Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the Federal Ministry of Transport want to expand particularly busy sections of the rail network into a “high-performance network”. For this purpose, future construction measures are to be bundled and the efficiency of the infrastructure increased. Transport and passenger associations reacted to the plans with skepticism.

“It cannot stay the way it is,” emphasized Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) when presenting the new strategy on Wednesday. “Political failures and underfunding” have “brought rail to its absolute limit”. The general refurbishment of the rail network is now becoming a “top priority”.

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The core of the problems in passenger and freight traffic is a lack of capacity and the aging of the infrastructure, DB explained. From 2024, sections of the route that are particularly heavily used are therefore to be expanded into a high-performance network.

Specifically, it is about ten percent of the entire network, i.e. around 3500 kilometers – these sections are already 125 percent utilized. By 2030, this proportion of particularly stressed sections of the route is expected to increase to 9,000 kilometers, the railway said.

Increasing demand in combination with outdated infrastructure and construction work is leading to “traffic jams and delays with a massive impact on all customers,” explained Bahn boss Richard Lutz. “The current operational quality clearly does not meet our requirements”. The new high-performance network should go from being a problem to an anchor of quality and stability for the entire infrastructure.

According to the Ministry of Transport, less than two thirds of all long-distance and freight trains were on time. “I expect that in the future we will be able to set the clock by the track again. And I’m confident that we can do it together with the industry,” explained Wissing.

In the planned general renovation, Deutsche Bahn wants to take three new criteria into account in the future. Firstly, all planned construction measures are to be “radically bundled” in order to keep sections of the route free of construction sites for several years.

In addition, secondly, not only should existing defects be eliminated during construction work in the future, but additional measures should also be taken. The high-performance corridors are to receive a “first-class equipment standard”.

Thirdly, future construction planning should focus more on customer-friendly construction. For this purpose, the railway wants to use “high-density and capacity-saving construction methods”.

The managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance passenger association, Dirk Flege, welcomed the plans for the renovation of the rail network, but at the same time emphasized that a general renovation of the core network “is no substitute for more speed in the expansion of the rail network”. The association called for “several years” of planning security when financing infrastructure projects. “The minister must send out clear signals in the 2023 budget,” Flege demanded.

The German Federal Rail Transport Association (BSN) also expressed skepticism. “We hear the announcements of improvement every year,” criticized BSN President Thomas Prechtl. However, structural deficits would not be reduced. “In view of the previous lead time for large construction sites and the lack of financing, we have serious doubts that the plans presented will really change anything substantially”.

The Mofair business association, which represents private competitors of Deutsche Bahn, did not see any major innovations in the announced plans either. “The DB infrastructure subsidiaries could already practice the supposedly new ‘radical construction’ today,” explained Mofair President Tobias Heinemann. He called for a restructuring of the railway company, a central problem was “the profit orientation of the DB infrastructure subsidiaries, which stand in the way of quality orientation today”.