An example of a Regio Express train, stationed in Augsburg, Germany. Notice how it has only a single level. It has considerably more room for prams, bicycles, and people using wheelchairs. It also has near-level boarding at platforms (there’s a step down). The train’s name, Fugger-Express, refers to the Fugger family in Augsburg that founded the oldest social settlement still in operation.
I took a Deutsche Bahn (DB) Regio Express (RE) train on Wednesday from Munich*, Bavaria, Germany, to Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, today in order to see the historical buildings, the world’s oldest social settlement, and, unbeknownst to me, a lot of trams running down pedestrian-only streets. I traveled with a friend who is studying in Munich and his parents. The round-trip price for four adults was 34 euros, or about $42.73. That’s $5.34 per person per direction, for a 40 mile trip.
The same distance on a Metra train in Chicagoland, say, to La Fox, Illinois (41 miles), would cost $7.25. I won’t compare travel times because the train to Augsburg only makes 6 intermediate stops while the Union Pacific-West train makes 15 intermediate stops; one could compare a per-mile travel time and I presume the German train would be faster. The train to Augsburg leaves every 25 to 30 minutes while the train to La Fox leaves several times during rush hour, but once an hour at all other times.
Anyway, the lower trip cost and higher frequencies is not the purpose of my describing the trip: My experience riding the train was shaped by its pleasantries and not the undesirable peculiarities of my hometown’s regional rail. The DB Regio Express train was much quieter (it had no bells to ring and electric trains are nearly silent, except for the whine of AC motors) and smoother (I can’t explain this one as the tracks in Chicago are probably just as straight as the ones in Germany). The cars, with clean, seemingly polished interiors, lacked the distinct smell of diesel fumes as well.
An interior view of the DB Regio Express train. An LED message board is viewable from any seat and gives the current time. It will then show the next station with an arrow pointing at which side the doors will open. Treuchtlingen is the final destination of this train.
The Metra trains are decidedly rumbling and rocky. They lumber forward with a belch and a whistle. What are the differences between the two systems? The most apparent distinction is that the DB Regio Express train is electric, making acceleration smoother, and, without a diesel locomotive, much quieter. Diesel can’t take all the blame, though, because on the same platform as my electric Regio Express train was a “diesel multiple unit”, a kind of train that uses the same fuel as Metra trains but puts a small engine in each passenger car, instead of in a locomotive at the head of a train (one that is used to pull 5 passenger cars or 10 passenger cars).
Bombardier, the Canadian manufacturer of the Chicago Transit Authority’s 5000-series cars, makes an unpowered passenger car called the BiLevel – it’s not as tall as Metra’s passenger cars, has a floor that’s level with the platform, and doesn’t sway or feel as if the train just needs a little more power to actually get moving.
Read our past posts about improving Metra:
- Electrification, May 2012
- Response to Metra’s strategic plan initiative, August 2012
- Bikes on board, August 2011
* Oktoberfest starts in a few weeks, so I will miss it.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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