The pun is hard to translate into English but back in the late 19th century a perceptive Danish politician declared that only the sex drive (kønsdriften) was harder to control than the trains (jernbanedriften). Today, one may wonder if he was wrong. It looks increasingly as if the sex is the easy part of the equation while controlling the rail traffic is harder than ever.
The Øresundstog/DSBFirst debacle is only one of many problems which have hit Danish railways in recent years, but an over-active and somewhat erratic Minister of Transport has definitively added to the news value. On the other hand, concentrating on the specific issue may also obscure some of the more general problems with running transport infrastructure.
But to summarise: The specific problem regarding DSBFirst is one of overoptimistic budgeting and planning linked with a lack of competence in evaluating offers from the Danish and Swedish authorities which again led to regular disturbances in the traffic on the Malmö – Copenhagen – Elsinore line and (possible) cross-subsidising of the affiliate company DSBFirst by the state-owned DSB. So far, the CEO of DSB has been sacked while the chairman of the board of DSB decided to spare his health from further challenges. Interested parties are considering various Plan Bs to keep the connections running.
So the buck calls at many stations: Obviously, DSBFirst has some explaining to do but so does DSB which has a controlling stake in the company. At the same time the Danish Ministry of Transport has a double role as it formally controls DSB and (through the Transport Authority) awards the contracts on the lines which have been put up for tender. Given the formal structure of Danish public administration, the minister is the person responsible in the last instance.
To make matters worse, the person who was minister when DSBFirst’s bid for the line was prepared and accepted was the Flemming Hansen while Carina Christensen and the present Conservative leader Lars Barfoed held the portfolio during the somewhat messy period between the original accept of DSBFirst’s offer and the transfer of the service from DSB and SJ to DSBFirst. That means we have four ministers involved in the process, including one high-ranking politician. Fun.