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Tue Oct 11th, 2011 at 09:26:36 AM EST
Thanks to outsourcing, the EU, the Schengen zone, and the eastward expansion of both, freight flows across borders increased. In particular to and from the marine ports, where all the import goods from China et al arrive. This is particularly true in the rail sector (I mentioned it in Diesel heavy haul across Europe for example). Most of this freight travels along corridors crossing Germany. According to the September 2011 issue of the International Railway Journal (IRJ):
RAILFREIGHT has grown in Germany over the last decade by 24.5% to 355.4 million tonnes, or 42.2% between 2002 and 2010 to 107.2 billion tonne-km. The large falls in traffic caused by the 2008-09 recession ... have recovered and volumes this year are now at or above 2008 levels.
The growth has been driven by several factors; the key one being the increasing importance of global trade especially for imported goods and commodities from Asia to Europe. Much of this moves by sea to the North Sea ports of Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Rotterdam or Antwerp, and is then transported via Germany to destinations all over Europe. The four ports recorded a 90% increase in traffic from 18 million TEUs in 2002 to 34.2 million in 2008.
...55 of all railfreight in Germany is now international or transit traffic...
The IRJ article is about planned capacity enhancements on rail lines, aimed to meet further increase in traffic demand. However, while I will mention those, I will focus on what's not there: abandoned or never seriously considered projects, each of them a case study of the failings of two decades of transport policies focused on roads, budget cuts, and narrow domestic strategies.
First, the situation is pressing:
German infrastructure manager DB Networks plans to increase capacity from 120 billion tonne-km, which has nearly been reached, to at least 175 billion tonne-km by 2020.
This is total capacity; some specific corridors are already saturated. Where will capacity enhancements come from? One is high-speed lines. High-speed lines don't just affect long-distance passenger traffic – a point I keep banging on about, so nice to see it in print:
Separation of traffic flows will be achieved partly by building new lines, such as the Halle - Erfurt - Ebensfeld high-speed line, which has been under construction for over a decade and is due to open in stages between 2015 and 2018.
For more on that line, on how badly it was planned and how much it was delayed while the parallel highway was finished, read The EU's emerging high-speed networkS. Civil works are well-progressed or even finished now. Just at the end of September, the boring of the last tunnel started.
The other main element of the capacity enhancement plan is the upgrade of existing mainlines. Of particular note is the electrification and re-signalling of some presently under-used secondary mainlines. That way, two new corridors will be created:
- A second route from Hamburg to Munich. The present one goes via Hanover and was West Germany's main north–south artery, the new one via Leipzig is to the east.
- A line avoiding the hubs of Mainz and Mannheim (both near Frankfurt) on the central section of the Rhine Valley corridor.
Mainline electrification slowed down in West Germany in the eighties, then there was another big push in Eastern Germany with Reunification, but that quickly bogged down, so this could be some welcome change. But, let's take a closer look at what was and what wasn't on IRJ's map. First in the north:
- The new eastern north–south corridor starts with a triple-tracking of the existing one south of Hamburg, then continues with the upgrade of a section of the so-called America Line. As the name indicates, over a century ago, this line was originally built for east–west port traffic. It lost this role due to the split of Germany during the Cold War. After Reunification, it was to be completely rebuilt and electrified, but those plans weren't fully implemented due to budget cuts. The Uelzen–Bremen section is still dieselised and sees little traffic (but that includes transports for wind power manufacturer Enercon). Would the upgrade be completed, the new eastern north–south corridor could serve Bremerhaven, too, and east–west traffic could avoid Hanover.
- The triple-tracking south of Hamburg is still more of a stop-gap measure: for real relief, you'd need a new line between Hamburg and Hanover. For long, DB has planned such a line: the so-called Y line, a high-speed line also open to freight trains by night. However, as I commented previously, this is a bad plan: it tries to save money by choosing the shortest route, which is to connect mid-way to the existing Hamburg–Bremen line. But that doesn't remove the bottleneck near Hamburg, thus freight transporters don't like it; and it cuts across natural reserves, thus locals and environmentalists don't like it. It would be better to build along the highway and all the way into Hamburg.
- For Rotterdam, in the last decade, the Netherlands built an entirely new freight-only mainline to the German border, the Betuwe Line. As an extension, the connecting line into the Ruhr Area was to be upgraded and triple-tracked. Upgrades are often touted as the cheaper option, however, extensive works in already built-up areas and one-story-high noise screens installed for kilometres on end are both expensive and invite NIMBY protests. For those reasons, the Oberhausen–Dutch border upgrade got nowhere so far (there is an agreement on the budget but DB doesn't expect the building permit before 2012). It would be better to build an entirely new parallel line, be it high-speed or even just for 200 km/h.
- For Antwerp, Belgium electrified its freight-only Montzen Line to the German border, and Germany upgraded parts of the Cologne–Aachen–Belgian border line. Until Düren, Cologne's commuter trains got dedicated tracks while freight trains and Thalys high-speed trains share 250 km/h tracks. That's sub-optimal for railfreight, but from Düren to Aachen, it's even worse as the only capacity boost planned is a third track on a short section. Given DB's plans to run trains to London, plugging the high-speed gap here with a parallel line would really make a difference.
