For about a week now in the local area here (Mainz)....there's not been any real train traffic flowing through the local train station. The cause is rather comical and infuriating.
Every major railway station in Germany.....of significance....has a tower. From this tower, there is a control room of sorts....kinda like an airport tower. There's a couple of desks with four monitor screens and dozens of displays for one or two guys on duty. Here in 2013, it's a fairly complicated process to bring two hundred to four hundred trains through a station on a daily basis....safely. Then you add in anywhere from fifteen to fifty 'spurs' which bring traffic in, and the same number leading out. Toss in weather, trains running off-schedule, broke-down trains.....and you've got a mess.
So the station is Mainz has been one of many....that underwent personnel downsizing over the past decade. It's not clear how many controllers they had in 2013....but today....they run it with a total of fifteen controllers for a seven-day-a-week operation, from probably 5AM to midnight.
This episode over the past week developed because they had the right number by the recommendation of the HR folks, and summer vacation period dictates that people get a chance to take at least two weeks of leave. Sadly, it appears that least three guys came up while the vacation guys were gone, and claimed sick-leave. Statistically speaking, it's odd in winter that you'd have three guys claiming sick-leave, but you can't challenge the union guys on this.
The hostages? There's probably ten to fifteen thousand folks from the Mainz region or outside of the region.....that depend on the train station to operate. Students, workers, retirees, etc. Everyone over the past week is frustrated because most have no plan "B". People are openly asking how this is possibly in this day in age....to run a third-world train station?
With election talk in full turbo....this just added fuel to the fire.
But now, there's some worry that dozens of major cities in Germany are in the same boat. They all downsized, and they all went by the HR recommended numbers. So 2013 was just a wake-up call. 2014? I would imagine the union guys have already calculated the sick-days necessary to bring the nation to its knees. Somewhere between five and eight million Germans use the train system daily.
The curious thing.....even if they all agreed to hire up 2,000 new employees over the next twelve months across the nation's train stations as controllers.....it'd take roughly two or three years before they'd be truly certified and capable of running things on their own. That's the technical side of this mess which everyone admits.....it's complicated, and you can't avoid all of the various gimmicks that are built into the system.
All of this brings me to this final observation. Here is the world's most highly developed rail system.....urgently dependent on the fine art of engineers and brilliant men.....requiring the daily attention of the best-of-the-best controllers....and it can be taken down for days or weeks.....because of a lack of manpower. It says alot about today's society, and where we've come in one hundred years.