Posted by: Richard Lenthall | September 21, 2010

New Improved Site Now Live, Ready for InnoTrans, Berlin

Hello,

After a few weeks working away, finally the new Sight Of The Navigator site is ready and live! You can find it at www.sightofthenavigator.com

As well as improving the layout of the blog, there’s now also a Projects page, where I highlight the research and development work I’m doing, and also a brand new Community site, which promotes and advises users of public transport all over Europe.  Check it out at your leisure!

If you’re going to the InnoTrans 2010 conference in Berlin this week (Sept 21-24), maybe I’ll see you there! Send me an email if you want to get in touch about the visit.

Whilst I will continue to monitor this site for the time being, all new blog posts will now only appear on the new site making this entry the final one here.

Finally, thanks once again for reading and taking part on this site, and I very much look forward to your participation at my self-hosted home at www.sightofthenavigator.com

Posted by: Richard Lenthall | August 25, 2010

Antwerp Central: A Project Comparison for Stuttgart 21

Over the weekend I posted an article about the controversial Stuttgart 21 project (you can read it here). The idea of that post was to provide an introductory guide to the project and the associated protests, along with a commentary on the aims, goals and points of contention.

This post, in way of comparison, will take a look at another major European station that underwent a similar rebuild project, Antwerp Central, and draw conclusions by comparing the two projects.

Overview

Antwerp Central station shares many aspects of form and function with Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (Hbf). Both are regarded as great examples of architecture and design, both stations serve a large city and both are transport hubs for local, regional and international rail services. Up until March 2007 both were also terminus type stations, but since then, due to the construction of a tunnel, trains can now call at Antwerp Central and continue their journey without having to reverse. Similar to the Stuttgart 21 project again is that the construction of the new parts of the station took place below the old tracks and not as a new development alongside it or elsewhere. This is how it looks today (my own picture);


The trains arrive and depart from three different levels, with the top two levels being divided into 2 parts either side of the atrium. You will see a train on the top right just above the grey concrete and the four rows of white lights indicate each part of the lower levels -1, and -2.

You will also notice the striking architecture of the old station together with the glass and steel train shed both of which were built in 1905 and how they are still a major part of the complex today. As preservation of the original building is a key issue in the Stuttgart 21 project, it is interesting to note how the original architecture has been largely kept intact with this vast modernisation and how the issue of people moving around the inside of the structure has been well thought out and planned.

Efficiency Gains Through Modernisation

  • Through trains no longer have to reverse, reducing what is known as “Pathing Conflicts”, when trains have to cross a number of tracks either entering or leaving the station which prevent other trains moving in the other direction.
  • Passengers looking for a connection don’t have to walk all the way down to the end of the station, then back again to their next train, by being able to use the 3rd dimension of height the designers have reduced connection access times.
  • Calling trains also save time on their journey as the driver doesn’t have to switch ends of the train so stopping times have been reduced.
  • Less real estate had to be purchased for the development due to the underground nature of the project.
  • With 14 platforms the station is now able to handle more trains and the design is considerably more future proof. Capacity was a big issue for Antwerp before the modernisation.

All the above points are directly comparable to those on the Stuttgart 21 project.

Project Costs – Are We Comparing Apples with Apples?

To compare the cost of the two projects let’s outline the scale. To do this I’ll use a rudimentary breakdown of the Antwerp project costs.

Antwerp

  • €765m = Total project cost, as is documented here on the Railway Technology website.
  • €306m = 40% of the project spend was for the station itself (again this figure is documented on the above link). From this figure we can estimate that…
  • €306m = 40% would have been spent on the 3.2km tunnel that now links the North and South of the station. This in turn leaves…
  • €153m = 20% for expenditure which can’t be attributed directly to either station or tunnel including new track that isn’t in the station or tunnel, financing costs, legal bills, inflation, project add-ons, unforeseen expenditure etc;

From this we can calculate a cost of €90.5m per tunnelled kilometre.

Backing this figure up are the project costs for the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Lötschberg Base Tunnel in Switzerland both of which are giant transit tunnel projects. These figures come out at;

  • Gotthard = €7.2bn for 57km tunnelled giving an average of €126m per tunnelled km.
  • Lötschberg = €3.5bn for 34.6km tunnelled given an average of €101m per tunnelled km. (This figure includes the estimated €1bn extra to complete the 2nd bore as referenced here.)

Taking an average of these 3 figures and allowing for inflation, and the fact that the two Swiss tunnels are going through mountain rock, whereas Antwerp’s tunnel goes only under a city with softer geology, we can envisage average building costs coming in at around €110m
per tunnelled km.

Stuttgart

Now today, from the official Stuttgart 21 website there is this data; (Which incidentally does not cover the separately budgeted high speed rail link to Ulm.)

