INTRO: Traffic on Germany’s regional and local rail routes has flourished in the last 10 years as services have been opened up to competition. David Haydock finds that private companies and operators owned by regional governments now run around 11% of services, and many of them have invested in new rolling stock

INDEPENDENT railways have cornered a significant slice of the local and regional rail market in Germany. They have demonstrated the ability to run efficiently and to boost traffic thanks to better services and improved branding.

Incumbent national operator DB Regio has consistently sought to beat off the newcomers, not least by persuading some of the Länder to sign agreements giving DB Regio exclusive rights to run all local and regional passenger services in that Land. However, the European Commission takes a dim view of this and plans to outlaw such block contracts, a move that should lead to a further expansion of independent territory.

The Länder assumed responsibility for specifying and financing local rail services in January 1996, and since then most have taken the opportunity to put groups of services out to tender. DB Regio has been allowed to bid and has won several contracts through specially-created subsidiaries with a local identity, such as the Usedomer Bäderbahn. But other operators now run around 11% of regional services, mostly on lightly-used rural lines.

Despite this, DB Regio has seen traffic grow by over 20% in the last eight years, which can be attributed partly to its own programme of comprehensive rolling stock renewals. DB Regio has also retained contracts to run major networks such as the Berlin S-Bahn.

The ’private’ operators have appeared from a variety of origins. Germany has always had private railways and some, such as AKN Eisenbahn which traditionally operated in the suburbs of Hamburg, and Regentalbahn, a regional operator in Bayern, have taken the opportunity to expand. Most are in fact majority-owned by the Länder, and it is clear that the local authorities are keen to retain close control over local rail services.

Consortia set up

To spread investment costs and risk, several temporary consortia have been established. These include Prignitzer Eisenbahn Gruppe (PEG) and Hamburger Hochbahn forming Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn Gesellschaft and four local operators forming MetroRail to operate suburban services south of Hamburg.

Major European transport groups have also moved into Germany. Connex of France took over Deutsche Eisenbahn Gesellschaft, a group with subsidiaries across Germany, and has successfully used DEG as a springboard to bid for new contracts. In addition, when DB withdrew its InterRegio long-distance passenger services, Connex launched a replacement InterConnex service between Gera and Stralsund. This formula has remained limited in scope, with just three round trips on different routes in operation.

This is partly because there have been few opportunities to compete for medium and long-distance services, which remain in the hands of DB’s Long-Distance Passenger Division. An exception is the München - Oberstdorf ALEX service operated by Regentalbahn in partnership with Swiss company Eurothurbo.

In April 2004 British group Arriva purchased PEG to gain a foothold in Germany. The company is now bidding for Regentalbahn, in which the Land of Bayern is selling its 76·9% share.

Keolis, a subsidiary of French National Railways, has also entered the German market in association with Rhenus. It now has three small local operations under the Eurobahn branding.

Competition issues

The process of liberalisation has not been problem-free. On several occasions Connex has challenged DB over restrictions on its freedom to operate. In 2003 the French company questioned the right of the Länder to grant contracts to DB Regio without tendering. Although one contract was overturned, other Länder continued to favour DB Regio.

In several cases DB Regio has ’won’ contracts covering the whole of certain Länder, preventing the entry of new operators. The European Commission supports the Connex view and now intends to overturn such contracts. As these contracts are in doubt and no related investment plans have been published, they are not covered further in this article.

In the meantime, DB Regio is preparing to win new contracts. The company has asked its staff to work longer, more flexible hours with fewer breaks in order to compete with other, more flexible, operators. If it does not win any concessions in its own right, DB Regio plans to found new subsidiary companies with their own pay and working conditions.

Nor has the process been without its failures. Norddeutsche Nahverkehrsgesellschaft went bankrupt in 2003 after over-stretching itself in a contract to operate the FLEX service replacing DB InterRegio trains between Hamburg and Flensburg (RG 9.03 p525). FLEX was temporarily taken over by Connex subsidiary Nord-Ostsee-Bahn, but the route was re-tendered earlier this year. Ironically, the winning bid came from DB Regio which had abandoned the service in 2002 as unprofitable. The difference is that it will now receive a hefty annual subsidy of €4·78m from the Land of Schleswig-Holstein.

Karsdorfer Eisenbahn Gesellschaft became insolvent in 2004, largely because of problems with freight services and its wagon-building subsidiary. However, this also brought to an end the company’s operation of passenger trains. KEG’s 30% interest in the Burgenlandbahn has been taken over by partner DB Regio whilst another minor operation went to Connex subsidiary Ostmecklenburgische Eisenbahngesellschaft.

