Leave aside the shenanigans surrounding Foreign Minister Lene Espersen and a humble press release from the Transport Ministry may be the single most significant piece of politics we will see during the first part of 2010.
The press release is a masterpiece of bureaucratic lingo but the essence seems to be that BaneDanmark “after making a great performance” (many travelers, especially in the Copenhagen area, will not agree) is being transferred from a state owned company back to being a – or some kind of – state agency. In any event, the board of BD gets the sack and the director of the unit will be referring directly to the ministry in the future.
The history of BaneDanmark is a complicated one but it does reflect the impact of NPM on transport policy: As part of a Europe-wide drive to introduce market-based models in rail transport, the old state railway DSB was split up into two state-owned companies (DSB – passenger traffic, DSB Gods – goods transport, sold to DB and during early 2010 operative as “DB Schenker something something”) and a state agency (Banestyrelsen) in the late 1990s. Some five years ago, the agency was turned into a state-owned company called BaneDanmark – and please don’t ask me why BranDinG exPertS alwAys hAVe to pUt capiTal letTers in the miDdle of woRds – but recently the maintenance unit was sold off, so all railway maintenance is performed by hired firms while the ownership of the track lies with BD.
In many ways the Danish rail infrastructure is not in the best of conditions: The railways around Copenhagen are underdimensioned, the signalling system pre-modern and maintenance of the tracks has been neglected for decades so trains have to tip-toe along on the worst parts of the network while urgent repairs are being carried out.
The IC4-scandal is not part of this mess but still adds to the overall picture of a railway system performing below reasonable expectations.
On top of this, traffic on the Helsingør-Copenhagen-Malmø line was privatised last year and the results have not been particularly good. Part of the blame lies in the fact the Malmø C is a massive bottleneck while the final parts of the construction of the City Tunnel are underway, but apparently no-one thought about allowing for this in the planning of the timetables and schedules for this important commuter link.
Now, the minister tells us, the reorganisation will put responsibility for train regularity in one pair of hands – a brave move considering that politicians generally prefer to claim paternity of successes and outsource responsibility for failures. Maybe the minister has noted the December 2010 deadline for the opening of the Malmø link?
Still, the reorganisation does to some extent go against the NPM/QUANGO pattern which has been a fixture of public policy since the late 1980s.