Deutsche Bahn Essay

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The German  National  Railway Company, Deutsche Bahn  AG, was founded  on  January  1, 1994, taking over  from  the  state  railways of Germany,  the Deutsche Bundesbahn (“German Federal Railways”) in West Germany, and the Deutsche Reichsbahn (“German State Railways”) in East Germany. Its origins lie in the establishment  of the railway network in Germany  that  started  with  a steam  locomotive in  Bavaria running  between  Nürnberg  and  Fürth in  1835 and  the  first  long-distance  railroad  from Leipzig to Dresden in 1839.

When  the German  Empire was founded in 1871, there  were  a  number   of  state  railways  operating in various parts  of the  new country.  To make this easier to maintain, the Deutscher Staatsbahnwa-genverband  (“German State Railway Wagon  Association,”  or  DSV) was created  to  standardize  the wagons used. German railway expertise was outside Germany, with German engineers working in the Ottoman Empire before World War I, especially on plans to build the Baghdad Railway and the railway to Mecca (which was bombed by T. E. Lawrence). In 1920 standardization of the network continued  with the formation  of the Deutsche Reichsbahn; in 1924 it became the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesselschaft (“German State  Railway Company”—DRG), which continued  until 1945.

By the end of World War II, the network had been seriously damaged, and Germany had been divided into four zones. Each of the occupying powers established their own network with West Germany, from 1949, forming the Deutsche  Bundesbahn,  and East Germany retaining the old name, Deutsche Reichsbahn. Technically, the Deutsche Bundesbahn also had access to the railway that went from the West German–East  German border to West Berlin, although the line was owned by the East Germans. It was the closing of this line in 1948 that  contributed to the Berlin Blockade and the subsequent  Berlin Airlift.

With  the  reunification  of Germany  on  October 3, 1990, there was a need to unify the network that operated   with  different   locomotives   and   rolling stock,  but  had  the  same  gauge. This was the  reason for the establishment  of Deutsche  Bahn AG in 1994 as a public limited company, although  all the shares were owned by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany that had long planned a privatization of the company. However, before that could be achieved, an extensive administrative railway reform, or Bahnreform, took place. Initially this saw the structure  changed to that of a private company, and then  in 1999, the  track, personnel,  and assets were divided into five subsidiary organizations.

The Deutsche  Bahn Reise & Touristik  AG (later renamed the Deutsche Bahn Fernverkehr AG) handles long-distance  passenger services, with the Deutsche Bahn Regio AG covering regional passenger services. Deutsche Bahn Cargo AG (now Railion AG) provides freight  services, Deutsche  Bahn Netz  AG runs  the railway system, and Deutsche Bahn Station & Service AB controls  the stations.  Hartmut Mehdom,  a German who was born in Warsaw in 1942, has been the chairman since December 16, 1999.

There is much controversy over the plans to privatize the railway network, with the government  arguing that it will make the company more efficient and raise fresh capital for an upgrade of the system. However,  there  are  economic  and  political  concerns— first about  Deutsche  Bahn maintaining  an effective monopoly  over rail transport, and  politically about worries that  a privatized  company  might  reduce  its labor force. This led to a strike by rail engineers, the first on the railways since the 1992 nationwide strike. With the company worth an estimated €200 billion, it seems likely that the government might sell the shares in several tranches,  initially retaining  a 51 percent stake, and then gradually lowering this.

Bibliography: 

  1. “Business: Deutsche Bahn: Summer of Discontent,” Economist (v.384/8540, 2007);
  2. Tim Engartner, Die Privatisierung der Deutschen Bahn: über die Implementierung marktorientierter  Verkehrspolitik  [The  Privatization of the German National Railroad: On the Implementation of Market-oriented Transportation Policy] (VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2008);
  3. Brian Garvin and Peter Fox, DB: German Federal Railway (Platform 5, 1998);
  4. Roy E. H. Mellor, German Railways: A Study in the Historical Geography of Transport (University of Aberdeen, 1979);
  5. Alfred C. Mierzejewski, The Most Valuable Asset of the Reich: A History of the German  National  Railway  (University  of North Carolina Press, 1999).

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