- For Antwerp's port traffic, however, an even better solution would be the revival of the Iron Rhine, a railway further north: unlike the Montzen route, it is all flat. However, the line cuts across the south-eastern tip of the Netherlands, where it has a dismantled section. The Netherlands sees no domestic benefits to this line and thus blocked attempts to rebuild it, also using the spurious argument that the disused section runs across a natural reserve; the federal German and Northrhine-Westphalia governments think cost estimates are too high; only Belgium and the Port of Antwerp are pushing it with full support.
Let's now move to the south.
Let me first emphasize the importance of the Rhine Valley. It carries most of the traffic between Rotterdam, Antwerp and the Ruhr Area on one end and Switzerland, Italy at the other end. The more northern sections also carry much of the traffic to Bavaria, Austria and beyond. Until Frankfurt, freight trains now run on both sides of the Rhine, plus a line further east, and long-distance passenger traffic is separated on a high-speed line. South from there, it's more congested.
- There are three lines from Frankfurt to Mannheim, and further capacity would be freed up by the long-planned plugging of the high-speed gap between the two cities. This project is held up by disputes over the routing (through or avoiding) at Mannheim and Darmstadt.
- The present plans want to create another route between the Frankfurt and Karlsruhe areas by electrification. However, on a key section, the new corridor would use the tracks of an east–west line carrying the Paris–Frankfurt traffic: the Palatinate Forest crossing, which is low-speed and already a bottleneck. Solving this would require a single c. 25 km mixed-traffic tunnel for the east–west corridor. However, DB's infrastructure branch has difficulties in projecting long tunnels, and this project has been mentioned as the vaguest of ideas only.
- The corridor between Karlsruhe and Basle is the one where extra capacity is most needed. Germany is quadruple-tracking the right-bank Rhine Valley line. However, as the IRJ article mentions, the central part is way behind schedule (it won't be ready by the time the Gotthard Base Tunnel opens) and faces NIMBY blockade from local communities who have a say by law. What the article doesn't say is that delays are also due to budget cuts, and that DB's tactic in consultations with locals is to dig in and stick to original plans no matter what, and watch as delays increase financing costs.
- There would be an obvious capacity relief between Karlsruhe and Basle: the left-bank Rhine Valley line. Using it would involve a switch to and from a different electrification system when crossing into and out of France, however, it's the same as on the Betuwe line, so the multi-system locos already in use can master it. France and Germany would only need to electrify and upgrade the Wörth–Strasbourg section to make this a reality, however, nothing much happens in that direction. (Presently the most notable freight transports on the line are the trains with the Castor nuclear waste containers between the La Hague reprocessing plant and the Gorleben final storage site.)
- Further south, there are plans to divert some of the traffic away from the congested hub of Basle by electrifying the line in the Upper Rhine Valley, on the German side of the Swiss-German border. However, in spite of several bilateral agreements, the project is moving forward at glacial speed. The current target date is 2016, but I'm sceptical.
- Stuttgart 21, the project to replace Stuttgart's surface terminus with an underground through station, has been covered in two diaries by epochepoque on ET; and the protests and controversy around the project was covered in several Salon comments. While I see Stuttgart 21 itself as more of an ill-designed real estate scheme than a solution to transport problems, I argued that the connected high-speed line to Ulm would very much make sense, to relieve the congested existing line that includes a mountain pass.
- Bavaria's north-east, the region around Hof, is presently a dieselised island. This is where the new north–south freight corridor is to be created by electrifying the Reichenbach–Hof–Regensburg mainline. As the IRJ article says, the only obstacle to the completion of the project is the federal government's approval of its part in the budget... and thus it's not unlikely that Hof will become an electrification dead-end for long years.
- Five years ago Germany opened a high-speed line between Nuremberg and Ingolstadt, but only upgraded the Ingolstadt–Munich section (with some extra tracks for Munich's commuter trains). The line being part of the north–south corridor serving Hamburg and Bremen, recent capacity problems should be no surprise... Long-distance passenger traffic should have been separated here, too.
- Further south, Austria is quadruple-tracking the Inn Valley line all the way from the future Brenner Base Tunnel to the German border (again see The EU's emerging high-speed networkS). It would make sense to double the line on the German side, too, especially between Munich and Rosenheim where the line to Salzburg branches off (presently there is quadruple-tracking only for Munich's commuter trains). But there are no such plans.
- A cheaper solution for freight trains would be the double-tracking and electrification of the lines to Mühldorf: transport flows to the south via Austria's Tauern mountain line and to the east towards Vienna could be separated from the Italy-bound traffic on the Brenner route. This has been a definite plan in the nineties already, but not much has been built so far due to budget cuts. The current target date is 2016, but I'm sceptical.
Watching highway and main road expansion on maps, I had the impression that there was less provincialism in the transport strategies of EU member states and less eternal delays due to budget cuts when it came to road construction... Many politicians say that they want to move freight from road to rail, but actions speak louder than words.
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