Germany’s Cabinet has approved a long delayed plan to partially privatise the country’s railway operator Deutsche Bahn. Initially up to 25% would be sold for an estimated three billion euros. With the state keeping control of the rail network and stations for at least 15 years, Deutsche Bahn would operate services with private sector partners. German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said: “The aim is, on one hand, to maintain and improve the quality of rail services for all customers, that means for example stable prices and frequent trains. On the other hand we want to give the company the opportunity to prepare for growing international competition.” Deutsche Bahn – which is Europe’s largest rail company – has 34,000 kilometres of track, 229,000 workers, turnover last year of 30 billion euros and it made a profit of 1.7 billion in 2006.
The privatisation plan still has to get approval from lawmakers, which is by no means guaranteed. If they do say yes, the sell off would start late next year. Local governments,consumer groups and some unions have criticised the part privatisation. And there were protests in Berlin as the Cabinet announced it. Opponents fear jobs losses and local train services suffering with Deutsche Bahn concentrating on the profitable, long-distance routes between big cities.