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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Deutsche Reichsbahn = Deutsche Bahn = DB = Arriva

An illuminating background to the origins of our new train operator lies in the metamorphis of Germany's state railways through the past century into the 21st.

Germany railways were unified (more or less) following the Great War (1914-1919). A mosaic of former State owned railways (Bavaria/Prussia/Wuerttemberg etc) were melded into a single entity - Deutsche Reichsbahn. The Reichsbahn was noted for its groundbreaking locomotive and train designs during the 1930s - much like parallel developments in Britain with the LMS and LNER in particular. Other European countries similarly engaged in streamlined locomotive development and stylistic diesel and electrical units, notably France and Belgium. Speed records were also being avidly sought by railways across Europe.

In the aftermath of World War Two the Reichsbahn found itself with the unenviable position of being more or less split down the middle, with the Soviet Zone of Germany (aka the DDR) retaining the rump of what had been originally the eastern part of the former Reich, and Allied Powers governing the western half of Germany and its railways network. An accelerated economic plan (Wirtschaftswunder) under finance minister Erhard's tutelage. aided by the 'Marshall Plan, saw the emergent Federal Republic (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) take charge of the Federal Railways - Deutsche Bahn). The eastern communist part of Germany decided, somewhat ironically, to retain the prewar title - Deutsche Reichsbahn which it kept up to reunification. By the 1990s privatisation policies had seen Deutsche Bahn become DB, and with unification of Germany saw it absorb Deutsche Reichsbahn which was then more familiarly known as the DR. DB itself took on varied commercial investments across Europe (and further afield). In the UK this came in the form of a UK transport business named Arriva. The Northern Rail franchise has now been secured by Arriva and thus many trains running into Blackpool are now ultimately a spin off from the former German State Railways. How the world has turned.

One of the most progressive British railway franchises is Chiltern Railways which operates trains out of London to - wait for it - the Chilterns and affluent Home County territory extending north to Birmingham. Chiltern is also a subsidiary of German Railways with a forward looking management team and readiness to make significant capital investment in new infrastructure, as opposed to slapping coats of new paint on Edwardian era stations and outdated rolling stock. Extremely smart trains and efficient services are the hallmarks of this company - which I can personally attest to having lived for many years inbetween Bicester and Oxford. No doubt the dour and depressing blue rolling stock of the former Northern Rail franchise holder will be soon given a makeover - with promises of new trains to appear courtesy of a Spanish builder, within two to three years. Hopefully most of the old rolling stock will now enter a scrap metal recycling programme.

There might have been a time when German commuters would/or should have been travelling on 'British Rail' subsidiaries in trains built at Derby or Doncaster (or even Crewe). Alas far too many shortsighted UK politicians put paid to such wishful thinking generations ago. Something to remember when that expensive leaflet appears through your letterbox courtesy of HMG.

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