

enter image description here

You have a 12 minute connection, but the incoming train arrives on track 8 and the departing one leaves from track 9. If you check a map, you'll see that the two tracks are along the same platform, so you just walk off one train, cross the platform, and hop on the other train.

I have not searched extensively but I haven't seen the 6-minute connection, could you point to the date and time for that one?

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    @EricDuminil In all those cases, whether it's 6, 12 or 25 minutes, you won't make the connection and you will necessarily have to resort to an alternative plan. I'd be curious to see a train "not stopping in Frankfurt Hbf to avoid further delays", though. Skipping a smaller station I could understand, skipping a large one like that... Is DB becoming worse than SNCF? – jcaron Jan 14 at 22:44
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    That's the problem with DB. You need 2h buffer in order to be sure that you arrive "on time". There's been a new rule for the last two years, (in German), no train station is safe as far as I can tell. I've seen it happen in Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, as well as smaller stations. It's one innovative for DB to keep trains on time : they simply begin the return journey earlier than needed by skipping the last station(s). – Eric Duminil Jan 15 at 7:44
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    DB has been worse than SNCF for many years now : French trains are faster and more reliable, at least when the whole country isn't on strike. DB trains have more space for legs but it doesn't bring much when the trains are overbooked, the toilets are broken or the air conditioning is turned off. DB personnel is usually very friendly but getting more and more frustrated because they're stuck between angry users and incompetent management. – Eric Duminil Jan 15 at 7:52
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    "SNCF which seems to just throw dice at the last minute" They don't, platforms availability and assignment is planned in advance, it's just not communicated until necessary. Once you have communicated a platform assignment you can't ever change it without making a mess and you need the flexibility to change platform assignment in order to manage the unexpected efficiently. – zakinster Jan 15 at 9:18
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    @EricDuminil Funny how on my last train trips in Germany I almost consistently missed trains because they were punctual and I wasn’t. Or I was at the airport on time thanks to punctual trains but missed my flight because of misreading my boarding pass. Most of the time, however, my trips were smooth and delays were on average no more than 5 minutes at the destination. – Jan Jan 15 at 16:11
9

DB is running the trains into and out of Frankfurt (I assume they will all be ICEs) and they are selling you a ticket for the entire journey which may even be tied to specific trains (for a lower price). Thus, they are confident that the transfer works or they would not advertise it.

Furthermore, you have a valid contract with them so it is their contractual obligation to either get you to your destination that same day or provide you with an overnight stay; they will typically try to avoid the latter even if everything else fails. This is essentially the same answer as the often posted carbon copy question applying to airlines: if their booking system gives the connection, they think an average person who doesn’t pass through that station every day can make it.

Delays sadly happen and in my personal, non-representative and slightly limited experience Frankfurt seems to enjoy more of them than many other areas of Germany. However, if you are on the train you are supposed to be and there is a delay, it becomes DB’s responsibility to get you onto your connection or a feasible alternative.

Usually, the delay will be known in advance and announced. The conductors will know from the tickets they checked whether a significant number of travellers want to change to a certain train. They will then be able to call the station and ensure that the connecting train waits (i.e. itself receives a delay if necessary) to accomodate that. If this is not possible, they will announce the next possible connection before you reach Frankfurt.

If you miss a German train due to a previous train being delayed, you are automatically allowed to take whichever the next train to your destination is; i.e. even if your ticket was once tied to a train it is no more (exceptions apply to trains with compulsory reservation sold as global price such as TGV or Thalys; if you miss one of those you will have to see how the information desk can help you).

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    "If this is not possible, they will announce the next possible connection before you reach Frankfurt." - unfortunately, sometimes, they will also just advise you to go to (and queue up at!) the information counter after having left the train at the end of the leg. – O. R. Mapper Jan 14 at 13:10
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    "they are confident that the transfer works" - I doubt that. "it becomes DB’s responsibility to get you onto your connection or a feasible alternative" - that one's true, but my impression is that one or two (or three) hours later is still "feasible" in DB terms. You can get a refund on the ticket price if the delay is more than one hour (not sure about international tickets), but that's it. Don't expect a train to wait for connecting passengers. They used to do this 10 years back, but my impression is that nowadays leaving on time has become the more important goal... – Sabine Jan 14 at 16:16
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    @Sabine You can doubt the first but they planned it that way so they expect it to be possible or they wouldn’t put it in the timetable. Whether they wait depends on the delay of both trains to a certain extent; in the case as described unless there is something seriously wrong on Basel–Frankfurt the connection should (fingers crossed) work out. As for your middle bit, that’s true but again compare what’s feasible e.g. in air travel. – Jan Jan 14 at 16:49
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    @Sabine: "Don't expect a train to wait for connecting passengers." - it depends a lot on the type of trains involved, the number of passengers this concerns, platform availability in the station, etc. It does happen sometimes ("Wir warten noch auf Fahrgäste aus einem verspäteten Zug." is something I have heard several times in the past few years, as are announcements that another train is waiting for "us"). – O. R. Mapper Jan 17 at 8:58
  • @O.R.Mapper problem is : by waiting for other trains, they change the complete schedules for many trains and stations, creating even more delays. – Eric Duminil Jan 20 at 7:18
5

The Bahn AG typically has a good idea how long it takes to change trains, and if a connection is offered, it is feasible even for someone not fit (walking slowly).
So generally, if they offer it, you need not be concerned.

