Inspection of railway sleepers in Germany ends: first results speak of manufacturer's fault

Karel Novak, Published on 23/08/2022
Inspection of railway sleepers in Germany ends: first results speak of manufacturer's fault
@DB AG / Uwe Miethe

Damage to DB is expected in the amount of hundreds of million euros.


Deutsche Bahn's (DB) extensive inspection program for concrete sleepers in the rail network is nearing completion. Since July, DB experts have been inspecting around 200,000 sleepers of a specific type and manufacturer throughout Germany. The inspections will be completed at the end of August.

The work is being carried out as a precautionary measure, as the investigating authorities are also examining sleepers of a specific construction type in connection with the accident near Garmisch-Partenkirchen on June 3. Even though the investigations have not yet been completed and the cause of the accident has not yet been determined, DB has decided as a precautionary measure to examine sleepers of the same design on the network. Initial preliminary findings from technical reports by independent testing institutes now suggest that there may be a manufacturer's fault: some of the sleepers have irregularities in their material properties, DB says.

Wherever the experts have discovered anomalies, DB claims that they have reacted immediately. In most cases, wherever necessary, trains travel more slowly over the affected sleepers. In isolated cases, DB also had to close sections of the track. Unfortunately, passengers and freight customers are feeling the effects: detours, longer travel times or even rail replacement services cannot be avoided as a result of the work. DB stated that they very much regret the restrictions for its passengers and customers and asks all those affected for their understanding and apologies.

As a result of the investigations, there are currently restrictions at a total of around 165 locations in the rail network. The main areas affected are Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. DB is working to eliminate disruptions for passengers and freight customers as quickly as possible. DB has already been able to replace the sleepers on the first lines, and specific construction dates have already been scheduled for around 90 percent of the affected sections.

The aim is to have almost all the affected lines running again as normal by the end of the year. However, it is also clear that the replacement of some of the sleepers will take until next year. A DB task force is coordinating the currently scarce construction resources so that they can be used as effectively as possible. Priority is initially given to particularly busy lines and of great importance for stable long-distance, regional, and freight traffic throughout the network. 

It is not yet possible to put a concrete figure on the damage incurred. DB assumes that it will be in the three-digit million range. Possible recourse claims against the sleeper manufacturer will be legally examined based on the final expert reports.

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