Construction of a four-track station below ground in the German town of Neu-Ulm heralds the start of work on a new line from Ulm to Stuttgart and releases land for housing and commercial development, reports Ralf Roman Rossberg

GERMANY'S FEDERAL Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and Deutsche Bahn Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn opened a new station called Neu-Ulm 21 on November 24. They were joined at the event by Mayor of Neu-Ulm Gerold Noerenberg and President of the Land of Bayern Günther Beckstein.

Tiefensee's presence at the ceremony underlined the importance of the event on a national scale, as Neu-Ulm 21 is a significant milestone in the development of the Paris - Stuttgart - München - Wien - Bratislava TEN corridor. It foreshadows construction of the Stuttgart - Ulm Neubaustrecke, on which work begins later this year, as well as the related Stuttgart 21 project which will see the present terminus in Stuttgart replaced by an underground through station.

Neu-Ulm is separated from the city of Ulm in the Land of Baden-Württemberg by the River Donau, over which a new two-track bridge has been completed parallel to the old structure, alleviating a bottleneck that threatened to limit capacity. Neu-Ulm was also home to an important intermodal terminal, which has now been closed and replaced by a new terminal at Dornstadt on the other bank of the Donau in Baden-Württemberg. The 16 tracks that occupied a substantial part of the town of Neu-Ulm have been replaced by just four. These run underground for a distance of 1·5 km, releasing no less than 18 ha of railway land for housing and commercial development. Long ramps stretching over 2 km take the busy main line down below the surface, and sound barrier walls have been built along the tracks for a total length of 8 000 m.

Neu-Ulm 21 was completed on budget at a cost of €160m. Facilities for passengers are distinctly minimalist, with a 'Service-Store' offering drinks, snacks, newspapers and magazines. Travel tickets can be purchased from the tills, but DB expects most tickets to be purchased from self-service vending machines. Parking is provided for 120 cars, and lifts to the platforms ensure easy access for wheelchair passengers and those encumbered with luggage.

Although the station has four tracks, only two are in regular use at the moment as the other pair of tracks is intended for long-distance trains that do not call at Neu-Ulm. However, more regional trains have served the station since December 9, when double-tracking of the first section of the Illertal line from Ulm to Neu-Ulm and Kempten was completed.

Neu-Ulm 21 is the first of a series of 'Station 21' projects to be completed. Launched by DB in the 1990s, the Station 21 concept of building new underground stations to replace facilities on the surface was intended partly to generate funds by releasing land for commercial development and partly to eliminate bottlenecks caused by terminal stations where trains must reverse. Stuttgart 21 is the biggest of these schemes, but 12 years elapsed while DB negotiated funding of the €2·8bn project with the city authorities and other parties (RG 9.07 p539). Work is now due to start in 2010 for completion around 2020.

Similar plans exist to replace the present termini in Frankfurt and München, but the high cost means that both projects have been pigeonholed for the time being.

  • CAPTION: Dignitaries pressed a 'start button' to open Neu-Ulm 21 on November 24. From right to left: Interior Minister of Baden-Württemberg Heribert Rech, Federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, DB Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn, DB Representative for Bayern Klaus-Dieter Josel, President of Bayern Günther Beckstein, Bayern Economics Minister Emilia Müller, Neu-Ulm Mayor Gerold Noerenberg and his predecessor Beate Merk, now Justice Minister for Bayern
  • CAPTION: Two special trains formed of ICE trainsets arrived simultaneously from München and Stuttgart to mark the official opening of Neu-Ulm 21
  • CAPTION: A 'free-floating' roof sweeps over the somewhat spartan station passenger facilities at Neu-Ulm 21