Punctuality, along with quality of service, is no longer a byword for German railways. Recent news reports have highlighted a mass of problems which seem to be almost insurmountable: delays; broken axles; broken power lines; broken or non-existent air-conditioning; rude, ill-informed and unhelpful staff. The railway company promises improvements, but nothing seems to come of these promises and, with the continually mounting complaints against the company, many slip into the murk of forgetfulness and may well never be resolved.
It is easy to gain a picture of the company as a whole by looking at one simple example. The regions Bremen and Lower Saxony have issued a guarantee for passengers: buses will run on time and arrive punctually at railways stations to allow passengers enough time to catch their trains, they will be clean and the staff friendly. The guarantee has been issued in writing, with the promise of recompense when these promises are not kept: passengers missing a connection through delays which could have been avoided are given new tickets to use at their leisure.
What the people writing this guarantee didn’t take into account is the attitude of the Deutsche Bahn (the national railway company). Buses must wait a set amount of time for the arrival of a train, they have agreed, but trains will not wait even a few minutes for buses and, in many cases, not even for other trains. The Deutsche Bahn goes a stage further: asked to provide information on possible delays through a radio connection – the bus driver calling the control center – by the company Weser-Ems-Bus, the company demanded payment for the time and effort its workers would have to expend giving out the information, although the financial side would benefit the company alone and not be passed on to those doing the work. Weser-Ems-Bus turned down a payment system, pointing out that the information is of benefit to the passengers and ensures a good and continuous service. The Deutsche Bahn stuck to its guns and will only provide information on delays and cancellations when paid.
The Weser-Ems-Bus company is owned by Deutsche Bahn.