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Nürnberg - Erfurt dumped

01 Aug 1999

GERMAN Transport Minister Franz Müntefering announced on July 7 that construction of the Nürnberg - Erfurt Neubaustrecke will be halted. Work in hand on the short section from Erfurt to Arnstadt will be completed and a spur built to link it to the existing Arnstadt - Saalfeld line. The line will not be electrified, but a diesel regional service would cut journey times between Erfurt and Nürnberg from 3h 6min to 2h 23min. The ministry says that this will ensure the investment is not wasted.

One of several grandiose German unity projects, the 192 km route through the Thüringer Wald has always been controversial. In 1997 former DB chief Heinz Dürr warned the transport committee in Bonn that the DM8·5bn line was 'not particularly viable'. Financial constraints faced by the present government mean the apparently endless spend on major infrastructure schemes must finally stop. The ministry insists the project has only been postponed, and the Berlin - München TEN is still alive, but this looks like little more than a smokescreen to fend off protests over the EU funding agreed for the route.

The ministerial announcement was timed to coincide with a DB board meeting at which Chairman Johannes Ludewig issued a policy statement that sees investment switched from new lines to upgrading existing routes. Another victim is the ambitious Stuttgart 21 project to replace the present terminus by an underground through station. DB says 'the overall project is still sensible, but it is not possible to fund it as part of the new line from Wendlingen to Ulm'. A working party will decide if it is worth building a short section to serve Stuttgart airport.

At the heart of the policy change is Netz 21, which sees the 38500 route-km divided into three categories. A 10000 km 'priority network' comprises 3500 km of high speed lines, 4500 km of medium speed routes and 2000 km of S-Bahn lines. A further 10000 km are designated for mixed traffic and 18500 km as regional routes. Traffic will increasingly be segregated by speed. For example, the line on the east bank of the Rhine will only see freight and local traffic; DB says this will allow the number of stations with overtaking loops to be cut from 16 to three, eliminating 70 points and 8 km of track.

Netz 21 will see nearly DM4·4bn a year spent on infrastructure works by 2010. A total of DM10·8bn is earmarked for 'the introduction of innovative train control technology'. DM13·2bn is to be spent on track renewals, DM8bn on bridge and tunnel work, and DM4·8bn on power supply and catenary. Level crossing modernisation receives DM2·2bn and the S-Bahn in Berlin DM1·4bn. Netz 21 is part of a high-level strategy termed Agenda 21 which Ludewig says is geared towards 'material privatisation of the railways after 2003'.