Outside Germany many people believe Deutsche Bahn is a perfect example of how a rail company should be run.
Many are in awe of DB’s reputation for punctuality and reliability.
Sadly the truth is different nowadays.
Yesterday came news from Germany’s Der Spiegel that DB’s CEO Richard Lutz has written to senior staff openly addressing the chaos and mismanagement which are now seen at the train operator.
This should come as no surprise to rail experts.
Earlier this year DW.com carried a news piece about DB’s punctuality decline and especially for the prestigious ICE trains. During March it was reported that one quarter of DB’s long distance trains ran late.
Its punctuality woes started back in 2015 after which DB instigated a project branded “Zukunft Bahn” which was aimed at improving the situation.
Yet this year’s punctuality is now worse than three years ago. Although DB aims for 80 per cent punctuality but it remains below 76 per cent.
Industry magazine Railway Gazette said there had been little if any improvement.
In addition DB’s costs are rising while revenues (for passengers and freight) are declining. DB’s current debt stands at Euros 20 billion and if nothing is done soon it is expected to reach Euros 25 billion by 2025.
According to Der Spiegel “DB’s management is in turmoil. And this fact has largely remained hidden from the public over the summer.”
“It has not been noticed that the state-run railway is accumulating debts to a worrying degree, that trains are still late and that the room for major reforms and modernisation projects is becoming smaller and smaller.”
Der Spiegel says that declining revenues are partly caused by having to compete against new firms Flixbus and Flixtrain (in the newly deregulated German market).
The addition of so much domestic flying with LCCs such as Eurowings and Ryanair cannot have helped matters since they ply DB’s more lucrative longer distance routes.
To compete DB has had to cut some fares “but these prices do not cover DB’s costs especially as DB itself has not become more efficient” notes Der Spiegel.
Earlier this year DB was blaming declining infrastructure for declining punctuality. Now it seems that the trains themselves are being blamed for having technical issues.
However at the end of the day DB does remain a solid operator despite its current punctuality woes.