  • 33km of new tunnel and cuttings (A “cutting” is a railway in a shallow gorge type of environment). Having looked at the map 85% of the new route will be tunnelled.
  • 3 new stations: The new Stuttgart Hbf (where the railway will also be reorientated by 90 degrees), the station at the airport and a new S-Bahn local station at Mittnachtstrasse.
  • The tunnels and lines will be built for speeds of up to 250km/h, which Antwerp’s tunnel is not.
  • The current estimated budget is €4.1bn

So let’s see how that cost estimation stacks up;

  • 85% of 33km (the amount which will be tunnelled) is 28.05km. Multiply that by the average cost of tunnelling as discussed above and you get €3.085bn
  • The remaining 15%, roughly 5km, will be open track. The Cologne to Frankfurt high speed line has a cost (According to Deutsche Bahn figures) of €33m per km. Therefore using this ratio will result in a cost of €170m.
  • Stuttgart Hbf. Taking the cost of Antwerp Central, and adding the whole station will be twice the size of Antwerp’s underground sections, we can estimate a figure of around €950m
  • Stuttgart Airport’s new station will also be underground; we have Frankfurt Airport station as a precedent, which cost €225m 13 years ago. It is logical to assume the cost will be roughly the same as Antwerp’s’ or the cost of Frankfurt Airport’s in today’s money, therefore €306m
  • Stuttgarts new local transport station at Mittnachtstrasse will be a more modest size and on ground level so we can assume a lower ratio/cost here. I estimate €150m
  • The new depot and sidings for train maintenance at Unterturkheim will also be to a more modest figure, again let’s say, conservatively (!) €150m
  • This gives us a sub total of €4.811bn
  • When we add on the 20% for other project costs, unforeseen issues and overruns that was attributed in the breakdown of Antwerp’s costs we have to revise the total project cost to €5.7bn

This, as you can see, is now considerably more than the €4.1bn figure currently being advertised as the cost of the project.

Conclusions

The Stuttgart 21’s objectives are sound. Building the new rail link will remove bottlenecks in the regions transport infrastructure. It will also remove “Pathing Conflicts”, increase capacity and improve connections, much in the same way as is now being enjoyed at Antwerp Central. The effects of a speedier journey will also be felt much further afield and linking the airport with the city promotes integrated transport which is a must for today’s mobile society.

The costs however are a major worry. Even with my rudimentary calculations based on ratios and evidence of breakdowns from previous projects I can demonstrate that the current budget for the Stuttgart 21 project is already under pressure.

It is not clear to me, nor is it clearly reported, what the budgets are for each sub-section of the project. A more open approach from the project sponsors to the general public would be a good PR move, as currently they seem a guarded secret. But then perhaps this reflects the political pressure that the budget is already under. Rising costs are giving the protests a louder and more credible voice. It is time for the project stakeholders to demonstrate how their figures have been calculated, using credible sources and precedence, and then open them up for presentation to the public. Without this, Stuttgart 21 will remain under pressure from the public and its own demonstrably tight budget constraints with the result that a question mark will continue to hang over the project’s future.

Posted by: Richard Lenthall | August 20, 2010

Stuttgart 21: Germans Protest Against Rising Cost of Efficiency

Tempers are fraying in Stuttgart. Plans to build a new rail link to the city and replace the aging main station are causing a furore. State owned railway company, Deutsche Bahn (DB), is under fire for imposing the “prestigious” project onto the city which, if the predicted cost overruns occur, will saddle the city with billions of euros of debt. Quickly reasoning where the extra money will ultimately be found, Baden-Wurttemberg taxpayers have taken to the streets of their landeshauptstadt (state-capital) to voice their concerns.

In Stuttgart 2 weeks ago I witnessed a well attended protest-rally where people left no doubt in the strength of their objections. (Sorry for the poor picture quality, my mobile was all I had on me at the time!)


DB were certainly taking a kicking from the banners (“Deutsche Talibahn” read one, whilst another concentrated on the result of the debt “Deutsche Bahnana Republik”). In a time where transit projects across Europe seem to be having a problem with cost control (Amsterdam’s Metro and Köln’s U-Bahn are also mired in controversy) let’s take a look and see why this project is on the table in the first place.

A New Heart of Europe

Backed by the EU, “Stuttgart 21” and the associated plan to build a 60km High-Speed line to Ulm are both part of the “New Heart of Europe” initiative, an ambitious plan to link Paris and Budapest by high speed rail. The new high-speed line will also bypass the Geislingen an der Steig incline, a major bottleneck for rail in Southern Germany, whilst the Stuttgart redevelopment will concentrate on replacing the dead-end Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof into an underground pass-through station together with a high speed rail link to the city’s airport.

Terminal Problem?

Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) is not the world’s greatest station. Whilst the outside looks architecturally appealing, the inside and platforms look decrepit and a renovation feels overdue. The large inner atrium is impressive but the feeling of space has been compromised by poor footfall planning (the majority of travellers are usually squeezed into tight walk-through passages and escalators), and walking through to the trains can give you the impression you’ve walked into a different station entirely, with dimly lit, dirty platforms. A larger scale problem is that it’s also a dead-end terminus.

Stuttgart lies in a naturally occurring bowl with high hills on it’s sides. It’s terminus type station, usually only found in towns close to the sea, a border or perhaps in cities with a ring of stations such as London or Paris, has an obvious constraint which counteracts efficient movement. Services which continue their journey after calling at Stuttgart have to double back, traverse the same lines for a few kilometres and in doing so travel for some time in a wrong direction. Built at a time when there was less demand for destinations to the South, the station points its tracks to the North East with services to Singen, Böblingen and Calw passing through the Nordbahnhof (North Station) before doing a U turn.

InterCity trains, for example those from Mannheim to Munich, stop for an extra amount of time then double back which produces a challenge for signalling. Due to the design, the speed of arriving and departing trains can hardly be described as brisk, and if you add the time it takes to slow down on the approach, stop, reverse, depart and start travelling in the right direction, a high speed train could have travelled over 30km.

All these points are targeted by the Stuttgart 21 project which aims to rebuild the rail network around Stuttgart like this;


So why the Protests?

The protests are against the design of the new station, doubts in the efficiency gains and, most of all, the cost of the project itself. I’m not qualified to comment on architecture and won’t comment on that aspect over and above the functional design comments I’ve made above. The efficiency gains are a matter of common sense. A terminus station in the middle of the country without a secondary station serving the opposite direction will obviously incur inefficiencies. If you were to design Stuttgart Hbf from scratch today any proposal for a dead-end station would get rejected immediately as it doesn’t make sense. It’s worth noting here that Frankfurt suffers the same problem with its main terminus station, although a solution, to some degree at least, is to route some through services to Sudbahnhof (South Station) which is an option Stuttgart doesn’t have as it lacks a secondary transport hub.

The cost issues are by far the most prevailing. As seems to be the case with most recent civil building projects, the cost of the project appears to have escalated sharply since it was approved, from €2.6bn in 2004 to €4.1bn this year.

There are some clear reasons why this may be. Simply adding on the effects of 6 years worth of inflation brings the figure close to €3bn. It has also been suggested that politicians deliberately underestimated the cost of the project only to then slowly increase it after it was approved, however the architect of the new station rebuffs this point as a “Fairytale” in this revealing interview (German).

The Cost of Complaining

The Cologne to Frankfurt high speed line is a good example of how mired things can get in German rail engineering. The route of the line was agreed by the federal government in 1993, but the final legal dispute was only settled in 1997. That’s 4 years of legal wrangling. Where does the money come from to deal with that? Originally planned to open in 1999 the whole route finally opened in July 2002, three years late. Now add on inflationary effects, security costs, the price of keeping people tied up on the project, plus the expense of dealing with legal challenges and it’s easy to see how these projects become more costly.

In Stuttgart legal challenges are highly predictable for such a controversial project, and while all views must be given the opportunity to be aired once a decision has been made it can become counter-productive to carry on protests to the point where dealing with objections leads to a self-for filling prophecy of escalating costs.

Dealing with the Concerns

Protests against the project began way back in 1997, but I’m interested in what the cost estimates were then? The project itself is completely sound as far as its objectives; however I am concerned to hear that DB plans to reduce the number of safety points inside the tunnel so that needs to be analysed.

Gradients on the route are also under scrutiny as the new route will still have notable inclines; however the new link to Ulm will provide a bypass around the freight trains tackling the gradient at Geisligen an der Steig in the same way that a road bypass works, so the reasoning is sound there.

Building the line underground will mean that a lot of land currently used for the railway can be returned for other urban projects such as new houses and office developments, this opens up further income opportunities and social benefits for all concerned.

People are right to be sceptical if they feel government has not done enough to answer the criticism of a lack of cost control so the financial books need to be opened up for scrutiny. Failure to do this will only heighten tension and reduce trust. Once these concerns have been addressed a decision needs to be made as to how to continue and then people need to be held to account regarding that decision.

If the project is stopped then the protestors will get what they want, but will have to put up with the limitations of the current transit network not just for tomorrow but for the next 20 years and the associated economic and social consequences. If the project goes ahead, politicians should be held to account if the costs escalate.

Simply weathering the storm of protests without mutually deciding on a compromise will result in years of legal battles, as experienced on other German rail projects, which will have the inevitable result of higher project costs and for that both politicians and the protestors will have a case to answer.

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