To the rest of the world, German trains still have a reputation for punctuality. But German passengers know better. Delays, sometimes shockingly long, are increasingly a standard part of the German rail system.
This January, fewer than 77 percent of long-distance trains hit their punctuality target, in spite of mild winter and few strikes. Late arrivals are up 30 percent since 2009. To put it another way: In the last 12 months, German passenger and goods trains lost a total of 174.63 million minutes, or 7,945.21 hours per day.
Now summer is looming, the traditional time of infrastructure repair and rebuilding. This, in fact, is the main reason for Deutsche Bahn’s punctuality problem — the large numbers of construction sites on the network. On a given day there can be up to 850 on the 33,000-kilometer (20,460-mile) rail network. These are often poorly coordinated, both within the company and with external events.
The wave of infrastructure repair and renewal is the centerpiece of Deutsche Bahn Chief Executive Rüdiger Grube’s ambitious plan to modernize the country’s creaking rail infrastructure by 2030, at an ultimate cost of €55 billion, or $62.5 billion.
Track and stations are to be thoroughly renovated, with high-speed trains upgraded inside and out. This year alone will see the renovation of 150 bridges, 2,000 sets of switching points and 3,200 kilometers of platforms. Impressive figures, for sure. But right now, the investment is producing more delays than anything else.