The DB Netz operational ‘boom’ continues

Posted: 3 April 2007 | | No comments yet

In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Dr. Volker Kefer, Chairman of the Board of Management for DB Netz AG, explains the companies operational techniques and also discusses future development plans to ensure that DB Netz AG is a company that performs successfully.

In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Dr. Volker Kefer, Chairman of the Board of Management for DB Netz AG, explains the companies operational techniques and also discusses future development plans to ensure that DB Netz AG is a company that performs successfully.

In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Dr. Volker Kefer, Chairman of the Board of Management for DB Netz AG, explains the companies operational techniques and also discusses future development plans to ensure that DB Netz AG is a company that performs successfully.

What does DB Netz see as the most fundamental aspect of its operations?

As the largest infrastructure manager in Europe, we believe it is our task to provide the basis for the success of the rail transportation system. On the one hand, this means providing an efficient rail network with an operating length of approximately 34,000 kilometres, over 75,000 crossings and switches, more than 5,000 interlockings and 21,000 level crossings. On the other hand, we are also responsible for ensuring reliable and safe railway operations. If we succeed in managing both these tasks successfully, we can create a basis which will enable the rail transportation system to exploit its advantages in full and attract new transport volumes. Last year, we succeeded in doing so, with a higher increase in traffic performance than the overall market. As a business enterprise run on private-economy principles, we also have to take a further vital central component into account: we have to maintain and operate our infrastructure on an economically viable basis. Although we have already achieved a great deal in that respect, further improvements are still necessary.

On the DB Netz network, how many journeys are handled each day and how does DB Netz aim to improve its work to increase journey numbers?

More than 39,000 trains run on our infrastructure every day. They are operated by 350 railway companies, 320 of which do not belong to the Deutsche Bahn Group. We also take a top position among the European rail infrastructure companies in terms of rail liberalisation. But to get back to the question: increasing the capacity of our infrastructure is currently a very important issue. Last year saw a strong increase in rail traffic performance in Germany – we are looking at growth rates of approximately 4% in the passenger and more than 10% in the freight sector. And that boom is expected to continue. Moreover, transports are increasingly concentrated on the main corridors, i.e. the main arterial routes running from north to south, the hinterland of the major western and northern European ports, and large conurbations. We are therefore faced with the challenge of making our network even more efficient in these areas – and there, we have two options: constructing new-build and upgraded lines, or refurbishment of the existing infrastructure.

Which option have you chosen?

Every railway expert knows that new-building or upgrading lines is a time-consuming and complicated matter. That is not a viable response to fast changes in demand. While we are still pushing ahead with our new-build and upgrading projects as fast as we can, we are currently concentrating more on the existing network and trying to raise further potential here. The focus is of course on lines and rail nodes for which there is high demand. Let me name two examples of how we are tackling this problem: firstly, we shall step up our modernisation programme for command/control technology. The introduction of electronic interlockings will not only make us more efficient, but will also allow us to shorten block spacing and thus create new capacities. Secondly, we shall increasingly differentiate between the different lines when planning our investment and maintenance strategies. On main routes, we shall intensify preventive maintenance to ensure a constantly high level of availability. Comprehensive construction projects are also lined up for these routes over the coming years, such as track and switch replacements. In short, we are making our infrastructure fit to cope with the forecast increase in traffic volumes.

The needs of the customers and the market are obviously a prerequisite for DB Netz’s development. How do you see the company developing and what are your targets for the company?

The future development of DB Netz’s business is clearly focused on operating reliable rail services and, wherever possible, increasing rail traffic volumes as profitably as possible. Our future programme ‘ProNetz’ has been designed with these targets in mind. The core elements of our future programme are maintenance and investments. The control and planning processes have to be better coordinated, we have to gear our products more closely to demand and ensure that we deploy the available financial resources more effectively. To begin with, we have classified our infrastructure according to different categories – from the more heavily used routes to marshalling yards with low utilisation factors – as a basis for deciding the best investment and maintenance strategy in each case. What this means in concrete terms, for example, is more prevention and more funds for the track infrastructure of the main routes. These measures will be accompanied by ongoing modernisation of our technology. Especially in view of the increasing construction work, for example, we shall continue to develop an automated timetable generation and integrate special timetables, especially timetables that are used when construction work is in progress.

It is known that DB Netz works closely with the railway industry – can you explain more about the relationship you have?

The extent of our infrastructure alone certainly makes us one of the largest customers for railway construction services and materials anywhere in Europe. We have many partners in industry with whom we have cooperated for many years, and usually very successfully. When choosing partner companies, in addition to the prices they offer, quality and reliability play a central role. When purchasing technological systems, it is also vital to ensure that the products are as efficient as possible and that they provide optimum support for our business processes. Electronic interlockings are a good example: we have to achieve a far greater degree of standardisation here. It is not acceptable that when we build a new electronic interlocking we also have to replace the entire control elements for switches or signals, even if these parts are still relatively new. We also need a greater degree of modularisation, so that interlockings can be put together from a system of individual modules to suit the individual local requirements. To achieve that aim, we have to cooperate more closely with the suppliers and develop technological standards. Additionally, I believe another crucial question in respect of suppliers is that at Deutsche Bahn we also used to have sufficient technical expertise right here in our own company. I am referring for example to the maintenance staff of DB Netz and in the Bahnbau-Group, the Deutsche Bahn construction segment, as well as DB Projektbau which serves as expert partner in matters of construction project management. We herewith aim to have the ideal conditions to manage our own central business processes and retain the necessary railway expertise in our own company.

What are the company’s annual revenue figures and how is the company financed?

In 2005, DB Netz AG generated revenues of more than €3.8 billion, with train path revenues accounting for the greater part of that sum. We invested a total of more than €4 billion in our rail network. More than one billion of that figure came from our own funds, the remainder was funded by the Federal government and other financing institutions. DB Netz AG also contributes far more than €1 billion of its own funds towards financing maintenance, as well as operations and other tasks such as timetable generation.

Are there any major investments/plans for the near future?

The focal point of investments will definitely be the existing network. In addition to that, we are of course working on new lines, such as upgrading the Karlsruhe to Basel line to make it four track, or on the new connection from Nuremberg to Leipzig via Erfurt. We are also extremely busy at important hubs such as Cologne and Frankfurt am Main, in order to create more capacities.

How do you see DB Netz working in 10 years time?

Ten years is an extremely long time. It is less than a year since I joined DB Netz AG and yet many things have changed already. Looking at the near future, I see DB Netz as a company that works economically, acts on an increasingly European scale and offers its employees interesting prospects. And I see a company that is no longer influenced so much by the political debate, but judged by its own performance.

What is DB Netz’s company motto?

Company mottos usually refer to things like expertise, customer focus, or market position. What I always say to my employees is: Be curious, be courageous, and be passionate. To me, that is the key to success for any really good company.

About the author

Dr. Volker Kefer studied electrical and mechanical engineering and he started his professional career as a test engineer with Siemens AG in 1983. In 1989, he obtained his doctor’s degree at the Technical University of Munich. Nine years later, he became a Member of the Board of Management of Siemens SGP Verkehrstechnik in Graz where he was responsible for the Bogies Division. From 2001 to 2005, Kefer assumed responsibility in the capacity of Area Manager for the Locomotives Division at Siemens Transportation Systems in Erlangen. From April 2005 to April 2006, he held the same function for ‘Mass Transit’. With effect from 2 May 2006, Dr.-Ing. Volker Kefer has taken over the Chairmanship of the Board of Management of DB Netz AG.

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