Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I now had time to look at this study, but it left a mixed impression. On one hand, there is a really detailed look at what can be done to increase capacity for freight, both at a systemic level and for each relevant rail line, and I'd subscribe to 90% of it. Even stuff that seems missing or off on the maps is mentioned in the fine print (like the French-side Rhine Valley line or the lack of consideration of CIR-ELKE and significant local freight in the Ruhr Area in their capacity model). On the other hand, there is a clear line against higher-speed long-distance passenger rail, to the extent of going off-topic to make a point.

Among measures short of constructing new tracks, they mention sensible stuff like signalling and train control upgrades, the construction of more flyovers, and the re-establishment of dismantled passing loops (during upgrades across Europe over the past few decades, railways insanely eliminated a lot of stations to save on expensive switches and to sell off real estate). But, they also propose to 'even out speeds'. In practice, they want to slow down long-distance passenger trains. This is a welcome recognition of the capacity-eliminating effect of running different-speed train types on the same line, in contrast to high-speed rail detractors who argue for the alternative of faster services with tilting trains on conventional lines, but what kind of solution is this? They propose a speed reduction/travel time increase "to an extent tolerable to passengers". Well I don't know about there being such an extent. Elsewhere, they mention stagnating long-distance rail passenger numbers in Germany, but do so as if this had policy-independent reasons, rather than being a consequence of an already bad offer: slower travel speeds, worse punctuality than in other countries.

I have argued several times on ET that the German idea to build new lines for mixed high-speed passenger and low-speed freight traffic is misguided, because the result is ideal for neither (too slow for the first and limited capacity for the second) and expensive (needs more elaborate construction and maintenance). In the study, the ideal-for-neither conclusion is drawn for a number of actual projects, but a passenger-only line is rejected, too, with the rather odd argument that new lines are supposed to be economically sensible only if they see a few hundred trains a day.

As for the effect of high-speed lines on capacity on existing lines, I found confusing discussion. In their own capacity calculations, they assumed unchanged capacity reserves for passenger trains into the future, which is certainly off (both for local and long-distance trains). In the detailed discussion of the Hamburg-Bremen-Hanover "Y", they refer to a with/without DB calculation of future traffic levels, and conclude that DB's own numbers show that the old Hamburg-Hanover line would still be near the limit – but I don't see how they got to capacity from actual trains, and see significant extra capacity on the diagram shown (also via the Hamburg-Bremen line). In the detailed discussion of the Wendlingen-Ulm line, there is the even more odd argument that it is bad for freight traffic because the extension of Stuttgart's rapid transit along the old line, promised as parallel investment, will be a poison for freight capacity. So the development of local passenger traffic should be constrained, too?

Then there is the issue of costs. For their own upgrade proposals, they present a very crude and optimistic calculation based on a multiplication of line lengths with assumed per kilometre costs, which they then contrast with the real budget of existing programmes. Like epochepoque, they also claim, without much evidence that I could find (though I haven't read every page), that high-speed projects draw funds away from all other projects, which also lose out in cutbacks. This is is a popular argument in Germany, but, as already indicated with examples in the diary, it is just not true. Delays and cancellations due to cutbacks hit both high-speed and conventional projects in the past, as did consequent cost increases and badly planned, sub-optimal scaled-back completed states. It is instructive to look at the state of German Reunification Traffic Projects (Verkehrsprojekte Deutsche Einheit = VDE). The six finished projects include only one proper high-speed line, and an upgrade for 230 km/h (Hamburg-Berlin). The three half-finished projects include two completely conventional lines, and one line (Nuremberg-Berlin) where the finished sections are mostly conventional (e.g. Berlin-Halle/Leipzig). Meanwhile, the VDE road projects are over 90% finished.

