Anyone who travels by train knows the problem. If you are traveling from A to B, it is better to set up the train departure times beforehand: 11:06 am, 11:27 am, 11:50 am. The confusing schedule does not allow frequent drivers to keep an overview. But that is expected to change according to the plans of politics and railways by the end of the decade. The solution for easier travel has an awkward name: Deutschland-Takt.
What seems technical is supposed to spark a revolution in the rail network. The clock would signify the end of the yellow timetable in the station halls. By 2030, ICEs should always leave at the same time, like S-Bahn trains in city traffic. The train plans to make a 30-minute cycle between the largest cities and therefore many more connections than today. There is an interval of 60 minutes between the others. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) referred to the “biggest project in the rail sector since the 1994 rail reform” when the plans were made public two years ago.
Since then, details have been worked out behind the scenes. One very decisive factor has remained open for a long time: the real cost of the plan. The Department of Transport has now received the response. The draft final report of the project in September gives a figure. According to calculations by the SMA consulting firm for the Ministry of Transport, “estimated investment costs” of 48.5 billion euros for 181 investment projects will be incurred by 2030 for the necessary extension of the axes. A few days ago, the ministry reported the number, which it also silently published on a draft page on the internet, in a document addressed to members of the Bundestag.
The plan could not be implemented until 2044 at the earliest
Since then, the number has caused a sensation among MPs. Because it clearly exceeds what the railway should get from the federal government for such investments over the next few years. The budget currently provides around two billion euros per year for investment in railways. Scheuer has pledged three billion or more, but it remains to be seen if that will work. If this remains so, the German clock can be implemented by 2044 at the earliest, but not by 2030. And that too would be an optimistic forecast. This is because the report is based on 2015 construction costs for its calculations. But they have increased considerably in recent years. According to experts, the current construction price of the project is even likely to be 60 billion euros.
It could become a problem far beyond the railways. Because expansion plans are not just about the comfort of rail customers and faster travel. It is also about respecting the German climate objectives. The Deutschlandtakt should make it possible to double the number of passengers on the railways to 260 million by 2030, reduce road traffic and thus significantly improve the German climate balance. The government cannot afford to be delayed. The group refers to the federal government’s commitments that the railway will be able to invest 40 billion euros in extending the network by the end of the decade. The group makes no guarantees on the 2030 target. Deutsche Bahn will do everything to ensure that the German clock is implemented as quickly as possible, a spokesperson said on Sunday.
Slow roads must become fast roads
Many roads are already congested today. More traffic is not possible in many places. Expansion of busy corridors and major nodes is required. In order for the cycle to work well, the journey time between Berlin and Düsseldorf, for example, needs to be drastically reduced to three and a half hours. Between Stuttgart and Hamburg, a good five hours should become four and a half. Slow roads must become fast roads.
In the Bundestag, behind closed doors, doubts are growing as to whether the clock, or at least a large part of it, can actually be implemented by 2030. In addition to the network, the fleet is also expected to s ‘enlarge. If all long-distance traffic were to be converted and doubling the number of passengers targeted, the train would need hundreds of additional ICE trains according to previous calculations. Deutsche Bahn plans 200 trains by 2024. Even more will be needed if a train runs every 30 minutes on all major axes in the future.
Before a new exploratory meeting of a fire coalition made up of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, the railway associations are now making the future federal government responsible. “The Deutschlandtakt can only be achieved with a radical change in transport policy”, says Dirk Flege, Managing Director of the Pro-Rail Alliance. The turnaround in traffic only works with a growing rail network and the German clock, warns Flege and warns: “We will not be able to afford new highways in the future, neither financially nor in terms of climate policy.” The railways must finally be given priority in federal government infrastructure investments.