With additional investments worth billions and a concrete schedule, the railway is starting to renovate busy rail corridors. The aim is to make rail transport significantly more reliable for passengers and goods. “Now we know in which order the whole thing will work,” said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) at a meeting with the rail industry in Frankfurt.

40 heavily used routes are to be completely closed for around five months each by 2030 and then completely renovated and upgraded. The federal government wants to make almost 40 billion euros available for this – 12.5 billion of which in the form of an equity increase for the federally owned Deutsche Bahn.

Everyone involved hopes that complete closures lasting several months will save costs, because construction work on the affected sections will then not have to be planned and implemented one after the other over the years. “This means we can use a lot of money in a very quick time,” said Wissing.

“Traveller punctuality” deteriorated by 10 percent

The need is great. In 2022, almost one in three long-distance rail travelers reached their destination at least 15 minutes late. Only 70.6 percent of passengers arrived at their destination less late, according to a response from the Federal Ministry of Transport to a representative’s office. “Traveller punctuality” has deteriorated by ten percentage points from 2021 to 2022. In 2017, a good 86 percent of passengers arrived at their destination less than 15 minutes late. From the critics’ point of view, the background is the lack of investment in the rail infrastructure for decades.

The first three renovation projects have been known for a long time: they will start next year on the so-called Riedbahn between Frankfurt and Mannheim. The Emmerich-Oberhausen route in North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin-Hamburg, which are particularly important for freight traffic, will follow in 2025.

At the Frankfurt “Rail Summit” with the construction and railway industries, the further order of the 40 rail sections was presented. In 2026, the Cologne-Hagen, Nuremberg-Reichswald-Regensburg, Troisdorf-Koblenz and Koblenz-Wiesbaden routes will be started, among others. At the end of the list for the second half of 2030 are the Ulm-Augsburg and Mannheim-Karlsruhe corridors.

4000 kilometers of rail completely renovated

A total of 4,000 kilometers of rail are to be completely renovated. You will then be part of the “high-performance network” with 9,000 kilometers. In total, the German rail network is 34,000 kilometers long.

Two sections in Hesse were removed, which, according to the railway, now need to be renovated elsewhere. These are the Fulda-Flieden and Flieden-Hanau routes.

For passengers, however, the full closure of the dense corridors for several months primarily means further restrictions. “It is all the more important that the planned closures are communicated in a timely manner and that those affected are closely involved,” emphasized Wissing. “That’s why it’s important that we tell people that this is an effort, an effort to be able to travel better on the rails afterwards.”

In order to get the overloaded route network fit again, the federal government wants to invest around 40 billion euros by 2027. 11.5 billion of this comes from the Federal Budget of the Ministry of Transport. This will be financed primarily through an increase in the truck toll. A further 12.5 billion euros are to flow from the climate and investment fund – a special fund from the federal government. The railway must contribute three billion euros from its own resources – for example by taking on new debt.

Wissing gives Deutsche Bahn billions more

What is new is that the federal government wants to inject a further 12.5 billion euros into the group through an equity increase. However, the EU Commission still has to approve this measure. “We will then have almost an additional 40 billion for the railway,” said Wissing. The group itself had originally estimated the financial requirements at 45 billion euros. “We will build up the outstanding funds in the coming years,” emphasized the minister. The equity capital of the federally owned DB AG will be increased by 1.125 billion annually by 2024.

The construction industry now has to use up all that money, which is probably not an easy task given the sharp increase in construction costs and the shortage of personnel. “I specifically need construction companies that can accept construction contracts,” said Wissing. The industry expressed confidence: “We as the construction industry are behind the corridor renovation,” said the President of the Main Association of the German Construction Industry, Peter Hübner. “The full closure means we can work through it, get away from the small and small work of individual construction projects and can get to the route efficiently with heavy construction machinery.”

“We are renewing and modernizing the infrastructure with a program that is unprecedented in DB history,” said CEO Richard Lutz. “It is now up to us to roll up our sleeves together with the construction industry.” He also emphasized that the construction work would once again impose significant restrictions on passengers and freight transport customers. “But there is no alternative to tackling the renovation backlog.”

In order to implement the renovation projects, it is planned to found a new, public-interest-oriented infrastructure company called “InfraGo” under the umbrella of the DB Group. The sub-companies DB Netz and DB Station and Service are to be merged into this at the turn of the year. The purpose of the design is that the federal funds provided flow exclusively into the infrastructure and not into driving operations. Critics had called for the network to be completely separated from the railway company.