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Deutsche Bahn and Siemens partner for world's most advanced train network


On Monday, Germany's state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Siemens AG confirmed an order for 300 of the most advanced high-speed trains in the world.  In what amounts to a Hail Mary pass, the beleaguered Deutsche Bahn is pouring EUR 6 billion into 250km/h ICx train service through 2030, which they hope will restore DB's battered brand and win back public opinion from a nation that has increasingly been turning away from train travel and exporting its best rail technology abroad.

Deutsche Bahn has had a rough couple of years.  They've been criticized for everything from failing track infrastructure and poor wages to their consumption of nuclear power.  Train service was so bad this winter in the nation's capital, that a Berlin daily published a front-page obituary for DB and state legislators laughed at CEO Rüdiger Grube when he was called to answer for the chaos that has plagued the city since Summer of 2009. 

DB took the hint and responded with drastic action.

The new ICx train is a technological wonder and embodies many of the values of a nation whose national identity is closely linked to its train system.  ICx trains will be 30% more power efficient, more aerodynamic, and 20 tons lighter than the high-speed ICE trains currently in service.   They won't be the world's fastest trains, but for the nation with the highest per capita investment in renewable energy, ICx technology is a symbol of Germany's commitment to solving energy problems through innovation and efficiency.

Recently, Germans have lamented the fact that Siemens has sold much of its best new technology overseas, in the form of its Velaro train set, landing huge contracts in China, the Northeastern U.S., and even in Spain and Russia.  So it is a matter of national pride that the largest contract in Siemens' corporate history will be for German technology in Germany.

Siemens' new trains could be a double win for the environment if ICx's promise of comfort and efficiency lure customers away from air travel. Germans love their trains but high prices and deteriorating service have increasingly driven people to low-cost commuter airlines for cross-country trips.  The notoriously nuclear-critical Germans have justified the environmental impact of flying by pointing out that DB trains get 25% of their power from nuclear, most of it from Germany's oldest, most dangerous reactor.

During the recent disaster involving the Fukushima plant in Japan, the nuclear industry - in which Siemens is also a major player - came under even more increased scrutiny. Prompted by that event, the German government is heading for a complete nuclear phase-out by 2020. Super-efficient ICx trains will help aid the transition by using less total power and will offer a greener alternative to air travel that runs exclusively on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Eventually, nuclear-free service from DB will be attractive to a nation of environmentalists and may present an opportunity to gain a price advantage over airlines facing ever-increasing fuel costs.

Germans are longing to be proud of their train system again, to have the most advanced, efficient, and punctual trains in the world, but Germans will have to wait until 2016 for the new ICx train sets to go online.  By that time, Deutsche Bahn and Germany as a whole will be using more renewable energy and less nuclear power.  Projects from the EUR 44 billion Grube promised to spend on infrastructure and upgrades will hopefully allow the new trains to run at their full speed and on time. The contract between Siemens and DB holds the promises of a nation that strives to be a leader in sustainability and technology, and Germans are eager to see their beloved Deutsche Bahn regain its prestige.