Based on my (now concluded) work in the collaborative research centre in Siegen I contribute to the discussion on mobility transitions.
Climate change and environmental issues call for an ecological transformation of production and consumption. In Germany, the transport sector is considered the “troubled child” of the transformation, because emissions in the mobility sector have not fallen in recent decades, in contrast to other sectors. But there are signs of change – the car industry has been criticised since the “diesel scandal” and, alongside electric mobility, e-fuels and cycling, the rail industry is seen as a beacon of hope. The industry emphasises its importance for climate and ecology and can thus establish a stable new reference in the public.
Yet the situation is ambivalent. To better understand this dynamic, the first part of this article works through the transport transition discourse with a focus on rail transport. Extensive data from the social media platform Twitter serve as a basis. This part gives an overview of the actors involved and their positions and shows competing understandings of the transport transition as well as the multiplicity of problem ideas. From a qualitative perspective, the second part discusses two innovative projects in rail transport: the “Green Function of Movement Control”, which brings a kind of green wave to rail, and the “Digital Automatic Coupling”, which is intended to replace a coupling technology in freight transport that is more than 150 years old. However, it becomes apparent that the ecological transformation at the workplace rail is fleeting. The railways themselves are not driving any transformation, because they are instead preoccupied with issues of obsolescence – i.e. issues of ageing – i.e. with repair, maintenance, servicing as well as old technology and entrenched, slowly grown administration. This is not a problem per se, but an adequate description of the work and competences that are necessary to keep a rail network alive – and that need to be appreciated. If there is to be a change in transport by and with the railways, it will only work with less and slower traffic, also on the railways.