Many connections with large volume of passenger known to use them are set up with trains across from each other, so even 30 seconds would be enough (plus the time for the line, of course).

It is a good idea to look at a station map before arriving, so if you need to go two tracks down, you know that upfront, and you know for example that Frankfurt is a dead-end station (so you know not to walk in the wrong direction)

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    It is also helpful to know that there is a tunnel under the tracks at the open end of the station hall, so it is not really necessary to walk to the end of the track. – Gerald Schneider Jan 14 at 10:15
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    "if a connection is offered, it is feasible even for someone not fit" - caveat: Sometimes, schedules change after you have bought the ticket, in such a way that the connection would not be offered anymore. – O. R. Mapper Jan 14 at 13:12
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    If you see an attendant - a ticket checker or so - you can ask. They are usually helpful. In fact if you mention that you might otherwise a very important event, I have seen them telephone ahead to make sure, and even get the connection to wait. – RedSonja Jan 15 at 10:02
5

Without going into too much detail about the delays, let's answer the question:

Is it managable to have a 15 minute exchange in Frankfurt (in general, on the main station without S-Bahn or U-Bahn)? Yes, 15 minutes is enough. For me that's sufficient even down to the S-Bahn with luggage and small children (I don't use elevators).

Additional to delay, there can be more complications : Long distance trains can be long (> 350 m) and you might have to change platforms. Exiting on the far end of the platform means that (for a level exchange) you have to walk a crowded platform all the way to the end, to your new platform and then a bit back to the desired part of the platform (especially true if your seat reservation is in the part of the train located on the far end).

There is a shortcut in the first third of the platform underneath the tracks with stairs which might be a little creepy for some people, but perfectly doable. It the connection is tight, walking to the appropriate coach befor arriving at the station and taking the shortcut (depending on suitcases) allows for much faster connections, as the shortcut is mostly empty, in contrast to the main way.

For a lower bound: With the right exit and running half way across the station (platform 8 to 22 or similar), I can manage 1-2 minutes, but that is a bit stressfull.

2

If you are walking “European speed” then 6min is all you need from any platform to another in Frankfurt Main Station.

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    What is "European speed"? Fast? Slow? – gerrit Jan 14 at 21:08
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    Purposeful, but not hasty :-) – Ouss Jan 14 at 22:14
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    So more on the fast side – Ouss Jan 14 at 22:45
2

Having traveled a lot between Paris and Frankfurt during the past year I can assure you, that Frankfurt main station is much more easy to navigate than for example Gare de Lyon. There is only one level for long distance trains as others have already pointed out before. SCNF and DB are communicating delays quite well and you will usually be informed about alternatives if a train runs late. Additionally, you are free to take any train from Frankfurt to Dresden if you miss your connection (if you want, you can look up alternatives in advance or just ask the conductor). Check in advance which refund policies apply, I would usually recommend booking through SCNF.

2

I would vouch for SBB/CFF Olten.

CFF/SBB are known to have buffer times in their schedules when it comes to trains from other companies passing the Swiss border then typically changing the train team or / and changing the train engine. Which in principle allows some delay from the inbound train. Once beyond the border, well inside Swiss territory, the foreign trains then have to be on time like their domestic trains, especially with their 30 min cadence of trains relaying the larger cities. As an example: CFF/SBB offers ICE from Frankfurt via Basle to Interlaken more than a 15 mn buffer time to enter their allocated time slot (which DB misses again and again).

Olten, despite being the large cross relating West <-> East and North <-> South train transit in Switzerland is a much smaller train station than Frankfurt. Even if only for your day the arriving train would be on the track most distant to the departing train, the ratio of maximal distance to walk over the time given to you (for trains which, because inside Switzerland, should be even more on time) would be maximized. (Olten train station is a bit less fancy in terms of architecture, than the big halls of Geneva, or Frankfurt, though.)

1

It is perfectly feasible to make a 15 min connection in Frankfurt Hbf if your arriving train is on time. (If you arrive on the direct TGV from Lyon, I would expect it to be on time.) The station is large, but very easy to navigate on its surface level, which is the level you will be arriving to and departing from.

In case you miss your connection in Frankfurt, there is an alternative train to Dresden every hour and your ticket will be valid on it.

-6

There will almost certainly be a delay or train that does not run with this many connections. This is not usually a huge issue as there is always another train running...unless, of course, it’s the end of the day, and there isn’t. Pack light, and take the earliest route you can. Or just fly. Seriously- the trains here in Germany are a joke that‘s not so funny.

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    Compared to other countries, trains in Germany are not bad and there are plenty of other trains on most routes (which is not the case in many countries.) – Willeke Jan 14 at 15:33
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    -1 for answering a question on trains with "Just fly", in particular in an era of climate crisis. – gerrit Jan 14 at 21:07
  • For Lyon-Dresden, connections with just one changeover (in Frankfurt) are available. Both lines (Lyon-Frankfurt and Frankfurt-Dresden) are quite reliable. – Juliane Röll Jan 17 at 16:14

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