German rail freight industry organisation Die Güterbahnen has expressed concerns over the proposed “general renovation” of the country’s rail infrastructure, stating there has been “too much bad news” about the Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Federal Transport Ministry led project. 

Peter Westenberger, managing director of Güterbahnen, presented a status analysis of the wide-ranging project and highlighted three key issues including “exploding” costs, a failure to deliver projects in the timeframes promised, and a lack of capacity for diversions needed while infrastructure upgrades are carried out. 

The renovations proposed by DB, backed by the government’s €40bn investment into the country’s rail network, are intended to address the building issues on 40 of Germany’s major rail routes by concentrating work into one longer closure instead of being spread across many smaller closures.

The idea led DB CEO Richard Lutz to describe the need to weather a “valley of tears” of diversions and cancellations before welcoming improved services in the long-term.

Valley of Tears… not death

However, Westenberger said: “The ‘valley of tears’ proclaimed by Lutz must not become a valley of death for the railway industry and the transport transition. The corridor renovation strategy needs more efficiency and less superficial PR.” 

Westenberger’s criticisms come shortly after DB said it was well-prepared for the five-month renovation of the Riedbahn line between Frankfurt/Main and Mennheim, set to begin 15 July, after conducting a trial run on a 9km section of track in January.

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The Riedbahn renovation, seen as a kind of pilot project for DB’s general renovation plan will see the replacement or modernisation of around 120km of track, more than 150 switches, 140km of overhead lines, the line’s entire control and safety technology, and the construction of more than 15km of noise barriers.

While DB said that its trial run had led it to believe it could complete the full renovation in the five-month period, Güterbahnen claimed the closure of the route had to be extended three times and highlighted an increase in expected costs for the final project from €500m to €1.3bn. 

Dress rehearsal

Berthold Huber, DB’s infrastructure director, spoke after the completion of DB’s trial run: “The dress rehearsal in January showed that this new implementation concept works. Together with our partners, we were able to complete an enormous construction volume on schedule. 

“At the same time, the preparatory work also revealed weak points. We are learning from this and will continue to optimize our plans for the five-month general renovation.” 

Despite this, Güterbahnen claims that five of the nine corridors planned for renovation so far are already expected to see closures longer than five months, and  two-thirds of the 39 corridors other than Riedbahn may prove problematic for diversions. 

The organisation is not the only critics of aspects of the project, with the Verband der Bahnindustrie in Deutschland (German Railway Industry Association) recently calling on the government to address the additional €88bn needed to invest into corridor renovations through 2027, and managing director Axel Schuppe saying “the glass is half full for the railway industry in Germany today.”