According to Berthold Huber, Infrastructure Director of Deutsche Bahn, the state of the railway in Germany is “too full, too old, too broken.” In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Huber acknowledges that he had underestimated the consequences of the critical condition of the infrastructure up until 2020. The pandemic caused a tipping point, as passenger demand decreased, but punctuality rapidly decreased and more connections were missed.
The railway infrastructure is at its limit, as it currently drives more than the network can handle. By 2024, the busiest connection between Frankfurt am Main and Mannheim will be the first route to be completely renovated. In the meantime, every day this year has seen some level of disruption. But once trains run reliably again in December 2024, many routes will be improved. Deutsche Bahn announced a year ago that it would bundle construction work on the rail network due to outdated facilities and a lack of capacity. Over the next few years, the corridors with the highest utilization will be renovated first, including digitizing routes with the European Train Control System (ETCS).
The short-term plan to accommodate the demand is to improve 650 rail heights this year, with better information systems for travelers, embellished underpasses, raised platforms, and transforming train stations in big cities into mobility hubs equipped with bicycle parking garages. The railway plans to hire 3,000 specialists, construction project planners, and supervisors, as well as 500 additional security forces to better protect rails and systems.
Huber did not want to comment directly on whether politics was responsible for the increased need for renovation, but notes that cost-efficiency has been the focus for years. The federal government’s recognition of the railways as a decisive factor for traffic and climate change is a step towards growth. While the Monopolies Commission, Federal Audit Office, and the CDU/CSU have called for a separation of the business areas of the railways, Huber believes this would not solve any problems and states that the best railways are integrated.