If only it were that easy - Illustrator Timo Lenzen designed an ICE with four times the capacity for ZEIT. © Illustration: Timo Lenzen for DIE ZEIT
Matthias Feil doesn't have much time, 20 minutes, to make a phone call. No wonder. Feil is "Head of Offer Management" for long-distance transport at Deutsche Bahn and, as the chief planner for long-distance transport, had a lot to do before the winter timetable came into force a few days ago. For years you could have called him a defect manager. Everything was saved. On the trains, on the staff and on track rehabilitation. But on St. Nicholas Day 2019, Feil, 39, is in high spirits. "We have a wonderful time ahead of us on the railroad," he says. "The hopes of the climate change are on us."
After decades of neglect, the federal government no longer sees railways as just a billion dollar burden, but a great opportunity. First, the CDU / CSU and SPD formulated in the coalition agreement of 2018 that the number of train journeys should double by 2030. Then this autumn came the necessary money with the climate protection package. Rail transport is one of the central elements of the package. Because the transport sector in Germany has so far contributed virtually nothing to reducing emissions, very ambitious targets have now been set for the railways, and many billions will be made available for them.
Rail customers should also feel this. If the VAT on tickets is reduced from January 1, 2020, they should cost around ten percent less.
"The climate debate brings us an enormous boost in attractiveness," rail chief Richard Lutz told ZEIT in October . He plans to invest around 200 billion euros from state and other sources in the renovation, making it the largest investment offensive in German railway history. And the heart of this climate rescue project gets its own rhythm. It should beat in Germany.
Germany beat? This means a smooth networking of long-distance and local trains. From 2030, it should be possible to drive across the country every hour, with fast and reliable connections. On the main routes from Cologne to Berlin or Hamburg to Hanover even every half hour. This has a great advantage for travelers, says train manager Feil: "If I know that my ICE runs every half an hour, I hardly have to look at the clock."
The railway wants to introduce the rhythm step by step, Switzerland is its model for this. But as attractive as such a new timetable could be for the customers - Feil and his people prepare a lot of work. "As a timetable planner, you are prepared for everything," says Feil. "It is clear that it will not be easy." Each route expansion means detours, strolling pace and waiting times.
Can they do it? Because the train does not have the current offer under control, every rail customer experiences it: trains are overcrowded, unpunctual, many trips are canceled. According to Bahn, around a quarter of all trains arrive at their destination more than six minutes later than planned in the timetable. "More than six minutes" is a category from the official delay statistics and almost represents an active concealment: Because there can be a lot more delay behind it.
The supreme long-distance planner of the train hopes for improvement. "We are currently getting a new ICE 4 every three or four weeks, a total of 137," says Matthias Feil. The purchase of 30 more fast ICEs has just been decided, they will achieve a top speed of 300. According to Deutsche Bahn, the costs: one billion euros. How can that work, more trains on a similar number of tracks? And do the capacities of planners, workshops and construction teams suffice to additionally organize the Germany tact?
On the one hand, this major project is imperative. If Germany is serious about climate protection, expanding the rail transport is one, perhaps the central lever. In comparison to an average car journey according to the Federal Environment Agency, only a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions occur on a train journey. Passenger numbers have already increased by around a third in local transport over the past 15 years, and around a quarter in long-distance transport. But that is far from enough to keep Germany's climate promise.