Photo: Hans Leister

A short section of electrification could be fed from an existing substation at Liebenthal.

GERMANY: Hybrid battery-electric trains could be running on the Berlin – Neuruppin – Wittenberge route by 2028, according to a study undertaken for the District of Ostprignitz-Ruppin by the Innoverse transport consultancy.

Marketed as Prignitz Express, the 180 km route is now the only remaining diesel-operated Regional Express service in Brandenburg. Despite an application for electrification of the Hennigsdorf – Wittenberge section by the Land in September 2019, this appears unlikely in the near future. The report suggests that discontinuous electrification could be completed for around €23m compared with at least €150m for wiring throughout.


A 41 km section at the Berlin end of the route is already electrified, leaving 139 km without wires; this is too far for battery-powered trains to operate without recharging. Innoverse proposes installing two ‘islands’ of 15 kV 16∙7 Hz electrification with a combined length of around 23 km, which would suffice to recharge the batteries of hybrid-electric trains during the journey.

One island, about 10 km long, could be located at Liebenthal, where a power station supplying an industrial area offers a suitable substation site on land adjacent to the railway. A second island nearly 9 km long is proposed at Neuruppin, where a substation linked to the national grid is already located next to the line. If the two islands were wired, the route would then have three unwired sections of 39 km, 35 km and 44 km, which would be well within the capabilities of battery powered trains.

The Hennigsdorf – Neuruppin section of the route has been proposed for modernisation and upgrading under the i2030 rail development plan for Berlin-Brandenburg. This envisages the installation of passing loops and double-track sections to facilitate the operation of a 30 min interval service from the mid-2020s.


At the moment DB Regio operates Prignitz-Express services using Alstom Lint diesel multiple-units, and this is likely to continue until the end of the current contract in 2028. Approaching Berlin, the trains reverse at Hennigsdorf and loop around the northwest of the city to Spandau, from where they continue to Gesundbrunnen via Jungfernheide. Diesel trains are not permitted to operate through the north-south tunnel into the capital’s main station. Passengers for central Berlin change to the S-Bahn at Hennigsdorf.


The study suggests that battery-electric trains could share the much shorter direct route into central Berlin, although they would need to run on battery power over this section as the S-Bahn is electrified at 800 V DC using a bottom-contact third rail.

The report points out that there are plans for use of battery-powered trains elsewhere in Brandenburg from 2024 and in Schleswig-Holstein from 2022, as well as in Rheinland-Pfalz and Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Innoverse senior consultant and partner Hans Leister, who authored the report, is a previous Head of Regional Services for DB in the Berlin-Brandenburg area. He later worked for Connex, Transdev and RDC Deutschland, as well as serving as President of the independent operators’ association Mofair, where he is still a member of the executive board.