Hamm The employees of Deutsche Bahn (DB) are resisting new demands to separate the rail network from the state-owned company’s operations. “If the integrated group were to be split up,” warned head of the group works council Jens Schwarz on Wednesday in Hamm, “this would hinder rail operations instead of improving them.”
The Achilles’ heel of German rail transport is the underfunding of the infrastructure, not the group structure, said the railway supervisory board.
According to the employees, a split into an infrastructure company oriented towards the common good and a transport company that is more exposed to competition endangers parts of freight transport in particular. So-called single-wagon transport is currently unprofitable, said European works council chief Jörg Hensel.
In 2022, DB Cargo made an operating loss of 665 million euros. However, the service, which is offered almost exclusively by Deutsche Bahn, is an important building block for the climate and the economy, explained Hensel,
“Under the current framework conditions, the economic operation of single-wagon transport is only possible throughout Europe with public funding,” he said. “If Deutsche Bahn had to operate it on its own, thousands of jobs in Germany and Europe would be threatened because transport services would have to be massively reduced.”
With its statement, the group works council is responding to the calls for the Deutsche Bahn to be broken up, which have been growing louder for months. The cause is the massive delays and train cancellations at the state-owned company, which also endanger the traffic turnaround announced by the federal government.
Monopolies Commission calls for the separation of rail and railway operations
In 2022, punctuality in long-distance transport fell to a negative record of 65 percent, and there is hardly any talk of the planned doubling of passenger numbers by 2030. The promised Germany cycle has been postponed to 2070.
On Tuesday, the Monopolies Commission, an advisory body to the federal government, therefore advocated the transfer of the track network, including the stations, to an “independent, public welfare-oriented infrastructure company for rail transport” in its new sector report. Organizationally and economically, it must be largely separated from the Deutsche Bahn group.
“It will be the highest railroad for ambitious reforms,” demanded Commission Chairman Jürgen Kühling, who expects more competition on the tracks from a separation. A DB-independent network owner could then link the train path charges, which are regularly due for the use of rails and stations, to factors such as punctuality, for example. This can promote competition and benefit travelers.
So far, DB Netz and DB Station & Service have been responsible for the rail network and stations, which are to be merged anyway according to the plan of the traffic light coalition to form the “InfraGo” infrastructure division oriented towards the common good. January 1, 2024 is planned as the date, but not a complete separation from the DB Group.
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The Union parliamentary group in the Bundestag, on the other hand, advises in a “reform paper” presented in mid-April to separate the rail network, train stations and the energy sector from the group. The MPs see the federal Autobahn GmbH, which was founded in 2018, as a role model. According to the plan by CSU traffic expert Ulrich Lange, only the rolling departments of local traffic, long-distance traffic and freight transport should remain with Deutsche Bahn.
The reformers also receive backing from the Federal Audit Office. “DB AG is developing into a bottomless pit,” says its latest report. Although the federal government is supporting the company more and more financially, the group’s debt has grown by five million euros a day since 2016, the authority criticizes. The net financial debt of more than 30 billion euros in the meantime increasingly restricted the room for manoeuvre.
In the foreseeable future, Deutsche Bahn will miss the target set by the federal government in 2020 of achieving the planned share of 25 percent in total freight transport by 2030 – it is currently almost unchanged at 19 percent. “So far, the federal government has not fundamentally questioned the integrated group structure of DB AG,” criticized the Federal Court of Auditors. “He accepts obstacles to his own influence as well as to the competition.”
Spain as a deterrent example
The consolidated balance sheet seems to confirm that there has been distortion of competition for a long time. Losses by the DB Fernverkehr, DB Regio and DB Cargo transport companies totaled 735 million euros last year.
The infrastructure subsidiaries responsible for tracks, stations and energy, on the other hand, reported an operating profit of 733 million euros. However, at least in regional and freight transport, they are financed around half by fees from private competitors.
The railway board is therefore also vehemently opposed to separation intentions. CEO Richard Lutz recently spoke to journalists about a “grab in the moth box”. Countries like Austria and Switzerland, which are regarded as role models throughout Europe because of their punctuality and quality, continue to rely on an integrated railway group.
In Spain, on the other hand, where the government separated the rail operator Renfe from the rail network operator Adif in 2005, blatant problems have now emerged. In Madrid, the transport minister resigned in February after trains ordered by Renfe did not fit through the tunnels because of their width.
“The international comparison shows,” explains Schwarz, head of the group works council, “that the splitting up of integrated groups does not automatically lead to a more stable infrastructure, more punctuality or more competition.”
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