The railway network around Berlin, in the State of Brandenburg, is dominated by radial lines. Berlin itself has an inner ring railway, and an outer ring at the edge of the city. Further out, tangential lines were built: some of them as purely local lines, others as strategic freight routes avoiding Berlin. Two of these lines can be combined, to create an outer orbital line. This is one of a series of proposals, for new rail infrastructure north of Berlin.
The orbital line would connect three regional centres, at 60 to 70 km from central Berlin: Neuruppin, Rathenow and the city of Brandenburg. The line would also serve the smaller Neustadt (Dosse), restoring its role as a railway junction.
The route was built as two separate lines. The 69-km Neustadt – Brandenburg line (Brandenburgische Städtebahn), was built as a strategic freight line, also connected to the main Halle and Leipzig lines. The 29 km Neustadt – Neuruppin line was a local railway.
The route crosses four radial lines: the main lines to Hamburg, Hanover, and Magdeburg, and the secondary Prignitz line (Berlin – Neuruppin – Wittenberge). An upgrade of the Prignitz line was proposed here earlier. At present it is served by the RegionalExpress RE6, which stops at every station north of Kremmen. The three main lines carry intercity services, and also RegionalExpress lines – RE2, RE4, and RE1.
A restored Neuruppin – Rathenow – Brandenburg rail service would connect all these regional services, or their successors. It could connect at Neuruppin with the proposed regional rail line Neuruppin – Eberswalde, creating a long orbital route north of Berlin. At Neustadt, it would connect to the proposed regional rail line to Schwerin via Parchim, a long route over local railway lines
It is these existing and possible connections, which justify restoration of service, in a thinly populated rural area. At present, only the Rathenow – Brandenburg line is in use (RegionalBahn line RB51). The Rathenow – Neustadt line was abandoned, but only recently, so the alignment is still available. Since German reunification, many rural railway lines in the former DDR have been closed, as they were earlier in western Germany. In contrast to the roads, the lines were not upgraded, and the very slow trains also discouraged use. Before reopening, the line should be reconstructed to higher standards, and electrified. No new alignment is required: trains must reverse at Neustadt, but that does not make the route significantly longer.
Neustadt station is on the main line Hamburg – Berlin. It was historically a minor rail junction, and that function would be restored. The old local line from Neuruppin enters the station from the south-east. The line from Rathenow and Brandenburg crosses the main line on a bridge just outside Neustadt, and also enters the station from the south-east.
There was once a direct connection between both lines, avoiding Neustadt station, but the restored service is meant to provide good interchange. At Neustadt, the local lines once had their own station on the eastern side of the main line. There is still enough space for new separate platforms, which would be needed with more frequent regional services. (It is the main-line station which most needs improvement, since it has no through tracks for fast trains).
Rathenow station is on the main Hannover line, now upgraded to Berlin – Hannover high-speed line. The Brandenburgische Städtebahn always had separate platforms south of the main line, and a flyover toward Neustadt, so there is no conflict with the main-line tracks.
The present service level is poor, however. The ‘Regional Express’ line RE4 uses diesel trains on the electrified high-speed line, presumably to save money. This option is not compatible with frequent services. A new western rail link into Nauen from the Hannover line, was proposed here earlier.
For regional services, all parallel tracks would then be electrified, with an additional track through the Havelländisches Luch east of Rathenow. Alternatively, the intermediate stations (Nennhausen and Buschow) would be closed. Rathenow would then be served by inter-regional trains running non-stop from Nauen. Either way, the east-west connections from Rathenow would be much improved, especially with a restored link between Nauen and Potsdam and a new Nauen – Oranienburg service.
Brandenburg station is on the main Berlin – Magdeburg line, which is also a main route to Hannover. Here too, the former Brandenburgische Städtebahn had its own station, on the north side of the main line, so there is no conflict with main-line trains. Brandenburg has a better service than Rathenow: Regional Express line RE1 offers an hourly service to Berlin, with extra trains in peak hours.
The former Brandenburgische Städtebahn continued south to Belzig, Treuenbrietzen and Jüterbog. This line is closed, and partially demolished. Even in the event of reopening, it would be preferable to operate it as a separate line. The restored services from Neuruppin and Rathenow would logically terminate at Brandenburg.
Stations and journey time
When the line was operational, it had 18 other stations and halts. Premnitz is the only other town on the line, with 8500 inhabitants. Havelsee and Rhinow have around 2000 inhabitants. Between Brandenburg and Rathenow, the line is close to the Havel river, with some recreational destinations. However, most of the line runs through farmland, with only very small villages. Inevitably, about half the stations will not re-open.
It is not worth re-opening the line, if the trains are as slow as in the past. With electrification and upgraded track and signalling, even a rural line can have an average speed of 80 km/h. Service frequencies must also be improved, with trains every 30 minutes. That means that all former passing tracks must be restored, and new ones added where necessary. Conditions have changed since the 1950’s, and these improvements are simply a minimum standard, for any rural rail line in western Europe.