Germany is famed for its well-built cars and efficient railways. But these days, there’s more to being a transport minister than planes, trains and automobiles. In recent months, German citizens have been unnerved by transport disasters that span the globe, from the Costa Concordia ferry tragedy in Tuscany to the growing threat of piracy in the Horn of Africa.
Germany’s minister of transportation, construction and urban development, Peter Ramsauer, has expanded the scope of his office to encompass these new dangers. He’s proposed an international cruise ship safety initiative to ensure that future accidents don’t have such a high cost in human lives and he’s been involved in Germany’s participation in the European Union’s anti-piracy mission Operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia.
However, the affable Bavarian from the centre-right Christian Social Union has sought to tackle transport issues not only on the basis of safety and efficiency, but also quality of life. An amateur pianist, Ramsauer recorded a CD this autumn with the Deutsche Oper called Adagio in the Car, on which he plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 with the aim of soothing harried drivers and preventing road rage.
“A single piano concerto,” he told reporters, “contains many, many more secrets than all the federal transportation policies combined.”
Monocle caught up with the minister at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the future holds for German and indeed global transit policy.
Monocle: Transport isn’t all business; it also has lifestyle implications. How have Germany’s transportation innovations affected the country’s quality of life?
Peter Ramsauer: Innovative transport solutions certainly affect our daily lives. Take the invention of the automobile by the German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Friedrich Benz more than 125 years ago. This invention has fundamentally changed people’s lives. Mobility as we know it today was made possible by this unique innovation. For the future, we need innovative and creative concepts. The German government is providing incentives for alternative transportation, with the goal of one million electric vehicles on German streets by 2020. That will contribute to a higher quality of life for the population.
M: Several recent transport projects have been hindered by mass popular protests. Has it become harder to build new transport infrastructure in Germany? What are the most important planned projects?
PR: Germany’s citizens know that we need a sound, modern transportation infrastructure to foster prosperity and growth. What’s important to me is that construction continues, even with limited financial resources. In terms of national railways, the four-track expansion of the route from Karlsruhe to Basel is a stellar project. The Rhine Valley train line and the Emmerich-Oberhausen line are important north-south connections and a part of the European freight traffic corridor between Rotterdam and Genoa.
M: How high do you consider the risk of piracy, and what must the international community do about it?
PR: The extent of the threat is unfortunately growing across the board, and also, in certain places, in terms of intensity. These aren’t carnival pirates running around with eyepatches; they’re highly armed paramilitary gangs that can hijack big ships with modern weapons. Part of the role of the international community is to ensure the safety of commercial shipping routes. It’s a question of global security and that’s why Germany is taking part in the military mission Atalanta in the Horn of Africa.
M: You are prioritising innovation: what are the most important elements here?
PR: In terms of rail, we are not only working on safety issues but also on ways to transport more freight on a single stretch of track. As for street traffic, telematic systems can inform each road user in real time about every possible traffic disruption, and on-board information systems can show them the best possible way to get from A to B in real time. And also in air traffic, we want to optimise our available resources with quieter planes to protect people living near airports from excessive noise. So that means bigger but even quieter airplanes.
M: How crucial is technological innovation when it comes to marketing German trains, planes and cars around the world?
PR: I’ve travelled around the whole world and had many, many guests from around the world. And all of them express respect and high regard for German engineering when it comes to these three modes of transportation. But we’ve forgotten one: we’re still the world’s best, or among the world’s best, shipbuilders. That also plays a very, very important role. The German rail industry is also in high worldwide demand, with the best technology, above all in terms of sustainability, and also of noise reduction. For example, we’ve developed so-called whisper brakes that are incorporated into all new rolling stock to reduce train noise. I still think we build the best conventional cars and motors in the world, the best combustion engines in the world, and therefore I also expect that the German car industry will produce the best electric cars in the whole world in the future.
The Bundesverkehrswegeplan: A national programme to improve federal roads, will be completed in 2015. By then, the overhaul of 5,500km of local roads and 4,300km of autobahns will have been 11 years in the making. The cost: a total of €47bn.
Karlsruhe to Basel four-track train expansion: In agreement with Switzerland, the German government has committed to expanding this trans-national link before 2019. The work will ease congestion through the Gotthard tunnel, reduce bottlenecking around Basel and cost €1.5bn.
Emmerich-Oberhausen train line: Part of the €25bn transnational project to develop the Rotterdam-Genoa corridor, the expansion will increase freight traffic, add 61km of track and be completed in 2014.
Stuttgart 21: A plan to relocate freight trains outside the city centre and transfer passenger lines underground will create 100 hectares of inner city green space and will cost a total of €2.8bn.