MARCH 20 saw the signing of an accord between German Railway and the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Neckar to expand the scope of the planned Rhein-Neckar S-Bahn network. First proposed in 1996 to serve the region around Mannheim, Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg, the S-Bahn is due to be launched with the December 2003 timetable change.

Core of the network will be an east-west line through the three cities, with two branches at each end. A new bridge has already been built to carry the dedicated S-Bahn tracks across the Rhein between Ludwigshafen and Mannheim, and station platforms are being raised to 760mm to allow level boarding of the new EMUs.

The latest accord sees all four branches extended, increasing the network from 120 to over 200 km. The western line will be continued from Neudstadt an der Weinstraße to Kaiserslautern, and the southwest branch from Speyer to Germersheim, requiring 22·5 km of new electrification south of Schifferstadt. In the east, the branch to Eberbach am Neckar will be extended to Mosbach (Baden), and south of Heidelberg trains will continue beyond Bruchsal to Karlsruhe.

An operator is to be chosen this year after a call for tenders for a contract to run 6 million train-km a year for 12 years, rising possibly to 15 million train-km. This has attracted considerable interest from outside Germany, putting pressure on incumbent DB Regio, which has teamed up to bid with Rhein-Neckar Bahn. n