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German DBAG fights for control over tracks

The Deutsche Bahn AG is not pleased to relinquish control of tracks to a neutral third party. Policymakers must balance the priority of competition with clear rules and quick decisions

In recent years, the German national railway has been transformed from an arm of government to a limited company with a clear mandate -- to make money from rail operations. Governments may put unprofitable operations out to tender. This has been done several times and DBAG has lost some business to new companies.

As in the rest of Europe, the drive to make the railway competitive through commercialization is not stopping there. DBAG's privileged track access will be stripped to a skeleton in order to let other companies onto the network, and this requires a neutral third party to parcel out slots and to moderate the inevitable questions of priority (arising from breaches of the timetable).

DBAG thinks they should own this neutral, third party. So does the transport minister. But economists in the Ministry of Transport disagree.

This tangle of logic and wills is not as tangled as it may seem at first glance, because DBAG will remain huge and its competitors will remain small. It may be more efficient to let DBAG control track access directly, and sell access to other companies, than to have a third party between the tracks and the train operators. This third party would not have any real incentive to solve problems -- DBAG would, either to save its own trains or those of its customers, which use its track.

Further reading at Cargoweb and Die Welt.

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