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Germany

Heat still on Deutsche Bahn after inconclusive crisis meeting

A top-level crisis meeting was held on Thursday to decide who is responsible for the air-conditioning failure that caused several people to collapse on board Deutsche Bahn's ICE trains last week.

A student is treated on a train platform in Bielefeld

Several people were hospitalized after the air conditioning failures

The air-conditioning on the high-speed ICE 2 trains apparently malfunctioned because of the extreme heat on July 10 and 11 - when outside temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of Germany. Inside, the temperatures were reported to hit 50 degrees Celsius.

The blame game had already started ahead of Thursday's meeting, which saw Deutsche Bahn boss Ruediger Grube clash with German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer and the parliamentary transport committee.

Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer

Ramsauer blamed over-zealous cost-cutting at Deutsche Bahn

Grube had provoked outrage from Germany's railway industry, for implying that the manufacturers had delivered faulty trains. Industry associations countered that Deutsche Bahn was responsible for the maintenance on its trains.

Cutting costs

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Ramsauer pointed his finger at the drawn-out attempt to take Deutsche Bahn public. "This attempt to put the company on the stock market obviously included the pressure to trim all the railway's operational figures," he said. "And of course that meant taking all available opportunities to cut costs."

But following the meeting Grube was adamant that no corners had been cut. The air conditioning systems on trains are subject to strict maintenance cycles, which Deutsche Bahn always adheres to, he said. "We can show you the documents - there are no secrets," he told reporters outside the meeting. "We have analyses of every air conditioning system in every train going back years, and the air conditioning on the ICE 2 has never stuck out."

But Grube also admitted that some 44 trains had been taken back for a complete overhaul following last week's incidents, and his statements did little to appease Carl-Friedrich Wassmuth of the rail passenger organization Pro Bahn.

Deutsche bahn boss Ruediger Grube

Grube faced a press grilling following Thursday's meeting

"I found the clarification that he just promised very meager - it's not enough to say we should come to him and look in the files," Wassmuth said. "We would like to know what was cut, how much money was saved, and where that money has gone."

Compensation claims

Pro Bahn was also not particularly impressed with the compensation that Deutsche Bahn offered to passengers who had been stuck in the trains.

On Wednesday Grube promised individual payments of 500 euros ($641) to all passengers who had required medical attention. But after some pressure, this was extended to anyone with 'medical problems', with or without a doctor's certificate. Passengers will also be compensated for medical costs and receive ticket vouchers worth 150 percent of the price of their ticket. According to Deutsche Bahn, some 2,200 passengers have received compensation so far.

But the question of responsibility remains, and despite Minister Ramsauer's attempt to blame Deutsche Bahn, many believe that the buck actually stops with the government. A recent government savings program demanded that the state-owned Deutsche Bahn save an extra 500 million euros a year.

Markus Wacket, author of a book on the attempt to put Deutsche Bahn on the stock exchange, expressed his view of the government's rail policy. "You have to give the politicians some of the responsibility," he said. "After all, they are responsible for what direction Deutsche Bahn takes. Now Minister Ramsauer keeps saying that taking the company public is not up for debate."

Author: Ben Knight

Editor: Susan Houlton

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