Global Observer

Public transport standstill costs Berlin $45 million

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BERLIN -- A three-hour train power outage may have cost the city of Berlin $45.6 million, or 35 million euros, last week. Experts say the failure has uncovered several key urban issues.

BERLIN -- In a country famous for its punctuality, an unexpected train service disruption in the German capital last week allegedly cost Berlin a whopping 34.6 million euros, or approximately US$45.1 million.

The city's Deutsche Bahn-operated S-Bahn service stalled for a total of three hours last Thursday after a malfunction during routine maintenance work. The complete stoppage affected some 1 million passengers, including tourists, professionals and students, according to a report by the Technical University (TU) Berlin.

"The failure shows just how important the reliability of power supply is to the city," a press release announcing the report said of the incident, which left some passengers stranded between stations before they were herded down the tracks on foot.

Last week's service breakdown was the first of three subsequent interruptions, with a smaller failure occurring again on Friday, and a shortage of train operators - many of whom had called in sick - causing disruptions on Saturday.

"The combined result is economic damages amounting to a total of $45.1 million (€34.6 million)," Dr. Georg Erdmann, an Energy Systems professor at the TU, said.

"Immaterial [general] damages are not included in the sum."

Dr. Erdmann and Aaron Praktiknjo of the TU Berlin made the calculations, citing Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker and his theory on the quantification of human capital as the basis for their formula. The sum accounts for the number of lost hours, the estimated monetary productivity value of individuals per hour, as well as the number of affected persons.

Any financial burden could prove significant for the capital city, which has struggled for years to make ends meet. The report also comes on the heels of Deutsche Bahn AG's projection of continued positive growth in the form of an estimated $3.6 billion (€2.75 billion) in gross earnings in 2012, as reported by Der Tagesspiegel earlier this month.

Deutsche Bahn and unionized train operators have a history of conflict regarding wages and benefits involving alternating talks and strikes in recent years. Meanwhile Der Tagesspiegel reported rumors of a "cold strike" among unhappy train operators after dozens of S-Bahn drivers called in sick on Saturday.

A poll by the daily newspaper indicated that 49% of readers believe that nationalization of the S-Bahn system - upon which an estimated 1.3 million daily passengers are dependent - would alleviate service problems, while 51% said it would not.

Photo: Flickr/Jonas Maaloe

Shannon Smith

Correspondent (Berlin)

Shannon N. Smith has written for WNYC's The Takeaway and TheLocal.de. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure