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Trainblogging: Stuttgart 21 - Part II - Consequences Beyond Stuttgart

by epochepoque Sun Oct 3rd, 2010 at 09:47:35 AM EST

If S21 were only of regional importance and if we had money to burn and if we didn't have peak oil and so forth approaching, then no one would have to bother about it.



Saved by the "European Axis"

When one criticizes the two most extravagant rail projects in Europe, Nuremberg-Erfurt and S21, the retorts by politicians often include some version of "We're building a very important part of a very important European axis!", i.e. in those cases the Trans-European Network priority projects No.1 Berlin-Palermo (do those people even listen to themselves?) and No.17 Paris-Bratislava aka "Europamagistrale" in German (pathos alert). But that only poses new questions.

TEN priority axis No.17 Paris-Bratislava, status May 2008. Solid lines: complete (green), work to start after 2013 ('forget about it') (red), before 2010 (yellow). Dashed lines: work planned (red) or ongoing (green). Graphic from TEN-T Progress Report, May 2008.

Are droves of people going to take the ten hour, 882km trip from Paris to Bratislava or even half of it (with what service?) when long distance passenger volumes have been constantly dropping? Projections show otherwise. More importantly, TEN-17 can't be a freight corridor since the LGV Est and most other high-speed lines on the corridor are not for freight rail. Especially Wendlingen-Ulm will pose an unsurmountable barrier to freight because of its steep gradients (up to 3.5%) and high fees. Except of ICE3/TGVs there are no passenger trains that can make the climb.

This leads me to wonder how those TEN corridors were selected and prioritized in the first place. My guess: an EU committee took a European map and criss-crossed it with lines. Make it plausible and politically balanced enough and presto you have a program for 'peace and prosperity' in Europe. But no one knows whether even the priority projects are that important or even desirable. The EU reports are full of bland generalities about so-and-so, unmeasured improvements to be achieved sometime in the future.

When the total investment for completing all the TEN projects is estimated to be €600 billion till 2020 then either (a) TEN is overstuffed with unrealistic and unimportant projects or (b) we will never see the completion of TEN in this half of the century, if ever or (c) both. TEN projects such as Wendlingen-Ulm are supported with symbolic amounts out of the EU budget, usually around €100 million for a project that costs billions. With an investment backlog of more than €10 billion (very low-end estimate 2008) for Paris-Bratislava alone and at best stagnant long distance passenger volumes, that 'project' should be called what it is: a pipe dream good for glossy brochures.

But even if the corridor Paris-Bratislava were of such paramount importance, the investment in S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm wouldn't look very good. The following graphic shows the distribution of funds on German ground (cost estimates 2009). The thickness of the lines corresponds to the construction cost per kilometer.

Distribution of funds on the Axis Paris-Salzburg. Black: in service, Blue: under construction, Red: S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm, Pink: shelved because of lack of funds. Chart by Vieregg-Rössler GmbH, December 2009

In the West we can see that the second phase of the LGV Est from Baudrecourt to Strasbourg is currently being built for less than €20m per km (blue). The problems start on the German side of the Rhine where two sections (Strasbourg-Appenweier, Karlruhe-Rastatt) are yet to be financed or put into serious planning. Karlruhe-Rastatt is part of the vital Karlsruhe-Basel link (more on that later). Serious upgrades and new tracks in that part of the corridor could lead to time savings of up to 40 minutes for €1.5 billion. Sounds a lot more cost-effective than S21+Wendlingen-Ulm. It gets worse east of S21 (pink sections). Upgrading the line Ulm-Augsburg to 200 km/h would cost €15m per km. There is no serious planning effort for that project because of a lack of funds! Ditto for Munich-Mühldorf-Salzburg (€13m/km) which is currently single-track and non-electrified! That project would actually solve a pressing capacity problem, i.e. improving connections to the "Bavarian Chemical Delta" near Mühldorf.

And how much money will S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm (red sections) spend? If everything goes well S21 (Feuerbach-Wendlingen) will need around €250 million per km and Wendlingen-Ulm €63+X million per km for a few minutes of net time savings between Stuttgart and Munich. If those two black holes start sucking money then it's obvious that the rest of the "Europamagistrale" [to Salzburg] doesn't stand a chance of getting something substantial done in the next 20 years, whilst being so much more cost-effective. But S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm not only have an impact on TEN-17 but also on Germany's rail network as a whole.


The Cannibals or 'Killing me Slowly'

In 2009 the German federal budget for rail projects stood at around €3.9 billion. €2.5 billion per year are allocated for maintenance of the existing network (fixed for ten years). The stimulus is running out, so the budget will return to €3.2-€3.5 billion per annum for the foreseeable future. Plus, there are ambitions to use highway toll revenues for highway construction only. Then there are new austerity measures starting in the next budget (Sparpaket) due to a new constitutional debt limit (Schuldenbremse = "debt brake"). Finally, there is inflation, the cost of maintenance will rise and so will the construction costs for the 60 rail projects in the federal investment pipeline (Bundesverkehrswegeplan = "federal transport plan"), and the number of projects in the pipeline will rise, too. With all that pressure, from next year on a maximum of one billion Euros per annum will be available to fund construction projects.

