Sylt: the car train to the island – and the nice man at the terminal

With the shuttle to the island – this nice man helps you

in a good mood at work: hans-peter pillen at the car loading station in westerland.

photo: michael rauhe / FUNKE foto services

since january 2002 hans-peter pillen works at the sylt shuttle. customers have become more impatient over the years, he says.

Hamburg. Let’s leave the cars here?", asks a boy with a blue jacket and white mouth-nose protection his father. "no, they come with!", says the, while they are working on the roadway walk along niebull and pick up some snacks for the crossing. Who has travelled with the car to sylt you have to cross the hindenburgdamm – by car train. Since 1927, the 11.3-kilometer-long causeway has connected sylt with the mainland.

120.000 tons of stones were carted in over four years to build the dam, which is 50 meters wide and eleven meters high. Since 1932, cars have also been brought to the island by rail. the typical round clock with the thick black lines and the red second hand, which stands between the tracks, already reveals that the sylt shuttle belongs to the german railroad belongs to.

Sylt shuttle: crossing from the mainland to the island takes 45 minutes

The terminal smells of salt and sea. At least on a tuesday morning, it’s quiet here. apart from the rustling of the wind, you can only hear a few scraps of words from the neighbor’s car radio. Seagulls fly over the waiting cars: the BMW from baden-wurttemberg, the porsche from saxony and the opel from saxony-anhalt.

on particularly busy days, according to deutsche bahn, up to 4,000 cars travel between the island and the mainland on the sylt shuttle, round trip combined. Incidentally, one crossing, including loading and unloading, takes about 45 minutes, because the route between niebull and westerland is almost 40 kilometers long.

"I’m the bad guy who splits up the vehicles"

Getting all the cars and motorcycles safely from A to B, from niebull to westerland and back, is the job of hans-peter pillen and his colleagues: the "welcomers," ushers and ticket sellers at the terminal. Only the train drivers accompany the train there and back over the hindenburg dam. Pillen but works stationary with his team in westerland at industrieweg 18a.

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"i’m the bad guy who divides the cars in the terminal between the upstairs and downstairs areas. And I have to tell the golf driver: I’m afraid I don’t have a seat on the upper deck," says the 60-year-old and laughs. "infrastructure coordinator" is the official name of his job.

In the peak season, service on the sylt shuttle starts at 4 a.m.30 o’clock

In the morning, pills is the first to arrive at 4 a.m. in the main season.30 o’clock starts the service: "then our guests are already standing in front of the barriers."a lot of things now run automatically at the terminal of the "sylt shuttle. When the customer drives up to kurt-bachmann-ring 2 in niebull, he waits in front of the barrier – but only for a few seconds. The license plate deposited at the time of booking is recognized, "have a good trip," says an automated female voice. You don’t have to enter anything if you have a reservation. Around 75 percent of bookings in the season are made online, of which about 50 percent involve reservations.

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But you can’t do without the human element at the terminal: when you’re waiting for the train, you can only see pillen’s colleagues – the men and women in the orange vests – from a distance, but when you’re driving up to the train, they come to meet you. And wave the customers directly behind the respective front man, sort by reservation and order and control the distances.

Sylt shuttle: these are the upper limits for vehicle height and weight

"we sort the vehicles according to height and weight. The upper limits are three tons in weight and 2.70 meters in height on the upper deck and 1.65 meters in height on the lower deck respectively. We have to assess that very quickly when assigning customers," says pillen. All vehicles weighing more than three tons have to ride on the truck part of the train. This is how the cars are loaded onto the train, taken across to the island or back to the mainland again. laughing, pillen adds to his explanation: "and most of the time we are also on time."

During a shift, he supervises 18 trips, and is on duty until around 1 p.m. The sylt shuttle has a longer shift: it runs from about 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. In the summer, it runs every hour with some additional trains. Now in winter, however, with a few trains less.

The surprise of finding a reverse gear

When the customers arrive in westerland, pillen has to deal with very different issues: with the dead car battery that has gone flat in the waiting area. But also with the old lady who is firmly convinced that her ford ka has no reverse gear and therefore cannot properly drive into the penultimate slot on the trolley. "together we found the reverse gear, and she was totally surprised that her little car could actually drive backwards". That was really funny," says pillen, describing the encounter. "that’s what my job is all about: getting involved with lots of people and characters from all over the republic and abroad. It’s exciting and always great."

For the classic car fan, however, his job has other advantages as well: "I see vehicles here that I would never see anywhere else in my life."for example, a ford gt, the model that actor steve mcqueen also drove.

Pillen has been with the german railroads since 1976

There are very few of those left, says pillen enthusiastically: "It was so loud, my ears almost fell off."A guest told him that he had driven his very small car, an NSU spider, from near Ingolstadt all the way up to Sylt. It took him three days on the country road – and he found the tour great. The driver’s wife saw things differently: "I’m taking the train home today, you can do whatever you want," she said – when pillen recounts this, he has to laugh happily. As so often, when he talks about his guests.

since january 2002 he is with sylt shuttle. And since 1976 with the railroad. In the past few years he has witnessed great changes. Not only because the sylt shuttle has been sharing terminals with another company, the blue "autozug sylt", since fall 2016. It’s operated by a subsidiary of the U.S. railroad company RDC. globalization does not stop at the hindenburgdamm either. Other new features include lanes for cars with reservations and webcams that allow you to see online almost to the minute how many vehicles are waiting to cross the line.

Today’s customers are much more impatient than in the past

But what is more striking is the change in the behavior of the guests: "the sylt shuttle is also a reflection of our society," says pillen. "in the past, everything was concentrated on sundays. All the coming and going. And still the people were more relaxed, they had more time. Things are different today. If the train doesn’t run – for whatever reason – or the car drivers are stuck in traffic for an hour, that’s not acceptable to them."

Unfortunately, there is also less and less chatter at the gate. Hans-peter pillen often finds himself running out of time. But if the customers are already so attuned to the time, at least he tries to block out the stress. "it’s just as much of a bottleneck as the elbe tunnel. If there’s a traffic jam, if the technology doesn’t work, then that’s the way it is," says pillen. "you just have to take it in your stride, it’s part of this unique island of sylt," he says. And he tries to remind customers to enjoy the view again during the crossing, the "awesome expanse, the wadden sea".

Deutsche bahn: guide lives on sylt since 1986

Hans-peter pillen has lived on sylt himself since 1986. Originally he comes from nordstrand near husum, where he also did his training. "When you’re so attached to the region, you don’t want to go somewhere else," says pillen. his sylt is the sylt in autumn and spring: the emptiness, the free corners you can discover for yourself. "when you’re on the beach and there’s a really nice, strong wind whistling across the beach from the west, you don’t actually need any more peeling because the sand does it – that’s totally cool. It’s a great place to unwind," says the railroad man.

For him, the "soul dangling" ends with the nordstrander drink pharisaer and a friesentorte. He thinks: "more is not possible."

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