Deutsche Bahn is not exactly known for military precision in its timetables. However, in an emergency, the Bundeswehr must be able to rely on the company.

Because if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to attack NATO, thousands of military vehicles would pass through Germany to the east, especially on trains.

In 2018, the Bundeswehr signed a contract with the railway subsidiary DB Cargo that creates the conditions for this. The company already has 300 wagons and locomotives for more than 1,300 military transports per year, as reported by ZDF.

This allows the Bundeswehr to participate in NATO maneuvers such as the current Quadriga exercise. Due to its central location in Europe, Germany is a major military center.

The weakened railway network could become a danger

The contract costs the federal government 100 million euros a year. It's expensive money, but it doesn't guarantee success: the numerous construction sites that train travelers have to deal with also affect military transport.

The Federal Ministry of Transport counted around 130 slow speeds in 2022, and in the summer of 2023 there were already around 250. The overloaded and deteriorated railway network could become a real danger in the event of an emergency. It is also unclear whether there will be enough wagons to load, for example, tankers.

The fact that transport must be carried out by rail is due to the disadvantages that road transport would entail. The armor on the tracks does not adapt well to asphalt. If they fail on the route, long traffic jams would form that would paralyze not only the supply of troops but also civilian traffic.

If NATO really becomes a warring party, private rail travelers would also have to cut back. The contract between the Bundeswehr and DB Cargo includes an “express surcharge”. Consequently, in the event of an emergency, military transport would have priority, leaving behind normal passenger and freight traffic.

Many obstacles when transporting military material abroad

The express clause apparently comes into play when NATO activates its spearhead. The troops with the official name “Very High Readiness Joint Task Group” must be able to react particularly quickly and have around 5,000 ground forces. If the spearhead is not active, the Bundeswehr must register its military transports on the railways one month in advance.

It remains to be seen how quickly express transport can be achieved, for example to the Baltic countries. There is no Schengen agreement for military vehicles, which normally guarantees free border traffic within the EU.

In Germany, for example, the arrival of tanks must be coordinated with the federal police. To speed up the process, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany are currently working on a “military Schengen.”

Furthermore, there is no uniform railway network in Europe. In Germany and Poland, for example, the two lanes are separated by 143.5 centimeters; in Lithuania, the track width is 152 centimeters. Thus, loaded trains cannot simply pass through.

Despite all the problems, the transport agreement will probably continue after the end of the year, when the contract between Deutsche Bahn and the Bundeswehr expires. Germany as a troop center is indispensable for NATO at least as long as Putin threatens the military alliance.

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