Controversial German Rail Project Approved Over Green Party Opposition

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People demonstrate in front of Stuttgart's main train station.

Voters in the southwest German state of Baden-Württemberg voted late last month to allow the partial demolition of the main train station in the city of Stuttgart. Backers say the $5.9 billion project, part of a massive effort to move the city's railways underground, would generate 10,000 jobs while allowing for the creation of new "carbon-neutral” neighborhoods. But many environmentalists aren't cheering the decision.

The German Green Party has been a key opponent of the "Stuttgart 21" rail project, which opponents have argued is unnecessary, prohibitively expensive, and would require the felling of nearly 300 trees, some centuries old, in the beloved "Schlossgarten," a public park near the station. According to promoters of the alternative "Kopfbahnhof 21" plan, modernizing the current above-ground station -- a listed architectural monument dating back to 1928 -- would be a less costly, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly solution.

Boost For Real Estate, Not Rail Transit?
In addition to disrupting the Schlossgarten and its trees, they argued, Stuttgart 21 poses a threat to nearby mineral springs and other vegetation in the area due to the need to lower the groundwater level to move the station underground. Opponents of the project also said "the energy and maintenance costs for the above-ground station are far lower as fewer escalators and lifts are required and it is possible to dispense with artificial lights and ventilation to a large extent." They claimed Stuttgart 21 would be more of a boon for the real-estate industry, which would rush to develop the former track area, than for rail passengers.

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Protest signs around the Stuttgart 21 construction zone.

The controversial project sparked months of protests, some of which included violent clashes with police. Members of the activist group Parkschützer, or "park protectors," chained themselves to a truck to try and keep the construction from proceeding. While the debate raged, the German newspaper Spiegel reported that the national rail provider Deutsche Bahn hid the real price tag for the project as its cost mounted.

None of this, however, deterred nearly 60 percent of those who voted in the popular referendum on Nov. 27, Badem-Württemberg's first in four decades, from casting their ballots to allow state government financing of the project to go ahead.

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Tags: Germany | Trains