Sat Dec 19th, 2009 at 03:43:19 AM EST
In the next 2–3 years, in Europe, there won't be many high-speed line openings to report on.
The Madrid–Valencia/Albacete high-speed line will be one of just two put in service next year in Europe. It sports several tunnels and viaducts, especially the Motilla–Valencia section, which has to cross the coastal mountains towards the Mediterranean.
Above: the 830 m long, 80 m high Viaduct of Istmo spans a bay of the Contreras Reservoir, parallel to a highway. A year ago the structure stood finished (photo from the line's site).
Below: a year later, a class 355 diesel test train of infrastructure authority ADIF (rebuilt from one half of the Talgo XXI prototype roll-through gauge-changing train, used for first tests up to 220 km/h) kicks up dust on the new track (photo from ADIF).
However, a lot of lines are in construction, so there will be another phase of major expansion in a few years. Time for an overview.
The theme of the last diary on lines opened in 2009, delays for unfortunate to absolutely stupid reasons, will play prominent for many of the ongoing projects.
What will appear only in traces is the emergence of a genuine EU-wide high-speed network: even with the inclusion of projects in design or advanced study stage, what we will have in 2020 is still just the four major networks of national character and a couple of isolated lines, connected by conventional lines.
Terminology note: for the purposes of this diary, "high-speed" starts at 250 km/h. (This is in line with Council Directive 96/48/EC, Annex 1, section 1; apart from the watering-down to include line upgrades.) But I'll mention a few noteworthy lines slower than that.
Iberian Peninsula: joining the continent
A sixth European high-speed line was supposed to enter service in 2009, but didn't, despite being finished: Figueres–Perpignan, the international line crossing the Spanish/French border in the 8,403 m Perthus Tunnel.
Back in the Aznar era, the line was the first (and so far last) public–private partnership (PPP) project for both countries. And the supposed wonderful new way of financing was an instant
successdisaster. The preferred bidder already calculated with 50% more costs than the 610 million foreseen by the governments. Then it was too insistent on financial guarantees, leading to an annulment and re-issuing of the tender, and with that a three-year delay. Minor construction issues added another year, so the 44.4 km line was completed for 1.1 billion, half of that public subsidies.
Now, the Figueres–Perpignan line was supposed to finally link up Spain's standard-gauge high-speed network with France's standard-gauge network. However, presently it is a track to nowhere. Literally.
Nothing to connect to: the Figueres end of the Figueres–Perpignan line in December 2008. Also note the former British Rail class 37 diesel. Photo by user javi82 from SkyscraperCity.com. (Since then, work on the government-built connecting line across the valley progressed a lot, check photo.)
The connecting Barcelona–Figueres line was delayed by long local disputes affecting the Barcelona and Girona city crossings. (The tunnel boring machine for the 5.6 km Sants–Sagrera tunnel under Barcelona, which was seen as a threat to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, will start drilling in a few weeks.) So the Figueres–Perpignan operator got a franchise extension of 3 years.
Meanwhile, in the rest of Spain, after the Zapatero government struggled to finish Aznar-era high-speed rail projects (and threw money at new road projects) in its first term, projecting and construction tendering really took off more recently. Most of the lines now in the works are due by 2013.
The once and future high-speed network of the Iberlian Peninsula drawn over Wikipedia's Topographic map of Spain. Legend:
- Dark red: lines in service (also see Puente AVE)
- Red: lines in construction at the end of 2009 (some of these are built as broad-gauge line upgrades, but prepared for quick re-gauging, 25 kV/50 Hz electrification resp. 're-voltaging' and use at 250–300 km/h)
- Blue: lines in advanced design, or in preliminary planning but with commitments to build them
- Light blue: lines promised in the past by one government or another, but not advanced at present
Next year, construction is slated to start on Portugal's first two high-speed lines, too. Tender winners have already been chosen for Lisbon's link to Madrid. That line became a campaign theme in the recent elections (see subthread in Torres's Upcoming Portuguese Elections diary), but the anti-HSR opposition failed to win. This and the Lisbon–Porto, [Porto–]Braga–Valença[–Vigo] projects are PPP schemes. I have strong doubts about the finishing dates of 2013 resp. 2015 (for Lisbon–Porto).
