Deutsche Bahn brings in rail tsar to tackle delays

Europe’s largest rail operator, Deutsche Bahn (DB), has appointed a punctuality tsar to urgently tackle the persistent lateness of its train services, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

Bild am Sonntag said Ronald Pofalla, a former chief of staff of the German Chancellery and the current head of infrastructure at DB, has been given until the summer to improve the performance of the national rail network, following years of worsening timetable delays.

Pofalla’s new role forms part of a rescue plan that the company’s top executives are due to present to the German government this week, the newspaper said.

Read more: Deutsche Bahn flaws prompt calls for basic railway reform

More trains delayed

During DB’s heyday, around 95 percent of its trains ran on time, but last year one in four were delayed and more than a third of its high-speed ICE services ran late, the company admitted in August.

Despite Germany’s reputation for punctuality, DB’s tardiness issues have long been a bane on German commuters amid reports of chronic underinvestment in the rail infrastructure and new rolling stock. Despite launching a ‘Zukunft Bahn’ (Future Rail) strategy in 2015 to improve performance, delays have worsened further.

Passengers waiting for a train

German rail passengers have long complained about Deutsche Bahn’s tardiness

DB’s management are likely to face tough questioning when they present their turnaround strategy on Tuesday. Germany’s Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has demanded urgent improvements in punctuality and reliability.

Government a vested interest

As DB’s largest shareholder, the German government sits on the supervisory board and controls its management.

Read more: Deutsche Bahn reaches wage deal with EVG rail union to end strike threat

Alexander Kirchner, the head of EVG, Germany’s railway and transport union, called for a thorough reorganization of DB, telling the DPA news agency that changing board members was not enough.

“We need more money from the federal government so that our railway network contributes to our environmental policy,” said Kirchner, who is also deputy rail supervisory board chief.

Rail forms a significant part of Germany’s climate change strategy to diversify from fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Improvements promised

In an attempt to alleviate public concern, DB CEO Richard Lutz told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that rail users should notice improvements in the first half of the year.

Read more: German railway nixes plan for ‘Anne Frank’ train

“In the short term, among other things, more staff will help, as well as better infrastructure and rolling stock management,” Lutz said.

A train in snow in Bavaria

Heavy snowfall in southern Germany this week compounded delays

For 2018, DB has set a punctuality target of 80 percent.

Despite its tardiness issues, DB carries 12.7 million passengers per day; in 2017 long-distance usage rose 3.8 percent to a record 70.9 million trips.

mm/jm (dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.