"As soon as possible": Bahnchef announces general renovation

More trains than ever are running on German rails, but things are not going well on the railways.

"As soon as possible": Bahnchef announces general renovation

More trains than ever are running on German rails, but things are not going well on the railways. CEO Lutz wants to change that. His goal: a "high-performance network" before 2030. Delays, train cancellations and diversions will inevitably occur for travelers in the coming years.

Rail customers need a thick skin. ICE and Intercity are not as punctual as they have been for years, and the rail freight company has to refuse transport. The rail network has too many bottlenecks - despite and because of hundreds of construction sites at the same time. Bahn boss Richard Lutz now wants to get to the root of the problem: with a "general renovation" of the most important routes, "radically" and "as quickly as possible". The railways and their customers have to go through a "valley of tears", as the vice-chairman of the supervisory board calls it.

How is the situation on the train?

Almost every third long-distance train was late in April. Lutz has buried the punctuality target for 2022. Industry has been complaining about the railways for months, at times 400 freight trains stood still. Now, of all times, the customers are coming back faster than expected - from Wednesday also with cheap nine-euro tickets for local transport. There are more trains than ever.

Why are there so many problems?

Two reasons: The network has too many bottlenecks and rails, switches and bridges are getting old. Reports on the condition of the network still speak of "high-quality condition of the railways", but Lutz now admits that the investment backlog is continuing to grow. Construction is already at a record level, for around 14 billion euros in 2022 alone. But the balancing act between building and driving at the same time - it doesn't really want to succeed.

What does management want to do differently now?

For a long time, the railways have been talking about bundling construction sites more closely - for example, not replacing points, signals or lines on a route one after the other, but at the same time. Infrastructure board member Ronald Pofalla called it capacity-saving construction. A few weeks after his departure, Lutz announced: "We have to approach this issue more fundamentally and radically. It's better to have one big blockage than many small ones." While Pofalla also relies heavily on digital technology, Lutz qualifies: "If I digitize an infrastructure that is prone to failure, it will remain an infrastructure that is prone to failure." His goal is to build a "high-performance network".

What does this mean for passengers?

This can mean that routes are completely closed for months. Lutz admits with unusual clarity: "It is no longer possible to grow and modernize many corridors at the same time with the same quality." Want to say: There will be diversions, train cancellations, train frustration. "The railway companies and the customers will go through a vale of tears," said the chairman of the railway and transport union, Klaus-Dieter Hommel. Lutz says: "It gets better with every corridor that we renovate."

Which routes will be built when?

Bahn keeps an eye on the important corridors, the core network, which has been congested for a long time and where delays affect the entire network. These include Dortmund-Duisburg-Düsseldorf-Cologne or the Munich and Hamburg hubs. However, it is not yet clear when and where construction will take place. There will have to be many discussions with the federal government and other railway companies. The first key points should be before the summer break. Lutz' goal: to renovate two to three of these corridors a year from 2024 onwards in order to be able to finish everything before 2030. If a section has been renovated, it should then remain "free of construction" for years.

How is the supply of the industry ensured?

It's not easy for her now. There have been problems for months. A cargo manager recently sighed in an employee video that construction work and disruptions were barely manageable. At the very latest, when the train is reloading goods onto trucks because the trains can no longer get through, something is going wrong. But that will probably be the case more often in the future, as Lutz made clear. That is better than production losses. "That's part of honesty."

How is the traffic turnaround supposed to succeed?

"If we continue as before, it will not succeed," says Lutz. He wants more people and goods to be able to be transported by rail after the general refurbishment - and that customers don't leave while the work is being done. On the other hand, shifting freight traffic to the road, even temporarily, is out of the question for the cargo competitors. "Anyone who wants to meet the growth targets for the industry and the climate protection goals cannot seriously take the shift to the road into account," criticized the network of European railways.

How much does the general renovation cost?

Deutsche Bahn had recently put the investment backlog in the entire network at almost 60 billion euros. Due to the sharp rise in construction costs alone, this should quickly increase. For "premium standard" Lutz also wants to eliminate the level crossings on the important routes - which also necessitates expensive bridges or underpasses. The EVG believes that significantly more funds are needed for the infrastructure. Deutsche Bahn's competitors doubt that the state-owned company will be able to bundle construction sites better. Because the money for it comes from too many different pots. "If you basically wanted to get involved here, it would also be a political issue," said the Mofair association. He fears that the federal government's planned development of an infrastructure sector geared towards the common good will fall by the wayside.

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