France: PPP wonderland
The only TGV line in construction now is the Eastern Branch of the LGV Rhin–Rhône. Track-laying on the 140 km, 2.312 billion line between Dijon and Mulhouse began in June, so it is well on its way towards the planned December 2011 opening.
Above: Catenary fitting near Bonnal in October 2009. Note the high superelevation – and the former West German V100 diesel loco.
Below: Viaduc de la Savoureuse at Bermont, south of Belfort, in May 2009. Both photos from LGV Rhin–Rhône Médiathèque
Much more is to come: earlier this year, President Sarkozy announced a grand high-speed rail expansion programme. Though, it must be noted, most of the projects were on-going nearly a decade ago when Lionel Jospin was PM, but they were put on hold by successor Alain Juppé and then President Jacques Chirac... in particular the 53 km Mont d'Ambin Base Tunnel across the border with Italy, which Jospin wanted completed by 2012, but all that's been done since is the digging of the intermediate access tunnels.
The once and future high-speed network of France drawn over Wikipedia's Map of Metropolitan French cities. Legend:
- Orange: lines in service
- Red: lines in construction at the end of 2009 (for Perpignan-Figueres, see Spain)
- Blue: lines in tendering (construction starts 2010, in service 2015–2016)
- Light blue: lines in design or study phase
- Grey: plans beyond 2020
French infrastructure authority RFF started tendering the construction of the 106 km LGV Est Européenne second section, between Metz and Strasbourg. However, the rest of the new projects shown on the map are to be built as PPPs... as usual, that involves
- the rise of overall costs even before tenders are issued (LGV SEA to Bordeaux for 7.2 billion, vs. the over-budget 5.5 billion for the just as long and elaborate TGV Est first stage);
- the socialising of risks thereafter (public financing agreement for Nîmes–Montpellier after the choice of contractor); and
- the extra step of PPP tendering may increase realisation time, too.
Of the less well developed projects, I call attention to Montpellier–Perpignan, which reached the design study stage last month. By linking up the French and Spanish high-speed networks, it will break with the current practice of low-speed "firewalls" guarding the major national high-speed networks, and finally create a European one.
Austria: tunnel vision
Austria, being in the Alps, was difficult terrain for 19th century engineers, so several spectacular mountain railways were needed to connect all major cities by the early 20th century. However, these lines had tight curves and lots of single-track sections. So, from the late sixties, Austria embarked on an upgrade programme that is in practice a complete reconstruction of mainlines: double- and quadruple-trackings with curve widenings and bypass tunnels. Some of the current projects qualify as high-speed.
Map adapted from Boris Chomenko's Map of Austria at Trainspotting Bükkes. Colors on this map and the Swedish map further below indicate voltages; see legend below:
The Westbahn is Austria's busiest line, and lies on the EU's priority east–west corridor from Paris to Bratislava/Budapest. The complete quadruple-tracking of the part from Vienna to Linz started in the nineties. The Vienna–St. Pölten section is the most challenging and most ambitious: the 250 km/h 'extra tracks' are in practice a new line far away from the old one, crossing the Wienerwald mountains and the outskirts of Vienna in a 23,844 m tunnel.
That tunnel is rather complex. There is a subterranean junction with the old Westbahn in the middle, and the Vienna end is three branches into a junction of the old Südbahn (which leads into the Südbahnhof terminus, site of Vienna's future through central station, construction starts next year). Thus the tunnel has separate names for the two sections: Wienerwald Tunnel and Lainzer Tunnel.
