German defense minister seeks quick solution for soldiers to use trains for free

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-12 20:51:52|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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BERLIN, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Monday that she is seeking a quick agreement with Deutsche Bahn regarding free train journeys for Bundeswehr soldiers.

"We want to reach a solution very quickly with the railway where it is clear that if someone with uniform and service card goes by train, then they should be able to do so for free," Kramp-Karrenbauer said in the Morgenmagazin of German public broadcaster ZDF.

In view of the great responsibility that Bundeswehr soldiers assumed with their service, it was "the minimum" to allow them to freely use the German railway, noted Kramp-Karrenbauer.

She had promised at her inauguration at the end of July that soldiers in uniform should travel free of charge on buses and trains in order to increase the visibility of the Bundeswehr.

On Sunday, the German newspaper Spiegel had reported that Kramp-Karrenbauer's talks with the Deutsche Bahn about the initiative had come to a standstill.

The booking conditions were particularly controversial as Deutsche Bahn only wanted to transport soldiers on trains that were not heavily used and for which discounted savings tickets were offered to regular customers, according to Spiegel.

The German railway said it wanted to reach an agreement with the armed forces but felt that it was not "acceptable" for the soldiers to impose a further burden on heavily used routes.

Another sticking point were the costs of the initiative, which Deutsche Bahn estimated at 38 million euros (42.45 million U.S. dollars) per year, assuming that soldiers would use between 400,000 to 800,000 free rides annually.

In addition, a separate booking system would have to be programmed for the Bundeswehr for a further 26 million euros, according to Deutsche Bahn.

"Out of 450 Germans, one is a soldier," the military commissioner for the German Bundestag, Hans-Peter Bartels, told the newspapers of Funke Media Group on Monday.

"The railway board should be accommodating on its own initiative," criticized Bartels, adding that "after all, the federal government is already paying tens of billions for the expansion of the rail network".

The German Green Party's spokesperson on defense, Tobias Lindner called the dispute between the railway and the Defense Ministry "absurd to embarrassing".

It was "irritating" that nobody had calculated the capacities of the railway before the proposal for free trips for soldiers was made public, Lindner told the German editorial network.

Lindner supported the German defense minister's initiative on the basis of climate protection, however, noting that, "if, through these measures, more soldiers are persuaded to use the train instead of the car on their way to work, then that is money well spent".