ProNetz – a new strategy that cares

Posted: 3 April 2007 | | No comments yet

DB Netz AG is responsible for the entire track infrastructure of Deutsche Bahn. The track network, which encompasses more than 34,000km, is the longest in all of Europe. It is presently used by approximately 350 rail transportation companies. There are approximately 39,000 train movements each day in combined passenger and freight traffic, which yields an annual traffic volume of more than one billion train-kilometers.

DB Netz AG is responsible for the entire track infrastructure of Deutsche Bahn. The track network, which encompasses more than 34,000km, is the longest in all of Europe. It is presently used by approximately 350 rail transportation companies. There are approximately 39,000 train movements each day in combined passenger and freight traffic, which yields an annual traffic volume of more than one billion train-kilometers.

In recent years, rail transportation has gained ground in competition with other transportation carriers and has achieved increased traffic volume. Although the total market for passenger traffic decreased by 1% in 2006, rail passenger traffic increased by approximately 4%, while rail freight traffic boasted an increase of more than 10%. Traffic growth was concentrated in particular on the main corridors in the North–South direction and the inland regions of the large western and northern European harbors. All forecasts indicate that this positive traffic trend will persist, which means even further growth must be anticipated, especially in the main corridors.

This positive development creates outstanding opportunities for rail transportation to further improve its competitive position relative to road transportation, particularly with regard to freight traffic. A prerequisite for this is an infrastructure that can meet the rising demand in terms of capacity as well as quality. Maintenance and enhancement of this infrastructure, with its total track length of approximately 64,000 kilometers, more than 28,000 bridges, 800 tunnels and 75,000 switches, is one of the primary tasks of DB Netz AG. Since the German railway reform in 1994, good progress has been made in carrying out essential renovation of the rail infrastructure. In the past three years alone, productivity has risen by nearly 33%, while operational costs decreased by approximately 14% during the same period.

The Master Plan: an umbrella concept for future development

Our intention is to resolutely pursue this path during the coming years. To this end, the strategic objectives for the coming years were defined in the Master Plan project in mid-2006, along with specific packages of measures for achieving these objectives. These measures are primarily based on concepts that are essentially aimed at increasing the fitness of the existing network so it can handle more traffic on the main lines – both reliably and economically. In parallel with this, technological improvements are being intensified in order to further improve customer service and reduce costs.

The Master Plan can be regarded as a strategic umbrella concept that devotes attention to all the relevant tasks and measures that directly help to improve the capability of the rail traffic infrastructure:

  • Focusing maintenance and investment resources on the high-demand portions of the infrastructure. To provide a basis for effective, targeted use of available resources, the rail network was first classified in terms of load. The category with the highest load encompasses a good 40% of the network and accounts for approximately 70% of sales revenue. The maintenance and investment measures for this category will be intensified in the coming years in order to enable the main corridors to carry additional traffic at a high level of quality.
  • Increasing preventive maintenance. An increase in expenditures on preventive maintenance is planned for 2007 in comparison with previous years. This should increase the availability of the superstructure and the control and safety systems, while at the same time further reducing the amount of disruptions. The benefits will be seen primarily in the high-traffic portions of the network, where repair activities due to disruptions can quickly lead to delays.
  • Increasing replacement investment in the superstructure in the highly loaded portions. The construction work on important main lines and junctions, which in some cases is quite extensive, requires detailed planning for the major construction sites in the corridors so that customers can be informed with sufficient advance notice. In addition to this, construction traffic schedules are being used, since the construction allowances in the current timetables are not always sufficient and temporary or partial closures may be necessary in some cases.
  • Refining the technology (hardware and software) currently used for operational planning and execution. Automation and optimization of processes, increasing quality and efficiency, and increasing the network capacity are the key objectives of this measure.
  • Realigning DB Netz AG to provide optimum support for strategic levers. With a ‘suitable’ organizational structure, it is possible to create the conditions that enable ambitious goals to be achieved. Clear allocation of responsibilities and a slimmed-down management structure are expected to simplify and accelerate processes.

Concrete implementation of the Master Plan will take place in the framework of the ProNetz program. The core element of this program is increasing the fitness of the existing network by means of extensive construction measures and preventive maintenance. Besides intensified construction activities, the primary objectives of ProNetz are to improve coordination of the necessary maintenance and investment measures and to use available resources in a more demand-oriented manner. In particular, this involves maintaining the quality of the most heavily loaded systems at a high level, since impairments in the main corridors and at major junctions have the largest impact on the entire network and on punctuality.

3i strategy: effective, targeted investment

The ‘integrated investment and maintenance strategy’ (‘3i’ based on the German name) provides an instrument that can be used for effective planning and control of investments and maintenance in order to increase efficiency and quality. As the pivot point and fulcrum of the Master Plan, it transforms the conceptual considerations into actual practice. Based on the newly developed categorization, resources are used in a focused manner to increase the capability of the infrastructure to suit actual demand. One aspect of this is alignment of preventive maintenance measures for the superstructure to fault frequencies and fault trends based on precisely defined effect relationships. For example, new cycles for grinding the rails have been introduced. They are based on analyses of the relationship between rail grinding and fault remediation, including with regard to economic aspects. Based on this, DB Netz AG introduced measures such as new rail grinding cycles for the high-capability sections of Category 1 tracks in order to achieve an optimum cost/benefit ratio for these sections.

With its targeted, mutually coordinated investments and maintenance activities, the 3i strategy is also expected to have a positive impact on all categories of track. Individual, tailored maintenance programs have been developed for each of the four track categories defined in the ProNetz project. This illustrates our intention of not ignoring any sections of track in favor of any others, but instead defining exactly the right package of measures for each track category that promises to yield the best results.

