Germany has opened a new high-speed rail segment that will eventually shorten travel times between Berlin and Munich to four hours. Planning for the link between Leipzig and Erfurt began just after German reunification.
Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the new segment in Saxony state's key city of Leipzig on Wednesday, a 123-kilometer stretch to Erfurt, the capital of Germany's central state of Thuringia.
At the halfway mark, the line branches off to Halle, a large city in Saxony-Anhalt, another of the five states that make up what was once former communist East Germany.
The new link will also shorten by 23 minutes the journey time between Leipzig and Frankfurt am Main, Germany's economic hub.
Formal planning of the 2.8 billion euro main trunk rail segment began in 1992, two years after German reunification.
Construction, including six bridges to span important wetlands and three tunnels, ran into various delays.
The project also prompted criticism from the passenger lobby group Pro Bahn that the new link will be under-utilized in relation to its constructiion cost.
Regular services using Germany's standard ICE passenger trains are due to start next Sunday as German Rail switches to its new schedule for the next 12 months.
It is keen to regain passengers who have switched to buses and planes.
Next segment in 2017
Construction of another stretch from Erfurt to Nuremburg should be complete in 2017, reducing travel times from Berlin to Munich from six down to four hours.
The combined project, when complete, is also part of an intended European high speed network to link Berlin via Munich to Palermo in Italy.
Other high speed links established in recent years include Mannheim to Paris and Cologne to Amsterdam.
ipj/bw (dpa, AFP)