Lufthansa's high speed rail "flight" from Frankfurt to Cologne

By John Walton, November 2 2011
Lufthansa's high speed rail

Lufthansa no longer flies the 150 km from Frankfurt to Cologne, and instead reserves an entire car on thirteen 300km/h high-speed trains a day in each direction for its international connecting passengers.

So if you're connecting to Cologne on Lufthansa, this is how you'll get there.

It's called AIRail, and Australian Business Traveller tested out the route this week.

Check-in is swift, efficient and airline-style at the glass-and-steel Frankfurt Airport Fernbahnhof (long-distance railway station).

The Fernbahnhof is part of the airport, connected by an walkway tube to the terminal.

You'll be given your airline-style boarding pass with an LH flight number to QKN, which is Cologne Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), rather than CGN, the Cologne-Bonn airport.

Check-in luggage is taken from you at check-in by friendly porters and returned to you once you reach Cologne.

You can even add your cabin carry-on from the plane to the luggage stack for the shorter journey, so you don't have to carry it on the train.

Then it's down the escalators and onto the 300 km/h ICE3 high-speed train -- no hiking through the airport, no extra security checks. Check the boards or ask the English-speaking staff to find out where to board the train closest to your seat.

57 minutes later, you're right in the centre of Cologne, looking out onto its famous Kölner Dom Cathedral, heading to your meeting or sipping on your first cold glass of the local Kölsch beer.

You'd be hard pressed to connect to a Cologne-bound flight and get into the centre of town from the airport in under an hour. 

On the way, you'll be sitting in a comfortable 2-2 layout train car, with what we reckon is about 39 inches of seat pitch, the same as Australian domestic business class and a big improvement on the Eurobusiness "economy with a spare seat in the middle" Lufthansa offers on domestic flights.

There's a table big enough to use even the largest laptop and there's at-seat power available, plus wi-fi available, although you'll have to fork out €5 (about A$7).

When pressed on the pricing, Lufthansa's man in charge of the service was adamant that none of its passengers say they want wi-fi included, which we found pretty incredulous since the first thing many business travellers do when touching down after a 14-hour flight is get online, check their mail and catch up on the news.

Business Class passengers get a special cabin at the very end of the train, where you can look backwards and marvel at how fast you're whizzing through the German countryside on the way to Cologne, or watch the train's driver at work on the way to Frankfurt.

A choice of sandwiches (try the trio of salami, cheese and ham on dense, chewy German Vollkornbrot rye bread), drinks and chocolate bars are offered by English-speaking train crew.

All in all, AIRail is fantastic: comfortable, quick, connected, and convenient. With this service, and for this kind of distance -- or, frankly, even double this distance -- the train beats the plane every time.

We wish more destinations -- not just Cologne and Stuttgart -- were included in the AIRail network.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

05 Jun 2011

Total posts 38

Does one earn miles on such a service?

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Yep! Just as if you actually flew.

05 Jun 2011

Total posts 38

Wow, very interesting!

13 May 2012

Total posts 1

I have booked a ticket from Pune to Frankfurt I have to go to Cologne. Can I travel on this train? Do I have to pay extra?

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

The Lufthansa carriages of this train are only bookable as a through-ticket -- in your case, if you've booked Pune-Frankfurt-Cologne.

If your ticket allows changes, you may be able to add it on as a changed destination, although I'd imagine there will be an extra charge.

Your other option is, of course, to just pick up a regular ticket from Frankfurt Airport to Cologne from -- that might be the easiest option in any case.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 116

Hi John

I stumbled upon this article by accident and am pleased I did, as I am travelling to Cologne via Frankfurt in a fortnight and wasn't sure of the best way to get there. I have booked a single trip on the ICE train in 1st class for 49 Euro - bargain!

Thanks again

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Excellent! I myself am in France at the moment and am thrilled at the cost and convenience of the TGV high-speed rail system. I hope you like the German version as much as I do.

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