Fight against the power of the railway

Trains are more punctual and cheaper when there is more competition on the rails. But politics often only subsidizes the state railways. The new chairman of the Monopolies Commission, Jürgen Kühling, wants to change that.

Dominant on the rails: the ICE, here at the Lahntalbrücke.

Rand Deutsche Bahn is to receive 5.5 billion euros from the state to compensate for its loss from the Corona period. Your private competitors don’t get that much money that easily. If the new chairman of the Monopolies Commission has its way, then the last word has not yet been spoken here. The Regensburg lawyer Jürgen Kühling was elected on Thursday as the successor to the Mannheim economist Achim Wambach to head the body. He announces: The committee will take a closer look at the situation at Deutsche Bahn.

The Monopolies Commission is not very well known, but it has more influence than many other advisory bodies. With her appraisals, she repeatedly competes against the excessive power of individual companies. How successful they are in stimulating competition is often hard to see at first – but a few years later their work benefits consumers.

For example, it has been ten years since the Monopoly Commission initiated the opening of the long-distance transport market for providers outside of Deutsche Bahn. According to the law of the time, new long-distance bus routes were only allowed to be set up if they did not compete with the railways or existing bus routes. In the meantime, numerous long-distance buses run through the republic, and they have also forced the railways to offer cheap tickets more effectively than some political demands. The rail company Flixtrain has also emerged from the long-distance bus agent Flixbus. “As a data-driven company, there is now a very innovative player that offers long-distance transport by rail,” says Kühling.

The economist Achim Wambach (left) has handed over the chairmanship of the Monopolies Commission to the lawyer Jürgen Kühling (right).
The economist Achim Wambach (left) has handed over the chairmanship of the Monopolies Commission to the lawyer Jürgen Kühling (right).: Image: Ullstein

The fact that the Monopolies Commission is now looking at the railway is only ostensibly routine. Every two years there is a report on the railway market. In fact, from the point of view of the new Commission President, there is a lot going on: A lot of money is earmarked for the railways in climate protection and corona packages. That in itself would not be a problem, but Kühling warns: “The crisis packages are in great danger of stifling competition.”

He criticizes the fact that the money does not generally flow into the railways, but specifically to Deutsche Bahn AG, “with the great risk that the railways, as an integrated company, can use the money to damage competition,” says the lawyer.

Does the Germany clock make competition difficult?

This applies above all to regional transport, in which there are already significantly more competitors for the railways, who also operate some of the once disused routes to the satisfaction of passengers. More competition could help “make rail traffic more punctual, more comfortable and cheaper – if it were properly organized,” says Kühling. As a negative example for the current organization, the new commission chairman cites the current compensation practice: At the moment, the railway companies have to compensate their passengers if there are long delays. At the moment, however, it does not matter who is responsible for the delay. If the Deutsche Bahn causes the delay with a defect in its rail network, the regional rail operator still has to be liable in case of doubt.