Transportation Gets Tricky for Germany

Hannah Matangos

Hannah Matangos was a research intern at AICGS for the spring semester of 2016.

From April 23 to May 8, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn is expected to close an important stretch of track between Hanover and Kassel for construction work. This closure will affect about 170 long and short-distance trains—and thus millions of passengers—that travel the stretch daily between some of Germany’s largest cities, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, and Hamburg.

Deutsche Bahn has budgeted €28 billion for rail reconstruction and renovation between 2015 and 2019. However, the rail operator faces pressure over unreliable train service; in 2015, 25 percent of long-distance trains operated by Deutsche Bahn reached their destinations late.

Meanwhile, funding for construction of a bike highway called Radschnellweg Ruhr (or RS1) is being questioned. The bike autobahn hopes to connect communities for high-speed, emissions-free travel, and upon its completion will stretch 101 kilometers from Duisberg to Hamm in western Germany. November 2015 saw 11 kilometers completed between Essen and Mülheim in west-central Germany. Expected to be completed in 2020, RS1 would connect ten towns and take approximately 50,000 cars off the road per day. Preliminary funding for project came from the European Union, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Ruhr Regional Association, but a current lack of funding might hinder RS1’s completion. Critics question the benefits of the bike autobahn, since the construction costs about €2 million per kilometer and the use of electric and hybrid cars is already reducing emissions nationwide.

However, “clean” cars have been under scrutiny since the Dieselgate scandal last year, and Volkswagen is still hampered by lawsuits. On Tuesday, March 29, the United States Federal Trade Commission sued the automaker, demanding compensation for consumers misled by the supposed “clean diesel” vehicles. Resale values for affected models have dropped since the emissions-cheating software was found. Volkswagen has already been under pressure from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to develop a solution to repair the cars and refund customers. Last week, Judge Charles Breyer, presiding over the cases filed by consumers, granted the company an extension until April to form a workable plan in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the case will escalate.

Volkswagen may soon see a competitor in the U.S. since California-operated Tesla Motors has announced its first mid-price offering, the Model 3. Priced at $35,000 and expected to ship in late 2017, the basic model can travel 345 kilometers between charges. Within the first 24 hours of availability, 115,000 preorders were made along with down payments of $1,000. Tesla is expected to sell 500,000 electric cars annually by 2020, and a successful launch will make Tesla a solid competitor in the e-car market.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.