If the budget is that small (with no hope of being doubled or tripled) and if even the ongoing projects are grossly underfinanced, hopefully one would prioritize projects that cost little and have large benefits, then attend to projects with higher costs and large benefits, and discard the rest. Unfortunately, S21 and Wendlingen-Ulm belong to the rest. Together with similar pet projects they will consume €20 billion. Projects are apportioned a yearly amount (each year there is a 'wrestling match' at the Fuldarunde (a meeting in Fulda) according to political balance and not according to technical/economic superiority. So unless someone has the courage to cull them [the fatty projects] they will crowd out essential projects that are desperately needed for capacity. This will be crippling for the rail investment program and for rail traffic as a whole. The last years have shown that freight rail is booming. That also goes for regional passenger rail only less so. Long distance travel however is stagnant and travel volumes have actually fallen since highspeed was first introduced in the 90's.

The "Three Stooges Syndrome", with which Mr. Burns of The Simpsons was diagnosed, points the way. So many diseases try to come through at the same time that they all block each other in the door. Think of the door as a €1b/year budget and the diseases as 60+ projects costing dozens of billions in total.

The most glaring example is the quadruple tracking of Karlsruhe-Basel with a high-speed line. Karlsruhe-Basel belongs to the most important freight corridor in Germany and is at capacity. K.-B. with its high benefit-cost ratio is neglected while officials in the federal transport ministry are desperately trying to 'calculate' a ratio above 1 for Wendlingen-Ulm. Start of construction work was celebrated in December 1987 in the presence of Wolfgang Schäuble, then chancellor Kohl's chief of staff, now federal finance minister. Currently 1/3 complete after 22 years and with €3.9 billion of investment remaining, finishing it by 2040 would be relatively fast compared to the speed of progress so far. The most recent financing plan of the ministry of transport (Update [2010-10-4 0:28:39 by epochepoque]: link added) even shows that for the next ten years K.-B. is set to receive €117 million to a maximum of a few hundred million in total! I wonder if I will ever get to see the completion of K.-B. Ditto for the Betuwe line, the extension of freight capacity between Hamburg-Hannover-Bremen, the Rhein-Ruhr-Express, the eastern freight axis, Frankfurt-Mannheim, etc. All the chances to massively increase the share of rail freight at low cost are casually discarded.

The situation is doubly unfair because the sections of K.-B. can be constructed indepedently from each another. Which means those sections are more easily deferred in contrast to the 'all-or-nothing' prestige high-speed projects - once they start sucking they can't stop.

A cause for schadenfreude: even flashy pet projects like Nuremberg-Erfurt are subject to the laws of mathematics. Costing more than €5 billion it probably won't be finished until 2040, either. The official date of 2017 is mathematically impossible.


What now?

Sept 30th brought a new level of confrontation between opponents of the project and the state government. Police forcibly removed hundreds of sit-in protesters and activists who had chained themselves to trees in the Schlosspark (one of the few beautiful places in Stuttgart) beside the station. 282 trees (some of which 200 years old) have to be chopped down to make room for the new station. Water cannons, tear gas, and sticks were used.

The latest and last offers of "talks" by the official project stakeholders don't point to any serious willingness to negotiate. If anything, citizens/opponents would be allowed to tinkle with the redevelopment masterplan of the new urban space (2035 or later until everything is cleared). But the officials have made it clear that the project will definitely be built. Not much room for compromise.

Currently, the most probable scenario is an election defeat for the ruling coalition of Baden-Württemberg in March coupled with a public referendum on the project soon afterwards. If, against all odds, the project survives the election there will be another political opportunity to reexamine S21 when the construction tenders start coming back next year. If there is a tad of honesty in those bids the costs for S21 will soar up and above €5 billion. Real upfront honesty would bring it to €7 billion. Point of return? If not there is still the 2012 mayoral election in Stuttgart.


References

If you understand German:

  1. Dossier on S21 by Der Fahrgast (magazine of passenger advocacy group PRO BAHN), 1/2005-4/2009
  2. A 45 minute talk on the nationwide consequences of S21+Wendlingen-Ulm and how the numbers are cooked, by Michael Holzhey, 12/2009
  3. A 44 minute talk on the costs and utility of S21+Wendlingen-Ulm, by planner Martin Vieregg, 12/2009
  4. Rail Network 2025/30, study for an effective freight rail network (PDF, 37MB), 8/2010
  5. Press review assembled by project opponents
In English:

Exploding Costs Threaten German Rail's High-Speed Future

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Résiste!

