THE German Federal Court of Auditors has criticised the financial support given to rail freight operators by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that the amount paid out was around double the actual cost increases suffered by operators.

The German government provided €627m of support covering track access charges between March 2020 and the end of 2021, although the payments were partly retrospective.

The government’s financial support initially concentrated on German Rail (DB), but was widened to cover private freight operators following intense lobbying that included a rail-based demonstration with a train of 20 freight locomotives running through central Berlin on September 28 2020.

The Court of Auditors says it believes that only around €280m was necessary to cover additional costs arising during the pandemic period. This amount was assessed by the Federal Network Agency which regulates access conditions for the national rail network.

As a result, the Court of Auditors believes the balance of the support given was unnecessary. By meeting almost all track access charges, the support effectively enabled freight operators to reduce their rates, meaning that the main financial beneficiaries were their customers.

However, organisations representing freight operators say that as the price of carrying freight by road also fell, the support was not wasted as freight would have switched from rail to road purely on price grounds.