How could rail traffic be improved?

Incident management: EU role models for Deutsche Bahn?

In Germany, almost every third long-distance train arrives too late at its destination. Deutsche Bahn is now promising to be more punctual. How railways all over Europe deal with delays, Prof. Dr. Dr. Let Gerrits, Holder of the chair for political science, in particular the control of innovative and complex technical systems at the University of Bamberg, analyzed in a multi-year research project.

With the help of the political science network governance concept Gerrits focused primarily on social relationships and their effects on business operations in Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Austria and the Netherlands. In this way, he was able to systematically investigate which fault management solutions work under which conditions. “There is no best way to manage faults,” he says. "But the countries can definitely learn something from each other."

Deutsche Bahn could, for example, get suggestions from Sweden or Belgium. There, the railway employees use simple, informally usable notification systems to inform individual colleagues quickly and in a targeted manner about incidents of disruption. In Germany, certain forms and official channels have so far been prescribed for reports of this type.

The Dutch railways have over 1500 emergency plans that clearly define what to do in the event of a malfunction. This often helps those responsible to make decisions at lightning speed and thus avoid major disruptions to rail traffic. Deutsche Bahn has only a few plans in the drawer and, in an emergency, relies more on the experience and judgment of the employees. But that can also be an advantage: “Plans can become a trap”, says Gerrits. “You can't foresee everything. So it is also important to be able to deviate spontaneously from the plans and to adapt them to the situation in real time. "

Advantages of Deutsche Bahn: decentralized organization and large rail network

Gerrit's research also shows that, contrary to popular belief, many things in rail traffic in Germany are going better than expected: For example, Deutsche Bahn stands out with its decentralized organization, which enables clear responsibilities in the event of a disruption in operations and helps avoid a lack of competence.

In addition, Deutsche Bahn has a clear advantage over neighboring countries: In Europe's largest rail network, with more than 30,000 kilometers and twice as many track kilometers, there are usually different ways of dealing with a malfunction. In this way, a train can sometimes be diverted if another locomotive has failed and the track is blocked.

Let Gerrits‘The research project ran for five years and was supported by the Dutch rail company ProRail and the Dutch research company NWO. The railway companies gave him access to the corresponding control centers and the employees there.


Further information on the content, method and results of the study


The publication:

  • Leave Gerrits, Danny Schipper (2018): International comparative study on railway disruption management. DOI: 10.20378 / irbo-52592

See also:

Brief info: Incident management in rail transport is a complex and labor-intensive process. Most of the time it works, but sometimes coordination breaks down and the rail system gets mixed up. We compared different European countries to see how they are organized, what they are doing and what could be done to improve performance. This article focuses on Germany in comparison with other countries.

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