Anyone who looks into the track bed while waiting for the S-Bahn will often wish even more that the next train would come soon. Heaps of rubbish can be found along the rails, especially in the city center.

So much that Deutsche Bahn is now sounding the alarm. “We have a massive littering problem on our track systems and dams,” said Alexander Kaczmarek, Deutsche Bahn (DB) representative for the state of Berlin, on Wednesday at a hearing in the mobility committee of the House of Representatives.

The situation at the Hermannstrasse S-Bahn station was the worst. The station is “an unbelievable hotspot” and the garbage is piling up. “Whole apartment furnishings are disposed of by us,” the Berlin Bahn boss was annoyed. Mattresses, but also shopping trolleys and e-scooters regularly landed along the railway line.

Kaczmarek was agreed by Daniel Euteneuer, Head of the Eastern Regional Division of the DB subsidiary DB Station and Service. In addition to Hermannstraße, the stations Warschauer Straße, Ostkreuz and the entire route of the southern and northern Ringbahn are also affected by the problem. When it comes to track cleaning, these areas have “top priority,” said Euteneuer. The routes along stations have already been cleaned 21 times this year. The company intends to carry out a total of 60 cleaning operations this year.

“That’s less than before,” said the DB representative. The culprit is that the S-Bahn currently has to do without its most important auxiliary device, a cleaning train. The oversized vacuum cleaner, constructed from a decommissioned S-Bahn train from the 1920s, gave up the ghost in 2021. The tender for a new vehicle is now underway – but it will still be a long time before it can be sucked onto the tracks. “We don’t expect a new vehicle until 2026,” said Daniel Euteneuer. “This is also very unfortunate for us.”

That’s how long railway employees have to clear the tracks of garbage by hand. That makes things more complicated. Because unlike the vacuum cleaner train, the traction current has to be switched off every time. So it is not possible to quickly clean the tracks at night during the break in operation. “We do that when track closures are necessary for construction work anyway, in order to have as little influence as possible on our train traffic,” said Euteneuer.

The problem had to be solved more fundamentally anyway, said Kaczmarek. “We have to tackle this with an initiative for society as a whole.” It is less the passengers who pollute rubbish. Most of the rubbish is thrown off the road bridge spanning the railway line on Hermannstrasse. “You can see exactly what the throw from the bridge is. Whole sacks of rubbish are dumped on the tracks.” The railway representative called for a structural barrier on the affected bridges to prevent the dumping of rubbish. But the Senate and districts would also have to do more together with the BSR against the rubbish that later ends up on the routes. “If the garbage were disposed of upstairs, it would be easy. It gets complicated and expensive down below.”

State Secretary for Transport Meike Niedbal (non-party, for the Greens) sees it similarly. “The topic requires a joint approach.” But the railways also warned them to do more, even if there are currently no track vacuum cleaners. “Something has to happen before 2026. We can’t say that the track-cleaning machine will come and we’ll have to muddle through until then.” In Hamburg, Deutsche Bahn deploys additional staff to clean the tracks. She also asked the group for Berlin.