An ICE route is to be upgraded in northern Germany. With an estimated four billion euros, they want to get 15 minutes in. But citizens’ initiatives are up in arms – against a new building. The word “citizen fraud” is making the rounds. Because actually everything was arranged differently.
On September 30, 2010, the conflict escalated. The police used batons, pepper spray and water cannons against the demonstrators and cleared the Stuttgart palace garden. There are numerous injuries. The images of “Black Thursday” can be seen all over the world.
As a result, investigative committees are set up and legal proceedings are initiated. The CDU, which has been in power in the state for over half a century, falls dramatically in the state elections six months later. Ever since then, “Stuttgart 21” has served as a blueprint on how infrastructure projects of this magnitude and scope should not be tackled.
Everything should go better on the Hamburg-Hannover ICE railway line – estimated at around four billion euros. Residents, local politicians, associations and representatives of Deutsche Bahn met in 2015 in the Northern Rail Dialogue Forum and, after ten months of hard but fair struggle, reached a consensus: expansion of the existing route instead of a new one, Alpha E instead of a Y route.
As research by the “NDR” shows, the course is still set for a new building. In the next few days, Deutsche Bahn will be handing over the results of its variant tests for the Hamburg-Hanover route to the Federal Railway Authority. “We plan with an open mind, the decision is made by the federal government,” emphasizes a railway spokesman to FOCUS online, but otherwise does not want to comment further.
Reinhard Crasemann calls it “citizen fraud”. The entrepreneur from Seevetal in the Harburg district is one of the spokespersons for the “Y-Monster” citizens’ initiative. He attended every meeting of the Northern Rail Dialogue Forum. The frustration is audible and gives a deep insight. “Every meter of track was played through for ten months,” he reports. Those involved invested a great deal of time and effort. For the fact that everything is different now?
“We are stunned by how the railways are acting and we lack all the transparency that we demand from the railways,” says Stefan Mundt, 1st chairman of the “Trassenalarm” citizens’ initiative. “The new route will be a good 70 to 90 meters wide and is a disaster for everyone in Seevetal.” The dam artificially raised for this purpose will be up to 25 meters high.
Mundt sees this not only endangers nature and the landscape, but also the livelihoods of homeowners, farmers and tradespeople. “We as the Seevetal citizens’ initiative will fight together with our many members to ensure that this insane route is not built here in Seevetal under any circumstances.” Seevetal, a municipality with 42,000 inhabitants around 20 kilometers south of Hamburg, would be hardest hit by the new construction.
The fear on site was that the new route would cut through the middle, cutting a swath, so to speak – through the districts of Meckelfeld, Glüsingen, Fleestedt, Hittfeld, Lindhorst, Horst, Karoxbostel and Ramelsloh. According to the opponents of new construction, fields and green spaces are threatened with destruction, courtyards with abandonment. In addition, regional stops would remain on the route, but the rail noise would increase massively.
Michael Grosse-Brömer has represented the political interests of the district of Harburg in the Bundestag for 20 years. For many years he was the first parliamentary secretary of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. The lawyer has headed the Economic Committee since 2021. “Everyone I describe the situation to understands that the local people are stunned and angry,” says Grosse-Brömer to FOCUS online. “This is an irresponsible course of action by Deutsche Bahn.”
Through public participation, Deutsche Bahn gave the impression that the jointly found result would be accepted. If you deliberately gambled away people’s trust, Grosse-Brömer continued, you would damage politics and social cohesion as a whole. “Deutsche Bahn has not yet understood this responsibility – otherwise it would not proceed as it is doing at the moment.” Especially as a state-owned company you have to behave more sensitively.
“The consensus was not to cut through this unique cultural and natural landscape,” Grosse-Brömer clarifies. “And now Deutsche Bahn says: Anything can be, but we have not committed to anything. We are not interested in anything. You can’t do politics like that today.”
The aim of the billion-euro project is to reduce the journey time in the ICE between Hamburg and Hanover and create more capacity for freight transport. The fastest ICE connection currently takes one hour and 14 minutes. In the future it should be 59 minutes. The Deutschlandtakt says hello.
The railway website hamburg-bremen-hannover.de states that in 2016 the federal government took up the proposal from the Northern Rail Dialogue Forum and developed it into an “optimized Alpha plus Bremen” – and commissioned DB Netz AG with the preliminary planning. In the coming year, the Bundestag will then decide on the implementation and financing of the preferred variant.
