Station approach in Stuttgart

Station approach in Stuttgart, taken from the station tower.

Deutsche Bahn and the city of Stuttgart are getting into some trouble with their latest pet project, ‘Stuttgart 21’. Their plan is to rebuild the station in the centre of Stuttgart from the current terminus-like station with all trains coming from the north and reversing, to a shiny new underground through station on an east-west axis. The brains behind this scheme have decided that this will bring all kinds of advantages and is essential to make Stuttgart a major connection in the growing pan-European high speed network. And incidentally free up a huge amount of real estate in a very congested city centre. Not that this has anything to do with it.

At some point in the process someone working late one night in a parallel universe where trains are never delayed, came up with the equation that because Stuttgart has a 16 platform terminus at the moment, if you make it a through station, then it only needs eight platforms. This sounds like a POSAD: A Politically over-simplified Accountants Dream. Such an equation works wonders when trying to get a figure past a private sector budget sheet, “It can be so much smaller and cheaper for the same effect” but in the real world where points have a habit of failing and even German-built trains have been known to break down, we could well rue the day that we decided not to allow for a bit of slack in the system. British readers will think of Birmingham New Street at this point. And that’s assuming everything stays the same. Which is a very unusual business case: invest €X billion (I’ll come to the cost in a bit) to maintain the current traffic levels. Isn’t it just possible that after pouring billions into the railways of Europe to make a high speed network, there may be a couple more people travelling by train, especially with jet fuel prices going into the stratosphere? It’s going to be very entertaining to see how exactly an underground station gets the equivalent of a second runway.

And then there’s the cost. The federal rail authority has estimated this will all cost about €2,9 billion. A fair bit. Then in mid 2008 Martin Vieregg, a transport consultant from Munich, threw a spanner in the works by claiming the costs would be between €6,9 – 8,7 billion when we take into account rising energy and material costs. Which is a fair bit more, and that that was before oil prices went up and the economy dropped. Vieregg recently torpedoed the Munich Airport maglev project by showing how high the costs could run on that pet project, so he’s no small fry. DB’s response was along the lines of “er… no it won’t”, but they would say that wouldn’t they? Now the State Government quietly increased estimates to €5,08bn, and added a risk fund of €1,45bn, just in case. €5,08 + €1,45= €6,53bn. (Figures from “Stuttgart 21 wird teurer.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19./20. Juli 2008, page 6) And the State already has interest payments on debts of 80 million a year. Not including a few hundred million for little things like a junction near the airport that was seemingly forgotten first time around. Oops.

Okay, but once it’s built, it’s built, and on a good (failure free) day everything will run like a Swiss watch. Except that another metaphorical tool of your choice has already been launched at the delicate clockwork by one Dr. V. Jung in 2005 who noticed that the whole concept is based on the idea that trains will only stop for two minutes. Anyone who has watched, or even been near to a 15 coach train when several hundred people are trying to get off, and several hundred more are getting on, can probably see the problem with this. We’re back in parallel universe territory then, or there will be a ban on wheelchairs and luggage.

The alternative- leaving the existing station as it is, would allow for more flexibility, absorb more growth in rail services, and probably cost about a third of the total, even including the high-speed link between here and Ulm. It’s been thrown out -so far- because it doesn’t serve the airport as directly from the centre. Assuming the airport doesn’t have grass growing between the slabs by then, this would seem sensible. At least it would if the Stuttgart 21 plan allowed for more than one fast train in three serving it, or if the airport station was actually planned to be in the airport, like the S-bahn station is.

There are plenty more things I could talk about, like the likely curtailment of rural services to places well away from Stuttgart to channel funds into this project, or concerns about groundwater in the city, or the partial demolition of the station building and total demolition of the station approaches, both of which are (were, as the demolition teams moved into the station recently) theoretically protected historical structures, or the way a lot of the discussions have been held behind closed doors, which is hardly surprising given the circumstances.

I’ll keep you posted. I had hoped this would gradually be exposed for the wasteful scheme it is, and would be quietly forgotten in the coming economic shake-up. However, although the sheer lunacy has been exposed, the politicians (who increasingly seem to be inhabiting the aforementioned parallel universe) are continuing to insist that the scheme should continue, and the building companies are already marking our cleared land ready to be sold off in small parcels at a huge profit.

Not that this has anything to do with it, of course.