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Expandable: The platform hall at Görlitz station is to be renovated by 2025 (photo taken in March 2023)

Photo: Sebastian Kahnert / dpa

A dilapidated rail network, consequently unpunctual trains: In order to change this in the future, the federal government is to be given more leeway in financing the infrastructure. This provides for an amendment to the law on the expansion of the federal railways, a corresponding draft was launched by the Federal Cabinet on Wednesday.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing wants to push ahead with investments in the approximately 33,800-kilometre-long rail network. According to the ministry, the law is the legal basis for this. Wissing said that thanks to the change in the law, measures could be implemented faster, more optimized and bundled in the future. In the future, the federal government will also be able to contribute to the costs of maintenance and servicing, not just the costs of construction projects as before.

According to Dirk Flege, managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance, the amendment to the law is "the first step in the promised rail reform": "So far, the responsibility for financing has stopped at the edge of the platform," and now federal funds could also be spent on waiting rooms in stations, for example.

Criticism from the SPD parliamentary group

The planned changes are closely related to the intended establishment of a public welfare-oriented infrastructure division within Deutsche Bahn AG, according to the draft. On 1 January 2024, DB Netz AG and DB Station und Service AG are to be merged. The proceeds of this new company are to be used for infrastructure.

However, Wissing would have to submit concrete proposals for implementation of this step so that it would succeed by the beginning of January, criticized SPD parliamentary group deputy Detlef Müller: "There is still uncertainty about how the ministry intends to set up the financing and decision-making structures of society in such a way that the expansion and repair of the rail network finally gain momentum."

Regardless of this, the acceleration promised by the traffic lights is in planning procedures, from which the railways in particular should benefit. Under pressure from the FDP, other projects such as motorway expansions were also included in the acceleration law, which, however, is currently stuck in the coalition dispute over heating and other issues.