You can get scared when you look at the condition of the railway, says Claus Weselsky, head of the German Locomotive Drivers' Union. "Trains are delayed before they even start." For him, the central problem is the condition of the network: "The network has been saved from being destroyed."
Weselsky calls for the network and the public company to be separated. "You can't make a profit online. It's a subsidized operation," he says. "At the moment the state pours in more than 4 billion euros in subsidies per year. Then the infrastructure companies report 600 million profits to the railways." He accuses the federal government and the railways of "making this milkmaid calculation as nebulous as possible".
Weselsky believes that the two major goals of politics and the railways are unattainable: the Germany tact and doubling the number of passengers by 2030. "If the local railway workers hear that even more passengers are to be pushed onto the trains, then they will go crazy." For this reason, Weselsky is also not a fan of the 9-euro ticket. This puts an additional burden on "a system that is already operating close to the edge of chaos".
ntv.de: You live in Leipzig, work in Frankfurt, now you are in Berlin. How do you usually get around - by train or by car?
Claus Weselsky: Almost always by train.
How has it been over the last few months?
Very bad. There has been a lack of punctuality on the train for a while. But the unreliability of the past few months had a completely different dimension. You now have to plan in an extra hour, otherwise you risk missing the connection when changing trains.
Federal Transport Minister Wissing said in June that he expects "that in future we will be able to set the clock by the train again". When was the last time Deutsche Bahn could say that about itself?
That was before Mehdorn, in the time of DB and DR, i.e. the West German Federal Railways and the Deutsche Reichsbahn of the GDR. At that time, punctuality and reliability were the top priority - not only for the railway workers on site, but also for the managers. Today, the train suffers from systemic delays. You look at the train destination display at the station and you see notices like "Delayed availability": Trains are delayed before they have even started.
Wissing wants to expand the railway to a "high-performance network" by 2030. Doesn't that sound good?
That is also a superlative that has been heard regularly from Deutsche Bahn and the Ministry of Transport for years. It's always about 2030, 2035, 2045 - periods for which the respective Minister of Transport and the managers of the railways no longer have to take responsibility. We have to get away from that. We have to bring the railway to 2022 first.
What has to happen for this?
If the railways are to become reliable and punctual again, fundamental decisions must be made that the Ministry of Transport is either still standing by or is shirking. The central question is: In what legal form is the railway infrastructure managed?
Isn't Deutsche Bahn's central problem its underfunding?
The railways are underfinanced, yes, also compared to other European countries. But right now, much-needed tax money is going into a black hole. The current discussion is such that everyone believes that there is not enough money in the system. But the money has been and is being misused, maintenance cycles have been stretched to the extreme. Everyone knows: if you run material for wear and tear, the expense afterwards is higher than if there is regular maintenance. An example: After the tragic accident in Bavaria at the beginning of June, the train significantly reduced the speed on a whole range of routes. This was not included in any timetable design from the previous year. This creates a new lack of punctuality.
They plead for the separation of network and operation. The train refuses.
Of our 61 collective bargaining partners, 60 are railway companies without their own network. They use the network provided by Deutsche Bahn. Only at Deutsche Bahn AG shouldn't it be possible to manage infrastructure and operations separately? That's what Deutsche Bahn wants to tell us. She wants things to continue as before. They want to expand worldwide, they want to invest worldwide in things that have nothing to do with the railways in Germany. That's what they've been doing for the last 20 years.
What should the separation of network and operation look like in concrete terms?
At the moment there are three infrastructure divisions at Deutsche Bahn: DB Netz AG, DB Station
Isn't the money arriving online?
The desolate condition of the network is the result of decades of economic grinding operations. The network has been saved broken. This can only be stopped by being solved by Bahn AG. At the moment, the tail is wagging the dog: the railways determine what happens to the money, the ministry should only let the billions flow. With a new legal form, the influence of the owner - i.e. the federal government - must therefore be designed in such a way that the donor says where the journey is going.
Wissing has announced that the new infrastructure division of Deutsche Bahn will start on January 1, 2024. Does this not meet your requirement?
No, because the minister has not yet commented on the decisive question of the legal form.
Public announcements by Deutsche Bahn are often about ICE routes and long-distance connections. Is regional transport neglected?
Yes. Regional transport has certainly improved over the past 20 years. There was a very positive development here due to the countries that order regional transport and due to the competition. In Germany, regional traffic threatens to lose out.
In what way?
