Upgraded Prignitz line, Berlin – Neuruppin – Wittenberge

This upgraded regional rail line Berlin – Neuruppin – Wittstock – Wittenberge is part of a series of proposals, for the triangle Hamburg – Berlin – Szczecin. Read first the introduction, on new rail infrastructure north of Berlin.

Most of the rural railways north of Berlin have disappeared. Some still have basic Regionalbahn services, but they are not well connected to each other, or to the main cities. The rail service can be restructured, with new passenger services on remaining freight lines, and on some re-opened lines. In the zone between Berlin and Schwerin / Wismar / Rostock, the proposed pattern is:

The last of those lines is considered here: the line via Neuruppin (shown orange on the map). It consists of the Kremmener Bahn out of Berlin, and its continuation, the Neuruppiner bahn. The line originally ran further north, but present services turn west at Wittstock, over the line to Wittenberge.

Rural regional lines in the Berlin / Schwerin / Rostock region.

The line was renovated under the name Prignitz-Express, also used for the present Regional-Express service on the route (RE6). The name comes from the historic region of Prignitz, served by the last section of the line.

Prignitz-Express to Berlin

The route of the Prignitz-Express is long, about 165 km into central Berlin. The last towns on the route, Pritzwalk and Perleberg, have alternative routes via Neustadt and Wittenberge. Passengers can change there to faster trains, on the Berlin – Hamburg line. Otherwise, journey times into Berlin are long.

The route itself is not the problem: Wittenberge is a good terminus for a regional service north through Neuruppin. Electrification and substantial double-tracking are necessary to raise speeds on the line, especially on the section through Neuruppin to Wittstock, where there is no alternative route. In the low-density agricultural region north of Berlin, this upgrading is not a problem.

The real problem is access to central Berlin. At present, passengers must change at Hennigsdorf, to S-Bahn line S25, which uses the Kremmener Bahn. Hennigsdorf is on the outskirts of Berlin, 139 km from Wittenberge, and it is another 25 km by S-Bahn to the centre. Alternatively, passengers can stay on the train, which reverses to make a long detour via Spandau, terminating at Gesundbrunnen. They still need to change to U-Bahn or S-Bahn, to reach the city centre.

The Kremmener Bahn in Berlin itself

The Kremmener Bahn is one of the radial lines out of Berlin, cut by the Berlin Wall. Restoration of these lines had a low priority, after German reunification. Only now is restoration of the Kremmener Bahn as a regional route under consideration. Prignitz regional services could also run via the outer rail ring (Berliner Aussenring, BAR), onto the Berliner Nordbahn, the old main line towards the Baltic coast. At present it carries only S-Bahn services – here too, the main-line tracks were removed when Berlin was divided. Their restoration is still in the planning stage.

Routing the Prignitz trains via the Nordbahn, would leave the Kremmener Bahn for the S-Bahn. The city plans a 10-minute S25 service to Tegel, with restored second track, and better access to the stations at Alt- Reinickendorf, Karl- Bonhoeffer-Klinik, and Eichborndamm. However, re-routing the Prignitz line services requires extra junctions on the outer rail ring , so the official study prefers joint use of the Kremmener Bahn inside Berlin. That is compatible with the present low-frequency diesel services on the Prignitz line, but not with electrification of the line.

Regional trains instead of S-Bahn?

If the Prignitz line was electrified, trains could still use the Kremmener Bahn, by building additional tracks. Unlike the Nordbahn, however, the Kremmener Bahn was never 4-track. At the start of the line in Berlin, there is sufficient room for 2 extra tracks on the north side. As the line approaches Tegel, however, there is less room. In some places new housing has been built alongside the line, and in the centre of Tegel it adjoins a motorway tunnel (Autobahn 111).

If the regional services are not relocated, and if the two services can not be combined, the logical third option is to abandon the S-Bahn services on the Kremmener Bahn. S-Bahn lines in Berlin serve stations in the built-up area – within about 25 km of the city centre. On the Kremmener Bahn, the continuous built-up area ends at Tegel, and a regional service would be appropriate beyond that point

Closure of the S-Bahn stations at Alt- Reinickendorf, Karl- Bonhoeffer-Klinik, and Eichborndamm is also a possibility. There are parallel U-Bahn lines, deliberately built to replace the S-Bahn – U-6 to Tegel, and U-8 to Wittenau. Closure would allow regional trains to run non-stop from Tegel to the interchange station at Gesundbrunnen (‘Nordkreuz’).

The complex junctions at Gesundbrunnen, image by Mazbln under CC3.0 licence…

With or without closure of those three stations, the regional service could carry more frequent services – fro instance, every 10 minutes to Velten, and every 20 minutes beyond there. To passengers on the Kremmener Bahn in northern Berlin, this would be like an S-Bahn, but with different trains. However, service on this line can not be simply switched from one system to another.

Capacity problems in Berlin

The problem is that the lines into Berlin Hauptbahnhof have insufficient capacity – a design error. Gesundbrunnen station has 6 mainline platform tracks, and potentially 6 mainline tracks entering from the east – Nordbahn, Stettiner Bahn, and Ringbahn. However, there are only two tracks available on the west side, for all traffic to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and westwards on the Ringbahn. The S-Bahn at Gesundbrunnen has more capacity – 6 tracks in, 4 tracks out. The planned second north-south line S21 will add a new S-Bahn line, to Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

So, for capacity reasons, the Kremmener Bahn should remain as an S-Bahn line. Adding additional tracks for Prignitz line trains, or diverting them onto the Nordbahn, will not create extra capacity through Gesundbrunnen. The official proposals avoid that issue, by treating Gesundbrunnen as a terminus. That means that passengers on the Prignitz line will still change trains, to reach central Berlin.

There is no easy solution here. The underlying problem is that Berlin Hauptbahnhof was not designed for through regional services, and no alternative route was built through central Berlin. Use of the northern Ringbahn as approach line for Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Pilzkonzept), means that it is not fully available for regional services either. New tracks on the Ringbahn, or a second north-south tunnel through the western city centre, are the only solution to that problem.

Upgraded Prignitz line, Berlin – Neuruppin – Wittenberge

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