A family office could therefore help with the reform

Berlin For Peter Füglistaler from Bern, there is no question that the negotiators from the SPD, Greens and FDP in Berlin should definitely turn their gaze to Switzerland before finally deciding on the future of Deutsche Bahn AG. “If the division of Deutsche Bahn into traffic and network would solve the problem, it would probably have been done a long time ago,” says the head of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport. “It would be a huge effort that would not solve the problems.”

Füglistaler is the supreme controller of public transport in Switzerland, especially the Federal Railroad, which also operates the network. In Switzerland, politicians define what they expect from the railway, which in turn Füglistaler and his officials execute. His federal office orders routes and distributes subsidies to the railways and checks whether the goals are being met.

The FDP and the Greens would be only too happy to split up Deutsche Bahn AG – and thus provide momentum for the rail network. Competition should ensure a better rail system, attract more customers and goods to the railways and thus help to handle mobility in an ecological way – just as there has been political consensus in Switzerland for a long time and where public transport has a market share of 28 percent has. In this country it is almost 15 percent.

The railway is in bad shape

On top of that, the DB is in bad shape: Debts of more than 30 billion euros paralyze the group, a third of the trains in long-distance traffic are unpunctual. Would a breakup help? The SPD and the trade unions oppose this. The rail system has barely increased its market share since the Bundesbahn was converted into Deutsche Bahn AG in 1994.

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The railway’s competitors are also divided. While the Monopoly Commission and competitors such as Flixtrain, Abellio or Transdev want to organize the “rail infrastructure in a public-interest society in direct federal ownership”, the European Railways Network (NEE), the merger of freight railways, is promoting the Swiss model. The network company of the railway, the DB Netz AG, should receive clear guidelines: the capacity of the network, better quality, non-discrimination, increased user-friendliness and growth orientation of the infrastructure.

train station

Providers such as Flixtrain, Abellio or Transdev want to organize the “rail infrastructure in a society that is directly owned by the federal government and oriented towards the common good”.

(Photo: imago images / Future Image)

Regular checks would be carried out by a “mandatory specialist authority like in Switzerland”. “Goals must be defined in such a way that they can also be achieved,” says a statement that the association intends to present this Thursday. The state must create the framework for economic goals, and management can only achieve goals that are within its sphere of influence.

Füglistaler also advises setting and reviewing such targets annually: “For every euro that goes into the company, the state has to say what it expects from the money. Nevertheless, the company must be bound to pursue goals economically. “

The network company as a “cost center”

The rail freight association argues similarly. The railway should concentrate on its core business, it says in a position paper to the negotiating teams of the SPD, Greens and FDP. The network division should finance itself independently of the rest of the company and become a “service provider for all its customers”, concentrate less on profits and more on sales and transport performance targets and be a “cost center”.

Perhaps it would be a compromise with which both the FDP and the Greens as well as the SPD and with it the railway workers’ union EVG could live. Its members demonstrated on Tuesday in Nuremberg under the motto: Hands off our train. “The separation is our red line,” said EVG Vice President Martin Burkert and threatened unequivocally: If the traffic light coalition wanted to smash Deutsche Bahn, EVG would paralyze the country.

Whether the railway carries out its tasks as an authority or as a stock corporation – for Füglistaler it is above all a question of correct corporate management. “A company with one shareholder often has a family office that tells the supervisory board and the management board what to do,” he says, pointing the way. So it is even with corporations like Volkswagen. “The state should set up a family office in its companies in order to exercise its owner function,” advises the chief guardian of public transport in the small mountainous state.

So far, the federal government has withdrawn from the fact that stock corporation law prohibits influence. In fact, it does not provide for the right of the supervisory board to issue instructions to the management board. He runs the company on his own responsibility and also defines the strategy. But in recent years the tasks of the supervisory board have been expanded – also under pressure from investors and activist investors. When it comes to strategy, the supervisory body is made responsible.

This is reflected, for example, in the German Corporate Governance Code. “The management board develops the company’s strategic direction, coordinates it with the supervisory board and ensures that it is implemented,” it says.

The controllers have a say in the strategy. In addition, the owner is also the financier and, according to the Code, has to agree to “fundamentally important” transactions. So there are already levers for the federal government to control the railways even more. In addition, there are the many billions of euros that the federal government is putting into the network.

The owner must lead the way

But then there remains a completely different question: How can the railways compete with cars, trucks and airplanes? The last coalition had proclaimed the goal that by 2030 the railway would transport twice as many people as it does today and significantly more goods. Several billions flow into the railways and the network every year. But goals and money alone are not enough.

“Shifting from road to rail has a lot to do with stable framework conditions, it has a lot to do with a lot of money, i.e. investments in the network, and ultimately with the performance of the railways,” says the Swiss rail controller Füglistaler. For example, it is a mistake that the railways in Germany have to co-finance the expansion of the rail network. “It is better if the parliament decides on the expansion and secures the financing in a fund.” For him it is clear: “The political guidelines do not release the owner from the task of ensuring a good performance.” And he warns: “ The owner is responsible for governance, for the right management structures, the right management. “

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