Future of the railroads: industry agrees on “rail pact

Future of the railroads: industry agrees on 'rail pact

In the future, rail customers should be able to reach their destinations faster and more easily, and trains should be more frequent – and more good passengers should be transferred from road to rail.

These are rough targets named in a “rail pact” between politics and industry. But the road ahead is still long. After two years of work, politicians, unions, railroad companies and associations signed the “roadmap” for the future of rail in the federal ministry of transport. Transport minister andreas scheuer (CSU) said rail could become the number one traffic carrier. By 2030, twice as many people are to travel by the more climate-friendly railroad than before.

The central element of the pact is the “deutschlandtakt” – which, however, has already been in the works for a long time. Today, anyone who wants to take the ICE from berlin to poland on weekdays or weekends has the opportunity to do so once every hour – in the future, there will be a train every half hour. The first step in this cycle will be taken as early as december on the rail paradise route from berlin to hamburg – a year ahead of the original schedule. Connections to regional transport are also to be better coordinated to make it easier to change trains.

Scheuer called the deutschlandtakt a “small revolution. It is not only intended to bring improvements in long-distance passenger transport. “It’s about better, faster and more reliable transport services for people and good,” also said the president of the association of german transport companies, ingo wortmann.

However, it will still take years on many routes before the deutschlandtakt is implemented. A rough step should be taken in 2025, says scheuer. Rail boss richard lutz said: "the expansion of the infrastructure is fundamental."For this reason, heavily used intersections are to be upgraded, while new and upgraded lines are planned as well as the reactivation of existing lines.

But there are still many unanswered questions – and, as is often the case, money is at stake. "It’s still a black box," said klaus-dieter hommel, chairman of the rail and transport union (EVG), which was also involved in the drafting process. "There is no decision yet and no idea how the financing will look in the future."

Because it is clear: the infrastructure is already completely overloaded. The industry’s plan not only envisages more passenger traffic, but also wants to increase the share of rail in good traffic from the current 19 percent to around 25 percent by 2030. All this requires additional capacity. "Despite considerable funds, the money is not even enough to prevent the existing infrastructure from aging. And that is an alarm signal," said hommel.

The federal government and deutsche bahn had already agreed last year on a package of around 86 billion euros for the maintenance of the existing infrastructure over the next ten years. The new plan now calls for a significant increase in funding for new construction and expansion projects under the federal transport infrastructure plan, from the current 1.5 billion euros to up to 4 billion euros per year. But this has not yet been decided.

The rail competition in good traffic also fears that the federal government is not serious about strengthening rail and criticizes above all the fact that truck traffic will continue to be subsidized. "Despite all the "internal" improvements, rail will not gain any market share if the other means of transport are required to provide state support at the same time or even faster," said peter westenberger, managing director of the network of european railroads (NEE).

The rail alliance, which is also one of the signatories of the rail pact, takes a similar view. Although the association buries key components of the plan. But it does not see this as a rough throw. Because other transport carriers were largely left out of the master plan, it is not the starting signal for a comprehensive change in transport policy, according to a position paper by the pro-rail alliance. Managing director dirk flege said on tuesday that there is still a lot to be done on the deutschlandtakt. It’s not about road maps, but about a different and better infrastructure.

SPD parliamentary group vice-chairman soren bartol said the pact is only worth as much as it delivers real results. Planning and construction had to go much faster. Criticism came from the opposition in the bundestag. "Without concrete measures, such as significantly more long-distance trains and ices with double-decker cars, which already exist in france with the TGV, for example, we will only be able to dream of significantly more passengers on the railways," said FDP transportation politician christian jung.

It is not foreseeable how the corona crisis will affect the agreed projects. The virus has plunged deutsche bahn, the main player in the implementation of the goals, into the worst financial crisis of its existence. Many projects are under threat, even though in a letter to employees at the beginning of the week, rail boss lutz and personnel director martin seiler once again emphasized that they want to stick to the investments and the planned massive hiring of new staff. Deutsche bahn is on the verge of negotiations with the EVG union in order to reach an agreement on cost-cutting measures.

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