GERMANY: A dispute erupted in the Ruhr area on June 12 when local transport agency Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr announced that it had decided to cancel its S-Bahn operating contract with DB Regio Nordrhein-Westfalen with immediate effect. An extraordinary resolution to do so had been approved during a meeting of VRR's contracting committee in Essen.

The reasons given for the dramatic decision include significant breaches of the contract terms, such as failure to ensure personal security and service delivery on Rhein-Ruhr S-Bahn operations after 19.00. A series of random checks over several months brought the issue to light, according to VRR. Compared to the performance target of 90%, the sample found an average of just 17% and a falling trend. VRR pointed out that it had been paying for 90%. DB has also been accused of transferring six Class 640 diesel railcars partly financed by NRW for use on regional services in Sachsen.

According to VRR Chairman Martin Husmann, 'the failings fit exactly with the other issues of bad performance such as lack of punctuality, the condition of the trains, and the appearance of the stations'.

In order to ensure continuity for its customers, VRR instructed DB to maintain service levels while it developed plans to restructure the business so that it could be put out to competitive tender as quickly as possible.

The head of DB Regio NRW, Heinrich Brüggemann, immediately rejected the allegations as 'completely groundless'. 'In the interests of our customers, VRR should engage in a constructive dialogue and not escalate the situation further.'

On June 16, DB Regio Chairman Ulrich Homburg accused VRR of treating the railway's 4 000 local staff the same as offenders, 'putting them and their families at risk'. He said that DB's performance figures did not support VRR's allegations, and insisted that the railway would fight the decision 'with all legal means available'. He believed VRR might be looking for an ex­cuse to cancel the current contract and re-tender the services on new terms.