From Covid-19 to travel plans after leaving office: a special interview for DB MOBIL’s 20th anniversary
Chancellor, we are beginning a special year: 2021 has been declared as the European Year of Rail. What are the German Federal Government’s contributions to this project?
For many people, day-to-day life would be very difficult to manage without the railways. They wouldn’t be able to get to work or school as they are accustomed to, or see friends and relatives. But the railways are more than that. In normal times, when we are not in the midst of a pandemic, the railways can also satisfy our longing to travel - something we are all really missing at the moment. The railways also have a special role to play in helping us to achieve our climate protection goals. We want more people to shift from cars and planes to the railways, and we want to transport greater volumes of goods by rail. To do that, we need a modern railway network and an improved service offering. We are investing 86 billion euro in maintaining and modernising the railway network over the next ten years. The German Transport Minister’s Rail Masterplan lays the foundations for a timetable coordinated throughout Germany, more freight on the railways, innovation and digitalisation, as well as better noise and climate protection. And that doesn’t stop at the border. With the expansion of the trans-European networks, we want to make the railways attractive for everyone in Europe.
You have announced that you will leave office this year at the end of the legislative period. What are your goals for the remainder of your time in office?
I will be working to ensure that our country can face up to its greatest challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic, with all of its repercussions, has been a huge test for all of us. But it has also made it clear that we need to put even more effort into digitalisation. And major strategic projects such as battery cell production, hydrogen technology and energy transition must be accelerated. Without such innovation, we will not succeed in combatting climate change while remaining economically successful.
The pandemic will have a massive impact on all of our lives once again in 2021. How important is it to you that the railways maintain transport capacity, consistently pursue climate objectives, hire personnel and further develop railway lines and vehicles fleets, even in these times of crisis?
It is very important for our society that trains run and that goods transport flows - the coronavirus pandemic has served as a reminder of that. Railway personnel are doing tremendous work for the common good in these times, and my gratitude goes to all those involved. The railways get people to work safely and keep the necessary supply chains going. Rail transport is and remains the backbone of sustainable mobility and logistics. It is essential in achieving our climate goals.
What could the railways do better in your view?
Shorter travel times and rapid expansion of the railway network are important to encourage more passengers to shift from planes to trains. There is still room for improvement in terms of digitalisation because signalling and communications technology is currently lagging far behind the technical capabilities. According to the railways’ calculations, around 20 per cent more traffic could be handled on the network by deploying digital solutions more efficiently. This would also help to improve punctuality.
You once wrote on your Facebook page that your dream was to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. Do you plan to fulfil that dream when you leave office?
I still dream of travelling through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway or taking a trip through the Rocky Mountains, but nothing has been planned for the time being.
The interview is available in full in DB MOBIL’s anniversary edition and can be downloaded here
(Source: DB Mobil)