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Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed rail line between Berlin and Munich has been plagued with delays, breakdowns and cancellations since it went into operation Sunday, amid allegations that the German rail operator was ill-prepared for the launch.
The express line, designed to cut travel time between Germany’s two most important cities from six to four hours, was launched Sunday. ICE Sprinter trains, expected to be racing at speeds of up to 300 km/h (185 mph) on the new line, cost nearly €10 billion ($ 12 billion) to build. Deutsche Bahn expects 3.6 million passengers annually on the new service.
The highly-awaited opening of the high-speed line was marred by several technical problems. One train traveling from Munich to Berlin was delayed in Nuremberg for 20 minutes on Sunday, and then needed to be diverted to a slower track, in order not to delay the high-speed train on the new track behind it. The train eventually arrived in Berlin two hours late.
On Monday morning, a train scheduled to set off from Berlin to Munich at 7:38 am was canceled due to “technical problems.” On Tuesday morning, a high-speed train traveling between Berlin and Munich was also canceled, reportedly due to technical problems.
“We are still waiting for clarification of the exact reasons for the breakdowns,” the head of the trade union GDL (Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivfuhrer) told Zeit.
GDL, which represents train drivers, said state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB) was inadequately prepared for the launch of the new high-speed route. “Our train drivers are doing their best… but they haven’t had a trial run,” GDL chairman Claus Weselsky said Wednesday, as cited by Abendblatt.
Deutsche Bahn (DB) has dismissed Weselsky’s claims. “Our locomotive drivers have been well trained,” a DB spokesman said. “The technical issues have been thoroughly analyzed, and largely eliminated during hundreds of trial runs before the line went into operation.”
However, industry watchers have been surprised that no credible explanation for the series of breakdowns and mishaps has been provided.
“I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a reasonable explanation [for the Deutsche Bahn breakdowns],” Christian Bottger, professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, told Tagesspiegel on Tuesday. “Long-distance rail routes have not been well managed for years,” he added.
Bottger said there could be a variety of reasons to blame, including thin resources, unclear responsibilities within DB’s management, as well as the company’s penchant to hire too many consultants.
Travelers should expect possible “cancellations or delays” along the high-speed route in the next few days, Suddeutsche Zeitung reported.