Despite all the strikes, construction sites and delays: According to statistics, people in Germany are taking more trains again. “We complain, but we drive,” says the head of the Allianz pro Schiene transport association, Dirk Flege. The alliance reports a record for 2023: The rail transport performance in Germany was 104.2 billion passenger kilometers last year. The aim is for large numbers of people to switch from cars to trains in the next few years. But experts doubt that this will work.

“Travelling by train is popular,” says lobbyist Flege. The Corona dent in traffic performance has been overcompensated, his association told the German Press Agency based on data from the Federal Statistical Office. Transport performance had previously reached a record in 2019, with 102 billion passenger kilometers. The calculation formula for the key figure: number of passengers times distance traveled.

Conditions difficult for passengers

If you look at the number of passengers alone, a different picture emerges, as mobility researcher Andreas Knie from the Berlin Science Center for Social Research explains. According to his data, there are as many people on local transport again as before the pandemic. In contrast, only around 80 percent of the usual number of customers would be on long-distance and regional trains. “People want to take the train,” says Knie. “But under the current conditions they don’t.”

In fact, passengers on the rails are currently not having an easy time of it. For around a year, two rounds of collective bargaining at the railway caused several strikes and numerous train cancellations. Added to this is the poor condition of the rail network. Numerous construction sites have been slowing down rail traffic for years, delays are the order of the day, and tardiness is particularly high at Deutsche Bahn.

“It’s not any better on the road,” counters the Pro Bahn passenger association. Unlike in the car, you can at least use the travel time on the train to read, watch films, play cards or drink a beer, says honorary chairman Karl-Peter Naumann. According to his observation, the trains have become more crowded. Young people are more mobile than before and are more likely to go without a car. And the Germany ticket means that passengers also travel to the region for longer journeys of 200 or 300 kilometers.

Boost through Germany ticket

The monthly subscription for nationwide trips on local and regional transport for currently 49 euros per month has given demand a significant boost, according to the Pro-Rail Alliance. According to industry sources, the ticket has tied many existing customers more closely to buses and trains – in other words: they now travel with the 49 euro ticket instead of single tickets, monthly or strip tickets as before. There has not been a major switch from cars to public transport, says mobility researcher Knie.

In order to achieve the climate goals, the federal government wants to double rail transport performance by 2030 compared to 2015. At that time the value was almost 92 billion passenger kilometers. Knie is skeptical. “The railway must become more reliable again,” he demands. In addition, tax breaks for diesel and company cars would have to be removed so that drivers think about switching. “The doubling cannot be achieved,” says passenger representative Naumann. There is a lack of capacity at the railway – in terms of trains, tracks and staff.

New restrictions

The federal government and the company want to tackle the problems on the network in the next few years with a thorough renovation. 40 busy route corridors are to be fundamentally modernized by 2030. This should make the network less susceptible to disruptions and allow traffic to run more smoothly. But the construction work initially brings with it further restrictions: the individual corridors will be completely closed for several months during the renovation. It starts in June on the Riedbahn between Frankfurt and Mannheim. Knie fears that the railway will lose passengers as a result. “You can’t take people out of their routines for months.”

The federal government has so far pledged almost 30 billion euros to modernize the network by 2027. However, this only covers almost two thirds of the total requirement, which the railway estimates at around 45 billion euros by 2027. The extent to which the network will continue to be financed in the years to come is completely open.

Information about traffic performance