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A new approach
28/02/2012 | Channel:
Infrastructure, Rolling Stock
Promoting a better system for all, Keolis Deutschland
is hoping to help change thinking on a national basis
The operation of public transport is not unique to any one country, but the success of European market leader Keolis lies in its acknowledgement of the different needs of each local authority and passengers, in accordance with the parameters of their own geographical environment. Therefore in contrast to the activities of the Group in general, which focuses on bus and light rail services, Keolis Deutschland purely operates a passenger rail business on behalf of public transport authorities within the North Rhine-Westphalia region.
Likewise, whilst in other countries Keolis may operate joint venture franchises, within Germany the company undertakes its activities alone, providing the Keolis Group with vital experience in heavy rail operation. The company is responsible for three regional franchises under the brand name eurobahn, and with a total network length of 833km is the third largest non-Deutsche Bahn (DB) passenger rail operator in Germany.
This includes Keolis Deutschland’s two newest franchises – Hellweg-Netz and
Maas-Rhein-Lippe-Netz. Opened in December 2008 the Hellweg-Netz route serves towns such as Dortmund, Hamm and Münster, whilst the Maas-Rhein-Lippe-Netz franchise, which began operating a year later, stretches further afield to include Venlo in the Netherlands. From December 2013 the business will also see an increase in its services from the Bielefeld depot.
“At the time, our tender was for the biggest network project ever in the German market, consisting of the 342km Hellweg-Netz line, and additionally the 269km Mass-Rhein-Lippe-Netz route,” describes Hans Leister, managing director of Keolis Deutschland. “With each operating company within Germany providing their own staff and rolling stock for franchises, we purchased 43 Stadler Flirt electric multiple units in a three party agreement with Alpha Trains and Stadler Rail to run on this part of the network. These are managed from Hamm providing a mainline service on routes shared with Inter-City-Express (ICE), other regional trains and cargo trains.”
Unlike other European rail systems, such as the UK, that have a single centre, Germany is a multi-centred country which presents a different challenge in organising an optimal public transport system. “Whilst at a regional level integrated regular interval timetabling has been adopted, this is yet to be accepted on a national basis. This means that whilst most trains are scheduled at regular intervals, the connections are not optimised, and more importantly, the development of the network infrastructure is not carried out in accordance with the future needs of an integrated timetable,” explains Hans.
As such a group of experts comprising transport authorities, the passenger association, environmental groups, and operators such as Hans have formed an initiative known as Deutschland-Takt, which aims to promote a basic change in timetable and infrastructure planning. The proposed concept is to follow the Swiss example by creating a master plan for a nationwide timetable system and then improve the network infrastructure based upon this, as opposed to the current system where investment is made and then operators attempt to schedule services around this. “Given the high cost of infrastructure improvements and development, it is important that we use this resource in the best possible way so by having a timetable in place we can then target investment as it is needed,” highlights Hans. To this end Deutschland-Takt is drawing on the experience of Swiss consultancy SMA, which helped implement the highly successful Swiss system.
Likewise, the move to regular interval trains as part of a highly synchronised timetable will offer far greater interconnectivity between services, and as such more efficient journeys. Regionally such schemes are already in operation, but underpinning these on a national level with the long-distance trains could help to boost demand on Germany’s rail networks. Currently Deutschland-Takt is faced with the challenge of leading a change in the wider thinking of the German rail sector, and its shareholders, in order to see such a concept implemented in the coming years.
Not that this is the only challenge that Hans has to contend with. Within its daily operations Keolis Deutschland is subject to the difficulties that plague most of the passenger railways in Germany such as the cost of energy, driver shortages, and authorisation of new trains. In turn, Keolis Group could choose other priorities on more profitable markets.
With its own contracts running until 2018, and 2025 respectively, Keolis Deutschland is taking a selective approach towards new tenders, aimed at sustaining its current network. “One of our targets is to first improve our existing operations, and then expand within our own region and potentially into others,” concludes Hans. “We have a good portfolio for the year ahead, and some upcoming expansion as a result of the new Bielefeld contract, so we are optimistic about the opportunities for Keolis Deutschland in the future.”