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Transportation

Mainz train chaos threatens Germany’s reputation for punctuality

Train delays at the central station in Mainz have caused commuter chaos. The problem was caused by staff shortages at Deutsche Bahn, with too many rail dispatchers being sick or on holiday.

The Deutsche Bahn subsidiary DB Netz has pledged that the difficult situation will improve over the next couple of weeks.

The chief executive of DB Netz, Frank Sennhenn told reporters following a crisis meeting with representatives of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate on Tuesday that all trains would "run according to the regular schedule" by the evening of August 30.

This may seem a long way off to passengers, though. By midafternoon Tuesday, at least 19 trains had been delayed or canceled through Mainz central station, based on information from Deutsche Bahn’s current online travel schedule, with dozens more delays and cancellations expected through the evening.

Repeated problems with German railway services

Roger Lewentz, a member of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and the infrastructure minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, where Mainz is situated, said the problems endangered Germany's international reputation.

"We are embarrassing ourselves on the worldwide stage with the situation in Mainz, which could occur tomorrow or the next day in other locations," he told the "ARD Morgenmagazin" television show. "That is a catastrophe and a disgrace for Germany as a high-technology location."

The delays started at the beginning of August, when seven of the 15 rail controllers in Mainz were away on holiday or sick leave, forcing many train services in and out of the station to be canceled. Thousands of commuters and holidaymakers have been caught up in the delays in the heavily populated Mainz and Rhine River areas, with regional trains now running only every hour instead of every half hour. Long-distance services such as the Intercity Express (ICE) have been redirected.

Rules do not allow for staff on holiday to be mandatorily called back in to work, but rail officials are considering asking employees to cut short their breaks. The only solution is to hire more workers, Alexander Kirchner, chairman of railroad and transportation trade union EVG said on ARD Television. However, hiring more workers will not solve the current crisis, with the specialist roles of rail controllers requiring about three months of training.

The frustration comes as campaigning for Germany's September elections heats up, with pressure mounting on Deutsche Bahn and Germany's federal transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, of the ruling Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, CSU. Politicians from the opposition SPD, including chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, have criticized the state-owned rail company's personnel policies. "It's apparent here that they have made cuts in the wrong place. That is now coming back to haunt them," he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Tuesday.

"The ruling parties have been forcing Deutsche Bahn to pay dividends of half a billion euros a year. Consequently it is now lacking the money for personnel and infrastructure," Florian Pronold, who is responsible for the SPD party's transport campaign, told the German news agency dpa.

The past failure must be analyzed in detail to avoid similar further chaos in the future, Julia Klöckner, the chairwoman of the Christian Democrats in Rhineland-Palatinate said.

With the end of summer holidays approaching, the situation could become even tighter. About 62,000 passengers travel through the station each day during nonholiday periods.

se/mkg (AP, dpa, AFP)

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