Berlin-Munich high-speed train line inaugurated

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A massive project

Since its conception over 25 years ago, the Intercity-Express (ICE) line connecting Berlin and Munich has drawn much criticism – for instance, as a waste of billions of euros of taxpayer money since it cost about €10 billion ($11.8 billion). The so-called VDE 8 project is now ready and from December 10, the travel time between the two cities will be cut short by two hours to less than four hours.

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Is it worth it?

Until its completion, the VDE 8 project repeatedly faced the prospect of ending up as a costly failure. Operator Deutsche Bahn hopes to make the railways more attractive for passengers than budget airlines and long-distance buses. At present, rail transport has a market share of about 20 percent on this route, and Deutsche Bahn wants to raise it to 50 percent.

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Bridges and tunnels

Over 300 rail and 170 road bridges had to be built. Half of the route runs underground or through valleys. Trains that zip through tunnels at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) lead to a build up of air masses, which can erupt with a bang at the exit. "Hood structures" were built on some portals, so that pressure waves can swirl noiseless and won't cause any trouble.

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A few highlights

Three times a day, an ICE "Sprinter" runs in both directions and completes a one-way journey in less than four hours. Regular ICE trains take around four and a half hours to cover it. There will be up to 10,000 new ICE train seats per day between Berlin and Munich. Deutsche Bahn had to make the biggest change in its train schedules in its history: a third of all long-distance trains are affected.

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No more gravel

On the new lines, the rails are laid over 160,000 concrete slabs — and no longer on gravel. On such five-ton boards, the rails can be laid down to precision and maintenance costs are lower. The tracks are laid like dominoes — also on bridges and in tunnels, which speeds up construction considerably.

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Freight trains under the earth

Nuremberg is a major freight hub and the route between Nuremberg and Fürth is one of the busiest in Germany. A 13-kilometer-long (8-mile-long) freight train line now relieves this bottleneck. The centerpiece is the 7-kilometer-long tunnel under Nuremberg and Fürth. It's set to come in handy, as by 2025 goods transport by rail is projected to jump by around 60 percent.

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Tunneling is not free of charge

The high cost of the construction of the railway line will have to be recuperated in some form. Attracting more train passengers is one strategy, and raising ticket prices is another. For a trip between Berlin and Munich, passengers may have to pay up to €150, estimates Deutsche Bahn. That would be a rise of over 13 percent from the current price.

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Millions of euros for the environment

German BUND environmental organization criticized the railway line construction’s negative environmental impact. But Deutsche Bahn says it has brought back into cultivation an area of around 4,000 hectares (9,884 acres). 600,000 trees have been planted, the company claims.

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Rich findings for archeologists

In the run-up to the construction, there was a lot to do for archaeologists. The route crisscrosses trade routes that data back thousands of years. Moreover, remains of a 7,000-year-old settlement were discovered, with around 20,000 individual pieces appearing. Also, 150- to 200-million-year-old fossils came to light during the tunnel construction.

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Back on the road to success?

The task now is to persuade people to travel by trains instead of taking to the road or the air. It would certainly help if the trains improved their punctuality. Perhaps the new ICE 4 trains could prove helpful to do this.

It took 25 years and cost billions of euros to complete the last "German Unity Transport Project." The high-speed railway line between the cities of Munich and Berlin has finally opened.

   

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