From the point of view of the Federal Court of Auditors, the problems at Deutsche Bahn (DB) have increased in recent years. "After four obviously lost years, the railway system has become even more unreliable and the economic situation of DB AG has continued to deteriorate," said Court of Auditors President Kay Scheller when presenting a special report on the railway structure in Berlin. "The crisis at DB AG is becoming chronic, the group is developing into a restructuring case that endangers the entire railway system."
In the report, the Court of Auditors criticizes the unpunctuality in long-distance transport, which has increased significantly in the past year, as well as the group's growing debt level. In view of the infrastructure that is in need of renovation in many places, he believes that the goals of the federal government of doubling the number of passengers in passenger transport by 2030 and increasing the share of freight transport by rail to 25 percent are in jeopardy.
The Court of Audit forwarded the new special report to the Bundestag. Many of the points already appear in an earlier report by the court from 2019, such as the criticism of the numerous foreign investments by the railway group. "Instead of concentrating on the rail network and traffic, DB AG continued to expand its international and non-rail business activities," writes the independent authority in the current paper.
Court of Auditors criticizes the federal government
The control authority calls on the federal government, as the railway owner, to make greater use of its influence. The government declared the problems with the railways "a top priority" last year and set up a steering group. However, it was not possible to fill the committee until this spring. It also does not aim "at a fundamental reform of DB AG". The Federal Court of Auditors considers this to be necessary, in particular a division between infrastructure and operation.
The Federal Ministry of Transport rejected the criticism of the Federal Audit Office and referred to various measures that had been initiated by the new government. "Shortly after taking office, I presented a strategy with which we will get the railways back on track," said Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP). "This includes a radical concept for the rehabilitation of the network as well as the restructuring of the group, including an infrastructure division geared towards the common good."
General renovation planned
The federal government and the railways are planning a general renovation of important transport hubs to upgrade the rails and improve reliability in the medium term. "Now we have to work through that point by point. And we're doing it consistently," Wissing continued. "The branch lines are currently being refurbished so that the general refurbishment of the most heavily used corridors can start quickly." Everyone involved worked hard on this, emphasized Wissing. "What we cannot do is govern backwards."
With a view to its numerous investments, Deutsche Bahn also announced in December that it wanted to part with the well-performing logistics subsidiary DB Schenker. The foreign subsidiary Arriva is also to be sold next year.
From the point of view of the Court of Auditors, the "long overdue general renovation" could be a step in the right direction. "It remains to be seen whether this will work in the implementation - the planned implementation is also controversial among experts or associations," it said. "Furthermore, the general renovation alone will not enable growth ambitions."