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Germany

Deutsche Bahn boss faces grilling over winter chaos

Deutsche Bahn's boss admitted Monday that Germany's railways needed new investment to the tune of billions of euros. Deutsche Bahn faces harsh criticism for widespread cancelations due to winter weather.

An ICE train on snowy tracks

Deutsche Bahn has a train shortage due to maintenance

Germany's state governments have urged stronger investment in the country's national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, after winter weather in December caused transport chaos across the country.

Deutsche Bahn chief executive Ruediger Grube on Monday met with ridicule when he told state parliament in Berlin - where service on suburban S-Bahn trains was hit particularly hard - that his company had been prepared for this winter better than any before it.

Deutsche Bahn expects to pay as much as 700 million euros ($906 million) by 2014 to cover the costs of Berlin S-Bahn train cancelations alone, Grube said.

Getting better

Grube admitted that Deutsche Bahn did not entirely have its act together.

He said ice and unreliable electrical power had massively hindered rail travel in December - on top of which, the operator did not have enough trains at its disposal due to maintenance work.

An ICE on snowy tracks headed into Hamburg

Grube claimed Deutsche Bahn was well prepared for this winter

"We have to get better," he said Monday during another meeting with a special conference of state transport ministers. Improvement was particularly needed, he said, when it came to the company's poor performance in keeping customers informed of schedule changes and cancelations.

But the Deutsche Bahn's priority remained its long-distance routes between cities. Grube also announced Deutsche Bahn hoped to invest some 44 billion euros into its infrastructure over the next five years.

Joerg Vogelsaenger, who chaired the ministers' conference, expressed skepticism as to whether that figure was even enough.

"I think we will have to go beyond the 44 billion euros," the transport minister for the eastern state of Brandenburg said, adding, "I think that the chances for more investment have risen this winter."

Reinvesting dividends?

"What has taken place on the tracks and at train stations over the past weeks must not repeat itself," said Baden-Wuerttemberg transport minister Tanja Goenner.

Goenner, along with other transport ministers, demanded that Deutsche Bahn dividends be reinvested into Germany's railway, rather than being put into the government's general budget. Germany's Finance Ministry insisted, however, that the dividends - some 500 million euros annually - were already earmarked through 2014.

A crowd outside an S-Bahn in Berlin

DB's operation of Berlin's S-Bahn is hemorrhaging money

The southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and other German states together provide Deutsche Bahn an annual 7-billion-euro subsidy to keep travel costs low for commuters.

Possible traveler compensation

As for the Berlin's S-Bahn lines, Grube saw no promise of a profit for Deutsche Bahn through 2017. "We won't earn a single euro for the duration of our current contract," he said.

Technical problems with Berlin's S-Bahn had cost some 370 million euros in 2009 and 2010 alone, the Deutsche Bahn chief estimated.

Grube meanwhile remained open to the notion of compensation payments to customers, but would not give details on any plans.

"We are considering a reasonable solution," he said.

Author: David Levitz (AP, Reuters)

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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