In view of major problems with delays and construction sites, the rail network in Germany is to be made fundamentally more reliable with a “general renovation”. “It cannot stay the way it is,” said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) on Wednesday in Berlin. The network has been neglected for years and has been pushed to its absolute limit – many points and signal boxes are outdated and highly prone to failure. With the state-owned Deutsche Bahn as the network operator, corridors with particularly high loads are to be modernized from 2024 and construction work is to be bundled to a much greater extent.

In concrete terms, construction work should be combined in such a way that there are no new disruptions later on the same section due to work that is only then due. In addition, routes should not only be repaired one-to-one, but also upgraded for more performance. The aim is also to ensure that trains at construction sites are shorter and therefore have to switch to the opposite track with less disruption.

Bahn boss Richard Lutz explained that the occupancy rate is currently 125 percent on 3,500 kilometers of track, even without construction sites. By the end of the decade, this heavily used network threatens to grow to more than 9,000 kilometers. The current quality of the rail system is not acceptable to anyone. A radical change of direction is needed.

Lutz had already sounded the alarm at the end of May and complained about the dilapidated rail network: “We have a dilemma that can hardly be resolved in the short term: grow and modernize at the same time.” The operating situation is critical, delays are increasing, there is a record number of construction sites and the need for modernization will continue climb. At the time, he also said that Deutsche Bahn would miss its punctuality target of 80 percent in long-distance traffic and would be “significantly away from it”.

The railways play an important role in the climate protection goals for 2030 in transport. The number of passengers is expected to double by then, and the share of rail freight traffic will increase significantly.

Wissing said he wanted to make network modernization a top priority. For this purpose, a steering group is to be set up in the ministry, which is also to report on the implementation as an early warning system. The minister emphasized that the necessary funds for the planned procedure would be secured. He did not give any further details.