German service members to ride their country’s trains for free
By MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 17, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — German service members in uniform and their children will be allowed to travel for free on trains in Germany, beginning next month.
Germany’s minister of defense and the head of Deutsche Bahn came to an agreement Monday in Berlin, allowing military members from each branch to ride all of the national railroad service’s trains at no cost, together with their children up to the age of 14. Spouses will still have to pay their own way, a German Defense Ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The goal of the project is to make the soldiers “more visible” and better recognized as part of society, a German Defense Ministry statement said.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer hopes that when more service members take trains, they’ll have “more positive conversations” with civilians, the statement said.
U.S. European Command regulations generally prohibit the more than 35,000 U.S. service members in Germany from wearing uniforms on commercial trains for security reasons.
The German service members are required to carry their military ID card with them while using the trains. Allowing the country’s 180,000 service members to ride the rails for free, on second-class tickets, is projected to cost up to $4.4 million annually.
The agreement covers only Deutsche Bahn trains, but the Defense Ministry said it will soon negotiate with privately owned railroad companies that offer regional services.
The initiative to raise the German military’s profile comes as the U.S. has repeatedly criticized its NATO ally for not contributing more to defense spending.
Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political party and considered a possible successor, announced last month that Germany would increase its defense spending by tens of billions of dollars over the coming years. It is expected to spend 2% of its gross domestic product on defense by 2031, seven years after the alliance’s target year.