While not unexpected, the decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown imposed from early March was not as severe as seen in other European countries.

The drop compares with a 67% decline in long-distance bus passenger numbers, as dominant operator Flixbus suspended services from March until June. The company also suspended its Flixtrain service in mid-March, resuming some services in late July.

The biggest drop in rail passenger numbers was between April and June, when all 16 German states imposed lockdowns of varying severity. Rail passenger numbers dropped to 29% of 2020 figures, while bus dropped to 4%.

German Rail (DB), the country’s dominant long-distance rail operator, continued to run most services during the pandemic apart from some ICE Sprinter and international services, with train-km dropping by only 13%.

Austrian Federal Railways’ (ÖBB) overnight trains and Thalys’ international services to Germany were cancelled or reduced between March and June.

The number of passengers on regional and urban rail services have not yet been fully calculated. The statistics are based in part on the sale of season tickets and, while these have been purchased, they have not necessarily been used in full.

Initial results suggest regional passenger numbers were down 37% in the first half of 2020 compared with 2019, while light rail usage was down by 24%. Preliminary results also suggest regional passenger numbers fell by up to 59% during the April-June lockdown.

Mobile phone data analysis shows daily changes

Destatis has also announced the results of new experimental mobile phone data analysis which shows changes in daily travel behaviour.

The analysis uses anonymised movement data supplied by Swiss company Teralytics which is derived from data for around a third of all SIM cards in use in Germany, extrapolated for the entire population.

According to the data, long-distance passenger numbers were up by 9% in January and February compared with 2019, before falling to 22% in April compared with April 2019 and recovering to 50% at the end of June.

This grew over the summer to a peak of around 72% in early August, before dropping to 65% in September and 51% in October.

DB says long-distance advanced bookings were around 75% of 2019 levels in September but this fell to 50% in October following the government’s appeal for people to avoid unnecessary travel.