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Germany lays out plan to overhaul rail network

June 22, 2022

Transport bosses say work is scheduled to begin in 2024 as modernization of heavily used routes is essential if Germany is to meet its climate targets.

Numerous travelers are standing on the platform at Hamburg Central Station
Deutsche Bahn admits that the German rail network needs radical changesImage: Frank Bündel/rtn/picture alliance

The government wants to push ahead with the renovation of Germany's railway network. The general overhaul of the first rail corridor is slated to begin in 2024, Transport Minister Volker Wissing and Deutsche Bahn (DB) boss Richard Lutz announced on Wednesday in Berlin.

What is the current state of Germany's rail network?

Wissing said the network had been neglected for years and pushed to "its absolute limit." Many railway points and signal boxes are outdated and highly prone to failure. "It cannot stay the way it is," he said.

Increasing demand, combined with aging infrastructure and construction work, is leading to "traffic jams and delays with a massive impact on all customers," Lutz said.

The current operational quality of the rail system is not acceptable to anyone, and a radical change of direction is needed, he added.

About 51,000 passenger and goods trains travel through Germany every day. That figure is expected to increase to 59,000 by 2030, Lutz said.

The head of Germany's national rail operator had already sounded the alarm at the end of May and complained about the the state of the network: "We have a dilemma that can hardly be resolved in the short term: grow and modernize at the same time."

What are the plans for the future of German rail?

DB and the Transport Ministry want to address the issue by turning particularly busy sections of the rail network into a "high-performance network" that should become a quality and stability anchor for the entire railway network. 

According to Lutz, heavily used sections make up about 10% of the entire network, around 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles). These sections are already operating at 125% capacity. By 2030, the length of heavily used sections is expected to increase to 9,000 kilometers, the DB boss said.

In the planned general renovation, DB wants to take three new criteria into account. In the first instance, all planned construction measures are to be "radically bundled" in order to keep sections of the route free of construction sites for several years.

Secondly, not only should existing defects be eliminated during construction work in the future, but additional measures should also be taken. The high-performance corridors are to receive a "first-class equipment standard." Thirdly, more customer-friendly construction should be used in future construction planning.

Rail plays an important role in the German climate protection goals for 2030. By then, the aim is to double the number of passengers and increase the share of rail freight transport significantly.

dh/kb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)