German industry berates Deutsche Bahn for rail freight problems

Representatives of Europe’s largest logistics companies have denounced “systematic” problems at Deutsche Bahn, whose freight business has become so unreliable that German manufacturers are instead having to use trucks to transport essential supplies.

Volkswagen and steelmaker Saarstahl are among those affected by the disruptions at the state-owned rail operator, the companies said, exacerbating supply chain problems already affecting industrial production in the country.

According to Deutsche Bahn’s biannual report, only 71 percent of freight trains in Germany were on time between January and June, down from 80 percent a year earlier. In recent weeks, widespread engineering work, combined with shortages of drivers, rolling stock and aging track infrastructure, have nearly crippled freight transport in Germany, people close to the railroad told the Financial Times. case.

In an attempt to manage the growing congestion, Deutsche Bahn has favored passenger trains over freight.

The company said it was in a “close and solution-oriented exchange with rail freight customers to find individual solutions for all industries.”

The escalating problems come on top of challenges facing Germany’s new government, which wants to increase rail from 18% to 25% of all freight transport by 2030 and double passenger numbers, as part of the efforts. fight against climate change.

Manufacturers rely on freight trains in particular to transport goods such as coal, iron ore and sheet steel.

Deutsche Bahn’s heavily loss-making freight unit accounted for one-tenth of the group’s overall turnover of 21.8 billion euros in the first half and was responsible for one-fifth of operating losses of 975 million euros. ‘euros.

The current congestion and delays have been most acute in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and along the Rhine Valley, particularly around the Duisburg region, home to the continent’s largest steelworks, operated by Thyssenkrupp, said the European Railway Network.

The lobby group, which represents dozens of European logistics companies, cited a recent example of freight trains being delayed by almost eight hours between the Dutch town of Venlo and the South German town of Kehl.

NEE said the management of DB Netz, the subsidiary that manages the rail infrastructure, was responsible for a “systematic de facto restriction” of the network.

In a letter sent last month to DB Netz and the German Transport Minister, seen by the Financial Times, NEE said management risked undermining confidence in rail freight.

“As a central provider of infrastructure services in the value chain, DB Netz currently poses an extraordinary number of challenges for freight railways. . . that require rapid and sustained action from the top management of the company, ”the letter said.

“Nothing less than the functioning of a large part of national and especially cross-border rail freight transport is at stake,” he added.

He claimed that for five days in recent weeks, train path reservations at DB Netz had to be sent by fax due to personnel and technology issues.

Germany’s main business lobby, BDI, held an unscheduled meeting this week to discuss rail freight bottlenecks.

The new government has also announced that it will question the board of directors of Deutsche Bahn on allegations of fraud related to the construction of 8.2 billion euros of a new station in Stuttgart.

The project has been supervised since 2017 by the former chief of staff of Angela Merkel, Ronald Pofalla, now an executive of Deutsche Bahn and chairman of the supervisory board of DB Netz.