Even more construction – and disruptions – on German tracks this year due to possibly faulty sleepers

Concrete sleepers in Germany - many of them will be replaced this year Deutsche Bahn AG / Volker Emersleben

400 additional construction sites on the rail network in Germany this year will have a negative impact on punctuality, says Deutsche Bahn. DB will replace more than five times more sleepers than usual, after an accident with a freight train in Garmisch-Partenkirchen last year was possibly related to a manufacturing defect of the railway sleepers.

Deutsche Bahn (DB) is replacing a total of around 480,000 sleepers this year. Typically, around 80,000 sleepers are renewed each year. After initial suspicion of a possible manufacturing defect as the cause of last year’s accident, where 5 people lost their lives, DB identified where else concrete sleepers with the same rock mixture had been used, which could be the reason for the sleeper possibly failing over time.

The sleeper replacements come on top of the already extensive construction works on the German tracks, as the rail infrastructure as a whole has reached its breaking point in Germany, according to a report on how the rail infrastructure improvements can be accelerated.

‘Precautionary replacements’

A a special inspection program was initiated for concrete sleepers, and as “very precautionary measure”, sleepers with any abnormalities are replaced. DB has also set up a group of internal and external experts to continuously check possible further preventive measures for the maintenance of concrete sleepers.

“We will replace the affected sleepers as soon as possible, an immense feat”, says DB spokesperson. “Specialist staff and construction machines are scarce given our other construction workload. It will be a while before all affected sleepers have been replaced nationwide – at least into next year. We ask all travelers and freight customers for their understanding of the restrictions.”

Trains can only run at a lower speed in the affected sections of track until the replacement. In some cases, DB has to close routes even before the actual construction work begins. Inspection and replacement of sleepers therefore have a clearly negative effect on punctuality in long-distance and regional transport, warns the German railway company.

Investigations continue

Investigations into the cause of the accident by the public prosecutor’s office and the Federal Office for Railway Accident Investigations (BEU) have not yet been completed. DB has also commissioned an independent internal investigation by a law firm. In particular, this should clarify whether the train accident is related to possible internal failures.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Editor RailTech.com

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