Mr. Böttger, there is finally an agreement between GDL and Bahn. How do you classify it? The GDL has implemented its core demand, the 35-hour week with the same pay. Deutsche Bahn tried for months to put pressure on the GDL with a media campaign and, as in the last collective bargaining rounds, failed. Strategically and medially, it is a small fiasco for Deutsche Bahn AG. In terms of economic volume, this is not a catastrophe, because the reduction in weekly working hours is spread over several years. It remains to be seen whether enough train drivers can be found, because the shortage already exists: the Berlin public transport company has already had to reduce its bus services by 6% due to a lack of staff, and the situation is similar for many other companies.

What consequences will it have for customers if the option of a 35-hour week is introduced for train drivers? Well, this will definitely not make the railway any more punctual. But seriously: nothing will change in the short term, but in the long term it will be seen whether this will help make the train driver profession more attractive. But this has no immediate consequences for customers.

At the same time, the railway offers more pay to train drivers who work 40 hours. Won’t prices increase?

There are currently too many question marks to predict anything. There are just too many problems. DB-Cargo has been completely ruined by years of mismanagement, and the public hardly notices because private competitors are taking over the business. What is particularly visible is regional traffic, which accounts for two thirds of the route kilometers traveled. Both DB and its competitors, which now drive around 30% of the transport, are losing money due to a lack of staff and poor infrastructure. There is a big financial hole opening up. In addition, there is the Deutschlandticket, which does not bring in any new customers, costs billions and is not stable in financing. Instead of being afraid of rising prices, you have to worry about the future of regional transport in Germany.

Christian Böttger, born in 1963, completed a commercial apprenticeship, studied business administration and managed business units at SIEMENS AG in the 1990s. He has been teaching at the HTW Berlin since 2000, researching and publishing on the financing of the German rail network and the state of Deutsche Bahn. Most recently he criticized the introduction of the 49 euro ticket.

Now the DB presented its figures for 2023 last Thursday… and apparently tweaked the numbers until the last minute: between the forecast for the end of the year and the presentation of the figures, the loss increased by around one billion euros. Heads would roll in large private companies for such changes. I’m amazed at how silently the owner accepts this. In any case, it turns out that the railway is in very poor condition. Can you afford to make train drivers work less for the same pay? I don’t believe in this argument. Because the underlying principle is: the company is doing badly, we are now singling out a group that has to suffer. Meanwhile, management gets hefty bonuses.

The railway managers did not receive any bonuses for 2023. But their basic salaries were increased, their contracts were extended – and all this despite really dramatically poor performance. Furthermore, in the administrative area one does not get the impression that the railway has to save money. There the money is spent generously. At headquarters you have tripled the number of administrative employees. There are internal papers that show that a billion euros could be saved in the administrative area.

Or the train drivers could keep their current working hours. If I really say that the company is doing badly and as a result pay people less, then I simply can’t find any more employees. This also applies to the board of directors. You have to pay a lot to keep someone who manages the turnaround. But saving on administration means making processes more efficient, not paying people less money.

According to Deutsche Bahn, tens of thousands of new employees were hired at DB in 2023. And at the same time, DB Cargo’s productivity has fallen by around 20%; productivity has also been falling in other divisions for years. These are devastating numbers. All of this shows again: We don’t necessarily need more staff in administration, we need better structures.

From your point of view, should administrative staff be retrained as train drivers? That wouldn’t be a bad idea. But these are not the people who can simply be retrained as train drivers. Many political care cases are also taken care of by the railway, for example mayors with burnout.

Was it not as difficult for the railway as it claimed to meet the demands of the GDL? It has to be said: shift workers are particularly stressed. And the costs associated with the 35-hour week are not that high. An hour’s reduction in working hours for train drivers probably costs less per year than a day’s strike. In addition, the reduction should be spread over years. Especially if you spread this out over several years, that’s around two percent more wages per year. That is not much.

Why didn’t the railways give in more quickly? The DB simply had no desire to reach an agreement because they didn’t want to strengthen the GDL in competition with the rival union EVG.

It sounds as if the outcome of the collective negotiations doesn’t surprise you. Well, the GDL has a loyal base and a clear strategy. DB AG has been trying for years to win the collective bargaining disputes with the GDL through defamation and public pressure. She fails every time but doesn’t learn from it.