There are three system speeds in the German railway network: long-distance traffic is the fastest, freight traffic and finally regional traffic is the slowest. In the timetable, the freight and regional trains have to follow the long-distance trains, if only because it makes no sense to slow down an ICE that is traveling at 300 km/h to 60 or 80 km/h so that it can drive over a passing loop. The regional and freight trains have to do that. Ideally, the ICE would overtake in a functioning Germany cycle when the regional train is in the station. Unfortunately, no one has paid attention to the passing tracks in the last 20 years. On the contrary: Mehdorn had points burned out with a cutting torch, so that many overtaking tracks can no longer be used. And if they're still there, they don't have platforms.
Is it then at all possible to introduce the Germany cycle by 2030?
We definitely can't do that. Take Switzerland, the prime example of rail transport, and generally of local and long-distance public transport. It took Switzerland from 2002 to 2017 to fully implement an integral timetable - 15 years! To achieve this, billions were committed to an infrastructure fund, so there was a steady flow of cash in large amounts. In Switzerland today you can set the clock by the railways - by public transport as a whole.
Your analysis does not sound very optimistic. Will the train fail as the means of transport of the future?
If you take the current state of the railway, you could actually get scared. But one should never regard the current situation as God-given, but must work to eliminate the causes.
To a large extent it is a managerial task. These areas of the railways were managed with fear and terror for decades - anyone who raised a technical objection had already ended their career. If you want to change this leadership behavior, you have to intervene systemically. That is what we expect from the Minister of Transport.
You have already mentioned Hartmut Mehdorn - when it comes to saving the railway from being broken, he and Gerhard Schröder are usually mentioned. Are these the main people responsible?
When it comes to Mr. Mehdorn, I'm a bit reluctant. Unlike his successors, Mehdorn was at least a leader. He pursued a goal and implemented things. However, Mehdorn's philosophy has produced cyclists - managers who step down and buck up, who have no professional opinion of their own and only implement what is instructed from above. I see the task of realigning the track, therefore definitely with the owner.
With the Deutschlandtakt, passenger numbers are to be doubled by 2030. Does this make sense?
no With the existing routes, with the existing weaknesses in the network, with the existing construction needs, it is not possible to double the number of passengers in the next ten years. The desired increase in the proportion of goods traffic from 18 to 25 percent is also a noble goal that cannot be implemented in this way. We have more of a capacity problem than a lack of passengers. The countries want more routes for regional traffic, which collides with the Germany cycle. We don't have enough train paths in freight traffic anyway.
When the local railway workers hear that more passengers are to be pushed onto the trains, they go crazy. Twice the number of passengers in an already chaotic system? What should the conductors do then? Tell twice as many people that the connecting train can't be reached? This is how you destroy the train forever.
The traffic light has nevertheless written in its coalition agreement that it wants to "double the volume of passenger traffic".
The goal comes from Minister of Transport Scheuer. This was a perfect self-promoter that could have turned on Eskimos' fridges. He didn't achieve anything for the railways.
How much do construction sites contribute to the unpunctuality of the train?
Construction sites always result in longer travel times. But if a construction site is planned for the long term, passengers and, in the case of freight transport, companies can adapt to it. However, no such planning takes place. Three months ago there was a major construction project in the north. Long-distance trains and regional trains were diverted to freight routes for this purpose. In the end, 700 freight trains were parked up there in the north because they didn't have any timetable routes. This is system sabotage.
They are against an extension of the 9 euro ticket. Why?
My negative rating comes from taking into account the perspective of our employees and the railway as a whole. That's where I come to the conclusion that we've put even more strain on a system that's already operating on the verge of chaos. All vehicles that the railway has were in use during these three months. There were no reserves. This brings new delays, even more unreliability and unpunctuality.
Wasn't there anything positive?
It was positive that we experienced for the first time what it means to be able to travel nationwide with one ticket without having to observe the limits of the transport associations. Anyone who took the train to another city could simply use the bus, tram or underground and S-Bahn without having to worry about a new ticket. We have seen that an annual or monthly ticket that is valid nationwide would be a significant gain. But that shouldn't be available at a price of 9 euros.
Local transport is a subsidy business, so such a ticket must also cost something. I like the proposal of the Association of Transport Companies (VDV), which proposed a nationwide 69-euro ticket. Such a ticket must be so cheap that it can be financed by commuters. But it shouldn't be so cheap that you just take it with you on the side and then do a few leisure trips with it. This does not shift traffic to the rails, but only ensures full trains.
Hubertus Volmer spoke to Claus Weselsky