These reports suggest major problems encountered during the sale process, such as large pension liabilities in parts of Arriva and the consequent reduction in potential sale price, were not relayed to DB’s Management Board until very recently, resulting in a delay to the sale process. It appears the pressure for Doll to leave came from his executive director colleagues and federal transport minister, Mr Andreas Scheuer. However, trade union representatives on the management board have publicly called for Mr Doll to remain in post.

Doll joined the DB board in November 2017 and was responsible for the loss-making freight business DB Cargo as well as overall group finances from January. Ms Sigrid Nikutta, the former head of Berlin’s public transport operator BVG, was appointed to the board in early November to run DB Cargo from January 2020.

Arriva sale on hold

DB announced plans to sell Arriva in March in response to a recommendation by the Federal Court of Auditors with the aim of enabling DB to reduce its debt or at least minimise future borrowing. The prospective sale attracted a wide range of bidders according to media reports in recent weeks, although none reportedly wanted to acquire the British Northern Rail franchise, and many had only offered to buy parts of Arriva, leaving the rest with DB.

Uncertainty caused by Brexit, UK Arriva’s pension liabilities, reportedly up to £1bn, and the status of the Northern rail franchise in Britain have depressed the price bidders were willing to pay.

In late October, DB was reported to have entered exclusive talks concerning a €2.5bn sale to United States private equity firm Carlyle Group, although the sale process was suspended by early November following intervention by DB Board members, and is unlikely to be restarted any time in the near future. DB had previously said it would consider a stock market flotation on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange if it cannot achieve an acceptable trade sale.

DB paid €1.9bn to buy Arriva from its shareholders in 2010. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange at the time. Under DB ownership, Arriva has acquired multiple bus and rail operations across Europe giving it a book value of €4bn, so the reported €2.5bn sale would be below this value which is not what DB or its key stakeholders - especially the federal government - had originally anticipated when proposing the sale.

Arriva reported turnover of €5.44bn in 2018, up 1.8% on 2017, along with Ebit of €300m. Arriva employs 53,100 people, operates more than 1000 trains and 17,000 buses accounting for 13 billion passenger-km in 2018 in multiple European countries.