Dhe financing of the German rail network urgently needs to change: it is too complicated and creates misguided incentives that mean that the tracks are not kept in good condition. This is the conclusion of the “Rail Acceleration Commission” in its final report, which it will hand over to Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) on Tuesday. In it, she advises replacing the confusing financing structure of up to 190 financing sources with two funds based on the Swiss model: one is intended to maintain the existing rail network, the other to expand and build new ones.
“We have the impression that there are false incentives in the system that mean that Deutsche Bahn does not carry out repairs,” said the chairman of the commission, Parliamentary State Secretary Michael Theurer (FDP), at the request of the FAZ is maintained, the measure later slips into the replacement investment – and the federal government pays for that.” The new financial structure is intended to bring together the different funding pots and make the financing cycles transparent. “First of all, that doesn’t mean more money,” emphasized Theurer, but also says: “But we are also aware that more money has to go into the system, so there are considerations as to whether money from additional income from CO2-Toll can be taken.”
Summarize network, station and service
With the “Rail Acceleration Commission”, the federal government has implemented a project from the coalition agreement. In addition to members of the Bundestag from the traffic light government and employees of the Ministry of Transport, representatives of authorities, private railway companies and interest groups as well as individual scientists also work there. “The resulting recommendations for action should be aimed at everyone: politicians, administration, all players from the railway sector as well as the railway and construction industry,” it said at the start of the first meeting of the commission at the end of June. The Commission should “think as broadly as possible” was the mandate.
The proposed new financial architecture is intended to pave the way for another major reform, which was also agreed in the coalition agreement: on January 1, 2024, a new “common good-oriented infrastructure division” of Deutsche Bahn is to be created. This is to combine the railway subsidiaries DB Netz, Station and Service and be controlled more strongly by the owner, the federal government. Society should no longer work for profit; the income, for example from train-path charges, should remain in the infrastructure and be used there for the renewal of the rails.
The call for a restructuring of funding is probably the largest innovation in the Commission’s final report, but it is not the only one. Instead, it includes a large number of small and medium-sized projects, all of which aim to significantly improve the rail network in the coming years. The railway infrastructure in Germany is in the worst possible condition, because necessary renovations have been postponed or only partially completed in the past few decades. Together with the significant increase in traffic, this has led to a number of delays and train cancellations for months.
Minister of Transport puts pressure on
Under pressure from Wissing, the railways decided in the summer to undergo a general overhaul of the rail network and to completely renew the most important corridors in the coming years. The general refurbishment, which will be accompanied by a number of full closures, will not begin until July 2024 due to extensive preparatory work.
Until then, the advisory group will propose further innovations, which, however, will necessitate changes in the law, which the traffic light government still has to agree on. One proposal follows the reform that has enabled the rapid construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. Similar to the energy supply, the rail infrastructure should in future be in the “overriding public interest”. It is hoped that this will give these construction projects higher priority when weighing up legal interests and will therefore be contested less often in court. “This is a central demand of the members of the Acceleration Commission,” emphasized Theurer, who is also the Federal Commissioner for Rail Transport.
Another change relates to the “economy proofs”, which are to be significantly less bureaucratic in the future. Small and medium-sized measures such as the conversion of platforms, the installation of signals or the installation of points to enable track-changing operation should be carried out according to the will of the Acceleration Commission without a planning approval procedure. Theurer emphasized that the same generally applies to the electrification of routes, which is a high priority for the federal government. “In addition, we want to achieve ICE speeds for large-scale projects by massively reducing the waiting times for approval procedures in the authorities.”