Rule of three, reaction speed, resistance to stress - anyone who wants to become a train driver in local transport has to pass an entrance test that can throw even well-trained specialists off track.

Work psychologists also ask for general knowledge in the application process.

"The job is very demanding," says Anne Mathieu, head of the local transport company Keolis Germany, which operates under the name of Eurobahn in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.

"Train drivers must be able to handle challenging situations calmly."

The test is "time-consuming because we have to test psychological and technical skills," says Mathieu.

"We need really good people."

This article comes from the "WirtschaftsWoche".

Screening is systematic - and costs companies a lot of money.

Now, recruiting the right people is causing serious problems for companies like Keolis.

Since recently, train drivers and train attendants have been able to choose between more money and more vacation - and a surprising number are opting for extra free time.

This messes up the company's personnel planning.

The companies suddenly need more train drivers than planned.

The costs are rising, the profits dwindling - the industry even fears bankruptcies.

The situation of the railway companies is increasingly serious.

The corona pandemic alone has hit the operators of regional trains and S-Bahns hard.

The federal and state governments have promised to support the industry with a total of five billion euros.

The companies are largely compensated for shortfalls in income.

But all costs such as the extra cleaning of the trains should not be compensated for.

"That thwarted our shift planning"

The collective bargaining agreements that were concluded one or two years ago are now generating additional pressure - and are now taking full effect.

For example, train drivers who are members of the Railway and Transport Union (EVG) are entitled to up to 42 days of vacation from January 2021.

"That now thwarted our shift planning," says Keolis boss Mathieu.

"We have to hire more train drivers or train and qualify them again in order to be able to provide stable service."

Keolis is "currently struggling with the effects of past collective bargaining agreements."

Even today, 36 days of vacation per year are an option for train staff.

Alternatively, they can choose more money.

Both options generally increase the personnel costs.

But more vacation is harder to book.

On average, the recruitment of a lateral entrant as a train driver costs 60,000 to 65,000 euros.

"The choice model for our employees forces us to hire two to three times more drivers than planned," says Mathieu.

"We're looking for around 20 to 30 new colleagues every year, that is around five to eight percent of the train driver workforce."

In other companies too, management is looking for ways to absorb the additional costs.

"The productive working hours of employees in rail operations have been falling since 2016," says Matthias Stoffregen, head of the mofair mobility association, which represents many local transport companies.

In addition to the election models, the deployment planning of the train crew would also be made more difficult under collective agreements.

According to the collective agreement, train drivers are not allowed to work on weekends before and after a vacation.

The rest periods are to be welcomed in principle, so Stoffregen, "but the disposition rules reduce the scope for companies to deploy their staff flexibly."

That drives up the operating costs.

Local transport: Nobody wants fewer weekly working hours

Mathieu also welcomed "the system that our train drivers and train attendants have the option of finding a better balance between work and family, for example".

But many companies apparently did not expect that leisure time would be more important than money for a large part of the workforce.

50 percent would have "opted for more money, 50 percent for more vacation," says Mathieu.

Almost no one wanted a third option, namely a reduction in weekly working hours.

The only question is: why did the local transport companies approve the collective bargaining agreements?

On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that companies are not financially able to endure a long strike, according to the industry.

The transport contracts run for up to 15 years.

The calculation of the operating costs is becoming increasingly difficult, the costs have risen disproportionately.

Mofair boss Stoffregen also missed "political backing".

Tariff disputes in local transport are unpopular.

In addition, train drivers would change employers anyway if it didn't meet them.

"The market is tight," says Stoffregen.