Climate protectionists are reluctant to travel by car. Instead, they rely on travelling by rail: "Travelling by train is environmental protection" is Deutsche Bahn's self-imposed image. But diesel locomotives and nuclear power paint a different picture of the railway.
Diesel and petrol for the car are supposed to be a thing of the past. As alternatives like the e-car are slow to take off, Deutsche Bahn seems to be an environmentally friendly alternative for many. But this idea is far from reality. With about 18 billion kilowatt hours per year, Deutsche Bahn is Germany's largest electricity consumer and even uses more electricity than the city of Berlin. Most of this electricity does not come from green power, but from coal, gas and nuclear power. In fact, the railway is a shareholder in the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant, one of the oldest nuclear power plants in Germany. Green electricity is only used in the comparatively small sphere of long-distance transport.
About a third of Deutsche Bahn's trains, namely 2,500 railcars and locomotives, still run on diesel engines. Their technology is not even remotely comparable with the diesel vehicles that are mostly on German roads today and have the Euro 5 or Euro 6 standard. The diesel engines of the trains are polluters. They date from the 90s and have not read any retrofitting with modern technology or diesel particulate filters. There are no driving bans and environmental zones for rail.
Of course, the railways are following the trend towards more electrification. But the federal government's goal of electrifying 70 percent of the rail network by 2025 will hardly be achievable. It is true that about 60 percent of the lines are currently electrified. In the years 2005 to 2010, however, only about 0.4 percent of the lines were converted on average, i.e. about 70 kilometres per year. To reach the target set by the federal government, however, about 500 kilometres per year would have to be electrified. In an international comparison, Germany is already in a rather poor position with its 60 percent.
The federal government is doing everything it can to ban internal combustion vehicles from the roads, with ever stricter exhaust values and driving bans. In the meantime, it is even testing electric freight transport by trucks with overhead lines. Several million euros are being spent on this in different federal states. It does not occur to them to transfer this freight traffic to the railways. Instead of actually converting the railways into a green alternative, politicians are saving the railways to ruin and sticking to the automobile industry.
With these sobering facts about the German railways, at least you don't have to feel too bad any more if you use your diesel vehicle to commute or go on holiday. In fact, the only green alternative left in the German transport system seems to be cycling or walking.