No group split: Bahn retains sovereignty over the rail network

To analyse

Status: 11/29/2021 1:10 p.m.

The new federal government wants to bring more traffic to the rails. The network plays a central role in this. But according to the coalition agreement, it should stay in the DB Group – which critics consider a lazy compromise.

In late summer, a major alliance presented a major demand. All associations of private rail transport companies, the train drivers’ union GDL, the passenger association Pro Bahn and the German construction industry agreed: Rails and stations should be separated from Deutsche Bahn and become independent, come directly under state control and – unlike in the DB Group – none Need to make more profits.

The DB collects a so-called train path fee for every kilometer that a train travels on the rails and for every station stop; the highest in Europe. This makes competition with the road more difficult, especially in freight transport. This way, Deutsche Bahn makes a profit that remains in the group. At the same time, DB is making massive losses in freight transport, in which 60 percent of all trains are operated by private companies. The suspicion is that the private sector must subsidize DB’s freight transport with their payments.

Separate the rail network from Deutsche Bahn for more innovation?

Michael Houben, HR, Plusminus, 24.11.2021

“Chaotic construction site management”

In local public transport, private competitors have a 40 percent market share and see other problems: The network is largely out of date, around a fifth of all signal boxes are still operated with muscle power – technology from the time of the Kaiser, so that fewer trains can be on the way, and that too only comparatively slowly. If modernization takes place, so the criticism, then it will be where DB can increase its own profit. The passenger association Pro Bahn complains above all.

Private competitors also accuse Deutsche Bahn of having poor control over modernization work. At the beginning of November, for example, problems arose in Holzkirchen in Bavaria; here a private competitor operates the passenger transport. Without prior notice, the DB dismantled all important points at the same time. The train traffic stood still for days. DB excused this as an oversight. Those affected criticize that this was an oversight with an announcement, because DB has been operating its networks for years with too few and overwhelmed staff. The company has an “absolutely chaotic construction site management”, complained the private Bavarian Regiobahn, a subsidiary of the French transport company Transdev.

Profits should no longer go to the parent company

Are the problems with the rail network a consequence of the pursuit of profit? Would a state operator committed to the common good do better? The FDP and the Greens had long had similar demands. But only part of it remained in the coalition agreement of the traffic light parties: The network should no longer transfer profits to the DB Group, but remain part of Deutsche Bahn – in terms of personnel and organization.

This means that three participants in particular have prevailed with their resistance: DB had argued that in other countries where the network and train traffic are separate, many things have gotten worse, for example in England. The largest union in the DB Group, the EVG, demonstrated against the alleged threat of job cuts and dumping wages. The SPD joined this position. Critics consider these arguments to be wrong: There were problems in Great Britain, but only because the network there was privatized and thus the pursuit of profit was intensified. And why should working conditions and wages deteriorate with a state operator of the rail network?

Flixtrain feels slowed down

Competitors fear that the managers responsible for the rail network will continue to keep an eye on the interests of the DB Group in terms of network expansion, personnel planning and the so-called train path allocation. The Federal Network Agency will monitor that no private operator is disadvantaged. In practice, however, it remains unclear which criteria the DB uses to decide who is allowed to use the rails and when – especially in long-distance passenger transport, where there has so far only been the competitor Flixtrain.

The private railway company with only nine trains but big plans feels thwarted by the previous structures. You have to draw up a timetable in advance, according to Flixtrain, apply to the DB – and often only receive a notification after months that the train connections are not possible and that the tracks are already occupied. Deutsche Bahn does not provide any information on who is vouching for it and when the tracks might be free. Clarifying this then takes so long that you can hardly plan and buy or rent the necessary trains in good time.

The DB competitor does not believe that this will change much with the plans of the traffic light parties in the coalition agreement. So is there actually more traffic coming on the rails, and the rail network is being modernized faster and more sensibly? The question remains open.

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