Train strain

The Berlin Express

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Even faster than the autobahn.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The new rail line will complete an important component of a transport plan designed to help reunify Germany. But many think the huge costs involved in the project could have been better spent.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • High-speed trains will take less than four hours to travel between Berlin and Munich.
    • The cost of the project currently stands at €11 billion ($13.9 billion).
    • The new line will open in December 2017.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Things are looking up for Berliners who enjoy Munich’s beer gardens, not to mention Bavarians who fancy a quick trip to the German capital.

The two cities will soon be linked by high-speed trains capable of making the 600 kilometer (375 mile) journey in less than four hours. Trains will race along it at up to 300 kmh (186 mph), with “sprinter” services that stop only once in Nuremburg shaving more than two hours off the current journey length.

Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, is planning to open the line in December 2017, and at the moment it’s on schedule. The idea is that it will compete with airlines, and Deutsche Bahn hopes the line will increase its market share from 20 percent to 40 percent.

The new high-speed line actually only covers the section between Berlin and Nuremburg, as that city is already linked to Munich by a high-speed line. But it will not just benefit travelers heading to Bavaria; travel times to cities such as Erfurt and Frankfurt will also be cut.

The Berlin-Nuremberg connection is one of 17 German Unity Transport Projects (VDE) that the federal government committed to in 1991, shortly after East and West Germany reunified. Most of the road and rail projects have been completed, but the VDE 8 Berlin to Nuremberg project has been delayed. In 1998, the Left-Green government coalition temporarily stopped the project two years after work had started. It argued that it was too expensive – and that there was no need for a high-speed line between the cities. The costs are currently calculated at a hefty €11 billion ($13.9 billion).

Deutsche Bahn hopes the line will increase its market share from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Work started again in 2005, and the next year the first stage, between Berlin and Leipzig, which had not been affected by the political wranglings, was completed. In September this year, the first test runs were made on the next stage, between Halle-Leipzig and Erfurt. Speeds of up to 330 kmh were reached, although the normal speed will be 300 kmh.

However, not everything is perfect. Work is still in progress on the Leipzig, Halle and Erfurt rail hubs, said Frank Kniestedt, the project spokesperson. And passengers heading to Berlin might want to pack a coat as much of the platform areas at the city’s main station and the eastern junction of Ostkreuz will not be roofed over.

And down south, on the stretch between Erfurt and the town of Ebensfeld, half of which will be through tunnels or over bridges, some additional tracks will not be laid by December 2017. But this will mean only a few minutes more travel time, said Ingulf Leuschel, the head of Deutsche Bahn in Berlin.

The VDE 8 project forms part of the north-south component of a European Union rail network plan. Ultimately, the section will stretch from Scandinavia through Berlin and Munich all the way to Palermo in Italy. A key link in the chain is the construction of a tunnel beneath the Brenner Pass on the border of Austria and Italy. The project is costing €10 billion ($12.65 billion) and is due to be completed by 2026.

But this time it’s unlikely to be tourists who will benefit – the line is designed for freight traffic.

 

This article first appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: Klaus.Kurpjuweit@tagesspiegel.de

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