Through the “Valley of Tears” – Bahn wants a general overhaul | Free press

Berlin.

Railroad customers need thick skin. ICE and Intercity are not as punctual as they have been for years, and the rail operator has to refuse carriage. The rail network has too many bottlenecks – despite and because of hundreds of construction sites at the same time.

Railroad boss Richard Lutz now wants to get to the bottom of the problem: “overhaul” of the most important routes, “radically” and “as soon as possible”. Railroads and their customers must go through the “valley of tears”, as the vice chairman of the board calls it.

What’s the situation on the train?

Almost every third long-distance train was late in April. Lutz buried the 2022 punctuality target on Monday. The industry has been complaining about the railroads for months, with sometimes 400 freight trains stopping at the site. Now, every time, customers come back faster than expected; from Wednesday also with cheap 9-euro tickets for public transport. There are more trains than ever.

Why are there so many problems?

For two reasons: the network has too many bottlenecks and rails, junctions and bridges are aging. Network health reports still speak of “high-quality railroad health,” but Lutz admits investment backlogs continue to rise. Construction is already at a record level, for around 14 billion euros in 2022 alone. But balancing between building and driving at the same time – you don’t really want to go.

What does management want to do different now?

For a long time, the railway has been talking about a closer connection of construction sites – for example, not replacing points, signaling or lines on the route one by one, but at the same time. Infrastructure council member Ronald Pofalla called it performance-saving construction. A few weeks after his departure, Lutz announced: “We must approach this issue more fundamentally and radically. Better to have one large lock than many small ones. ” While Pofalla also relies heavily on digital technology, Lutz qualifies: “If I digitize a fail-prone infrastructure, it will remain a fail-prone infrastructure.” Its goal is to build a “high performance network”.

What does this mean for passengers?

This could mean the routes are completely closed for months. Lutz confesses with remarkable clarity: “It is no longer possible to develop and modernize many corridors at the same time in the same quality.” I want to say: there will be detours, train cancellations, train frustration. “Rail companies and customers will go through the valley of tears,” said Klaus-Dieter Hommel, chairman of the rail and transport union. Lutz says: “Every corridor is getting better and better.”

What routes will be built when?

The Bahn watches over important corridors, an underlying network that has been congested for a long time and where delays affect the entire network. These include Dortmund-Duisburg-Düsseldorf-Cologne and hubs in Munich and Hamburg. However, it is not yet clear when and where the construction will take place. Many discussions will have to take place with the federal government and other railway companies. The first key points should be before the summer break. Lutz’s goal: to renovate two or three of these corridors per year from 2024 in order to be able to complete everything by 2030. If a section has been renovated, it should remain “unbuilt” for years.

How is the supply of industry ensured?

It’s not easy for her now. There have been problems for months. The cargo manager recently sighed in a video to employees that construction work and disruptions are difficult to control. At the latest, when the train is reloading goods onto trucks because the trains can no longer pass, something is wrong. But this is likely to happen more frequently in the future, as Lutz explained. This is better than production losses. “It’s part of being honest.”

How is traffic change going to be successful?

“If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, it won’t work,” says Lutz. He wants to be able to transport more people and goods by rail after a major refurbishment – and that the customers do not leave while they are working. On the other hand, shifting freight traffic to roads, even temporarily, is out of the question for cargo competitors. “Anyone wishing to achieve industrial development goals and climate protection goals cannot seriously consider moving to roads,” criticized the European rail network.

How much does a general renovation cost?

Deutsche Bahn recently had an investment backlog of almost EUR 60 billion across the entire network. Due to the sharp increase in construction costs itself, it should increase rapidly. For the “premium standard”, Lutz also wants to eliminate railroad crossings on important routes – which also involves expensive bridges or underpasses. EVG believes that much more resources are needed for infrastructure.

Deutsche Bahn’s competitors doubt whether the state-owned company will be able to better connect construction sites. Because the money for it comes from too many different pots. “If you wanted to go here in principle, it would also be a political question,” said the Mofair association. He fears that the federal government’s planned expansion of the common-good infrastructure sector will be faded into the background. (dpa)

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