How the industry wants to make the railways fit

Berlin, Frankfurt The warning from Ben Möbius is unmistakable: “If we continue at this slow pace, we will miss the climate targets by a huge amount. Faster – that is the imperative for the new legislative period, ”says the general manager of the Association of the Railway Industry in Germany (VDB). Much is on the way, but a mobility revolution needs more speed. “Germany threatens to get tangled up in sometimes absurdly long planning procedures and inadequate innovation incentives.”

The general election is in less than two weeks. Every major party has climate protection at the top of their agenda. The pressure to act is great, the EU Commission is planning ambitious climate targets with “Fit for 55”. In order to achieve this, the parties rely primarily on one mode of transport: the railroad. By 2030, Deutsche Bahn alone is expected to double the number of passengers to 260 million. In freight transport, the share of rail is expected to grow from 18 to 25 percent.

In the opinion of the rail industry, however, a lot has to change in order to achieve this. Under the title “Course 2025 – Rail 4.0 at double the speed for the next mobility revolution”, the VDB has formulated ten recommendations for the future federal government for the first 100 days. One of the central requirements: The railways must be digitized faster – with a corresponding budget in the billions.

From next year many times over will have to be invested in the “ETCS project of the century”, according to the association’s ten-point package. ETCS is the abbreviation for European Train Control System.

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This European train control system replaces the previous signal and turnout technology and allows more trains to run at a shorter distance. The VDB calculates that 32 billion euros are necessary for this. And refers to a feasibility study by McKinsey for the Federal Ministry of Transport from 2018.

ETCS is one of the central elements in order to better utilize the existing network and to get more traffic on the rails without having to build large new routes. It is not only in the eyes of the rail industry that the conversion to ETCS is going far too slowly in Germany. Andrè Schwämmlein, co-founder and head of the rail rival Flix Mobility, also calls for significantly more speed here.

Digitization of the railways is going too slowly

“The railways in Germany are physically underutilized because we are not that far advanced with digitization and are therefore not planning intelligently enough,” the entrepreneur recently told the Handelsblatt. “80 percent of the required capacity can be increased by digitizing rails, switches and signals. You don’t have to draw new routes through Germany to do this. “

In order to advance digitization, the future federal government must also invest at least 500 million euros in order to equip the vehicles with the corresponding control units, according to the VDB. The overhead line network also needs to be expanded.

And something else is important to the VDB. Other planning methods are needed. “Today, many awards are still rigidly fixed on the purchase price. It’s way too one-dimensional. Climate-friendly awarding must reward digital innovation, sustainable economic quality and design ”, criticizes Möbius.

Industry representatives have been complaining for a long time that the focus on the price depresses the margins and thus also the innovative strength. The next federal government has a great responsibility to help the best provider award, which has long been traced under European law, to achieve a breakthrough, according to Möbius.

According to the VDB, criteria such as sustainability, but also the suitability of the contractor, must be given greater consideration in the award procedure, for example through a so-called prequalification. Politicians must also pay close attention to fair competition when awarding the award. Companies from third countries that do not comply with certain standards, for example those of the World Trade Organization, or that have not concluded a free trade agreement with the EU, are not allowed to receive more than 50 percent of the order volume.

Claims in self-interest

Demands like these are of course strongly interest-driven. The VDB includes corporations such as Siemens and Alstom, but also countless smaller companies. They all benefit from government contracts.

However, the VDB is not the only association that shows politicians that there is a lot going on when it comes to rail. At the beginning of August, the private railway associations Mofair, Allrail and the European Railways Network as well as the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations, the Pro Bahn passenger association, the GDL train drivers’ union and the main association of the German construction industry even called for the split of Deutsche Bahn in a position paper.

You are targeting a special feature of the German rail system. The federal government finances the maintenance and expansion of the rail network. But he instructs Deutsche Bahn to do this. This has long been a thorn in the side of many in the industry. You are therefore calling for a clear separation of operation and network at the state-owned company.

The VDB does not go that far in its recommendations. However, the head of the association, Möbius, sees another fundamental problem with the previous policy approach: “The approach of decreeing climate-friendly mobility belongs in the moth box. It is the evolution of the offer that is convincing more and more people to choose the emission-free train. “

The new Filstalbrücke

In the opinion of the railway industry, the procurement procedures for large projects on the railways must be changed if the climate targets are to be achieved.

(Photo: imago images / Arnulf Hettrich)

High-speed trains would best connect metropolises, while autonomous metros would quickly navigate through rush hour, Möbius cites two examples. “That is why we are calling for an ambitious innovation strategy for the future of mobility.”

Flix Mobility boss Schwämmlein also believes that citizens can be moved to switch to rail just by a suitable and attractive offer. “An attractive offer must be built on as many connections as possible, namely direct connections between the large metropolitan areas. You have to condense the offer if people want to drive. “

“Our goal must be to be the lead provider and lead market for Rail 4.0 by 2030,” Möbius advertises for the recommendations of his association. “Climate protection needs climate industries.”

More: The pressure is increasing: demands for a rail reform are increasing