In the meantime, things are happening at Deutsche Bahn that one would not have thought possible for a long time: "Dear Sir or Madam, because I just looked out of the window and I did not know the route, I once asked the control center," it recently sounded with disarming honesty over the on-board microphone of an ICE. The explanation for this mishap was immediately provided by the train conductor with comparable openness: "We were diverted and not informed about it." The realization that even an ICE gets off track is already unusual, but possibly even a proof of flexibility. More unusual, although not completely new, is the brittle honesty with which the employees reveal the shortcomings of Deutsche Bahn: "We are now being evacuated. When exactly where we arrive, not even the dispatcher knows."

Corinna Budras

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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Of course, this is only anecdotal evidence, but the frequency with which train passengers are informed, sometimes even well entertained, by such announcements is increasing significantly. Where once "disruptions in operations", "delays from previous journeys" or "weather-related impairments" prevailed, now the cheerful confession breaks ground: "The train driver has not yet arrived because of another delayed train. We are currently blocking the track for his train. We ourselves are curious to see how this will be resolved."

Experienced railway workers have several explanations for this. The first is obvious: the worse the performance, the more multifaceted the excuses. If you're not late, you don't need an excuse, let alone an entertaining one. Unless the success rate is so bad that even a scheduled arrival provides amusement. Here, too, the railway can score more and more often.

There are many reasons for the poor performance

Delays of one hour or more, on the other hand, usually have several causes. Where a lot happens, you can report a lot. And the performance of Deutsche Bahn is currently very bad: Just 61 percent of long-distance trains reached their destination on time in November, and this unspeakable statistic does not even include the train cancellations that currently seem to be piling up.

The reasons for the misery are widely known: The route network is dilapidated and urgently needs a general renovation. Even the railway management now openly admits that too little has been invested in recent decades. In addition to the many – scheduled – construction sites, there are always other disruptive factors: Sometimes concrete sleepers throughout the country have to be checked and replaced at short notice, then a freight train loaded with propane gas blocks an important section of track for weeks after an accident.

The new openness, spiced with a pinch of gallows humor, can be summed up in a simple outrage headline: railway employees make fun of the chaos and mock the passengers. However, this does not take into account the second level of explanation for this trend – and this should worry the state-owned company almost more than the self-inflicted inability: The employees are tired of the escapades of their employer. They are ashamed of the poor performance that ultimately hits them themselves: "Our train can't continue today: there is another train in front of us that is broken. We can't get past that."