One argument in favor of the new building, as one hears from proponents, is that it would be completed in 2040, ten years earlier than the expansion, and that it would cost less. The new route would run along the A7 from Hamburg to Soltau. Continue to Celle along the federal highway 3 and from there parallel to the previous railway line to Hanover.
“The railway will calculate the costs in such a way that the new line will be the cheapest,” says Grosse-Brömer. “I can already predict that.” He makes it clear: “If the confidence-building measures are trampled on in advance, then the railways should not be surprised that the local people are protesting massively.”
The Deutsche Bahn’s desire to build a new line along the A7 is by the way nothing new, Grosse-Brömer continued. “With a view to Stuttgart 21, however, one thought that perhaps it would be wise not just to do something, but to take people with us. That is why there was the dialogue process with the Alpha E compromise solution.”
The Lower Saxony Ministry of Economics and Transport informed FOCUS online on request: “The federal government has commissioned Deutsche Bahn to plan the rail project ‘Optimized Alpha-E with Bremen’. For the connection between Hanover and Hamburg, she has developed other basic, conceivable routes in addition to the existing expansion. That’s where the problem lies now. Contrary to what was agreed, these are essentially new lines. The state government of Lower Saxony rejects a new building solution between Hanover and Hamburg as an alternative to Alpha E.”
Lower Saxony’s Economics and Transport Minister Olaf Lies (SPD) explicitly emphasizes: “Alpha E was widely accepted, but unfortunately did not make any progress.” That Deutsche Bahn now wants the Y route again, “I am very surprised.” It hasn’t worked for 30 years and not a meter of track has been built.
“In Lower Saxony we have a clear stance on this: expansion instead of new construction.” It’s about finding solutions that are supported by a large majority and can then also be implemented. “Alpha E” has the greatest acceptance. “I am convinced that the upgraded route and the DB Germany cycle can be reconciled.”
Lies wants to work at federal level to ensure that the rail expansion in the Hamburg-Bremen-Hanover city triangle is designed in a way that protects the landscape and the environment by bundling the existing infrastructure. The aim is therefore to implement infrastructure measures along the existing Hamburg-Hanover route quickly.
Reinhard Crasemann from the “Y-Monster” citizens’ initiative says: “No one is against passenger transport by rail, but no matter how you twist and turn it, it’s complete nonsense – the only thing that benefits is the Port of Hamburg.”
“The railways and the Hanseatic City of Hamburg have always wanted a new line across the Lüneburg Heath,” said CDU representative Grosse-Brömer. “The people in charge don’t live there either, and they don’t seem to care about the development of the villages either.”
The economic politician emphasizes: “The port of Hamburg is part of traffic planning and that’s a good thing,” says Grosse-Brömer. “But it doesn’t matter to the containers whether they are transported along the A7 or, with regard to the Lüneburg Heath, on existing railway lines that are being expanded.”
He gets the impression that the railways only ever had the new line in mind. “Alternative routes also enable the Germany cycle,” Grosse-Brömer is convinced. You don’t need a new building for that.
According to the website of the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport, the trains should be better coordinated throughout Germany with the help of the Deutschlandtakt, thereby significantly reducing transfer, travel and transport times. The goal is therefore: more often, faster, everywhere – in passenger and freight transport. For this purpose, the rail network must be expanded in such a way that local and long-distance trains arrive at the junction stations at a certain time and connect with each other.
Reinhard Crasemann from the citizens’ initiative considers the Deutschlandtakt to be an advanced argument as an argument for new construction: “The ICEs will also run on the new line, but mainly freight trains,” he is convinced. “That’s why the plans also provide for seven overtaking stations where the many freight trains have to let the few ICEs pass.”
One thing is clear: Germany needs an efficient rail network. And the railways don’t plan anything on their own, but only when they have a corresponding order to do so. The responsible Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Affairs left a request for an opinion on the question of expansion or new construction unanswered.
After all, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) emphasized in an interview with the “Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung” (HNA) at the end of September: “We want improvements on the rails, but we don’t want to build a railway line against the interests of the people.” The residents heard them message very well, but they lack faith. For them it means until further notice: Y unresolved.