DB Netze weathers the economic crisis

Posted: 26 March 2009 | | No comments yet

Rail industry expert John Gough describes the role of DB Netze in the upgrading of the German rail network, despite the challenges of the economic crisis.

Rail industry expert John Gough describes the role of DB Netze in the upgrading of the German rail network, despite the challenges of the economic crisis.

Substantial sums are being spent on upgrading the German rail network. The German government has long held plans to introduce private capital into the holding of Deutsche Bahn AG (DB AG). This part privatisation has been postponed on account of the world economic crisis, but DB has been reorganised to make it easy to do so when conditions are more favourable.

At the end of 2007, DB was re-organised into three divisions:

  • Passenger Operations (DB Bahn)
  • Freight and Logistics Services (DB Schenker)
  • Infrastructure and Services Activities (DB Netze)

A further step was taken in 2008, when the passenger and freight transport activities (DB Bahn Fernverkehr, DB Bahn Regio, DB Bahn Stadtverkehr, DB Schenker Rail, DB Schenker Logistics, and DB Dienstleistungen) were brought together into a new holding company – DB Mobility & Logistics (DB ML AG). At first 100% owned by Deutsche Bahn AG, DB ML AG is intended in due course to see 24.9% of its shares pass into private ownership.

There is to be no introduction of private capital on the infrastructure side, where the subsidiary companies making up DB Netze will continue to be wholly owned by DB AG, which in turn will continue to be 100% owned by the state.

DB Netze structure

The principal components of DB Netze are DB Netze Fahrweg, DB Netze Personenbahnhöfe and DB Netze Energie. Through the joint-stock company DB Netz AG, ‘Fahrweg’ has the task of making available a safe, high-quality railway network to meet the needs of railway transport undertakings, whether these are parts of DB or other operators taking advantage of open access arrangements. This includes not only the maintenance, development, upgrading, and expansion of the existing network, but also the management of traffic on that network through the selling of paths, the construction of timetables, and the regulation of traffic.

DB Netz AG maintains and manages the 33,896.6km national railway network and provides non-discriminatory access, subject to regulation by the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post, and Railways). The railway is currently used by some 320 operators, ranging in size from the major passenger and freight businesses of DB itself and foreign national railways such as SBB of Switzerland, right down to small passenger and freight operators working in very limited areas.

At the end of 2007, there were 39,780 employees. Internal revenues for the year (i.e. from other sections of DB) were €3,908 million, external €617 million, and gross capital expenditure was €4,433 million (including funding from the railway itself and investment grants from the federal government and the Länder). Of a total of train-path-kilometres sold of 1,049million, 147million (14%) went to non-DB-Group operators. Over the past decade, the use of the network by external operators has risen steadily, from 13 million in 1998 to the 2007 figure more than eleven times as great.

DB Station & Service AG provides the ‘Personenbahnhöfe’ service, operating some 5,400 stations (with 2,400 station-buildings) and employing some 4,500 staff. It delivers services for passengers, leases out station-space, and markets station-stops to operators. In 2007 it earned €654 million in internal revenue and €328 million externally. There has been a continuous programme of station modernisation over the last 15 years, with the ‘stars’ being the major locations such as Cologne, Hannover, Leipzig, and most recently Lübeck – in addition, of course, to the brand-new central station in Berlin. DB Energie GmbH, with 1,611 staff, deals in fuel, diesel and electric, for vehicles and stationary installations both for DB and for external users on a non-discriminatory basis. Internal revenue for 2007 was €1,664 million, external €454 million. Two other significant companies operating the infrastructure field are DB ProjektBau GmbH, which provides infrastructure project planning and management services, and DB Bahnbau GmbH, which is a construction contractor for infrastructure works.

Welding the nation together

After a period in the 1990s when there was plenty of money available, particularly for works connected with the re-unification of Germany, funds became scarcer. Work on new construction projects, including some of the ‘Deutsche Einheit’ projects, slowed down, sometimes to a snail’s pace, in some cases projects were ‘de-specced’ (made less ambitious), and many more temporary speed restrictions appeared on the existing network because of more arrears of maintenance than had been usual in Germany for many years.

More money has become available in the last two or three years, and maintenance expenditure has picked up. During 2007, the new ‘ProNetz’ infrastructure programme was started. Core elements of this are a close linkage of maintenance and capital expenditure wherever possible, and an extension of preventive measures on the existing rail network to try to avoid the development of sudden problems. Over the next few years a considerable increase in the demand for transport is foreseen, and the aim of current maintenance planning is to bring the infrastructure into a state fit to meet these needs whilst through good planning minimising the impact of works on the customers, both passenger and freight. A key element in the new approach to maintenance is the bundling of jobs into corridors, along which numbers of works will be undertaken in any one timetable- period, instead of having jobs scattered widely across the system.

The existing network is also seeing very considerable investment in new signalling. New electronic signalling installations are being commissioned at a considerable rate, with supervision being centralised into a very small number of network control centres. Staff have a much wider overview of the traffic situation than was ever possible in the past and are able to respond to perturbations in a much more informed manner. This is particularly important when there are trains from so many different operators to be regulated in a non-discriminatory fashion on the tracks. The investment in new signalling has also been accompanied by significant changes to (and simplifications of) track layouts in many of the areas affected.

