New high-speed Paris to Berlin train will go via Strasbourg

The new high-speed direct rail link will stop in Strasbourg, France's transport minister confirmed on Friday, after a cross-border skirmish over the exact route of the new service.

New high-speed Paris to Berlin train will go via Strasbourg
Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP

The French and German capitals are set to become more closely linked with the introduction of two new direct rail links – a night train starting in December 2023 and a high-speed TGV service set to begin in 2024.

At present there is no direct rail link between Paris and Berlin, but the French and German rail operators have agreed to open one, with a journey time of around seven hours.

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn in June referred to an “agreement” with France’s SNCF to favour a route via the German town of Saarbrücken, close to the border, rather than via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe.

This caused fury in Karlsruhe and Strasbourg and the towns sent a joint open letter requesting a route change. The idea was also supported by a number of MEPs and EU employees, since Strasbourg is the alternating seat of the European parliament.

But now a compromise appears to have been reached – as the night train will go via Saarbrücken and the TGV train will go via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe.

French transport minister Clément Beaune announced the agreement on Friday, saying: “Even if it takes a little longer than I would have liked, this line will go via Strasbourg.” 

Exact start dates for either the night train or the day service are yet to be confirmed. 

Announcing the link-up back in 2022, German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said: “In view of the major challenges of climate change, rail must play a stronger role in intra-European transport. With the new high-speed connection Berlin-Paris, another attractive alternative to flying is on the way.”

READ ALSO 8 European night trains

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Thousands of trains cancelled in Germany as strike hits passengers

A train drivers' strike is underway in Germany, affecting passengers across the country.

Thousands of trains cancelled in Germany as strike hits passengers

Around 80 percent of long-distance trains were cancelled on Friday due to a ‘warning strike’ called by the German Train Drivers’ Union (GDL). 

Regional trains were heavily affected as well as S-Bahn services.

“There are massive disruptions to all long-distance and regional traffic,” said a spokesperson from Deutsche Bahn (DB) on Friday.  

DB set up an emergency timetable for passenger transport, meaning one in five long-distance trains were able to run. 

“This strike was announced at extremely short notice, and yet we were still able to draw up our emergency timetable in good time,” said the DB spokesperson.

READ ALSO: How Germany’s latest train strike could affect your travel plans

On Friday morning, many stations were largely empty. Passengers had been urged to bring forward their trip or postpone it. 

The strike – which is the second called by the union in recent weeks – is taking place after negotiations between the GDL and Deutsche Bahn over pay and conditions collapsed.  

GDL’s recent 20-hour strike on November 15th and 16th resulted in the cancellation of around 80 percent of long-distance and regional services. 

The latest strike on passenger rail services started at 10pm on Thursday and is expected to last until 10pm Friday.  Even after the strike ends, however, it will take some time for services to return to normal so there may be disruption across the weekend. 

The rail operator is also struggling to deal with the fallout from extreme winter weather over the past few weeks, with heavy snow disruption regional transport throughout southern Germany. 

Some passengers stand on a platform in Hamburg on Friday.

Some passengers stand on a platform in Hamburg on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

The strike in freight transport started at 6pm on Thursday. DB is concerned about a backlog of around 300 freight trains. 

The GDL union wants to see working hours reduced to 35 hours a week, from 38 currently, without salaries being cut.

Workers are also seeking a €555 a month salary increase, and a tax-free €3,000 bonus to deal with inflation. This agreement would run for 12 months, with more negotiations to follow after that.

Deutsche Bahn has offered an 11 percent pay increase as well an inflation bonus of up to €2,850, but has refused to reduce working hours.  

What’s the reaction?

The German Association of Towns and Municipalities accused the train drivers’ union GDL of being selfish.

“The interests of this small union are obviously more important than the functioning of the entire country,” said Gerd Landsberg, who is head of the association. 

The warning strike was “scheduled at far too short notice” and residents and municipalities had practically no time to adjust, he added.

READ ALSO: German train drivers’ union ballot on unlimited strikes

GDL boss Claus Weselsky defended the latest industrial action.

He said: “As sorry as I am for the customers, we currently have no other choice.”

Management and human resources are not prepared to negotiate a reduction in weekly working hours or collective agreements for dispatchers, he said. 

“If you don’t want to listen, you have to face the consequences,” added Weselsky. 

Deutsche Bahn human resources director Martin Seiler said: “Instead of negotiating and facing reality, the train drivers’ union is striking for demands that cannot be met. This is absolutely unnecessary.”