For many German train passengers, it has become just another part of winter. As soon as the weather begins to get cold, train delays on both local and long-distance routes start adding up. Last winter was particularly bad, because national rail operator Deutsche Bahn had too few trains in reserve to replace those in need of repair.
This year, Deutsche Bahn announced on Thursday, the situation isn't likely to be much better. Long delays and even cancellations can be expected as the temperatures drop. The culprit, according to the company, is the German engineering group Siemens. Despite having waited years for an order for additional high-speed ICE trains, Deutsche Bahn still hasn't taken delivery, leading to insufficient reserve capacity at a time of near record passenger numbers.
"Our customers feel as though they have been left in the lurch by Siemens," said Berthold Huber, head of the German rail's long-distance service, on Thursday. "We had fully expected to have the new trains in reserve this winter to compensate for cancellations as a result of extreme weather."
"You must remember that we ordered the trains in December 2008 and delivery was originally promised for last December," he added.
German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer is "furious" about the additional delivery delays, his spokesman Sebastian Rudolph said on Thursday.
Delays on London-Frankfurt Route
The latest delay comes just weeks before the first of a total of 16 new ICE 3 trains, worth 500 million ($640 million) were set to hit the rails. But Deutsche Bahn found software problems during testing and Siemens said on Thursday that no new start date had been set. In a statement on its website, Siemens noted that "everyone involved is working hard to solve the problems that have appeared."
The delay also endangers the start of a planned high-speed rail link from Frankfurt to London. The new trains are to complete the 640-kilometer (400-mile) route between the two financial centers in just five hours. But now, instead of inaugurating the route in 2013 as originally planned, Deutsche Bahn said on Thursday that it has been pushed back to 2016.
It remains to be seen, however, whether German rail passengers are prepared to accept Deutsche Bahn's explanation for the likely delays ahead. Last winter, a cold snap stranded thousands of passengers in the days before Christmas, leading to Deutsche Bahn's warning that travellers should avoid train travel if possible -- a move which led to much hand-wringing around Germany. And the company's summer record hasn't been much better in recent years. ICE air conditioning systems have demonstrated a penchant for malfunctioning in hot weather, leading to overheated passengers and yet more delays.
Voker Kefer, German rail technical director, criticized Siemens' reliability on Thursday. "For solid resource scheduling when it comes to our vehicle fleet, we desperately need greater dependability on the part of producers," he said. It's a plea likely to make Deutsche Bahn customers nod their heads in agreement.
cgh -- with wire reports
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