The megaproject nature of high-speed lines in contrast to conventional lines is over-emphasized, too: for example, the Ebensfeld-Erfurt high-speed line itself, a top example cited for excessive costs, is €2.7 billion, but the Munich-Mühldorf-Freilassing electrification and double-tracking is no small sum at at least €1.4 billion, either (the study even gives a €2.8 billion number, but I am not sure what everything is included in that). Similarly, delays and cost increases stemming from delays (due to inflation, interests, rent, repeated planning measures, standard changes, extra measures to accommodate NIMBY demands) appear as somehow in the nature for high-speed projects, but at most as the consequence of incompetence and bad focus for desired conventional projects.

In addition, there are the upgrade projects and sub-projects that serve both high-speed and high-capacity passenger/freight traffic (Hanover-Wolfsburg-Oebisfelde section of Hanover-Berlin, Cologne-Düren, Karlsruhe-Basel quadruple-tracking, Nuremberg-Bamberg-Ebensfeld quadruple-tracking section of Nuremberg-Erfurt, Oberhausen-Emmerich), which critics conveniently count as high-speed when discussing the high cost of prestige projects (Nuremberg-Erfurt total: €5.2 billion) but count as conventional when discussing delays for needed non-prestige projects. (Nuremberg-Bamberg appears in the study as a section critical to a bypass that would relieve Würzburg-Nuremberg on the long term.)

The real top issues are, IMHO, these:

In other words, it seems completely off target to focus on the distribution of funds for rail infrastructure  projects when the main fact is that there is too little for anything. IMHO German Green thinking about traffic policy is often too much informed by the local focus and politics of protests against megaprojects (so argues Greens expert Toni Hofreiter, too, although using the line about prestige projects). In particular, I wonder how this argumentation will develop, now that there are significant NIMBY protests against mainline upgrades for freight traffic. I mentioned one affected project in the diary, the Oberhausen-Emmerich line to the Dutch border. But some sections of Kalrsruhe-Basel are affected, too, and lately so is the Upper Rhine line electrification. This is just the corridor which Stuttgard 21 opponents argue would be much more deserving of funds for a capacity increase, but the Rhine Valley local opponents challenge the freight traffic projections there.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 30th, 2011 at 02:18:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm all for doubling or tripling the budget but it's unfortunately very unlikely. The effects are plain to everyone and even the ministry has more or less come out.
Viele Projekte wurden bis 2015 aus dem Plan genommen, etwa der jahrelang geplante Rhein-Ruhr-Express, der im Ruhrgebiet den Nahverkehr stärken sollte. Auch die für den Güterverkehr wichtige Y-Trasse, die Engpässe in Norddeutschland auflösen sollte, wird fürs Erste gestrichen.

Der sogenannte Investitionsrahmenplan wird alle fünf Jahre erstellt, er konkretisiert die Bauvorhaben des Bundes. Noch im vorigen Plan waren die beiden Schienenstrecken enthalten, genauso wie der ebenfalls aufgeschobene Ausbau der Bahnknoten München, Hamburg, Mannheim und Bremen.

Also, Frankfurt-Mannheim is off for now. At least the stupid Y-Trasse is delayed, hopefully for good.

One question regarding the role of 'budget buster projects': do those all-or-nothing megaprojects not compound the problem of an undersized budget? They are delayed like other projects thus they incur even higher cost due to cost inflation and so on. Reverse darwinism at work.

My point is not so much about absolute cost but about value engineering. I'd be happy to spend the €4b now to upgrade Karlsruhe-Basel even if it crowds out other projects - the 'crowding out' and 'compounding delays' problem are just mathematical facts as the SZ article shows. I'd likewise spend the money (if available) on new high-speed lines if they were truly high-speed. In my opinion however the German high-speed program has failed. If there is no dramatic turnaround (throw out the Bundesverkehrswegeplan) we might as well stop now and concentrate on upgrades. With the budget as it is, every additional expensive project has some high hurdles to clear. But most of those projects are simply functionally mediocre.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sat Nov 5th, 2011 at 05:02:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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