LETTER: Germany's rail privatisation

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The Independent Online
From Mr David Head

Sir: Your report today on the closure of ABB Rail Vehicles' York carriageworks ("Works closure blamed on BR sale", 12 May) quotes John Major as saying: "Privatisation is no more responsible for this than for an outbreak of measles." His response is disingenuous, as a comparison with the impact of privatisation in the case of Germany's railway system indicates.

In 1992, the German government announced its plan to privatise the railways over an eight-year period, starting 1 January 1994. The plan envisages a system based on three autonomous divisions responsible for the track network, passenger traffic and freight which, initially, will be under the auspices of a holding company. For the time being, too, the government will hold all the shares. There is another difference with the way privatisation is being implemented in Britain; in Germany, privatisation has generally been good news for the firms supplying the rolling-stock.

The state-of-the-art ICE (Inter City Express), which has become a mobile advertisement for "made in Germany", has recently been redesigned in response to a joint decision by the rail company Deutsche Bahn and Siemens, and a Hamburg-Berlin link based on the highly innovative Transrapid magnetic hovertrain has been given the go-ahead. Transrapid will be an all-German product built by Thyssen Hentschel, and the entire project will be hugely expensive.

Rail privatisation, then, need not lead to the decline of the rolling- stock industry, but can promote its development. It all depends on whether one of the priorities inherent in privatisation's implementation is serving the national interest. What John Major omitted to mention yesterday was that he and his government have not given any thought to that possibility.

Yours faithfully,


Senior Lecturer in German

University of Bath


12 May