From Hamburg to Delhi by air, sea and land.

November 14th, 2017

After hastily putting together an itinerary to join two friends in India it was time to depart for what I hoped would be an epic two month trip to India. The signs that things wern’t going to go very well were already there though, it was the night before and I hadn’t even finished packing so was up till 3 AM getting ready and cleaning the apartment. As I figured would happen I overslept and after dropping off the keys with a friend knew I had no chance of making my train to Copenhagen. However just then an email from DeutscheBahn, my first train had been cancelled on the account of trackwork! I really am a lucky idiot sometimes….so it was off to the service desk where I managed to explain my problem auf Deutsche and was rebooked on the faster InterCity service which uses the Puttgarten ferry to save time by crossing the Fernmahr strait of the Baltic versus the all land route. This incident would set the tone for the next few weeks which would be full of missed trains, cancelled trains and bad decisions. But anyways, I had a ticket and I was off to Copenhagen aboard what I consider the world’s ugliest train, the Danish Rail IC3. The trains are some of the few diesel hauled services to operate into Hamburg HBF as the line to Puttgarten is not electrified. 

Puttgarten was once an important ferry port as it was the shortest way for all freight and passenger traffic to transit between Germany and Denmark. However, since the Great Belt Fixed link, which links the two countries in the far north of Germany, opened freight traffic has all but ceased and only these intercity trains use the ferry now. It was a dull rainy day and the mood fit as we rolled into Puttgarten, the remains of the once vast freight yard stood idle and full of trees and weeds. We had just missed the ferry so there would be a 30 minute delay while we waited for the next one which was ok by me as it meant some time to explore the station. The future of the ferry is dim as a new tunnel will replace the ferries with the next few years.

The ferry arrived with the inbound train to Hamburg, the process is incredibly quick and the train rolled off the ramp just seconds after the gate was down and locked. As soon as the other train was clear everyone got back on board and we headed onto the ferry. Inside the boat the train is wedged tightly in the lower decks next to all kinds of semi trucks while cars are park on the deck above. The 3 car train just barely fits onboard with the cab right against the bulkhead. During the crossing, all passengers are required to go to the upper decks for obvious safety reasons. Onboard there are plenty of overpriced shops and a restaurant to keep you occupied but I chose the open deck to enjoy the crossing. Despite the cold and wind, it was the first time taking a proper ferry trip in years, so I savored the rare experience. The last time had been an overnight ferry crossing the Baltic Sea from Trelleborg to Rostock, a good story for another day. 

The scene on the side at Rødbyhavn is just like the one at Puttgarten with weedgrown abandoned track telling of the busy times of the past. The Dane’s have already begun removing some of the yard on their side, the traffic will return when the new tunnel opens but there will be no need for a big yard then.

I had a two hours to waste in Copenhagen before my flight but it was hard to pull myself away from the train station, both because the station is a true architectural gem but also the more simple minded reason that anymore from the US could immediately notice even with their eyes closed. The rather familiar sound of EMD 645 prime movers, the Danish Railways have a long history of using EMD motive power dating back to the highly successful Nohab diesels which have now been succeeded by the ME Class diesels built by Henschel in Germany under licence. These locomotives are the backbone of commuter services out of Copenhagen and the familiar sound echoes through the halls of the station as diesel hauled train after train departs, a rare thing in most of Europe. 

Finally, it was getting dark so I headed to the airport aboard yet another IC3 trainset. The Copenhagen airport turned out to be one of my least favorite in Europe with almost no reasonably priced food options and a strange departure gate setup but thankfully my time here was limited and at 19:50 I was boarding my Air India flight to Delhi. The plane and the experience, in general, was a pleasant surprise, having never flown Air India before I did not know what to expect but the plane turned out to be a brand new 777, nicer than anything I had flown on Delta or Air France, even the food was half decent. Just prior to my departure the news was full of stories about the toxic smog blanketing new Delhi so was expecting the worst on arrival. Thankfully the smog had abated to more normal levels but regardless I decided it prudent to stay indoors with my relatives in Delhi until the arrival of my friends from Germany. All of those adventures and misadventures at a later time though!