The deep valley of the Inn cuts the Tyrolian Alps in two. Running in it downriver from Innsbruck, the saturated Unterinntalbahn carries all the east–west domestic and the bulk of the north–south transit traffic. The latter is to grow further in the 2020s with the 55 km Brenner Base Tunnel (for which currently the exploration/future access/even later escape tunnels are bored). The capacity problem is solved with a quadruple-tracking. Since good valley-bottom real estate/land shouldn't be wasted, the extra pair of tracks disappear in valley-side tunnels almost throughout.
The Innsbruck bypass with the 12,696 m Inntal Tunnel was opened in 1994 already, but it shall be connected to the BBT (giving a record 62.7 km tunnel length for the freight trains using the connection) and get a second tube (for safety and higher speeds). On the next 40.2 km, tunnel boring finished this year and construction of the 250 km/h track could commence; the line opens in 2012 too. The next section until the German border is in the design stage.
The eastern fourth of the 10,570 m Stans–Terfens tunnel is a cut-and-cover section passing under the highway, the old Unterinntalbahn, and the highway again, before connecting to the rocky section bored into the valley side. You don't actually see the already covered tunnel on this July 2009 air photo: the visible portal belongs to the future diversion of the old line atop the new one
There is a project for only 200 km/h that is elaborate enough nevertheless to deserve mention: the Koralmbahn, which plugs one of the last gaps in the intercity network, Graz–Klagenfurt. The high costs demanded by geology would be hardly justified by domestic demand, and transit traffic could have the volume to justify it only if other parts of the Italy–Poland corridor receive significant upgrades. Yet, in no small part thanks to heavy lobbying by Carynthia's late governor Jörg Haider, the Koralmbahn got the go-ahead.
The centerpiece of the 130 km line will be the 32.8 km Koralmtunnel, the main part of which should finally be bored from next year (tendering underway). On the 24 km section east from the main tunnel, they are already laying tracks, for an early opening in regional service in 2011. The full line is slated for 2020 only.
Two more projects on the Italy–Poland corridor, the Klagenfurt–Villach line doubling and the Semmering Base Tunnel, are only on the drawing boards. The second, bypassing Europe's first mountain pass line, would be the most needed, but it was subject to a two-decade-long politicised debate regarding potential environmental damage. The Gordian knot was untied last year by changing the route into an S shape bypassing the water-bearing rocks (lengthening the tunnel to 27 km). But 250 km/h traffic shouldn't be expected to roll through before 2020.
Germany: no end to delays
Map of Germany's high-speed rail network, adapted from Wikipedia's ICE Network map. As can be seen, for various legacy reasons, the 'network' is rather disjointed and complemented by less ambitious upgrades – hence I left the latter on too. Dates are for start of regular service (not necessarily with top speed). Legend:
- Orange: high-speed lines in service
- Red: high-speed lines in construction at the end of 2009
- Blue: planned lines
- Narrow lines: conventional lines upgraded for 230 km/h
- Black: conventional lines upgraded for 200 km/h
- Grey: other conventional lines served by ICE trains
The ABS Karlsruhe–Basel is an on-going four-tracking of the German-side Rhine Valley line, with two tracks for 250 km/h. Currently in the works is the section north of Basel including the 9,385 m Katzenbergtunnel, opening shifted a year to 2012 due to a design change (portals shaped against tunnel boom).
The Munich–Berlin corridor is an important but much delayed Reunification project ("VDE 8"). The second of three true high-speed lines on it is the 123 km, 2.733 billion NBS Erfurt–Leipzig/Halle, of which the last 23 km to Leipzig is in already in service, the rest in six years.
VDE 8 delays cascaded from those at its centerpiece, NBS [Nuremberg–]Ebensfeld–Erfurt. Necessitated by the old German high-speed line specifications (co-use with night freight trains => no steep climbs), it crosses the Thuringian Forest mountains as a tunnel-and-bridge chain – an expensive endeavour with lots of sub-projects, just perfect for ministers looking for budget cuts. Unlike the parallel highway...
