The corona crisis is working - finally!
At least that's how Deutsche Bahn rejoiced last week when it proudly announced that the state-owned company's trains were as punctual as they have been in 15 years.
A total of 81.8 percent of all ICEs, ICs and ECs were on the way according to plan.
That was a full six percentage points more than the year before.
One reason: Due to the pandemic, there were fewer passengers on the way, and the stopping times at the train stations decreased.
Did the railways really need an existence-threatening crisis to get back on the rails?
Or does the company still have a secret recipe?
The company announced that the punctuality boost should have been due to the new strategy program and less weather damage.
But the FDP member of the Bundestag Torsten Herbst has a completely different suspicion.
If the railway simply breaks down its trains completely or if the ICE skips the stop in Wolfsburg again without replacement, then this is not included in the punctuality statistics.
And so Herbst asked how many long-distance trains were canceled in the past year and how many stops were canceled without replacement - from Enak Ferlemann, the Federal Government's representative for rail transport and State Secretary in the Ministry of Transport.
WELT has his answer exclusively.
Isn't it all that bad?
In 2020, 4230 long-distance trains were canceled without replacement in long-distance rail transport.
In the previous year there were only 3699 trips.
In addition, exactly 99,652 long-distance stops failed without replacement.
That's 12 canceled long-distance trains and 274 canceled stops a day.
That is not so bad, Ferlemann intoned to the FDP politician: The railway "planned almost 300,000 train journeys and more than 3.6 million train stops in 2020".
The stops and train cancellations were caused by the "short-term necessary timetable reductions as part of the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic".
And the changes are only deviations from the timetable until they have been incorporated and adopted.
Only, at least FDP man Herbst asks himself: How can it be that in February of all places, with a 6.2 percent failure rate, a total of 19,306 stops were skipped without replacement?
That's around 670 missed stops per day.
That was the record value of the year - before Germany even discussed lockdown or mask requirements.
The same applies to train cancellations without full replacement: They reached their highs in February and March with up to 1239 cancellations per month without replacement.
That is a share of up to 4.8 percent of all target trips.
The crisis is working
Neither the member of the Bundestag nor mobility researchers have an answer to the February question.
What everyone agrees on, on the other hand, is that the corona justification makes no sense with a view to February.
In addition, during the pandemic year, Deutsche Bahn always argued very differently than the government commissioner is now doing.
The group asserted that it would maintain its offer and only cancel a few particularly fast connections, so-called Springer trains.
In December, additional ICEs were even used over Christmas.
An announcement by the railway to reduce the range of long-distance services was only made last week.
"If long-distance trains and stops of this size fail without replacement, it is an unreasonable expectation for all rail travelers and an indictment of poverty for the management", criticized FDP man Herbst.
And the figures from February showed that the railway was able to achieve its recently announced punctuality record not despite, but only because of the pandemic.
The crisis, it works.
The autumn member of the Bundestag sees it a little differently.
"Both the massive drop in passenger numbers and the thousands of canceled connections have done the rest to conceal the actual reliability of the railway," he says.
The group must now start a real quality offensive and also provide transparent information as to whether travelers will reach their destination on time.
A new ICE every new week
Only: How is that supposed to work?
This is where the punctuality cheer and the “Strong Rail” strategy program come into play.
The group has been working with this on punctuality since 2019.
With at times more than 1000 construction sites per day, the number of delays due to this work has fallen by five percent, says the company.
And because more and more new trains are on the move in long-distance traffic, the average age of the fleet and thus the risk of breakdowns are falling.
And then there will soon be fewer trains being canceled.
After all, the group wants to invest around 8.5 billion euros in the modernization of the long-distance fleet alone by 2026.
The company receives a new ICE 4 every three weeks, they let it be known.
More than 50 of them are already in use.
The only problem: "With the 'Strong Rail' program alone, it will not be possible to double the number of long-distance passenger rail transport by 2030," says Alexander Eisenkopf, economist and mobility expert from Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen.
Renewing and increasing the capacity of the "rolling stock" is one of those things - given the lower capacity utilization due to the corona, operational train operations can be significantly improved.
But: "With a growth in demand above the level before Corona, the capacity bottlenecks in the nodes and in the infrastructure will again become virulent," says Eisenkopf. The term “virulence”, as the economist knows, comes from epidemiology. That means: When one virus is finally gone, the next problem should be waiting for Deutsche Bahn.