Winter came early and hard this year and has been causing chaos on the railway for days. Perplexed and annoyed people on the platforms. While traffic on the roads is largely moving, things on the rails only started slowly again after the snowfall. What is happening with train services at Munich station and on many routes being temporarily completely suspended raises questions.

Deutsche Bahn (DB) points out the extreme weather conditions: first a lot of snow in a very short space of time, then very cold. Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) made a similar statement. “What we experienced in Munich at the weekend was not a normal onset of winter, but rather the largest amount of snow in Munich since weather records began. That was an extremely special situation in a very short space of time.” But Bernreiter also says: “However, the situation on the rails has been going on for far too long.” The minister demands that the railways be better positioned for the future.

“Unfortunately, the impression is not deceptive: there have been significant savings, for example on the heavy clearing equipment,” says Bernreiter. Experts also point to a lack of winter-ready material and personnel. “Winter operations involve a lot of manual work and the use of machines,” says Heino Seeger, former managing director of the Bavarian Oberlandbahn and railway operations manager. “It’s cheaper not to drive in such situations than to fight against the snow and weather conditions. Reserves cost money. That’s why reserves were eliminated: in the personnel, in the trains and in the clearing equipment,” says Seeger. “It had to happen this way,” says Markus Hecht, head of the rail vehicles department at the Technical University of Berlin. Another problem is the lack of snow fences that could contain snow drifts on the tracks.

Especially with climate change, we don’t necessarily have to expect less snow, but rather more extreme weather conditions, including heavy snowfalls, says the federal chairman of the Pro Bahn passenger association, Detlev Neuß. “These weather conditions are not isolated cases. The railway has to adapt to this, it costs money – and the money must be made available.” It is also about landslides after heavy rain, hail and storms. Railway experts also mention the railway reform passed in 1993; With which – according to the experts – the railway should not only cost money, but also make money. Now a rethink is beginning, says Neuß. “This is going too slowly for our taste, but the direction is right: towards a company that is more oriented towards the common good.”

Deutsche Bahn refers here to DB Netz, which is responsible for the railways. “Later on Friday evening, we received a large number of reports within a very short time about vegetation in the tracks and overhead lines and other weather-related disruptions,” said a DB spokesman. “As the weather forecasts predicted further heavy snowfall, DB Netz made the decision to suspend rail traffic in the affected area as a precautionary measure for safety reasons.”

According to a statement from the DB at the end of November, it has 13 railway-owned clearing vehicles in Bavaria, covering 9,800 kilometers of routes in the southern region. There are also seven light snow clearing vehicles: four multifunctional maintenance vehicles for the rail infrastructure and three track work vehicles, it said. On Tuesday, the railway announced that the number of clearing vehicles had now been increased. More than 20 large machines are now in operation in the region, including particularly powerful snow blowers that were relocated to Bavaria from Hesse and Baden-Württemberg. Experts examined whether the number of clearing vehicles could be increased further with support from other regions.

According to rail experts, both countries have better winter equipment for their trains and better clearing vehicles. “These are Alpine countries that are prepared for this. They have staff and clearing vehicles,” says Neuß. After such snowfalls, you can’t expect everything to be running again after half an hour, but it shouldn’t take days. “The problem for us is that snow clearing is assigned to DB Netz – and DB Netz has no additional resources, including locomotives for this,” adds Hecht. “The open question is how snow clearing is defined in the requirements of the Bavarian Railway Company, as this is a state matter on regional transport routes.”

Heino Seeger reports at least for the Bayerische Oberlandbahn and the Bayerische Regiobahn that they became active as companies at that time. For example, the tracks were kept clear overnight. “When it snowed like it did now, it didn’t bother us. We had locomotives with plowshares (a type of plow blade) run at night so that the route didn’t get covered in snow.” This meant that the Oberlandbahn routes remained passable even when there was a lot of snow – although this required a lot of personnel. “The will must be there to want to drive.”

The Bavarian state government has warned of this. We will certainly have to calmly analyze afterwards “why there were such significant difficulties, especially in the area of ​​train traffic,” said State Chancellor Florian Herrmann (CSU). The disaster protection authorities were all activated early before the onset of winter. Transport Minister Bernreiter announced: “I will have a conversation with the railway about this and I will say it very clearly in Lower Bavaria: The railway must position itself better for the future.”