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Germany

Hi-Speed Rail Closer to Reality

German transportation minister said short tracks in two German states were "feasible," but whether Bavaria or North Rhine-Wesphalia will get billions in government funding is still open.

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The transrapid is a reality on a test track in lower saxony

Germany’s transportation minister said plans to build two high-speed rail systems in the country are feasible, but left open how the states planning the systems will pay for them.

The feasibility studies for the magnetic levitation railways planned in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia were approved by Minister Kurt Bodewig, of the ruling Social Democratic Party on Monday. The German government said they plan to allot €2.3 billion for the project, but didn’t say how they would dole it out.

Head-to-head competition for money

Both Bavaria, in the south of the country, and North Rhine-Westphalia in the western part of Germany said they still needed an estimated €2.8 billion for their projects.

Bavaria plans to build a 36.8 km track from Munich to a nearby airport at the cost of €1.6 billion.

North Rhine-Westphalia plans a rapid commuter track that runs from Düsseldorf through Essen before ending in Dortmund. The cost for that project, which is twice as long, is expected to be €3.2 billion.

Newspapers have reported that the government is leaning towards giving a lion’s share of the subsidies, around €2 billion, to North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavarian Transportation Minister Otto Wiesheu on Monday called the possibility "unacceptable."

Hi-speed dreaming in Germany...

Plans to build high-speed magnetic suspension tracks have been knocked around by various German politicians for years. But previous attempts to build them, notably a plan to connect Hamburg and Berlin, got no further than a 31.5 km track in Lower Saxony.

The trains will be able to go from 0 to 400 kilometers per hour in less than 3 minutes. Builders say that with a top speed of 500 kilometers per hour, it can cover the distance from Munich to Hamburg in about two hours.

Becomes a reality in China

Construction has already begun on a 30km stretch that would connect Shanghai with its airport. German firms Siemens and ThyssenKrupp sold the technology to the Chinese in January 2001, and the German government gave €102 million in development aid to the Chinese government.

China’s promise to have the track done by 2003 and recent visits by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his finance minister, Hans Eichel, to the site have increased enthusiasm in German government circles.

Excitement surrounding the projects in both German states is high. There have even been accusations that officials in those states doctored up the proposals in order to make them easier sells to voters and other politicians. The respected newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported this week that proposal backers slashed predicted operating costs and increased the number of predicted customers.

No one would comment the magazine’s findings on Monday.

Where the funds go is an especially sensitive topic for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who faces a challenge from Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber for the chancellorship this year and doesn’t want to displease potential voters down south. The chancellor said he plans to review both proposals.

Green groups against both plans

Environmental groups have come out against both proposals.

The nature conservation group NABU criticized the Munich project specifically, because of the problems already plaguing the construction of the Munich airport.

Granting billions of euros to a construction project that has already destroyed green meadows and has no reasonable connections to local highways would be an "irresponsible use of tax money," said NABU President Jochen Flasbarth. Flasbarth also said that the Düsseldorf proposal should be examined very carefully.