Deutsche Bahn wants to be significantly more punctual in long-distance traffic this year. “This year we have set ourselves a goal of 80 percent punctuality in long-distance transport,” said rail boss Richard Lutz of the German Press Agency. “That will require a great deal of effort over the next few months, as we will once again be building at a record level.” Last year, according to Bahn, on average just over 75 percent of the ICE and IC trains arrived at their destination on time, significantly fewer than the year before.
Capacities are not enough
On the one hand, this was due to strikes, the flood disaster in July and snow chaos and hailstorms. But something else slowed down train traffic: “Our quality problem is essentially a capacity problem, since a lot of traffic runs on a scarce infrastructure,” explained the railway boss. “Then things get backed up and this leads to unpunctuality.”
With investments running into the billions, the state-owned railway wants to expand capacity on the routes. But this is accompanied by numerous new construction sites, which should slow down traffic for a few more years. “In the last 20 years, a lot has backed up here, we can’t catch up in two or three years,” said the CEO. He put the investment backlog in the company’s own infrastructure at almost 60 billion euros. “It will be a mammoth task.”
To ensure that customers are affected as little as possible, Deutsche Bahn relies on better construction site management, “for example through three-shift operations or state-of-the-art technology”. In this way, punctuality is to be gradually increased over the coming years. “We have set ourselves a punctuality target of 85 percent in long-distance transport by 2030,” said Lutz.
“There it crunches”
This goal can be reached much more quickly on modernized routes such as between Berlin and Munich. “But where we already have route utilization of over 125 percent and more without construction sites, there is a crunch. Sometimes quite considerably.”
For capacity expansions, Deutsche Bahn relies on digitization in addition to route rehabilitation and expansion, which many industry associations and competitors believe is progressing much too slowly. Deutsche Bahn recently tested a freight train with the so-called digital automatic coupling on long-distance routes for the first time. The technology automates the coupling of the wagons, which otherwise takes a lot of time because it is still done by hand all over Europe.
Lutz emphasized that digital technologies like these are “a huge lever” for more space on the routes. But it is also about better service for passengers, for example with WLAN supply and cell phone reception on trains. “We must and will get better there,” said the CEO.
With their efforts to make rail traffic in Germany better and more efficient, the federal government and the railways are pursuing one goal: the so-called Germany cycle. With it, the clock between the major conurbations in Germany should be reduced nationwide to 30 minutes. On the other hand, the plan envisages closer integration between long-distance and regional transport and thus better connections to rural areas.
This urgently requires additional capacity on the rails. “At the moment we are realizing around 1.1 billion kilometers of train paths on the network,” said Lutz. “We need more than 1.4 billion kilometers of track for what we have set out to do.” But this requires more speed in construction and planning: “If we do it in Germany at the pace of expansion of the last 20 years, it will certainly not work.”
The goals of the new federal government, above all to speed up the planning processes, would “help enormously, even if the Germany cycle in 2030 will not yet be fully implemented,” said the rail boss. “But in stages it will steadily improve.”