January 16, 2018

Mixed fortunes for DB in 2017

Written by  Keith Fender
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Keith Fender, regional editor reports on DBs mixed fortunes.

GERMANY’s rail network and long-distance journey opportunities were significantly enhanced on December 10 when the final section of the Berlin - Munich high-speed line opened between Erfurt and Nuremburg.

Planned and under construction since the early 1990s, this project includes three sections of new high-speed line, some of which opened as long ago as 2006, and three sections of existing line which have been completely rebuilt for higher-speed operation. The new route offers significantly shorter journeys from Bavaria to Berlin and eastern Germany and, by diverting most long-distance traffic away from existing routes, additional freight capacity has been created.

DB Networks is continuing to construct another new high-speed line connecting Stuttgart with Ulm plus a new underground central station in Stuttgart as part of the Stuttgart 21 project. However, in late 2017 it was reported the combined projects are now €1.1bn over budget and will be completed later than planned in 2024.

Electrification is now well underway in southern Germany between Munich and Lindau on the main line to Zürich, and similar work will begin in 2018 on the route from Ulm to Lindau.

DB Long Distance introduced its new Siemens ICE4 high-speed EMU into regular passenger service last month on the Hamburg - Hannover - Munich route after successful pre-service operation during the previous 12 months. However, plans to introduce further Bombardier IC2 push-pull trains powered by class 147.5 Traxx locomotives on routes in southwestern Germany have been delayed due to approval issues including ERTMS compatibility problems for the planned operation of these trains in Switzerland on services from Stuttgart to Zürich.

DB in conjunction with Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and Trenitalia launched direct services from Frankfurt to Milan, for the first time in many years in December 2017. The service is running via the Gotthard base tunnel and is operated by SBB ETR 610 Pendolino EMUs.

DB recorded mixed results in the first half of 2017. While its passenger business grew, with long-distance revenue up by 5%, DB Cargo’s rail freight business remained in the red, albeit reducing losses from €55m to €28m.

DB Cargo’s top management was changed in late 2017 after a cost cutting initiative in which 2000 jobs were cut in a year led to service failures and the need to employ replacement staff. Nevertheless, DB Cargo placed an order with Siemens for 60 Vectron locomotives with options for 40 more, and ordered 4000 new wagons during 2017.

Overall German rail freight volumes showed small declines in 2016 continuing the trend seen in recent years with rail’s market share as a proportion of the total German freight market measured in tonne-km falling from 18% in 2015 to 17.6%. Figures for 2017, to be released in February, will undoubtedly show another decline thanks to the Rastatt tunnel collapse and consequent line closure of the Europe’s main north-south freight artery from August to October 2017. The long-term impact of the Rastatt line closure on rail freight has yet to be seen, but the incident revealed very poor resilience by rail as national operators failed to find alternate paths, locomotives or crews, leading to huge delays for freight customers and a potentially permanent switch to road and water for some traffic.

Outstrip

Regional rail passenger growth continues to outstrip that of long-distance with an increase of 3.4% to 1.35 billion passengers recorded in the first half of 2017 across all operators. Several major regional contracts change hands with the 2017-18 timetable. Even more will do so in December 2018 when the first of the new Rhine Ruhr Express (RRX) contracts begins with Abellio replacing DB Regio and the introduction of new Siemens Desiro HC EMUs.

Several new regional trains should be introduced during 2018, although many are several years behind schedule. DB Regio hopes to finally introduce its Pesa Link DMUs in western Germany. These trains should have entered service in 2016 but are still awaiting safety approval. In some cases, DB risks losing the operating contracts the trains were ordered for if they are not all in service this year.

DB Regio will introduce large numbers of Bombardier Twindexx EMUs, replacing locomotive-operated push-pull trains, on several Regional Express routes radiating from Frankfurt, Berlin and Hamburg during 2018. These trains are up to four years late as they did not gain approval for use until late 2017. DB Regio also hopes to introduce the new Škoda double-deck push-pull trains it ordered for Munich - Nuremberg fast regional services, but again these trains are awaiting approval. Large numbers of new Bombardier Talent 2 EMUs will enter service with DB and other operators during 2018 especially in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Alstom, working with transport authority LNVG and operator EVB, will introduce the first two of its Coradia iLINT hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered trains on routes in northern Germany; another 12 trains are on order for delivery by 2020.

Changes to the way funds are distributed amongst Germany’s federal states may result in the withdrawal of lightly-used regional services in the former East Germany as politicians there say the new funding arrangements are not sustainable. This issue may be addressed when a new national government is formed following the inconclusive general election in September which left chancellor Angela Merkel short of a majority.

Germany’s metro (U-Bahn) and light rail systems enjoyed positive growth in the first half of 2017, with traffic overall up 2% to 2 billion journeys, compared with the first half of 2016.

Extensions to the tram-train network in Chemnitz and opening of a new second tram route in Ulm, with a fleet of new Siemens Avenio trams, are planned during 2018. In Hamburg, an extension of Line U4 will open in December and planning for a fifth U-Bahn line is now underway. Finally, in Berlin planning for the expansion of the tram network into former West Berlin, where all trams were removed in 1967, is also underway. IRJ

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