Germany has made a significant commitment to improving its rail network, aiming to address the issue of delayed trains.

The Transport Ministry of Germany and the state-owned rail service provider Deutsche Bahn (DB) announced their intentions on Friday to undertake a significant overhaul of the nation’s rail system, with a target completion date of 2030.

The Berlin government intends to allocate a sum of €40 billion (approximately $42.5 billion), with about one-third of it being provided as a capital injection for DB, towards upcoming renovations in the coming years.

The main objective of the plan is to prioritize the swift improvement of the busiest railway routes in the country. These routes are frequently plagued by delays and disruptions, impacting a large number of people.

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Wissing, whose neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) are the party in Germany’s coalition government currently pushing for cuts to several existing spending plans, said this project was going ahead “despite the strained budgetary situation.” One source of financing would be increased tolls for foreign heavy goods vehicles on the German highways, he said.

The "Schienengipfel 2023" (Rail Track Summit 2023) panel discussion in Frankfurt, September 15, 2023, showing a number of the participants on stage together. These include a German minister responsible for digital and transport affairs, Susanne Henckel (third from left), and Deutsche Bahn's chair of infrastructure planning and projects, Ingrid Felipe (second from left).
The plan was released on Friday to align with the panel discussion taking place at the ‘Rail Track Summit 2023’ in Frankfurt.Image: Lando Hass/dpa/picture alliance

A rushed upgrade could potentially result in a temporary decline before experiencing improvement.

The objective of the plan is to concentrate on 40 specific sections of railway that experience high levels of activity.

From now until 2030, each of these will undergo complete shutdowns lasting approximately five months in order to allow for extensive renovation and maintenance tasks.

The concept involves a deliberate choice made by the government and Deutsche Bahn to willingly endure prolonged periods of significant disturbance.

Hopefully, this should be in exchange for no longer having recurrent minor disruptions as such work is tackled on an ad-hoc basis when problems present themselves on the aging and deteriorating rails. 

The individuals who created the plan aim to significantly decrease expenses while also ultimately enhancing the standard of the repairs and upgrades.

“It is crucial to promptly communicate the planned closures and ensure that those impacted are well-informed,” stated Wissing. “We must emphasize the inconvenience and challenges involved, in order to improve our future rail travel experience.”

Truly revolutionary? Germany’s €49 public transport ticket

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The reliability of German ‘Pünktlichkeit’ is being called into doubt more and more.

Germany’s image of being punctual and having a efficient and well-financed nationalized railway system has faced challenges within the country in recent times, and there are indications that even international travelers have begun to notice this.

The DB cargo train station in Halle in Germany, September 4, 2023.
Germany, like numerous other nations, is making efforts to promote the use of railways for both freight transportation and commuting, instead of relying solely on roads.Image: Jochen Eckel/picture alliance

According to information from the German Transport Ministry, in 2022, approximately 30% of rail passengers in Germany arrived at their destination with a delay of 15 minutes or more. On the other hand, slightly over 70% of travelers reached their destination either on time or with a shorter delay. This data was obtained from a query made by a member of the German Bundestag.

These figures constituted a 10% deterioration in punctuality in 2022 compared to the previous year.  And that’s despite Deutsche Bahn considering a train delayed by less than 15 minutes to be on time, a more lax benchmark than some other countries.

In the case of Japan, a train is considered late if it is delayed for more than 60 seconds. If there is a delay of 5 minutes, passengers are provided with a document to prove that the delay was not their fault, as employers may question their explanation otherwise.

Critics argue that the deteriorating rail network in Germany, which has been in need of investment for years, is a significant factor contributing to the decline in punctuality.

German, and global, climate-driven push towards trains

The improvements align with the government’s initiatives in Berlin to actively promote new generations of train passengers and enhance traffic on a heavily congested railway network.

Earlier this year, Germany implemented a monthly ticket priced at €49 (slightly over $50), which allows individuals to have unrestricted travel on regional trains throughout the entire country.

Using public transport rather than a private vehicle considerably reduces the environmental impact of travel, and many environmental campaigners have long advocated increased spending on rail infrastructure and services to provide a better and more reliable alternative to cars for commuters and other travelers.

msh/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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