Deutsche Bahn, the National Rail Company of Germany, is the largest rail operator in Europe and came into existence in 1994 after the merging of Deutsche Bundes bahn (German Federal Railway) of West Germany and Deutsche Reichsbahn of East Germany.
The present shape of DB and German Rail industry is the result of the re-organisation that happened in 1999 (called the Bahn Reform) and 2007. DB is a joint stock company with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany being the single shareholder. It is further divided into several business units or corporate subdivisions. The DB Group is a full fledged service provider of transportation and logistics in Germany and abroad and is not limited to train operations. Being one of the top employers in Europe, it has 323,381 employees in Germany and in units abroad.
DB Board of Management and Railway Board (IR): A Comparison
DB board of management has just one member for infrastructure while the others focus on passenger and freight transport (which is the core business of any Railway), digitalization and technology (very significant in the modern age of technology) and Human Resources (essential for a labour intensive organization).
It is quite evident that the DB Board is organized on commercial and business considerations, while the IR Railway Board is organized on engineering and technical considerations. This is not merely a structural issue but goes deep into the priorities and philosophy of an organization.
Going further into the academic backgrounds of the current members of DB board makes the picture clearer. They come from disciplines such as finance, law, political science, business administration, management and one member from physics and mathematics. This allows the Board to have a broad, multidimensional and futuristic vision and focus on making DB grow its business and compete in the market. The result being that DB is now much more than a Railway Company as it runs bus services, foreign passenger transport services (Arriva in the UK), freight forwarding, ship and air logistics and remains one of the most technologically advanced rail networks in the world.
IR Railway Board, however, is comprised mostly of Engineers heading technical departments focused on managing various aspects of train running such as Engineering (Tracks, bridges and other infrastructure), Rolling Stock (Wagons, Coaches), Traction (Locomotives and electrical engineering), Staff (headed currently by a mechanical engineer!), finance and traffic (only member looking after commercial and business aspects). It is clear that such a board is constituted to run a machine rather than to provide good quality services to a wide range of citizens and customers and grow as an organisation and as a business.
Indian Railways attracts the best engineers of the country with Railways being the first choice in the Engineering Services Examination, however, by burdening them with General administration and personnel management, their technical knowledge and innovative skills are not made use of. For instance, a mechanical engineer is expected not only to look after coaches, wagons and diesel locomotives but also crew, linen supplied in trains and even cleanliness at some places!
The Bureaucratization of engineers has led to a situation where IR has failed to come up with innovative technological solutions, indigenous coach designs in decades and countless failures of tracks, wagons, OHE, signals are reported daily!
For Indian Railways to make optimum utilization of talent, Engineers must be given the breathing space to focus on research and development, provide technological solutions and innovations. Like DB and other Government departments, General administration can function well under civil servants who come from varied backgrounds and can run the organisation keeping commercial and social welfare objectives in mind.
Business Units/ Subsidiaries of Deutsche Bahn
DB functions through various corporate subsidiaries that handle various departments of its business.
Indian Railways has also followed this model in some form by creating corporate entities like IRCTC, IRCON, DFCCIL etc but as far as DB is concerned, all of its functions are carried out by these business units.
Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bahn AG
The Supervisory Board of Deutsche Bahn AG has 20 members, of whom ten are shareholder representatives and ten are employee representatives. As the Government is the sole shareholder, 10 members represent the Federal Republic of Germany.
As discussed earlier, there is a lot to learn from the organisational structure of Deutsche Bahn and features from it can be incorporated in Indian Railways to make it a more modern organization well equipped to handle the fierce competition given by road and air transport. This will also make IR more sensitive towards the needs and want of its customers and citizens of India.
(Written by Siddhartha Verma, IRTS)
(Stay tuned for more articles on train operations in Deutsche Bahn and the wonder that is Berlin Hauptbahnof Station!)