Recovery and stagnation: German rail survey reveals mixed results 14/02/24

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Author: Dennis van der Laan



Recovery and stagnation: German rail survey reveals mixed results


The German rail sector fully recovered from the pandemic in 2022. According to an annual German market survey, German rail freight exceeded its pre-pandemic performance levels by 10 per cent. However, performance also stagnated in the second half of the year.

According to an annual survey by the Bundesnetzagentur on the performance of the rail sector, German rail recovered fully from the pandemic in 2022. Only in the first quarter of the year did the survey register the final effects of the COVID crisis. Throughout 2022, sales rose across all transport services, with long-distance passenger and freight transport taking the crown. Total revenues across all services increased by 15 per cent to 23,8 billion euros.

Rail freight transport performance grew by a single per cent to 140 billion tonne-kilometres in 2022 after a year of significant growth in 2021. Performance levels exceeded pre-covid levels by 10 per cent, which is primarily attributable to the performance of private rail operators. These companies grew their market share by 0,2 per cent, reaching 59 per cent. The data from 2022 put Germany 5 per cent shy of realising the desired 25 per cent transportation market share for the rail sector.

At the same time, survey respondents complained about punctuality issues. Nearly 20 per cent of trips were delayed. According to the Bundesnetzagentur, infrastructure construction works negatively affected the growth in delays.

Critical reception

While recovery is positive, the private rail alliance Die Güterbahnen has reacted critically to the survey report. The alliance stresses that climate-friendly rail freight has not been able to continue its upward trajectory since the second half of 2022. Increases in electricity prices have also challenged the industry, leading Deutsche Bahn’s competitors to face average negative returns on sales.

Die Güterbahnen also points out that the competitiveness of the rail sector vis-à-vis its road counterpart has been unstable. Financial measures by the German government alternate between favouring road transportation and the rail sector.

Lastly, the survey report documents the persistently poor quality of rail infrastructure that leads to ‘customer-relevant rail quality problems’. In order to reach climate goals and the 25 per cent traffic target, a new policy concept is needed, according to the alliance.