Mon Nov 28th, 2011 at 07:29:58 AM EST
Stuttgart 21 is a rail project to replace the surface terminus of Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg state in Germany, with an underground through station. The controversy over its costs and usefulness, and its real estate, environmental and historical building preservation aspects, peaked in mass protests that met excessive police force, and contributed to the election of Germany's first Greens-led regional government earlier this year.
To settle the subsequent tussle over the future of the project, the state of Baden-Württemberg held a referendum yesterday (Sunday, 27 November). At a turnout of 48.3%, a majority of 58.8% rejected the state's withdrawal of its financial contribution (which would have effectively killed the project). Even in Stuttgart itself, Stuttgart 21 supporters had a majority of 52.9%. Prime minister Winfried Kretschman said his government accepts the people's decision, but the state won't contribute to the financing of further cost overruns and will continue to ensure the right of protest.
Below the fold, some background, and for a wider context, some other news on transport policy in Germany, which don't point in a good direction.
For a summary of the opponent's arguments, see Stuttgart 21 - Part I and Stuttgart 21 - Part II - Consequences Beyond Stuttgart by epochepoque. For full disclosure, my own view was that Stuttgart 21 is essentially a real estate project (using the space freed up by the old station and the connecting tracks) and sub-optimal for rail in its attempt to put long-distance and local passenger rail on the same rails.
Between the election of the Greens-SPD government and the referendum, the focus of the debate were the following subjects:
- The capacity of the old and the planned new station: for the new station, a so-called "stress test" was prepared, then another, and the Baden-Württemberg's regional passenger transport authority commissioned a study, too. All of these cleared the planned new station, though the last one showed that the old station has higher capacity.
- The costs of quitting the project, now that it's on-going: the opposed sides commissioned studies that gave wildly different numbers (see Rail News Blogging #2).
- On-going works and awarding: seen by opponents as creating facts, defended as the respecting of existing contracts and the avoidance of cost overruns by proponents.
- A compromise solution combining part of the existing station with a scaled-down underground station (the solution I advocated earlier, too): this one was proposed by the man tasked with a reconciliation effort, Heiner Geißler (a CDU leader in the Kohl era and present prominent member of ATTAC), but was quickly rejected by both sides.
During the height of the mass protests, polls showed a majority against Stuttgart 21, but opposition dwindled ever since. As for the reasons, I can only speculate: the opponents' rejection of the successive stress tests was probably seen as unreasonable, and the SPD's strong support for the project (to the extent of playing opposition within the government) may have had an effect on its voters.
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Meanwhile, some other recent news (all of which connect to subjects covered in Corridors for freight) show that transport policy in Germany does not move in a pro-rail direction.
Item 1: In the federal budget proposal for 2012, the sum earmarked for the continued quadruple-tracking of the Karlsruhe–Basel line (also in Baden-Württemberg state) was cut from 48.4 to 19 million (following the putting-on-a-backburner of the Hamburg–Hanover–Bremen "Y" and Frankfurt–Mannheim high-speed lines and an express rapid transit network for the Ruhr area, see comment by epochepoque). The original sum was already not enough for more than design work, so delays (and consequent cost increases) mount for this important megaproject, too.
Item 2: It's not like the overall budget for traffic infrastructure was a victim of budget cuts: in the last revision, the planned deficit increased (yes, federal finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble doesn't practise what he preaches to the rest of the Eurozone) partly because an extra billion for traffic infrastructure.
What is that sum for? Maybe some of it is for rail? In an interview with Rheinishe Post, federal transport minister Peter Ramsauer (CSU) disabuses us of such illusions:
|Diese Milliarde Euro ist der erste Schritt auf meinem Weg hin zu einer nachhaltigen Finanzierung der Straße. Bis die Maut kassenwirksam wird, geht es darum, die Straßenbau-Finanzierung aufzupolstern.||This one billion Euro is the first step on my path towards a sustainable financing of roads. Until the [minister's proposed passenger car] toll [on highways] does not yet have a cash effect, the goal is to bolster road construction funding.|
Item 3: Ramsauer is also moving ahead with the approval process of super-long 44-ton trailer trucks (so-called gigaliners), "trials" are to start in seven states of Germany for the next five years. CER, the lobby group of European train and rail infrastructure operators, commissioned a study to see what the effect of an EU-wide rollout of the 44-ton trucks would be on their business, which came to the result that rail would lose up to 38% of its wagonload traffic and 13% of its combined transport traffic.
Item 4: I recently observed that NIMBY protests against rail, previously focused on megaprojects involving new construction and primarily high-speed lines, spread to the simplest enhancements which would result in increased freight traffic on existing lines. Now there is another such initiative:
|Bürgerinitiative: Unterschriften gegen Ausbau Löhne - Hildesheim- Nachrichten bei Eurailpress||Citizen initiative: Petition against Löhne–Hildesheim upgrade - News at Eurailpress |
|Gegen den Ausbau der Bahnstrecke Löhne - Hildesheim durch das Weserbergland für den Güterverkehr hat eine Bürgerinitiative 7000 Unterschriften gesammelt.||A citizen initiative collected 7000 signatures against the upgrade of the Löhne–Hildesheim railway across the Weserbergland region [south-west of Hanover] for freight transport.|
|Sie sollen dem Bundestag übergeben werden.||The signatures are to be handed over to the federal parliament.|
I am struggling to find understanding for such protests. The passing of a freight train is a rattle for two minutes, but, unlike highway noise, it's then over. Is a train ever half an hour instead of every two hours crossing the limit of intolerable?
OTOH the spread of such protests should spur on efforts to reduce freight train noise, if only wouldn't it be so difficult from an economic viewpoint. Freight trains would be much less noisy if wagons would run on running gear similar to that of passenger trains. However, such running gear is expensive in itself and needs high-frequency condition monitoring/maintenance, so freight wagons need something robust instead, or else "silenced" railfreight will become very expensive and even less competitive against road. There are projects in that direction, but a widespread retrofitting of wagons in Europe is nowhere near.
As a final side-note, the alternative for the above protesters:
|Die Anlieger wollen, dass stattdessen die Hauptstrecke Hannover - Minden - Löhne ausgebaut wird. Diese Variante unterstützt auch die Deutsche Bahn.||The residents want that, instead, the upgrade of the Hanover–Minden–Löhne mainline. This version is also supported by German Railways.|
That may be a way to create the additional capacity, however, that choice would be the continuation of another bad policy in recent decades: secondary lines are no more maintained as diversion routes for mainlines in case of emergency.
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