The new EuroCity train service from Berlin to Gdansk, previewed in European Rail News on 1 May 2012, started today. The first eastbound train left Berlin on time at 15.40.
It is many years since the two cities have been linked by regular daytime trains. For a spell in the late 1990s, the Mare Balticum left Berlin every morning and ran via Szczecin and Gdansk to Olsztyn. There is a relic of that erstwhile InterRegio service in the remaining Regional Express from Berlin to Szczecin each morning (and the balancing service back to the German capital in the evening).
The reintroduction of the daytime link between two cities that have an intertwined history is very welcome. The new service to Gdansk takes a very different route from the old Mare Balticum. It runs east from Berlin to cross the River Oder beyond Frankfurt, then on via Poznan and Bydgoszcz to Gdansk and nearby Gdynia (where it terminates). The train thus also provides a very useful additional option from Berlin to Poznan, a route also served by the often overcrowded Berlin-Warsaw Express.
Whether the train survives will come down to how its operators (DB and PKP in Germany and Poland respectively) market it. The DB website suggests that the Europa-Spezial Polen tariff is simply not available on this train.
Let’s be clear. The full one-way fare is ridiculously expensive: more than €50 for a single ticket from Berlin to Gdansk. The DB website offers no other option. Well can we understand why many passengers might prefer an obvious and much cheaper alternative. For just €10, travellers can ride the Regional Express from Berlin to Szczecin, where it is possible to connect onto a fast train to Gdansk. The regular one-way fare for the Szczecin to Gdansk leg is about 65 Polish zloty — equivalent to about €16. With a little ingenuity it is thus possible, by travelling through Szczecin, to undercut by almost half the regular fare on the new direct train. Crazy, but true. Surely here is a route that cries out for some more creative pricing options. Why not a €19 or €29 Europa-Spezial Polen fare available online for journeys from Berlin to Gdansk on the new direct EuroCity service?
As mentioned above, the new Berlin to Gdansk service gives a very useful additional train each day on the Berlin to Poznan route (where it nests very neatly into the existing Berlin-Warsaw Express pattern of service). But savvy travellers to Poznan who book online will surely shun the new train. Use the Warsaw-bound service from Berlin to Poznan, and you can often pick up an Europa-Spezial Polen fare to Poznan for just €19. On the Gdansk-bound train, the only online fare for the Berlin to Poznan hop is always €37.30. It hardly encourages folk to give the new train a try.
After we had published the article above, the Deutsche Bahn announced that its Europa-Spezial Polen tariff would be extended to include tickets to Gdansk on the new direct rail service. Checking the Deutsche Bahn website, we see that cheaper tickets are indeed now available on most travel dates in July and August. But the special fare is generally €49 one way — thus saving only a pittance on the regular flexible one-way fare of €50.10. On just eight days in July and August, a cheaper fare of €39 one way is currently available. This is hardly the aggressive pricing policy that would be necessary to woo passengers off cheap flights from Berlin to Gdansk.