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Berlin: New Trouble with ‘S-Bahn’ Train System

Both Berlin’s main public transport provider, the BVG, and the city train system known as ‘S-Bahn’ hit the news headlines all the time, sometimes even on a daily basis. First it is about walkouts which basically cripple Berlin for a day. The next news item explains why the modernization of Berlin’s U-Bahn (metro, subway underground) can not be implemented as quickly as necessary.

In the next day’s newspaper, a report about a couple performing oral sex in an S-Bahn train makes headlines. Then the refurbishment of train tracks leads to inconveniences for Berliners, since they have to change from trains to buses on certain stretches.

Now there is more trouble: Employees of Deutsche Bahn, which operates the S-Bahn train system in Berlin, are sounding the alarm. This time it is about severe issues at the operations center for these trains in Berlin’s Halensee borough. Because of a shortage of manpower, the situation seems to be unbearable. The publication ‘Netzblatt Extra’ reported about this first.

According to whistleblowers, dispatchers often have to do the work for two employees simultaneously. Periods of rest required by law were being ignored, the works council at the operations center said in a letter which the ‘Berliner Morgenpost‘ daily reported about. The ‘Netzblatt‘ even says the situation was so grave that a shutdown of operations could not be ruled out anymore.

The S-Bahn is one of the backbones of Berlin’s public transport system. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

All of this sounds like mismanagement might have lead to the severe issues which obviously need to be dealt with immediately. Also safety does not seem to be in focus as much as it should be, to say the least.

At the operations center in question, virtually all switches and signals for the S-Bahn system are being controlled. There are more than 300 kilometers of S-Bahn tracks in and around Berlin. In the condition it seems to be now, the system might fail it any point.

A year ago, Deutsche Bahn had announced a ‘quality offensive’ after reports of neglect and other problems had alarmed Berliners. But at least at the operations center in Halensee, nothing much has happened. There is one thing the S-Bahn has improved, which is its punctuality. On the other hand, a shutdown would not exactly help in this regard either.

Now Deutsche Bahn says employees from other divisions would be sent to help their colleagues at the operations center, according to German-language media reports. Also, Deutsche Bahn intends to give those overworked employees in Halensee a bonus. The management also says there were no negative consequences for passengers at this moment, which does not sound too reassuring.

Some critics say it was time other companies took over the Berlin S-Bahn system. Actually, the city state of Berlin and the neighboring federal state of Brandenburg are discussing this question already. Later this month they will decide which operator will run the S-Bahn lines S1, S2, S3, S5, S7, S9, S25, S75 and S85 after the year 2026. Several parties, including Deutsche Bahn, are interested.