Deutsche Bahn flaws prompt calls for basic railway reform | News | DW | 16.12.2018
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Deutsche Bahn flaws prompt calls for basic railway reform

German train operator Deutsche Bahn needs a basic overhaul, the government's own commissioner has admitted. Long-distance train punctuality sunk to 70 percent last month, further frustrating passengers and staff.

Rail traffic commissioner Enak Ferlemann told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that the board of Deutsche Bahn (DB) headed by Richard Lutz had until March to submit a "suitable concept" to restructure the state-owned giant.

"We want to hear the first findings at a meeting in January," insisted Ferlemann, a federal transport ministry states secretary and rail commissioner for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) who want train services boosted to help alleviate climate change.

Last Monday, a brief pay-round warning strike called by the union EVG disrupted DB signaling and dispatch infrastructure, a division overseen at board level by Ronald Pofalla, a former transport minister and once Merkel's chancellery chief.

Merger or reorganization?

The reform's core, said the paper, would be to reorganize or merge DB's increasingly unpunctual long-haul and regional passenger train entities (Fernverkehr and DB Regio) within the giant which has 310,000 employees, 40 percent with DB ventures abroad.

DB's legislation enacted in 1994 created commercial enterprises, each with their own boards, including also DB Netz for rail track, DB Station and Service, DB Energie, and DB Immobilien for real estate such as rail stations.

Rethink, urge politicians

Fragmentary thinking in "boxes and front gardens" must end, said Carsten Schneider, parliamentary manager of the Social Democrats (SPD), who govern with Merkel as a junior coalition partner.

"Structures must be thought out anew within the integrated corporation," said Schneider, to fulfill DB's aspiration of being a modern service provider.

"Everything that rolls belongs under the same roof," said Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary co-leader of the opposition Greens, who described DB's present situation as "fragmented competency chaos."

Given DB's debt approaching 20 billion euros, radical steps were necessary to avoid "near collapse," said opposition liberal FDP spokesman Oliver Luksic.

Flaws 'long-admitted'

In a background article, Welt am Sonntag author Nikolaus Doll said DB chief Lutz had "long admitted" the managerial dysfunction in a fiery internal letter in September, but was hamstrung by the DB's own 1993 founding legislation.

It merged the former Cold War western and eastern German rail operators and split track maintenance from rolling stock operation. However, it also gave Germany's 16 states decentralized rights to improve train service quality in regional peripheries.

"That has also been achieved," wrote Doll.

If the mergers now proceed, the states will have strong legislative influence via their joint assembly, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), he said. 

Despite already moving 4.6. billion passengers and 271 million tons of freight annually, DB lacked trains, sufficient personnel, and defect-free rail track, and especially "the billions of euros needed to fix many deficiencies" and lower its debt, said Doll.

Giant cash injections alone would not fix the problem, said Doll. "Politicians are planning a concern restructuring."

ipj/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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