The section south of Erfurt was built first in the nineties, but the start of work on the tunnels and bridges further south was delayed. Thus this road to nowhere is a monument to the true priorities in transport planning: the parallel section of the A71 highway is in service since 1998, and the rest of it across the mountains since 2006... Photo looking at Tunnel Sandberg by user Mazbln from Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
This year, at last the final tenders for big superstructures were let, so the present official date for opening finally looks realistic. 21 years of construction... Estimated final costs for the 107 km line (and the upgrade of the rest to Nuremberg) climbed to 5.178 billion (though the c. 45 million/km for the new part is still well below Italy's spending extremes).
All four planned lines (the rest of Karlsruhe–Basel, Frankfurt–Mannheim, Stuttgart–Ulm, and the Hannover–Hamburg/Bremen Y) are subject to seemingly endless debates with local and regional authorities.
Elsewhere in Europe: plugging gaps
In Sweden's north, the rail network thins out, and the sole north–south mainline goes deep inland, and the cities along the coast are connected only by branch-lines. This obvious gap in the network is to be plugged with the new Botniabanan, of which the first leg, the 185 km to Umeå, nears completion.
Adapted from Boris Chomenko's Map of Scandinavian Peninsulasat Trainspotting Bükkes
Due to the low demand, the line is really exceptional: a single-track mixed-traffic line, but Sweden's fastest at 250 km/h. A short section in the middle opened for local traffic on 16 October 2008, the entire line will be put in service in August 2010.
| ||A special vehicle for ERTMS testing crosses the bridge of the Veckefjärden (on the edge of Örnsköldsvik) in November 2006; photo from Botniabanan|
|Tracks laid in September 2006 north of the 635 m Hällberg tunnel (south-west of Örnsköldsvik); photo from Botniabanan|
A honorary mention goes to the Brussels–Mechelen doubling (Lijn 25N) (see in grey on map in previous diary). Belgium originally opined that Brussels–Antwerp is too short a distance to justify a high-speed line on time savings – forgetting about capacity issues. The mistake is corrected in conjunction with Brussels's new second airport access ("Diabolo"): 220 km/h tracks are laid in the middle of the A1/E19 highway (a path originally reserved for an eventual highway widening!). This line will go into service in 2012.
Asphalted subgrade of the in-construction 25N line in the middle of the highway near Elewijt, 9 September 2009. Photo from Images des Chemins de Fer
I wrote in the previous diary that the Italian lines put in service last Sunday fill the last gaps between Turin and Salerno – well, not quite. For, all the main cities of the route receive city crossings with tunnels and new stations, none of which is completed. The last (Florence) is slated for 2014. As for further lines planned in Italy (Milan–Brescia and [Milan–]Tortona–Genoa first among them), there is lot of talk but no firm commitments.
In Switzerland, the boring of the 57,051 m Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT; the world's longest) is nearing its end. (Also see First breakthrough on longest tunnel.) The two-tube tunnel was bored from both ends and three intermediate accesses, only 4 km of the section between the southern (Faido) and central (Sedrun) intermediate accesses remains; the final breakthrough is expected for November 2010. But, even though two of the four sections are ready for them, track-builders will take it real slow: commercial service with up to 250 km/h is planned for the end of 2017.
State of excavation diagram from AlpTransitGotthard. The interior lining of the section between the northernmost (Amsteg) and central (Sedrun) intermediate accesses was finished on 9 December 2009, a pair of 11 km empty tubes ready for track construction. Photo below from ATG
Another part of the so-called Gotthard Base Line, the 15.4 km Ceneri Base Tunnel, was started recently, and should be opened in 2018. The rest of the line (which involves a number of shorter bypass tunnels and the extension[!] of both the GBT and the CBT) shall be built in a second phase – in the 2020s.
Turkey: European ambitions
I mentioned Turkey's ambitious programme to build a new high-performance rail network in the previous diary, on the occasion of trains made in Spain taking up 250 km/h service on the first line. Without much ado, here is Wikipedia's map:
As can be seen, the future network deserves not just honorary mention in Europe. A link-up of the Istanbul–Edirne line with the future EU network (via a Bulgarian or Greek high-speed line) is in the veeeery uncertain and far-away future, however.
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