How can rail infrastructure improvements in Germany be accelerated?
Less bureaucracy in the planning processes and simplifying financing by creating two funds with clear goals, these and other proposals were handed over in a report to German Transport Minister Volker Wissing this week. The Acceleration Commission comprised of various rail stakeholders, developed a concept on how the German rail infrastructure can be made fit for the high demand more quickly.
In the report, Michael Theurer, representative of the Federal Government for Rail Transport, states that rail infrastructure as a whole has reached its breaking point in Germany. “On some sections, the utilisation is far above the values originally intended for this purpose. We are experiencing that the demand for rail transport far exceeds the supply.” Although this is a good sign in terms of climate-friendly mobility, it means more capacity on the tracks is necessary, while the German rail infrastructure in large parts of the network is showing its age and is therefore also particularly prone to failure. That is why infrastructure improvements and expansion is greatly needed, and at a faster pace than it is currently the case.
With this goal, more than 20 representatives of railway associations, Deutsche Bahn, the construction industry, members of the Bundestag and the Federal Ministry of Transport have been discussing how to give rail expansion a boost in the Acceleration Commission Rail since the end of June 2022. The results were handed over to Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing on 13 December 2022.
Simplifying financing of infrastructure projects
Among other things, the Acceleration Commission recommends simplifying the financing of the rail infrastructure with its many different programmes and budget titles and making it more transparent. The financing of rail infrastructure in Germany is currently complex. It consists of different budget titles, programmes and agreements. A multitude of funding sources consists of a multitude of different regulations for the use of funds. This leads to less planning certainty, delays the implementation of construction measures and sets false incentives, says the Commission. For example, construction measures can currently hardly be bundled.
Less bureaucracy, how should that be achieved? The Commission proposes two funds to bundle the funding sources. This should make it much less bureaucratic to build or renovate railway lines. One fund should be for the modernisation of the existing network. This would finance the maintenance, replacement and modernisation of the existing infrastructure, including electrification, ETCS and projects of the Digital Rail programme (DSD). A second fund would be for the expansion of the existing network, and would finance the capacity-expanding expansion and new construction of the rail infrastructure.
The Commission also proposes several small and medium-sized measures that can be implemented in the short term, ending the report with a list of route sections and corresponding infrastructure improvements measures. They all have the criteria that they are on a section that is heavily used, the measure can be implemented within 5 years and currently have not yet been financed.
Fewer cost-benefit analyses, faster construction
In addition to proposals for financing, the Acceleration Commission also recommends concrete measures on how time-consuming assessment procedures and small-scale planning processes for rail infrastructure can become significantly more efficient and faster. For example, the implementation of small and medium-sized infrastructure measures should no longer be made dependent on time-consuming cost-benefit analyses and case-by-case considerations, says the report. The same should apply to the electrification of existing railway lines.
To accelerate railway construction works so the capacity can be used again more quickly, the Commission recommends that the so-called ‘rail partnership model’ be applied in ten pilot projects of different types and sizes. This model was developed by DB Netz together with the German Construction Industry Association (HDB), the Association of Consulting Engineers (VBI) and the scientific support of the TU Berlin.
By integrating the competences of all project participants already in the planning phase, the partners can focus their full performance and innovation capacity on the optimisation, rapid implementation and efficient operation of the construction project, with this model. In addition, making more use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) makes it possible to work together on projects in digital form without error-prone discontinuities between the different project partners. Effective large machines, which can reduce the time required for measures by up to 50 percent, should be approved more quickly and used consistently, recommends the Commission.
The Commission also confirms the path taken by the German Transport ministry for the reorganisation of the DB Group earlier this year, which involves creating an infrastructure division ‘geared towards the common good’ by merging the infrastructure units DB Netz AG, DB Station and Service AG.
‘Move ahead with rail expansions’
Managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance (Allianz Pro Schiene), Dirk Flege, was a member of the commission. “The recommendations we have drawn up to overcome the slowdown in rail expansion show great potential for acceleration. We now hope that Minister Wissing will take up the recommendations very quickly – otherwise the best ideas will be of no use. We simply urgently need more capacity in the rail network, which is in high demand”, says Dirk Flege. If the financing is simplified in the two funds, and – as planned by the Federal Government – revenue from the upcoming truck toll can also flow into the railways in a good year’s time, “we will have a solid basis for modernising the rail network”, says Flege.
He also specifically calls on the Federal Minister of Transport to move ahead decisively with rail expansion: “The Federal Government must set clear priorities in transport policy, unlike in the past. When it comes to achieving climate protection goals and making our mobility fit for the future, we do not need more motorways, but a clear focus on a faster expansion of the rail network. Resources are finite, not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of planning capacities and skilled workers.”