Regionalisation drive gathers pace

first_imgINTRO: The programme to transfer regional lines in Germany to local control is bearing fruit in some areas, but as Gordon Wiseman reports, it is unlikely to save numerous lightly-used rural routes in the east of the countryTHIS SUMMER’S timetable change on June 1 sees six more lines transferred from DB operation to the private sector as part of the regionalisation process which began in 1992. While DB Chairman Heinz Dürr earlier this year denied the existence of a formal closures programme, he made clear that the entire network has been reviewed as part of the Netz 21 proposals (p369).Around 28000 route-km forming main lines and important regional arteries represent a core network where DB has firm plans for continued investment. Another 7000 route-km which Dürr described as ’not controversial’ have been earmarked for further attention, perhaps with light railcars taking over passenger services. The future for the remaining 5000 route-km is much less certain – Dürr said that each individual line would be reviewed on its own merits with the Länder to see if it should be retained as part of the national network.Should the Land not wish to take over the line, it would be offered to private operators, whom Dürr conceded may be able to run it at lower cost than DB. Germany has a long-established group of private and regional railways whose services are co-ordinated with those of DB and which appear in the national timetable. New regional private sector companies are likely to slot easily into this structure.Among the first transfers was Harzer Schmalspurbahnen, well-known as one of the narrow gauge lines that retained steam traction until the end of the former German Democratic Republic. Pressure from the tourist market has helped to keep this and similar routes alive, but elsewhere there are many lines where local traffic has switched to roads that have been rebuilt as part of the reunification programme. Where this has happened, journey times by rail are no longer competitive.HSB has introduced new and secondhand railbuses on certain routes but kept steam, especially on the popular tourist section between Wernigerode and the mountain summit of Brocken. The railbuses also operate an hourly shuttle service dubbed Regionalbahn Nordhausen – Ilfeld that was launched on January 1 1997 on an 11 km corridor between the two towns.Unfortunately, no tourist market exists on many standard gauge branch lines, and the future for routes in the sparsely populated area between Berlin and the North Sea coast is bleak. Reports suggest that around 100 east German branch lines must either close or be handed to regional authorities or private operators.Ample evidence of the problems was obvious on a recent trip on a branch line in Thüringen: the ex-DR four-wheel railbus carried the author and just eight other passengers on a painfully slow trip to Schlotheim. Not far away, the summer timetable sees the Bleicherode Ost – Bischofferode branch reduced to Alibi status with one return train journey retained for legal purposes.DB says it cannot justify major expenditure on track renewal on the lightly-used lines so that decline looks inevitable. Even more important lines are not exempt – poor track condition led to an unprecedented step being taken on the scenic Probstzella – Sonneberg – Eisfeld line on January 22, soon after a number of lines in Thüringen were transferred to the Würzburg division. The divisional civil engineer, from a west German background, traversed the line in an inspection saloon and on arrival at Eisfeld ordered its immediate closure. Three trains en-route were literally stopped in their tracks at the next station, and passengers transferred to taxis, although it can be assumed that no safety assessment of this mode of transport was carried out.Regionalisation bears fruitOperators such as Prignitzer Eisenbahn GmbH have sought to keep services going – the company has run its own blue-painted railbus between Pritzwalk and Putlitz since September 1996 – and two more lines are expected to pass to this operator on June 1. These may survive, but others may not be so fortunate.In contrast, concrete signs of progress are emerging in western Germany. A good example is the Betzdorf – Daaden branch. Threatened with closure, and operated with an ageing DB railbus, it passed to the Westerwaldbahn in 1994. The 10 km line is now a showcase for what can be achieved with regionalisation. Four of the five intermediate stations (above) have been rebuilt in a simple but attractive manner with high platforms and new shelters, lighting, large clocks and clear nameboards.Westerwaldbahn has introduced its own railbuses (below) to operate the line. While of similar age to DB’s vehicles, they are bright and attractive in DB’s light blue livery and have been refurbished internally.Services have bedded down well on the Dürener Kreisbahn, which once epitomised the general decline of Germany’s rural railways. Its own rail passenger services were replaced by buses in March 1970, but trains staged a comeback in May 1993 when the branch lines from Düren to Jülich and Heimbach were transferred from DB. DKB was the first operator to introduce one of the many designs of new generation railbuses (RBR96 p17) and the service is now efficient and popular. Trains run at hourly intervals seven days a week, with services running through from Jülich to Heimbach on Sundays, offering locals easy access to the attractive Eifel hills.As with most transfers, DKB paid a nominal sum of DM1, but DB had to pay a support grant of DM6·4m and a ’compensation’ grant of DM10·4m for under-maintaining the line in recent years. DKB also received help from the Land of Nordrhein Westfalen which paid 90% of the cost of the railway’s 16 Siemens RegioSprinters with a DM22·7m grant. On the Wieslauftalbahn, now in the hands of Württembergische Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (WEG), maintenance compensation was fixed at DM6·5m and the support grant to fund improved schedules was DM1·8m. In November 1992 Elbe Weser Railways received DM20m towards the cost of taking over its four-line network and a DM7·3m grant for track renewal.Almost universally, traffic has gone up. DKB passenger figures are now 40% higher than predicted. On the Wieslauftalbahn and the Blast_img read more