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“Deutsche Bahn is developing into a bottomless pit”

Punctuality is falling, the level of debt is rising: For the Federal Court of Auditors (BRH), Deutsche Bahn (DB) is in a chronic crisis.

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“Deutsche Bahn is developing into a bottomless pit”

Punctuality is falling, the level of debt is rising: For the Federal Court of Auditors (BRH), Deutsche Bahn (DB) is in a chronic crisis. "The group is developing into a restructuring case that endangers the entire railway system," said BRH President Kay Scheller on Wednesday when presenting a special report for the Bundestag. The sole owner, the federal government, must restructure DB “effectively, comprehensively and quickly”: the federal government needs control of the rail network.

DB is organized as an integrated group – it is responsible for both the rail network and rail transport services. This system obviously "didn't work," said Scheller. He called for infrastructure and operations to be separated. The federal government must now examine which legal form is suitable for this.

The Court of Auditors sharply criticizes the fact that DB is getting bogged down in “international and non-rail activities”. These businesses “tie up management and financial resources”, and some of these companies are also in deficit. The activities did not fit with the guarantee mandate from the Basic Law, namely the operation, expansion and maintenance of the railways in Germany. Scheller called for the sale of this business: "Commitments outside of Europe or in other sectors are to be discontinued." What does not strengthen rail does not belong in the group.

The auditors are concerned that DB's indebtedness is continuing to grow despite ever-increasing financial support from the state. According to the report, debt has increased by ten billion euros to over 30 billion euros since 2016. That corresponds to five million euros a day. The state now pays the group an average of 16.6 billion euros a year – more than the income from network charges and the transport of goods and passengers. "DB is becoming more and more of a bottomless pit."

The Court of Auditors blames the management of the railways, but also the federal government, for the long-term crisis. According to the report, politicians have not "clearly defined the content of their railway policy goals". What is needed is an overall concept "with comprehensible goals, valid cost calculations and a realistic and at the same time ambitious schedule". It must be clear what kind of track and how many tracks the federal government wants at what cost.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) told the "Bild" newspaper: "Shortly after taking office, I presented a strategy with which we will get the railway back on track." This includes a "radical" concept for the renovation of the network as well as the restructuring of the group, including an infrastructure division geared towards the common good.

The side routes are currently being brought into shape, Wissing told the newspaper. This is a prerequisite for the "general renovation of the most heavily used corridors". "This is the only way we can get more punctual trains again in the necessary hurry."

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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