He is 72 years old, he knows the railways in Germany inside out, including all the difficulties.

And yet Werner Weigand has not lost his optimism.

In ten years, the railways could have a share of 30 to 35 percent in freight traffic, writes the civil engineer from Langen (Offenbach district) in a new book about the potential of rail;

the share is currently 19 percent.

What's more: a significant part of domestic air traffic and flights to neighboring countries can be replaced by attractive passenger train connections, the share of rail travel in long-distance traffic can be doubled, and local traffic can be increased by up to 50 percent.

Anything is possible if you put in a lot of effort.

Manfred Koehler

Head of department of the Rhein-Main editorial team of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

  • Follow I follow

Weigand knows what he is writing about.

After studying at the Technical University of Darmstadt, he worked for the Federal Railways and later for Deutsche Bahn AG from 1974 to 1996, interrupted only by a doctorate in railway business administration.

He worked in the head office and at DB passenger transport, planned interregio lines and international routes for night trains, dealt with high-speed routes, such as the one from Frankfurt to Cologne.

The railway does not only have problems with new construction projects

And so Weigand knows where there is a problem with the cumbersome railway system.

Why, for example, does it take so long in Germany for a new rail line to be completed?

Because there is no ready-to-build plan when the money is there.

Or because there is no money when it could be built.

Or because at the end of the planning process, new route variants have to be checked again due to political projects.

There is a lack of qualified personnel for the complex planning, he explains, at DB as well as at the commissioned engineering offices and also at the Federal Railway Authority, the approval authority.

And this despite the fact that the effort involved in spatial planning and planning approval procedures is increasing and citizens' initiatives against new construction projects are working "with all legal tricks".

At the same time, the projects are becoming more and more expensive.

Tunnels on the level are now common, even forests are tunneled under.

And even then, when construction finally begins, things can go wrong because money suddenly runs out.

For example, two decades ago on the high-speed line to Cologne, where the number of connections between the two tracks was quickly halved, resulting in far less flexibility if there was a disruption.

However, the railway has problems not only with new construction projects, but also in operation.

Take freight transport as an example: In the United States, actually the epitome of road transport, the share of rail in total freight transport is twice as high as in Germany.

In the USA, the competition for trucks is fairer - stricter attention is paid to compliance with road traffic regulations, such as the maximum load.

A larger axle load for freight cars is also permitted there, and freight trains are allowed to be two kilometers long in the USA and only a maximum of 740 meters in Germany.

Trolley trucks are not an alternative

Weigand's conclusion: "With the same conditions for road and rail, an interoperable structure of the network and a thoroughly rationalized state as in the USA and sufficient freight train routes, the railway can assert itself economically." Weigand also relies on digitization in the regulation of rail traffic and on uniform digital, automatic couplings, also for more noise protection along the route.

In any case, traffic that rail in Germany has long since lost to road is still interesting for rail in the United States and Switzerland.

"Statements like 'The train couldn't run that after all' are simply propaganda from the lobby, which only relies on the street."

In long-distance passenger transport, Weigand advises more Sprinter trains than before, i.e. ICE trains with fewer stops, as they run between Frankfurt and Berlin;

such trains could replace domestic flights.

In addition, there should again be a type of train between the fast ICE/IC trains and the regional trains, as was once the case with the Interregio.

And the engineer pleads for "long-distance traffic in Europe", including at night.

None of what Werner Weigand put together in his compendium of wishes for a modern, efficient railway will come cheap, but he never fails to answer.

And he is undaunted in his optimism that the railways can make a significant contribution to a different, more environmentally friendly form of mobility.

For that alone it is worth reading the 200-page work.

Werner Weigand, Rethinking mobility and climate protection - making better use of the potential of the railways.

Minirex Verlag Lucerne 2021, 24.80 euros.