Rising rail demand pulls Deutsche Bahn ahead

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Record petrol prices appear to have spurred hundreds of thousands of Germans to ditch their cars for the train, a trend that has buoyed state railway Deutsche Bahn ahead of this autumn’s flotation of its train operations.

Hartmut Mehdorn, chief executive of the Bahn and newly carved-out subsidiary Deutsche Bahn Mobility and Logistics, said the group carried 941m passengers in the first half of the year, 30m more than in the same period last year.

The record figure – which equates to an average of 165,000 more train journeys a day – came as car drivers and airline operators struggled with oil-related annual price rises of 80 per cent. In comparison, Deutsche Bahn’s electricity costs rose only half.

The company said the distance travelled by Germans in their cars in the first six months of the year had fallen 1.5 per cent, while the distance travelled with DBML and its rivals had risen 1.4 per cent.

With business at Europe’s largest rail-freight operation also showing few signs of fallout from the global economic slowdown, the Bahn said DBML’s full-year results should improve on last year, when it made €1bn in net profit on €31bn in sales.

Mr Mehdorn refused to say when a planned 24.9 per cent of DBML would be sold – advisers have considered late October or early November. But he said a recent tour of potential investors had shown that appetite was still good.

Internal growth and acquisitions – such as the purchase of UK freight operator EWS – boosted first-half sales 6.8 per cent to €16.2bn ($23.8bn). Net profit grew 5.4 per cent to €915m.

In spite of first encounters with economic ripples in the wake of financial market woes, Mr Mehdorn said “freight traffic continues to perform very well”. Were it not for bottlenecks at European ports, DBML “could transport even more” cargo, he said.

But Mr Mehdorn cautioned that DBML would not escape all adverse effects. He said freight growth had slowed, last year’s electricity bill of €2bn was likely to rise and engine drivers had achieved big wage rises after a strike.

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