Abstract: This short paper summarizes the development of railway services in Germany in the past two decades, which have been marked by commercialization, increased competition and attempts of privatization. I argue that these policies are misled from a social-ecological perspective and have only modestly performed in terms of shifting passengers and cargo towards railway transportation. The theoretical and empirical economic literature does not show a clear picture, however in my interpretation there are good reasons for public ownership of what are called ‘network industries’. Fundamentally, instead of privatization of public transport, a participatory, democratically accountable policy stance is needed, at least for the passenger sector that relies heavily on subsidies. On the way, regional public railway companies and strict social-ecological tendering may be first steps.