Deutsche Bahn: What will the planned corporate restructuring bring?


Status: 06/23/2022 06:00 a.m

In the long term, the railway is in danger of being broken up if the coalition plans to separate the network and operations – this is the result of a study that SWR and “Tagesspiegel” is available exclusively. However, the separation does not go far enough for the Monopolies Commission.

By Marcel Kolvenbach, SWR

The traffic light coalition is planning a far-reaching structural reform of the railways in order to make the heavily used and disruption-prone rail network fit for the mobility turnaround and the climate goals. The FDP and the Greens had prevailed by separating the network from operations. The SPD, on the other hand, wanted to keep Deutsche Bahn AG as an integrated group in public ownership.

Like research by SWR and “Tagesspiegel” show, the ideas about what the corporate restructuring means for the railways in concrete terms differ widely. The coalition agreement leaves a lot of room for speculation. The railway companies should therefore “continue to be competitive in a market- and profit-oriented manner”. The rails and stations, on the other hand, will be combined in a new infrastructure division and separated from train operations.

The new non-profit rail company will remain in DB Holding, but will operate largely independently and will not be bound by the instructions of the Board of Management. Transport Minister Volker Wissing would like to get this new company off the ground on January 1, 2024, as he explained in a joint press conference with Deutsche Bahn boss Richard Lutz on the general renovation of the railway.

Erosion of the railway system feared

A short study commissioned by the “Bahn für Alle” alliance, an action alliance of environmental organizations and trade unions, deals with the effects that the separation of the network as a common good and operation in free competition will have on the climate, customers and employees. The study is the “daily mirror” and the SWR exclusively before.

Study director Carl Waßmuth summarizes the results of his investigation in an interview with the SWR together: “The study shows that what the coalition is proposing contains explosive material. The envisaged deeper separation of network and operation will most likely lead to the erosion of the railway system as a whole. The transport companies in particular are then threatened by privatization Possibly blocked for many years, as examples show.”

The graduate engineer is a co-founder and board member of “Gemeingut in Bürgerinnenhand” (GiB) and the alliance “Bahn für Alle”. As an expert and author of numerous studies and specialist articles on infrastructure, Waßmuth was invited to parliamentary hearings as an expert on several occasions.

The climate as the first victim

The 60-page analysis is about an impact assessment of the current coalition agreement. To do this, Waßmuth and his team compare privatizations and public-private partnerships in the transport sector and other areas of critical infrastructure such as energy supply, water management and health care.

According to the study, the first victim could be the climate, because the planned corporate restructuring threatens to drastically delay the politically desired infrastructure development. As an example, the study cites the reform of the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, which took eight years to complete.

Disadvantages for rail customers are to be expected above all in the area, for example in supply and price development or the continuous validity of tickets. The German cycle is also endangered by the expected fragmentation. For employees, the authors fear an impending deterioration in working conditions as a result of a split into new GmbHs owned by international infrastructure funds.

Coalition agreement: central questions remain unanswered

The coalition agreement has also been criticized by those who are calling for the network and operations to be separated: “Detaching the infrastructure is a step in the right direction,” commented the chairman of the Monopolies Commission, Jürgen Kühling, on the coalition’s plans. “However, central questions remain open in the coalition agreement.” In particular, it remains unclear what exactly is to be understood by a “common good-oriented infrastructure division”.

The SPD explains it like this: “We as the SPD successfully campaigned in the coalition negotiations to keep Deutsche Bahn AG as an integrated group, including the group’s internal labor market, in public ownership.” This is a clear rejection of the separation of network and operation, said the deputy SPD parliamentary group leader Detlef Müller the “Tagesspiegel”. “Quite the opposite: we are making sure that the new infrastructure division is geared towards the common good and not profit-maximizing. The profits from operations will remain entirely in the infrastructure as a result of the reform,” Müller continued.

“If the infrastructure division remains the property of Deutsche Bahn AG, the risk of distortion of competition on the downstream rail transport markets is not averted,” criticizes Kühling. In the past, the Monopolies Commission had called for Deutsche Bahn AG to be broken up and the state shares to be sold. Kühling still considers a genuine separation of the infrastructure from actual rail operations to be urgently needed to strengthen competition on the rails.

Switzerland as a role model

Katrin Kusche from the “Bahn für Alle” alliance vehemently disagrees with the results of the study, which is to be presented to the public on June 24: “Bahn must be politically controlled in its entirety instead of being smashed to pieces Switzerland has been showing for years that if you create a smart plan and commit everyone involved to it, you can also control a public limited company. That would also be possible here – and in view of the climate crisis it would be downright murderous not to do it.”

The mobility researcher Andreas Knie from the “Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung” (WZB) takes a similar view. “The operational path must be reassembled into an integrated group; everything in one hand and with one responsibility, no more excuses.” The competition must take place elsewhere, he explains in an interview with the SWR. “The services of the railway can be marketed by third parties, analogous to the successful example of the mobile phone market,” says Knie.

The transport policy spokesman for the Greens, Matthias Gastel, contradicts the criticism: “The coalition agreement applies to us and we are pushing for this agreed reform, which we fully support, to be tackled quickly.”

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