Taxpayers face rising cost for Stuttgart 21

Taxpayers face higher costs on the controversial Stuttgart 21 project, with Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer vowing the government would “assess” any new expenses arising from changes demanded by an independent mediator.

Taxpayers face rising cost for Stuttgart 21
Photo: DPA

Late on Tuesday, mediator Heiner Geißler’s unveiled his long-awaited recommendation that the €4 billion project should go ahead, albeit with changes that would likely push up the cost.

Ramsauer told Wednesday’s edition of the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the federal government backed Geißler’s recommendations and refused to rule out further costs. He vowed “to assess” any extra costs to the federal government.

Germany’s future depended on having a modern, efficient infrastructure, Ramsauer said.

The strife over the project, which faces fierce local opposition from residents of the Baden-Württemberg capital Stuttgart, is set to continue, however. Geißler acknowledged that for most part, the opponents and advocates had failed to reach a compromise.

Stuttgart 21 is likely to change to way public consultation on major infrastructure projects is conducted in Germany. Many commentators, including advocates of the rail project, say the consultation process has failed.

The mediation talks led by Geißler came only after months of protests that culminated in violent clashes between demonstrators and police in late September that left more than 100 people injured. But Ramsauer said such talks should become a normal part of public involvement in major projects.

“The arbitration has shown that an open discussion process is important. It must accompany and complement the operation and the decision-making process,” he said. “I appeal for more co-operation – the mediation talks have shown the way in this case.”

Ramsauer was echoed by his cabinet colleague, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnerrenberger of the pro-business Free Democrats.

“I strongly believe citizens in the future should be included very early in the planning of major projects,” she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “The intensive exchange of arguments has to be at the start, not the end of the planning.”

She welcomed Geißler’s call for Stuttgart 21 to go ahead and called on all parties to accept his finding. Regarding renewed calls for a referendum on the issue, she said: “It would be legally problematic to start the planning all over again in Stuttgart after 15 years.”

Stuttgart 21 consists of a massive construction effort, involving rebuilding the city’s main train station underground and turning it around 90 degrees, as well as laying 57 kilometres of new tracks. The aim is to make the city a major European transport hub. The cost is split between rail operator Deutsche Bahn, the Baden-Württemberg state government and the federal government.

Geißler called for the project to go ahead, though with extensive changes, which he called “Stuttgart 21 Plus.” It would be more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly than the present plan, he said.

His changes included lifting the number of platforms from eight to 10 and expanding a planned route to the airport to two-way tracks. National rail provider Deutsche Bahn has also agreed to undergo a “stress test” for the new Stuttgart train station to insure its efficiency, Geißler said.

DAPD/The Local/dw

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