A similar procedure is being used in the area of control and safety systems. Here studies have shown that a large majority of disruptions in the control and safety systems area are caused by a small number of devices. Based on this result, a program is currently being elaborated to employ specific packages of measures to ensure the sustainable availability of the devices most prone to disruption.

Focus on automation of interlockings

Interlockings are a basic requirement for operation of the track sections of DB Netz AG. The objective is to selectively renovate and automate the interlockings – whether for reasons of availability, rationalization measures or trans-European ETCS corridors – within an economically viable framework. The basic strategies have already been set: using modern electronic interlockings with increased actuation distances and enlarging control centers for convenient operation of larger control regions of a defined core network. Within the scope of the Master Plan project, they have now been refined into a new cost reduction program. This also includes tighter integration of suppliers, adaptation of the functional scope to suit the interlockings of the non-core network and regional networks (reduced-requirement ESTW and modernization of relay interlockings), and investigating supplementary business models such as ‘prime contractor for implementation’ and ‘operator model’.

Construction measures in 2007: integrated construction planning and preventive maintenance

The majority of the measures defined in ProNetz will be implemented or initiated in the coming three years, so that the anticipated growth in traffic can be accommodated within the scope of available financial resources and customer service can be improved at the same time. A wealth of measures have already been taken this year to properly accommodate the increasing demand. To this end, DB Netz AG is increasing the volume of construction even more compared with last year, especially on main lines with high demand and at major traffic junctions.

This represents a major challenge for the construction planners of DB Netz. The most important sections are already utilized to their full capacity during peak traffic hours, and track occupancy of the central rail junctions, such as Cologne and Frankfurt, is already planned in minute detail. There is thus not very much time left in reserve for carrying out construction or maintenance activities. In order to enable construction activities to proceed under these conditions while still guaranteeing reliable, on-time rail traffic, DB is relying on integrated construction planning and preventive maintenance.

The number of construction projects necessary on the main lines were planned and grouped in ‘construction corridors’ this year. For example, on the section of track between Hanover and Hamburg, which is around 180 kilometers long, we will replace 30 switches, reconstruct 28 kilometers of track, and renovate 15 kilometers of rail bed – all in this year. If the implementation of each construction project were planned separately, we would have a new travel schedule and new routes nearly every week, depending on exactly where and when the work was being done. To avoid this, DB Netz AG takes the opposite approach. Instead of planning each construction project individually, as is usual with small construction sites, a specific construction travel schedule is planned for the entire corridor for a limited length of time. This gives us room to carry out construction work, for example by implementing relatively long daily closure interruptions or using fixed reroutings for specific trains.

A total of 28 construction corridors have been planned this year for all of Germany, and 130 individual major construction projects will be carried out in these corridors. In addition, several thousand relatively small construction projects have been planned for the entire network. They typically involve tasks such as renewing control and safety systems or maintenance work on secondary tracks. Our plans call for installing more than 2,000 switches and approximately 2,300 kilometers of new track in 2007, along with replacing nearly five million cross-ties and more than six million tonnes of ballast.

Traveler information takes priority

Providing travelers with timely information is of decisive importance in the planning and implementation of construction activities. For this reason, DB Netz AG has generated individual construction travel schedules for the major projects. The rail transportation companies can use these schedules as a basis for informing travelers regarding timetable changes resulting from construction activities. Provision of traveler information begins before the start of the journey when travelers obtain timetable information via a ticket machine, on the Internet, by cell phone, or in a travel information center, and it continues during their journey by train and in the stations. Particularly for frequent travelers, who do not consult timetable information services daily, we utilize information channels such as “Max Malwurf” with flyers, advertisements and posters, current photos of construction sites posted on the Internet, and traffic announcements in the media.


All forecasts indicate that the transportation market, and in particular rail transportation, will continue to develop positively. An especially large increase is forecast for freight traffic. More traffic on the rails means higher utilization of the rail network, which will primarily affect the junctions and the main corridors. To properly accommodate the increased demands on the network and participate in the growth in the market, DB Netz AG must adapt its strategy for providing a high-quality rail infrastructure. DB Netz AG has already mastered many challenges. Two new high-speed lines have been built (Cologne–Rhine/Main and Nuremberg–Ingolstadt), the North–South link in the federal capital city (Berlin) has been put into service, and the advanced GSM-R train radio system has been introduced. However, the potential for increasing quality has not yet been fully exploited. Based on a thorough inventory of the existing system, the major levers for achieving the desired quality and capacity objectives by enhancing the existing network were identified in the Master Plan project. ProNetz provides the action plan for implementation of the measures planned for 2007, and it will be extended further in the coming years.

About the author

Mr. Oliver Kraft (43) has been Head of the new Division ‘Network Investments, Long-Distance and Conurbation Networks (I.NI)’ on the Board of Management of DB Netz AG since 1 February 2006. He is thus responsible for investments in the rail infrastructure with the focal area of large-scale projects as well as the Long-Distance and Conurbation Network Business Unit. After graduating as an Economic Information Scientist, Mr. Kraft started his professional career in 1989 as a consultant at various international management consulting firms. After gaining several years of experience in industry and company rehabilitation, Mr. Kraft became Head of the ‘Planning/Reporting’ Department of DB Netz AG in 1998. After further executive functions – including Commercial Head and Spokesman of the Branch Management South of DB Netz AG and Head of the ‘Regional Networks’ Business Area of DB Netz AG Headquarters – Mr. Kraft is currently responsible as a Member of the Board of Management for ‘Network Investments, Long-Distance and Conurbation Networks’.

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