New and upgraded lines

The major investment works currently being undertaken may be divided into the routine modernisation of existing routes, the more extensive modernisation for much higher speeds to create what the Germans call an Ausbaustrecke (ABS), and the construction of new lines (the Neubaustrecken (NBS). The recently-completed electrification of the main line from Hamburg to Lübeck and the forthcoming electrification of the section of the Dresden to Nürnberg main line between Reichenbach and Hof fall into the first category. So too does the ongoing modernisation of five of the main lines radiating out of Berlin which is still not complete nearly twenty years after re-unification. These are the lines to Rostock, Stralsund, Frankfurt an der Oder, Cottbus, and Dresden. All these lines are being upgraded for 160km/h operation, with extensive work to the formation as well as re-signalling and re-laying.

On the line to Poland, the 440-metre border-bridge across the river Oder was completely replaced last year. On the Dresden line, which is the main line to Prague and onwards to Budapest and Vienna and on which timings are still substantially inferior to the best before the Second World War, work is at last picking up in pace. Here, although the immediate aim is to restore the 160km running that existed for a time in the 1990s, the option for a 200km/h future is being kept open. This would of course involve the replacement of all the level crossings by bridges and the installation of a full cab-signalling system (which must now be the European standard ETCS rather than the German LZB).

Lines in the west of the country where modernisation and improvement works are due to start in the relatively near future are from Oberhausen to the Dutch border near Emmerich (where DB meets the new Dutch Betuweroute) and northwards from Lübeck to Puttgarden and the new bridge planned to connect Germany with Denmark. Some years ago, a pair of 250km/h tracks were built alongside the old main line from Cologne to Düren, and a year ago a new single-line Buschtunnel was built to the west of Aachen as part of a scheme to remove a very long lasting 40km/h speed restriction. Shortage of money prevented both upgrading work on the Eschweiler to Aachen section of the line and the refurbishment of the old Buschtunnel to restore double track operation at that location. In mid-2008, it was announced that funding for the tunnel works was in place, and then at the end of the year, as part of the extra funding to attempt to ease the impact of the financial crisis, the news came that money was to be made available for the Eschweiler to Aachen upgrade. So the completion of the high-speed route between Brussels and Cologne is at last foreseeable.

Rhine Valley work

Work is in progress on two schemes that involve substantial new construction and plans are now firm for two others. For a good number of years already, work has been progressing slowly on the four-tracking of the 182km section of the Rhine Valley main line from Karlsruhe to Basel in a €4.5 billion project. For most of the distance the aim is to have a pair of new fast lines suitable for 250km/h operation, leaving the modernised existing lines to form the second pair. However, in the Freiburg area the existing lines will be upgraded for 200km/h operation and the new pair of lines will be a 160km/h freight by-pass, running clear of the city. In all, twelve stations will be fully modernised.

Work is complete between Rastatt Süd and Offenburg and is currently in progress in the 9.385km Katzenberg tunnel, towards the south-end of the route where a curving alignment in the Rhine Valley is being supplemented for fast services by a much more direct alignment. Most of the rest of the works are in more or less advanced stages of the planning process. They will involve a second substantial tunnel under Rastatt.

Leipzig-Nürnberg progress

The second scheme on which progress continues, and which is also taking very much longer to complete than first envisaged, is the new line from Halle and Leipzig through Erfurt to Ebensfeld (some 85km from Nürnberg), from which point an Ausbaustrecke will continue to Nürnberg. Part of the ‘Deutsche Einheit’ programme, this line forms part of the fast/high-speed route being created between Berlin and Munich.

It was originally expected to be complete by the turn of the century. The first section, from Leipzig to Gröbers, has been in use for some time, and the complete reconstruction of Erfurt station in connection with the programme is nearly finished, and work is in progress on various other sections of the line. However, opening is not expected before 2017, a quarter of a century after the start – but nevertheless much sooner than was envisaged at one stage! And that is without the ABS between Nürnberg and Ebenfsfeld.

Other projects

After years of debate, agreement was finally reached in 2007 for the Stuttgart 21 project and for the construction of a new line from Stuttgart to Ulm. Along with the completion of the Neu-Ulm 21 station project at the end of 2007, these works will mark a major step towards the creation of the European corridor from Paris through Stuttgart and Munich to Vienna. (The upgrading of the lines from Saarbrücken to Mannheim and from Augsburg to Munich is also part of this project.) Also, a route has now been agreed for the Rhein/Main-Rhein/Neckar new line, between Frankfurt am Main and Mannheim, and this is a scheme on which DB would like to make swift progress. Another proposed new line that has come very much back into focus in the last couple of years is the so-called ‘Y-Trasse’, planned to link Hannover with Hamburg and Bremen. The spur here is now not the passenger market but rather an ever-increasing flow of freight traffic through the North Sea ports that is pushing the capacity of the present lines to the limit.

Finally, there is considerable activity in a number of railway nodes. In Leipzig the City Tunnel is being built. In Halle the whole railway layout in the station and its surroundings is being thoroughly modernised, and the same is happening in Magdeburg. In Dresden the railway over the river to and through the main station and on out to Pirna has been completely upgraded and the main station itself has been the subject of a massive restoration project. Work is now moving to Dresden-Neustadt station and the lines out towards Meißen. When everything is finished in 2014 there will be two main lines and two S-Bahn lines all the way between Radebeul-Zitzschewig and Pirna with additional goods lines between Dresden-Neustadt and Dresden Hbf. We have already mentioned Stuttgart 21. Under that scheme the present large terminal station will be given up and a major new through station will be provided in its place.

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