30 Years Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall: A Look at the German Unity Rail Projects

Saturday, 9 November, marks the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Within less than a year East and West Germany were reunified. In the wake of this development, Germany implemented its Verkehrsprojekte Deutsche Einheit (VDE) – German Unity Transport Projects – large-scale transport projects between East and West.

Investment in rail in East Germany had been woefully neglected. In addition, railway tracks were removed by the Soviet Union in the East as reparations for World War II. All electrification works were reversed. In 1933, the Fliegender Hamburger train between Berlin and Hamburg took 138 minutes. By 1989, a typical fast train covered the distance in 243 minutes.

A DB ICE train on the VDE 8 German Unity Transport Project line
A DB ICE train on the VDE 8 German Unity Transport Project line

When the Wall came down and the borders in Europe opened, Germany and other countries along the Iron Curtain became major east-west transport axes. Densifying the network between East and West was an important aim of the Germany Unity Transport Projects.

The German Unity Transport Projects for Rail

Of the 17 projects, 9 were for rail and valued at more than 22 billion euros:

  1. Lübeck/Hagenow Land – Rostock – Stralsund: a 242km axis to be double track throughout and capable of running rolling stock at speeds of 160km/h
  2. Berlin – Hamburg: complete refurbishment and electrification of the line, upgraded for operating speeds of 160/km/h
  3. Stendal – Uelzen: upgrading and constructing tracks to close the gap between Uelzen and Salzwedel
  4. Hanover – Berlin: construction of a high-speed line, completed in 1998
  5. Helmstedt – Magdeburg – Berlin: upgrading the line for operations at 160km/h
  6. Halle – Hann: closing missing gaps on the line and upgrading the route
  7. Bebra – Erfurt: upgrading the line
  8. Berlin – Nuremberg: high-speed connection via Halle, Leipzig and Erfurt. The new line between Ebensfeld and Erfurt became operational in December 2017. Construction on the section to Nuremberg will take a few more years. There are plans to make the section between Nuremberg and Ebensfeld four tracks and for building a 13km new line for freight traffic.
  9. Leipzig – Dresden: begun in 1993 but not yet complete

Of these VDE no. 6 was the first to be completed in 1994, followed by VDE no. 7 in 1995 and no. 5 also in 1995. Works on projects nos. 8 and 9 are still on-going. Between 1991 and 2017 around 19 billion of the 22 billion were spent.

At the International Transport Forum in Berlin, May 2019, German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said:

“30 years after the Wall came down, we know that a country cannot grow together unless the people get to know one another and there is an exchange of goods, ideas and people. Or, as the motto of our congress puts it so succinctly: unless regions are interconnected by mobility. The German Unity Transport Projects symbolize this exchange and the reunification of a once divided Germany. We can learn lessons from this that apply throughout the world: we can only achieve a common Europe and a globally connected world with shared values through good, affordable and cross-border mobility that is also climate-friendly.”

Deutsche Bahn is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall as well.

Jürgen Kornmann, Head of Marketing & PR at DB, said:

“With the Fall of the Berlin Wall a dream came true for us railway men and women. We were able to bring people together again across former borders. 'Connecting people' remains a matter of the heart for us.”

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