Berlin tenders local train service contracts

Berlin authorities have issued a Europe-wide tender to operate a chunk of the capital's suburban train system in the hope of reducing costs and improving the heavily criticised service in the impoverished city-state.

Berlin tenders local train service contracts
Photo: DPA

The S-Bahn network, currently operated by Deutsche Bahn, will be operated on three different contracts from 2017, bids from which are now being invited from companies across Europe.

The Berlin-Brandenburg transport association (VBB) put an announcement in the Official Journal of the European Union on Monday.

Berlin is hoping not only European but also Asian train operators will show interest in the multi-million euro contract before bids close on October 15 this year, wrote the Tagesspiegel daily on Tuesday. It is also expected that Deutsche Bahn will make a bid.

The move follows the Berlin Senate’s decision in June to split the troubled network into three separate operations once state-run Deutsche Bahn’s operating contract runs out in 2017.

The hope is that competition between prospective operators will drive down the level of subsidy the city-state currently pumps into the system to keep it going, the paper said.

The S-Bahn network – operated separately from the city’s underground trains – stretches from the city centre all the way into the state of Brandenburg. With around 160 stations and 330 kilometres of track, the network currently transports around 1.3 million passengers daily.

It has been plagued by maintenance problems in recent years due to a lack of investment, with problems frequently forcing Deutsche Bahn to scale back the service.

Now the call has gone out for a new operator for the Ring Bahn – which runs around the outside of the city centre – and its feeder lines from the south west, which together receive roughly a third of Berlin’s S-Bahn traffic. Calls for bids on the north-south and east-west lines contracts will be put out separately.

S-Bahn services elsewhere in Germany – including Freiburg and Hamburg – have also been opened up to bids from other operators this year with a view to ending Deutsche Bahn’s monopoly on the networks when current contracts run out in 5 years time.

The new Berlin contract will run for 15 years from 2017 until 2032. Prospective operators are expected to bring with them enough cash to spend up to €1 billion on new train carriages during that period, after the Senate rejected an initial proposal to guarantee 90 percent of the acquisition and production costs.

Critics of the move to put out a tender say only current operator Deutsche Bahn can muster that kind of money and that private railways would have hard time getting the credit, wrote the Berliner Morgenpost on Monday.

Despite a lack of interest from the indebted BVG Berlin Transport Company, which runs the rest of the city’s public transport network, Berlin’s transport senator Michael Müller said he was optimistic that enough operators with the money would show interest, wrote the paper.

Any new operator will be required to take on current S-Bahn employees on the same terms, yet the Union of Railway Workers (EVG) and the Berlin S-Bahn Workers Council are opposed to the call for bids and have raised concerns over job losses and a reduced number of training places.

Meanwhile on Tuesday morning, German Engine Drivers Union (GDL) and state owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn agreed a wage increase settlement for more than 20,000 train drivers nationwide, preventing driver strikes which had threatened to coincide with the summer holiday period.

DAPD/The Local/jlb

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.