Talks between those in charge of the project and opponents threatened to collapse before they had even begun, after Deutsche Bahn and the state government said they would not stop work as protest leaders had requested.
“One would not have to call it a halt to building, rather a pause,” said Werner Wölfe, transport expert for the Green Party.
But Stefan Mappus, state premier for Baden-Württemberg said, “My hand is stretched out regarding the configuration of the project. But there will not be a stop to construction.”
Rüdiger Grube, from Deutsche Bahn, also rejected calls for a halt to the work.
Mappus and Grube presented two new managers of the project – former regional Stuttgart government leader Udo Andriof and IT businessman Wolfgang Dietrich – to replace Wolfgang Drexler who stepped down as Stuttgart 21 spokesman after the Social Democratic Party, of which he is a member, called for an immediate halt to work on the project.
“Everything is heading towards a referendum,” said Nils Schmid, state head of the SPD, which has called for a popular vote on the project.
While Mappus said discussions could be held about the final plans for the city centre in relation to the new station, he said there would be no stopping the rail project.
The aim is to make Stuttgart part of the 1,500-kilometre high-speed rail route across Europe, requiring 16 new tunnels, 18 new bridges, 60 kilometres of new train track and three new stations.
Stuttgart's terminus will be transformed into an underground through-station, with the side wings of the protected building, built between the wars by architect Paul Bonatz, falling victim to the wrecking ball.
Costs are planned to be €7 billion, but an independent report cited by the Greens has put a total projected bill as more like €11 billion.
The state's conservative Christian Democratic Union members have seen support dip dramatically in the face of the protests against the project, and are said to be deeply unsettled at a recent indication from party leader Chancellor Angela Merkel that the state election in March would be a vote on the matter.
Volker Kauder, head of the federal CDU parliamentary party, tried to calm the waters by saying that was not the case.
“The state election is of course not a vote on Stuttgart 21. The citizens know that is basically about whether Baden-Württemberg will continue to be a strong state,” he said.