DMUs favoured

Anticipating regional expansion, train builders started to propose economical, low-floor diesel multiple-units in the mid-1990s. Initial designs, such as the Siemens RegioSprinter were very lightweight and featured single axles. A total of 43 RegioSprinters were sold to two operators, Dürener Kreisbahn and Vogtlandbahn, but the design was quickly superseded by the more conventional Desiro.

Likewise, the original lightweight LINT design put forward by Linke-Hofmann-Busch never saw the light of day and was replaced by a more conventional design when Alstom took over the company. The RegioShuttle from ABB-Henschel, later Adtranz, became the most successful single-unit diesel railcar in Germany, with over 300 sold. Production was taken over by Stadler during reorganisation following the take-over of Adtranz by Bombardier (RG 7.04 p432), and the Swiss company has also broken into the German market with its GTW 2/6 design.

Bombardier’s main product for the regional market has been the Talent DMU, a project to build a single-unit railcar at the ANF plant in France having been abandoned. However, the company also inherited the Itino DMU concept from Adtranz and, after asking Erfurter Industriebahn to operate the prototype, received its first German order from Rhein-Main Verkehrsverbund, which operates services near Frankfurt. Bombardier sees Itino as a product for the high end of the market, particularly because of its 160 km/h capability compared with the Talent’s maximum speed of 140 km/h.

All these two-car and three-car DMUs, except the Stadler GTW 2/6, have conventional articulated layouts, with a bogie under a high-floor section at the outer end of the driving cars. Central articulation bogies permit a low floor with low entrances over the rest of the cars. As predicted by Harry Hondius (RG 12.97 p869), the conventional, relatively heavy, articulated DMU has been preferred over more unusual designs.

The 18 LVT/S two-axle lightweight railbuses built by Bombardier for the Burgenlandbahn have not been followed by further orders. Likewise, the two-axle double-deck railbus built by Fahrzeugtechnik Dessau, of which six were bought by DB Regio as Class 670, has not been a success. The unusual Integral design, produced by Jenbacher in Austria, attracted no further orders after the 17 sets for Bayerische Oberlandbahn suffered severe teething troubles.

Market share

DMU orders for independent operators in the past three years have seen Bombardier running neck-and-neck with Alstom. The Canadian-owned company won contracts for 231 Talent cars, while 232 LINT cars were ordered from its rival. Bombardier also sold 44 Itino cars, with Siemens selling only 48 Desiro vehicles. There have been no recent orders for Stadler’s GTW 2/6, although the company continued to scoop most orders for single-car units with 74 RegioShuttles.

In contrast, DB Regio has favoured the Desiro (468 cars), followed by the Talent (447), LINT (152), GTW 2/6 (132) and RegioShuttle (52). DB Regio’s Class 641 single railcar, of which 40 were purchased from LHB, was a joint venture with Alstom’s former De Dietrich plant; over 300 similar vehicles are now in service with SNCF as Class X73500.

Almost all contracts granted so far have involved rural services, often with new DMUs replacing short locomotive-hauled trains to achieve radical savings in operating costs. Only one heavy suburban service has been let to an independent operator - from Hamburg to Uelzen and Bremen. This was won by the MetroRail consortium which runs the service with Class 146 electric locos powering double-deck push-pull stock, all supplied by Bombardier. The latter has also supplied locomotives and coaches for the Marschbahn north of Hamburg and the Schwarzwaldbahn through the Black Forest.

The only case of an independent operator using EMUs so far is Swiss Federal Railways, which won a contract to run the Wiesenthalbahn from Zell in southern Germany to Basel. The use of Stadler’s new FLIRT EMUs will allow the line to be integrated with Basel’s nascent S-Bahn network.

Analysis of orders placed shows that the Länder appear to exert influence over where the trains are built, with many contracts helping to boost local industry. For example, most orders for LINT DMUs are from Länder near the Alstom plant in Salzgitter, while Nordrhein-Westfalen has usually ordered locally-produced Talents. Brandenburg has often requested RegioShuttles, built in nearby Berlin.

The two InterRegio replacement services ALEX and FLEX are both operated with refurbished DB stock and locomotives hired from the Siemens Dispolok fleet.

Lease or purchase?

Relatively few passenger trains in Germany are leased from private companies, although the number is growing. The nine Desiros used by Connex Gruppe subsidiary Lausitzbahn on services between Cottbus, G