DB Netz Chairman Frank Sennhenn

GERMANY: DB Netz Chairman Frank Sennhenn says the infrastructure manager is targeting a 30% gain in capacity on existing lines ‘depending on the exact traffic mix’ from digitalisation including traffic management, automation and the roll-out of ERTMS.

Speaking at the opening of the IAF track technology trade show in Münster on May 31, Sennhenn said the crisis in Ukraine and the resulting spike in wholesale energy costs would pose ‘another challenge’ to the rail sector, hot on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A key focus for DB Netz would be to use digital tools such as traffic management systems, ETCS and smart grids to optimise how much energy is used across the network.

€9 ticket offer raises pressure

Speaking to Railway Gazette International, Sennhenn welcomed the support for rail investment being shown by the incoming national government coalition.

However, he echoed the concerns of others in the industry about the government’s decision to offer a monthly public transport ticket priced at just €9 for June, July and August, suggesting that that this would put significant strain on the rail network.

Although the discounted fares do not cover inter-city or high speed trains, they do allow travel on most other rail services across Germany, and Sennhenn predicted that this could cause serious crowding on key leisure routes to the north coasts and in the mountainous south. In particular, the limited space for bicycles to be handled on the network could be a key constraint, he said.

Faster planning

Sennhenn suggested that the current challenges facing the rail sector had focused the minds of industry and government alike on addressing capacity constraints both in the short and longer term.

Acknowledging that building new lines remained a fraught proposition in Germany because of the complex approvals process and ongoing public concern about railway noise, he said that ‘most new line projects take longer to plan and approve than they do to build’.

However, the geopolitical need for Germany to diversify its energy supplies away from Russian sources could offer a tangential benefit to promoters of rail projects. ‘There is a set of liquefied natural gas terminals being developed on the north coast of the country this year, and the aim of the government and industry is to fast track approval of rail links to serve them. We want the planning process finished by the end of this year’, he explained. If successful, this rapid approval model could be deployed elsewhere as part of wider policies to support modal shift to rail on sustainability grounds.

National Day of Rail

Speaking alongside Sennhenn at the opening of IAF, Dr Bernd Rittmeier of the Railway Directorate within the Federal Ministry for Digital & Transport said that ‘unprecedented investment’ was now flowing into the national rail network, but he warned that more urgency was needed to address the sector’s skills gap.

He said the number of young people studying STEM subjects that could lead to future rail careers was still too low, and this should be ‘an alarm sounding for the whole industry’. He said the government would increase its efforts to engage young people, and their parents, with the rail industry, saying ‘we know young people are keen to work in industries which do good for society and are sustainable’.

One option being evaluated is a National Day of Rail, which could potentially take place this September and would shine a spotlight on the career opportunities available in the industry as well as the challenges the sector is facing.