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Business

Deutsche Bahn Unhappy with Quality of Rolling Stock

Germany's national railways operator is dissatisfied with the rolling stock supplied of late by Germany's rail-technology industry – particularly high-speed, tilting-technology diesel trains.

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A German ICE high-speed train leaves Frankfurt railway station.

Germany's rail-technology industry is on course for a row with its major client, national railways operator Deutsche Bahn AG, Handelsblatt has learned. The reason lies in Deutsche Bahn's dissatisfaction with the latest trains that it has been supplied.

From the inter-city express high-speed trains to the latest generation of trains used for local and suburban railways, there have a series of technical problems, that have caused all manner of problem from interruptions to a need to take the offending trains out of service.

A particularly marked source of difficulty has been the Inter-City Express service between Nuremberg and Dresden. Since the summer, the route has used ICE TD trains, a new diesel version of the high-speed train, using tilting technology. These were meant to bring increased passenger comfort and a shortened journey time.

But the new trains have been usable to only a limited extent, and according to Deutsche Bahn figures, their punctuality rate is less than 80%.

Officially, Deutsche Bahn expresses itself in moderate tones. "We are now in difficult but productive talks on how we can secure quality in future," said Deutsche Bahn's chief executive, Hartmut Mehdorn, in conversation with Handelsblatt. He said the rail-technology is making real efforts to clear up the difficulties.

But Mehdorn's language became less moderate when he discusses the Nuremberg–Dresden services, which he described as a "disaster". "We are flitting from one problem to another," he said.

First the titling technology didn't work, and then the train couplings proved unable to stand up to the demands of winter weather, diesel motors went out of action, and various software problems arose – and all this from trains that were delivered two years late.

"The regional governments are angry at us," Mehdorn continued. "But we are at the mercy of the industry."

The rail-technology industry admitted that there have been mistakes, but in its view, the difficulties arise from both sides.

The managing director of industry association VDB, Michael Clausecker, argued that demanding railway systems such as the ICE TD used for the Nuremberg–Dresden services should have undergone more rigorous and lengthier testing. And in many cases, it had been necessary for Deutsche Bahn maintenance staff to learn to service the new technology properly.

Hans Schabert, an executive board member at Siemens Transportation, a unit of Siemens AG, said: "Last November, we believed that we finally had a hold on the technology, but then the winter literally caught us cold."

The remaining shortcomings will be overcome by the end of February, he said, and the system should be running properly by the end of summer.

Deutsche Bahn's business is crucial for the German rail industry. Since 1995, it has ordered rolling stock worth a total 11.5 billion euro. And it plans to order trains worth a further 11 billion euro by 2006.

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