The crisis at DB stems from a series of internal investigations during the last few years designed to root out corruption but which led to virtually every member of the 240,000-strong workforce being spied upon. This culminated in DB's CEO Mr Hartmut Mehdorn tendering his resignation.

But there could be other reasons why Mehdorn decided to step down after nearly 10 years at the helm of DB. Mehdorn and his management team have achieved a major turnaround in DB's financial performance, moving from the heavy losses incurred during the 2001-03 period to a sustained period of steadily-increasing profits. Mehdorn has also transformed DB from a traditional national railway into an international transport company through the acquisition of freight railways in several European countries and the huge Schenker logistics company, as well as starting railfreight operations in neighbouring countries. All these measures were designed to prepare DB for some form of privatisation. But Mehdorn's achievement is now under threat as the global economic crisis bites deep into DB's freight business.

Mehdorn has also been frustrated in his attempts to privatise the railway, mainly because of political opposition - and more recently due to the collapse of stock markets around the world and impending national elections. He probably thinks this is a good time to bow out and let someone else fight this battle.

The management changes at the UIC are the result of the resolution of a major conflict within the UIC following the adoption of a new set of statutes two years ago, which some member railways objected to, and disagreement over the future direction of the organisation. Mr Luc Aliadière, the UIC's CEO, believed the conflict was too difficult to resolve internally and so he called in an administrator. A new set of statutes was adopted by the UIC at the end of March, and Mr Yoshio Ishida from JR East, Japan, was elected chairman and Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux from SNCF International, France, director general to replace Aliadière.

Speaking for the first time as chairman at the UIC's ERTMS conference in Malaga, Spain, on April 2, Ishida said he didn't think it was going to be possible for the UIC General Assembly to resolve the conflict, but thanks to the efforts of the administrator, it did. Ishida says the root cause of the conflict was the UIC's failure to adapt to the major changes which have taken place in the railway industry and the wider world. The UIC has also expanded rapidly, and some of the new members believed the UIC was still being run for the benefit of older members. In addition, some railways contributed little financially to the UIC yet wielded considerable power.

The new CEO designate at DB, Dr Rüdiger Grube, and Loubinoux at UIC, both face major challenges to restore morale within and confidence outside their organisations. Both men appear to be well qualified to achieve this. Grube has extensive experience of running large organisations as he was chairman of the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Company (Eads) and is a board member of car manufacturer Daimler. Grube worked for Mehdorn between 1989 and 1992 when Mehdorn was chairman of Airbus.

Grube's first task will be to repair the damage to staff morale, and give the workforce a sense of direction. Grube will not have the luxury of a "honeymoon period" as he will have to make some hard decisions, particularly regarding freight, to deal with the serious effects the recession is having on the business. He will have to prepare DB for passenger competition, and decide whether to pursue privatisation. In any event, privatisation will have to wait until after September's national elections have been held, a new government is formed, and whether that government is for or against railway privatisation.

Loubinoux is a career railwayman, having spent most of his career with French National Railways in a variety of senior management positions including two postings abroad, in Britain and the United States. He has been chairman and CEO of SNCF International since 2001, where he gained considerable experience with rail projects around the world. He also assisted or represented three SNCF presidents at UIC meetings, so is well-acquainted with the organisation. According to one senior UIC manager, Loubinoux has a truly global view of railways and is the man to cast out the view that the UIC has European and non-European activities.

While there is now a sense of common purpose and unity among the UIC members, the UIC is still pursuing its policy of giving each region its own budget and action plan. While there are clearly some problems that only apply to certain parts of world, one has to ask why it is necessary to have formal regional bodies which could sow the seeds of the UIC's downfall.

There are perfectly adequate regional railway associations in most parts of the world, which the UIC would only duplicate. The UIC is the only world body for rail transport, which is its great strength. It has a wealth of knowledge and experience among its members and should focus on exchanging this information, promoting rail transport, and developing its highly-successful conferences on specialist subjects such as train control, high-speed rail, and freight.

Both DB and the UIC have the chance to wipe the slate clean, and make a new start, and they must embrace this opportunity. 

David Briginshaw