(Version en français de cet article)
The Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR) is a regional public transport authority that ensures the integration of public transport (prices, offers, quality …), and which finance and provides grants to operators, whether train, tram or bus . The zone managed extends to the Ruhr, the Niederrhein, to part of the Bergisch Land and the state capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf, totaling 8.2 million people. Founded in 1986 as an association of public transport companies, VRR has gradually gained duties and responsibilities and is now seen as a mobility service that acts upstream, in cooperation with service providers to form an integrated transport system. This authority has nearly 49 rail lines and 935 bus lines, for a traffic of about 4 million passengers every day.
As everyone knows, in Germany, regional transport, including railways services, depends on the Lander, which award contracts and grants to operaters of their choice, and not only to the national DBAG. As a buyer of rail services for regional and local passengers, VRR’s mission is to regularly control trains services and the compliance to the contractually agreeded quality standards. As such, the VRR produces an annual barometer of all rail providers. The edition 2015 has now been published. It shows the state of rail passenger transport in the region of the Ruhr. For the tenth time, it provides an overview of the quality of service in the interests of transparency which would make the envy in other Member States of Europe. The annual report provides information on the punctuality and condition of vehicles, shows how travelers appreciate the achievements in the regional rail transport and highlights the quality of sales services. What can we see?
It is noted here that private providers seem to hold the top of the podium, with respect to the DB, but with some variations. As in previous years, the current report shows that the procedure for awarding regional railway lines has a positive effect on the quality of the offer: the assigned lines in competitive tenders are still highly rated by users than those under « bulk » contract of the DB. The barometer below delivers the details:
Services and seating
VRR has questioned travelers on various standards of quality and the level of satisfaction by railway line. Evaluation is curiously denoted as « one » ( « very good ») to « six » ( « unsatisfactory »). So you must have a low score to get the highest notes. Overall, users are more satisfied with the performance of public services over the previous year. Only six of 49 lines operated by the VRR get a worse rating than 2014. On this quotation, DB seems to record the lowest scores, as shown in the table below, with an average of 2.27. By contrast, Abellio (subsidiary of the Dutch NS) is second with 1.87 and the gold is obtained by Regiobahn, a private subsidiary owned by several cities of the Ruhr, with a score of 1.67, the best of the table. As noted in the report, an « increase » of satisfaction is thus denoted while the extremes scores of 2014 extended between 1.70 and 2.83. So there is progress, and VRR attributed this to competitive pressure between providers.
VRR has seen however an increase in the number of trains where seating capacity was less than expected. If some of the passengers seem satisfied, the report, however, gives a negative rating for lines RE2, RE11, RB 27, RB 42 and RB 48 to DB Regio AG and the line RE3 from the private company Eurobahn. Passengers assess better the state of the vehicles than before: modern vehicles or a new interior design certainly have a positive effect on the satisfaction. The report also highlights that the overhaul of the Ruhr-Sieg network (RE 16, RB 40 and RB 91) with Flirt trainsets of two or three cars managed by Abellio, begins to show its effects. On other lines, the reason for the sharp improvement in the overall score can be explained by the use of new trains. Since the last timetable change in December 2014, the S6 line earns 3.31 percentage points thanks to the introduction of the class ET 422, replacing old hauled trains. On the S68 line, rising of 1.97 points is certainly due to the modernization of class ET420.
Punctuality and infrastructure
On the side of infrastructure, if it is still necessary to prove, remains important in punctuality, even in Germany. Martin Husmann, the CEO of the VRR, clearly explains the reasons: ‘(the network) was neglected in the past. For years, the DB Group has not adequately maintained his tracks and few investments were undertaken for the technical update. This means that passengers today suffer disproportionately of many construction sites, causing many delays and cancellations.’ The regional express trains have certainly enhanced their punctuality rate compared to 2014, but the average remains around 84%. The S-Bahn, where the distance is shorter, has a better time performance. The end of 2015 was marked mainly by the fire of the Mülheim signal box, causing chaos for several weeks. Thalys has even postponed its service to Dortmund until April 2016. ‘This shows once again the importance of investing in the maintenance and the expansion of the installations to face to this kind of event with more skill’ insists Martin Husmann.
VRR is booming. By the end of 2016, the lines with high potential like Cologne-Düsseldorf-Bochum and Dortmund – Düsseldorf will spend from two to three trains per hour in Regional services. The frequency on the Duisburg-Essen line will spend from four to five trains per hour, which can leave thoughtful. Abellio will operate with a cross border service between Arnhem, the Netherlands, and Dusseldorf, thus connecting the Dutch city to the Ruhr area.
But Martin Husmann reported another interessant project: the tender for the non-electrified line Emscher-Münsterland, with services RE 14 and RB. Main feature: ‘Our intention from December 2020 is to use fuel cell vehicles. These vehicles are intended to represent a sustainable alternative to conventional diesel trainsets. Using an energy storage device, a smart power management and a favorable energy carrier, these railcars have, compared to conventional diesel units, an increased energy efficiency. In addition, noise emissions will be significantly reduced. ‘ The competitive process for the acquisition and maintenance of these vehicles on the one hand, and the operational services on the other hand, will be conducted separately. An interesting ecological and technological project to follow …