The political mechanics of this hullabaloo project are endlessly fascinating. Maybe I will write another diary about that.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sun Oct 3rd, 2010 at 09:49:55 AM EST
long distance passenger volumes have been constantly dropping?

That was Germany. Other European countries developing rail saw significant rises.

TEN-17 can't be a freight corridor since the LGV Est and most other high-speed lines on the corridor are not for freight rail.

However, the parallel corridors are freed of long-distance trains -> more capacity for freight.

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 08:59:19 AM EST
The most glaring example is the quadruple tracking of Karlsruhe-Basel with a high-speed line... The most recent financing plan of the ministry of transport (Update [2010-10-4 0:28:39 by epochepoque]: link added) even shows that for the next ten years K.-B. is set to receive €117 million to a maximum of a few hundred million in total!

That's simply criminal... and delaying the completion of the Karlsruhe-Basel four-tracking all in itself increases the costs (more interests, more money to be spent on repeated planning, more inflation, more adjacent infrastructure, more stringent building codes).

even flashy pet projects like Nuremberg-Erfurt are subject to the laws of mathematics. Costing more than €5 billion it probably won't be finished until 2040, either. The official date of 2017 is mathematically impossible.

Hm? How so? All of the tunnels are now bored (with the longest and most critical nearing holing-through), the superstructure of most of the major bridges are in advanced construction, and the partly still to be contracted track construction is not where delays tend to accumulate. Also, its pet project status must be qualified: the routing of the Munich-Berlin line via Erfurt (rather than the shorter existing route via Saalfeld or via Plauen, which would have been less geologically challenging and thus cheaper) was a rather expensive present for the Thuringian government. However, the line was then short of funds for a decade (and thus kept inflating costs further without anything happening) just like Karlsruhe-Basel -- while the parallel A71/A73 highway was finished...

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 09:41:22 AM EST
The most recent financing plan of the ministry of transport (Update [2010-10-4 0:28:39 by epochepoque]: link added)

Upon checking, that's not a 10-year plan, but only a list of on-going projects with financing already agreed. Karlruhe-Basel features on the list with the Katzenbergtunnel, which nears completion. Since then, there was an agreement about the next two sections to the tune of €400 million (€47 million/km). I note that this project is not without controversy, either, though it is for DB's earlier refusal to build a tunnel under a city: the crossing of Offenburg.

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 10:15:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right. It's not a financing plan but a projection how financing could [ideally?] play out in the next ten years. Interesting to see that Nuremberg-Erfurt is to receive money till 2020. Additionally, the outcome of the haggling round each year in Fulda (March/April) is unforeseeable.

Nuremberg-Erfurt and Erfurt-Leipzig together still need 6 billion, Nuremberg-Erfurt ~4 billion (numerous sources say 4+2 billion of investment left but the document says ~5 billion total. Are my numbers wrong?). They would have to get nearly all the money in the next 7 years to go into service 2017. I'm not sure the rest of the country would like that ;-). 2040 is of course very speculative and probably wrong. No one knows what will happen beyond 2020. But seeing as Nuremberg-Erfurt can practically receive only ~200m or 300m max every year at least till 2020, plus it's chasing the tail of cost inflation, it's rather unlikely that it will be finished in this decade. 2017 is apparently impossible for technical reasons alone - construction orders didn't go out soon enough in 2008.

If the predicaments of energy (peak oil) and finance hit in this decade and get progressively worse, I wonder whether VDE8 will ever get finished.

Hopefully this is all the mad cow talking.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 12:37:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since this is about financing, it's hard to say what the numbers until 2020 mean -- it could include deferred depreciation charges and interests.

For the most current cost estimates, see the 2010 report on German Unity projects (pdf!), where the total project costs are estimated at 5.2+2.75 billion, and the money still to spend at the end of 2009 is put at 4+1.4 billion.

Note that the 2.7 billion total for the Ebensfeld-Erfurt high-speed line itself in your link is line with the cost named in this parliamentary reply. The rest of the cost estimate includes the €0.3 billion Nürnberg-Fürth upgrade, some other works and planning, and the one part still without a financing agreement, the four-tracking and upgrading of the Fürth-Bamberg-Ebensfeld section (the 2017 finishing date is only for the Ebensfeld-Erfurt high-speed line). (The 1.95 billion total for Erfurt-Gröbers is also okay if we consider that the rest includes Leipzig-Gröbers, already in operation.) So I'd estimate that the money still to be spent on Ebensfeld-Erfurt alone is about 2 billion.

Methinks a further long delay of the Fürth-Ebensfeld section is more likely than not paying already contracted superstructure and track contractors to the extent that they stop work, or a halt in contracting trackwork; so methinks any further delay will be only a year or two.

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

by DoDo on Tue Oct 5th, 2010 at 03:19:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
deferred depreciation charges and interests

I meant to write deferrend federal support [i.e. what pays for loans taken up by DB] and interests.

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

by DoDo on Wed Oct 6th, 2010 at 03:06:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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