Germany's national railway, Deutsche Bahn, thought it had finally found the right answer to the myriad complaints about the messy toilets on its S-Bahn commuter trains when it ordered a new fleet for the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The newer models were sleek, clean and, best of all -- or so company officials thought -- toilet-free.
Unfortunately, the strategy doesn't take into account certain emergencies related to calls from nature. In September 2010, one clearly distraught passenger traveling on a train in the city of Wuppertal desperately had to urinate, so he turned to a Deutsche Bahn attendant checking tickets for help. Seeing that the passenger was distressed and knowing the train was still minutes away from pulling in to the next station, the 53-year-old railway employee said to him: "If there really aren't any other options, use a trash bin in the first class section," which was then empty.
"The person in question had already asked a colleague if he could relieve himself," train attendant Klaus O.* told the court. "You can read the rest on the fine notice," he continued without elaborating further about the incident. O. said it had clearly been an emergency.
A Message to Other Attendants
Worried that other train attendants might offer similar advice in trains without bathrooms, Deutsche Bahn slapped the employee with a 100 ($139) fine for allegedly violating company regulations. But Klaus O., who has been with the company for 36 years, decided to contest the fine and took his case to court. On Wednesday, an administrative court in Düsseldorf overturned the punishment, saying the staffer had not violated any specific regulations and had only made the best of a bad situation.
While Deutsche Bahn expressed regret over the unfortunate circumstances, the company is standing its ground.
"We simply cannot tolerate it," an official from the Bahn's HR department told the court. "This is also about sending a message to other colleagues." Another Bahn representative said: "He clearly violated his duty to protect railway property against dirtying."
However, the head of a passenger advocacy group, Pro Bahn, told the German news agency DPA that the railway ought to reconsider its policy of not installing toilets in certain classes of commuter trains. Even charging people to use the bathroom, argues the group's Karl-Peter Naumann, would be better than not offering any toilets at all.
* In adherence to German legal and journalistic practice, SPIEGEL ONLINE does not provide the full name of defendants in many court cases.
cjc -- with additional reporting by Jörg Diehl
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from Zeitgeist section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH