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Trainblogging: Stuttgart 21 - Part I

by epochepoque Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 08:10:15 AM EST

Overview of Stuttgart 21. New central station (Hauptbahnhof) perpendicular to the old station. Red solid: new above-ground tracks, Red dashed: new tunnels, Black: old tracks, Crossed lines: old tracks to be removed. Chart by Vieregg-Rössler GmbH.

What's not to like? A new through station with shiny, modern architecture and a new high-speed line to the East (Wendlingen-Ulm) by 2019. About 100 hectares (~247 acres) of newly available space in the center of Stuttgart. So why are the citizens of this southwestern German city up in arms about Stuttgart 21? Why are tens of thousands of them taking to the streets every week?

Promoted by DoDo with small edits



Genesis

The concept "21" was born in the 1980's. More than 20 cities in Germany would put their [terminus] stations underground [and turn them into through stations]. Real estate transactions on newly available spaces would pay for a majority of the costs. In the end, all those projects were abandoned because the cost could never be justified by the benefits - real estate revenue could never come close to pay for construction.

Only Stuttgart 21 came through. In that instance the idea of building three additional tracks under the station was combined with a redevelopment idea by a two urban planners. Five tracks, additional stations/tunnels were added and thus Stuttgart 21 was born. Allegedly some high-level politicians took a helicopter ride over the city and were immediately sold on the idea.

This should not be surprising. Politicians, frustrated by the glacial speed of progress in their day jobs, jump at the opportunity to realize visionary, revolutionary construction projects. The exciting 'tingling in the legs' apparently has the power to sweep aside all reason or at least the simple questions "Why are we doing this project?", "Is this economical?". Regrettably, often enough the 'Emperor Nero Syndrome' wins through and the successors have to handle the fallout. Somehow no one is responsible for the idée fixe for which justifications are gathered after the fact (quite desperately). It would be far more effective to define concrete goals first and then develop project ideas from there. Considering the long-term consequences (see part II), it's strange that infrastructure politics seems to work on a 'one-day-to-next' basis.

S21 was comatose for a long time. Officially announced in 1994 it was abandoned by then Deutsche Bahn CEO Ludewig in the late 1990's because it was deemed "uneconomical" and unnecessary from a rail point of view. In 2002 Stuttgart bought the tracks for €459 million and the State of Baden-Württemberg ordered and paid for regional trains that don't even exist yet. They effectively asked to shoulder more of the costs and risks. Now DB's share of the cost is shrinking to zero while the federal, state and city governments have to pay more and more. In 2007, Baden-Württemberg state prime minister Oettinger, in political dire straits, pressed forward with a financing agreement and offered to share the cost of the new high-speed line (a first in Germany's history). Wolfgang Tiefensee, probably the worst federal transport minister of all times, agreed. S21 was resurrected.

There are a number of reasons to do Stuttgart 21 but so many more not to do it.


Money, Money, Money...

The official estimate for S21 is at €4.1 billion (initially 2.5 billion). The figure stood at 4.9 billion in late 2009 but was 'magically' pared back to 4.1 billion because 4.5 billion were viewed as the political threshold. Wendlingen-Ulm was revised in July to €2.9 billion (+50%). In total €7 billion.

All recent German rail projects with high tunnel ratio have been finished at ~200% of the original budget. This time will not be much different. S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm together need over 120 km of tunnels (the new Gotthard tunnel has 153 km in total). Ordinary tunnels cost at least €60 million per km. Therefore just the tunneling for S21+Wendlinge-Ulm will cost €7.2 billion, if everything goes well. Add to that new stations, bridges, signalling, tracks, electrification, etc. and it's impossible to stay under €10 billion. In 2008 federal auditors estimated the total cost at €8.5 billion and asked the ministry to do its due diligence (like proving that those projects are economical).

Estimates by outside experts put the optimistic minimum at €11.5 billion with the sky being the limit. To achieve €7 billion the tunnels would have to be some of the cheapest ones in Germany (per cubic meter) while being digged in some of the most difficult geologies of the world (gypsum keuper, karst, anhydrites, high-pressure water). Similar tunnels in less difficult geology (Nuremberg-Ingolstadt) cost quadruple the amount (per m³) of the official estimates of Wendlingen-Ulm. This is a financial bomb waiting to explode in someone's face. Delays, inflation, planning chaos, and financial difficulties will do their part to raise costs. It will be impossible to build this thing in less than 15 years.

Additionally, such expensive infrastructure will cause station/track fees to soar, which means less trains and higher cost for the passenger. On the state side the construction costs will probably entail even more austerity, higher taxes, and higher fees e.g. for kindergartens.


The Need for Speed

S21 itself saves four minutes at most compared to the terminus station - reversing direction nowadays only takes two minutes. Proponents therefore tout the time savings of new high-speed line: it will reduce trip times to Ulm by 26 minutes down to 28 minutes. But catching up on neglected maintenance and using tilting trains would also allow for substantial speed gains so that the net benefit of the new line will be 10-12 minutes.

Even worse: ICE trains in the 1990's used to be able to make the trip to Munich in 2:01. Today they need at least 2:20. S21 + Wendlingen-Ulm are supposed to bring the trip time back down to 1:58. Proper maintenance or €10+ billion for new infrastructure? Which one is more cost-effective?


"The New Heart of Europe"

Just about every city in Europe that is embarking on a redevelopment project uses that slogan. In 2002, the city of Stuttgart bought the new space for €459 million (+€200 million interest) to make S21 worthwhile for Deutsche Bahn. Federal auditors criticized the sale because that real estate was federal property. But no matter. The future of the re-development subproject can be discerned by looking at Area A1 of S21 which has already been under development for years.

The new public library currently under construction is called "Stammheim 2" in the vernacular, named after a maximum security prison. Webcam City of Stuttgart.

Why so empty? After ten years Area A1 is still not fully developed. The buildings that have been built don't show a lot of promise. The bailed-out LBBW has its new bunker/growhouse-like headquarters and the Pariser Platz is as charming as an empty swimming pool. A new "urbane feeling" is touted while officials make the same mistakes as after WWII, effectively producing dead zones.

To recoup the expenditure for the land (legally mandated), it would have to be filled with expensive condos, office space and high-end retail. A lucrative construction boom seems unlikely due to coming economic and demographic changes. In any case those new areas must be the most heavily subsidized building lots in Europe. The slogan "The New Heart of Europe" would actually fit after all. Project opponents contend that major holding/operating areas (about 75% of the 100 hectares) could be freed up for development without building a new station and lots of tunnels. If that's true the net amount of subsidy for that 25 hectare [former] track field will reach astronomical heights.


Problems with Capacity

S21 is supposed to have almost double the capacity of the current station and will have an improved long-distance connection to/from the airport (as if Stuttgart airport was an international hub). But is there even a capacity problem with the current configuration? Even the S21 cheerleaders don't seem to think so:

A study commissioned by the chamber of commerce of Stuttgart, a strong proponent of S21, shows the expected load of the existing lines by 2025 if everything is left as it is. Rail node Stuttgart (blue arrow) doesn't look very overtaxed. Yet Karlsruhe-Basel (on the left) is between 150-195%. Link

But surely S21 with its through station and the new line to Ulm will at least improve capacity? Unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves. Currently, the 17-track station in Stuttgart is the second-most punctual in Germany. S21's new 8-track through station would have less approaches and less platform capacity. The new station will have a gradient of 1.6% which is usually illegal in Germany. A special permit has been issued to make it legal. Trains are supposed to dwell for no more than two minutes. Clearly, the future S21 operating environment is "on the edge" from the get-go.

More importantly, numerous new conflicts turn Stuttgart into a new bottleneck. During the past months Stern magazine has published a number of documents that show S21 to be at best very complex and at worst irresponsible and unhinged. First came a hitherto secret study by the internationally renowned Swiss firm SMA, commissioned by the State government (Link to Stern magazine). The conclusions regarding the S21 configuration and timetable are fairly devastating: "high risk of instability", "limited capacity", "overall system barely controllable", "no room to shape timetable and add additional service or capacity".

This should not come as a big surprise since critics have been onto those problems for a while.

Left: Stuttgart's rail configuration as of 2009. Right: Future S21 configuration. Signs denote Crossings, slow zones, tight curves, bottlenecks. Chart by "derFahrgast" PRO BAHN (see Reference 1)

A mass of problems in the S21 airport area. Snail = slow zone, Bolt = conflict. Chart by Vieregg-Rössler GmbH, December 2009

ICE trains are to use the same tunnels/tracks as S-Bahn trains which is usually not allowed. Again a special permit with conditions has been issued. The biggest legal constraint: if a train stops (congestion will happen all the time because of the limited capacity/speed) the oncoming trains in the opposite direction have to stop as well. This could possibly cause 'gridlock on rails' whose waves would propagate throughout the German network.

No wonder the SMA report concludes "Because of the explosiveness of these findings absolute secrecy is necessary." As a reaction, officials claimed the study to be a "working paper" and that all problems had since been resolved. Yet, a week later an option for double tracking a section at the airport was exercised...

Fixing the S21 mess would necessitate 10 (better yet 12) instead of 8 tracks in the new station. An additional new line and station in the south, elimination of crossings and double tracking (most of which can't be done retroactively), etc. But that would mean another cost explosion, another major delay. It's customary to wait until the project is in progress to let the numbers soar towards reality. Removing all those problems beforehand would reveal S21's central problem to everyone: it's not a rail project but a real estate project with lots of tunnels that is sold as a rail project.


Geology rocks

One of the original co-architects, legendary Frei Otto, who dropped out of the project team a year ago, recently warned of major safety risks. The new station could be flooded with groundwater during construction or it could "start rising like a submarine" with all sorts of consequences for e.g. the remaining tower of the old station; it could turn into the next Tower of Pisa.

Additionally, the geology of Stuttgart represents a special challenge. It contains cavities and anhydrites that can swell with enormous pressure once they're fissured/fractured and come into contact with water - Stuttgart happens to have mineral water springs in its ground (itself at risk). A nearby example is the Engelberg autobahn tunnel which, despite having concrete walls two meters thick, has to be regularly renovated. Geological dislocations in the middle of the city could lead to damaged houses or even collapses in extreme cases.

Late in 2009 Deutsche Bahn estimated the costs at €4.9 billion but soon after that DB announced it had found opportunities to save money by slimming down the tunnel walls (bad idea in that high-pressure geology) and using some sort of "innovative tendering and management process" (?).

Of course, none of the geological catastrophes have to happen. But negative surprises are very probable, and in any case S21 will test technological limits due to the geological complexity. Therefore the official cost estimates of €4.1 billion (assuming 66km of happy variety tunneling) are mathematically improbable and practically impossible to achieve.


Plan for the best...

The latest bombshell concerns the state of project management. Internal documents show that planning is behind ["in chaos"] for rather important areas such as signalling, electrification, fire protection, etc. For instance, it is currently assumed that the smaller-than-usual tunnels will be fitted with ETCS since the usual PZB / LZB systems would require more room and thus replanning. Problem: there are currently no trains in Germany that use ETCS. One could expect new high-speed trains to be equipped with ETCS by the end of construction in 10+ years. But to expect all legacy trains to be retrofitted with ETCS hardware for 300,000 Euros apiece is utopian. S-Bahn trains with ETCS? Surely not. This will inevitably lead to an expensive (rainmaking) re-engineering subproject.

A local paper found preparatory works on the existing tracks to be months behind. The sum of delays in all sections had amassed to over 2000 days. Renovating tracks -if only for ten years- using 1950s technology and with few competent railway engineers turns out to be hard. The real point of no return, when machines start digging, is nowhere near.

Part II

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Résiste!

Part II coming shortly

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Oct 3rd, 2010 at 08:56:41 AM EST
Part II is now up. ---->

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Sun Oct 3rd, 2010 at 09:52:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very brief news note: today, a halt of the works was achieved, and a halt of the felling of trees was ordered.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Oct 7th, 2010 at 07:05:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for this, it'd be funny if it wasn't so sad

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Oct 3rd, 2010 at 12:51:39 PM EST
And, lately, bloody:

The World from Berlin: Germany Shocked by 'Disproportionate' Police Action in Stuttgart - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

A hardline police operation against demonstrators protesting against a new railway station project in Stuttgart has shocked Germany, after more than 100 people were injured by tear gas and water cannon. German commentators argue that the police went overboard and warn of more violence to come.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 07:16:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's not to like? ... So why are the citizens of this southwestern German city up in arms about Stuttgart 21?

it's not a rail project but a real estate project with lots of tunnels that is sold as a rail project.

Exactly my view. Thanks for this thorough overview!

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 07:13:44 AM EST
...catching up on neglected maintenance and using tilting trains would also allow for substantial speed gains so that the net benefit of the new line will be 10-12 minutes.

Even worse: ICE trains in the 1990's used to be able to make the trip to Munich in 2:01. Today they need at least 2:20. S21 + Wendlingen-Ulm are supposed to bring the trip time back down to 1:58.

A study commissioned by the chamber of commerce of Stuttgart, a strong proponent of S21, shows the expected load of the existing lines by 2025 if everything is left as it is. Rail node Stuttgart (blue arrow) doesn't look very overtaxed.

I will disagree on this point, albeit no support for the Stuttgart 21 project as currently envisioned will follow from that.

If you look at that capacity map, you'll notice that while the Stuttgart node has no capacity problems (thanks to the extra S-Bahn tracks), the line to the East does. This line, a climb up the Geislinger Steige, is already heavily used by freight, local and express traffic alike, and at a slow speed.

An attempt to speed up long-distance service by using tilting trains (which are fraught by lots of problems in Germany anyways -- a good summary appeared recently in the June issue of Eisenbahn Kurier) would only worsen the capacity problem, because one fast train would increase the headways between freight/passenger trains before and after. And that's when trains run on time: when not, delays will cascade, freight trains will be forced to make lots of extra stops (especially not a god thing on grades), the faster trains will still get stuck behind late slow trains until the next station. In fact, from what I know, it's just this kind of delays that were the reason to lengthen Stuttgart-Munich ICE schedules.

With the additional consideration that a new line would also add capacity to enable drawing more passengers from other modes of transport, also on longer relations (Paris-Munich), the time and capacity factors lead me to follow that the Wendlingen-Ulm line would be a necessity. What doesn't follow is support for Stuttgart 21, or Wendlingen-Ulm according to the current specifications.

For much of the same reasons as you outline, I don't see any sense in forcing Stuttgart's rapid transit into the same tunnels and same station as the ICEs. As can be seen on your map, Stuttgart already has a tunnel for though S-Bahn trains. If this weren't a real estate project, half the access tunnels and half the underground platforms could be dropped, and the messy routing at the airport could go, too. Some further issues in a follow-up comment.

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 07:47:10 AM EST
From my following of its projects over the past two decades, it appears to me that DB spends an awful lot of time and money on planning, yet those plans remain remarkably resistant to changes reflecting the development of technology in the meantime or the consideration of even the most obvious potential problems. Hatchets down, to battle stations. For example, while building lines for 350 km/h is now more or less international standard, DB claims it would cost too much to re-model its decades-old plans for 250 km/h lines.

The cost of tunnels when actually built is also high than in some other places, which is even more remarkable given DB's reluctance to build bi-tube rather than two-track single tube tunnels, and its criminal cost saving on escape shafts and cross-connections. Dealing with geological challenges is another thing ().

City-crossing tunnels with subterranean platforms below the old main station for long-distance and high-speed trains aren't something unprecedented, either: Antwerp already has one, more are in construction in Madrid, Barcelona, Bologna, Firenze. AFAIK none of them cost nearly as much as Stuttgart 21. Such a project needs good organisation -- which the Stuttgart 21 project doesn't have at all.

Maybe DB needs foreign expertise?

As a final note: there is another project of a new through station that seems more a real estate project in disguise, though at least without subterranean platforms: Vienna's new central station. That one is constructed full-throttle. But it will be a funny 'central station', without a subway link...

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 08:10:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The new Vienna station is certainly more worthwhile and easier to construct. Tracks will essentially stay in place, no 66km of tunneling. Two terminus stations that lie 'back to back' are transformed into a single through-station. Makes sense.

Unfortunately, there are the same marketing slogans (at least as transmitted by the know-nothing media (German tagesschau)): "removing the dead end", "Center of Europe", "Bahnhofs-City", "Paris-Bratislava", "Danzig-Adria", and as a special twist "Middle Germany - Athens - Black Sea". Who are those people kidding?

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 10:08:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only the slogans are the same, but it is a real estate project in disguise, too. The two old terminus stations were destroyed completely, and so were the servicing tracks and maintenance shops that were next to them: lots of space created for those new office buildings. In addition, the new central station will take over from the third terminus station (the Westbahnhof) and Wien-Meidling as the main long-distance stop -- but unlike those two, it lacks a subway connection.

I also note that like Wendlingen-Ulm, a project adjacent to Vienna's new main station is the Lainzer and Wienerwald tunnel complex, over 27 km of tunnels that are part of TEN-17 which IMO make eminent sense.

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 10:28:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The above is fluff; on the following picture, you can see the actual extent of the real estate project better (all the light and medium grey buildings, including the skyscrapers, are planned new construction on former railway area):

...and here is the Stuttgart 21 real estate project:


Someone is gonna get rich, and it's neither taxpayers, nor DB...

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 12:31:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Privatize gains, socialize losses.

Although DB gets off pretty well here. They pay almost nothing, less than they would for a simple renovation/modernization. DB Projektbau GmbH is paid handsomely for their expert planning and execution.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 02:36:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 04:14:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be happy with "Vienna-Venice" a connection which just vanished (even using local trains) apart from the night train. But this could be done without building anything new....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 10:33:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see I didn't finish this:

Dealing with geological challenges is another thing ().

...where DB's planners insist on outdated and supposedly cheap solutions that end up expensive when problems arise. Tunnels can be built in difficult geology: after all, Stuttgart itself already has the S-Bahn (rapid transit) tunnel and a light metro with several tunnels. But DB's planners didn't exactly shine in this in recent times. In addition to the tunnel with cave-crossing viaduct on the Nuremberg-Ingolstadt line, there is the Siegauen-Tunnel on the Cologne-Frankfurt high-speed line. DB first didn't want to build this line, then opted to build it (across similar difficult geology as in Stuttgart) with a supposedly cheaper excavating method, rather than some advanced alternative like a pressure-shielded tunnel boring machine. Of course the worst happened.

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

by DoDo on Wed Oct 6th, 2010 at 03:35:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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