Infrastructure project: starting shot for the Fehmarnbelt tunnel |

Status: 11/29/2021 2:53 p.m.

While the Danes have long been digging, numerous lawsuits and long approval procedures have delayed the start of construction of the tunnel between Fehmarn and Lolland by years. But now it starts.

By Lothar Gries,

In two and a half hours by train from Hamburg to Copenhagen on a fixed track, without embarkation and disembarkation, without waiting. This should be possible from 2029, thanks to a new tunnel under the islands of Fehmarn in Schleswig-Holstein and Lolland in southern Denmark. In addition to trains, cars will also be able to cross the tunnel. This not only shortens the travel time between northern Germany, Denmark and Sweden: thanks to the new link, all of Scandinavia is to be more closely connected with continental Europe.

With a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony in the morning, politicians from Germany and Denmark started work on the construction of the 18-kilometer-long structure – much to the displeasure of nature conservationists, ferry operators and residents of the island of Fehmarn. All of them have been resisting the construction of the tunnel for years, the economic benefits of which they doubt and, from an ecological point of view, a catastrophe. The tunnel construction could shake the entire ecosystem of the Baltic Sea, fears the environmental association Nabu.

They could not stop the construction of the tunnel, but they could delay it for many years. The construction was actually supposed to start in 2015, the commissioning was planned for this year. In addition to the numerous civil lawsuits, the lengthy approval process on the German side, in particular the seven-year plan approval process, delayed the implementation of the project.

“Decisive investment in infrastructure”

But after the Federal Administrative Court dismissed the last lawsuits against the billion-dollar project a year ago, the tunnel builders have now also received the green light from the German side. Schleswig-Holstein’s transport minister Bernd Buchholz (FDP) was relieved: “Something pounds from your heart.” In fact, Buchholz is convinced of the need for the tunnel. “This creates the opportunity to grow together economically and culturally.” He referred to the European Commission, which had named the tunnel the second most important transport project in Europe after the Brenner Base Tunnel.

The mayors of Hamburg, Malmö and Copenhagen have made a similar statement. “We see the fixed link across the Fehmarnbelt as a crucial investment in infrastructure,” said a joint statement. They also refer to ecological aspects that speak in favor of tunneling. “In order to achieve important national environmental goals and to ensure future growth in our three countries”, tunneling is of great importance, according to politicians. “New opportunities are created by moving goods transport from road to rail,” said Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher, (SPD), Mayor of Malmö, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh and Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen.

Denmark bears the construction costs

The burdens for the German taxpayer are limited – at least from the current perspective. Because the construction costs for the tunnel of an estimated 7.1 to 7.4 billion euros are borne by Denmark alone, minus funding from the EU. Germany is paying an estimated 3.5 billion euros for road and rail connections. The client is the Danish company Femern A / S, which is part of Sund & Bælt Holding A / S, a company owned by the Danish state. Toll fees in the amount of the ferry fees levied today are intended to refinance the project in the long term.

From a technical point of view, the engineers opted for a four-tube submerged tunnel because a drilled tunnel would not be geologically possible and, if in doubt, would also be more expensive. The originally planned bridge solution was also discarded. Now a channel has to be dug in the seabed for the tunnel. Work on excavating the tunnel trench has been underway on the Danish side since July, and preparatory work has also started off the German coast since September.

Components weighing 73,000 tons

The elements required for the actual tunnel are to come from a specially built factory in Rødbyhavn, Denmark, on the island of Lolland across from Fehmarn. A total of 89 of these reinforced concrete tunnel elements are to be produced there, each around 217 meters long and weighing 73,000 tons. This corresponds to the size of a medium-sized container ship. The parts are then laid and connected to one another in the sea channel. This should start in 2024.

In addition, Denmark defies the sea from 500 meters of land. By excavating the sand and stones for the tunnel trench – a total of 19 million cubic meters – the foreland for the tunnel entrance is being filled up. This creates 300 hectares of new mainland where the Baltic Sea was previously.

Conservationists lament disaster

For the conservationists from the environmental association Nabu, the project is a disaster. The planned tunnel leads through the middle of a marine reserve with rare reefs and sandbanks, which harbor porpoises, seals, rare sponges and mussels serve as a retreat. As a result, tunneling could shake the entire Baltic Sea ecosystem, the conservationists fear. In addition, there is a completely misguided cost-benefit ratio. In reality, nobody needs the tunnel, because the current traffic volume between Fehmarn and the Danish island of Lolland is constant at around 6,000 vehicles a day. But the ferries are already only 40 percent full.

“Even if the volume of traffic should double to 12,000 vehicles, as is forecast by the planners, that is relatively so little that not even a bypass road would be built for it in Germany,” said a statement from Nabu. This is only worthwhile from 20,000 vehicles a day. For comparison: up to 120,000 vehicles drive through the four tubes of Hamburg’s Elbe Tunnel every day.

Will the tunnel become a billion dollar grave?

The European Union’s Court of Auditors has also expressed doubts about the economic benefits of the tunnel project. According to a special report published last year, the forecasts for the rail connection show that the planned new line between Lübeck and Copenhagen may not be economically viable.

Although 7.7 million people live along the route, a large number of passengers could still be missing ten years after the planned opening. Only one million would then use the fixed link in both directions each year, which is well below the benchmark of nine million per year. In 2019, the Federal Audit Office had already expressed doubts about the economic benefits of the tunnel and at the same time warned of a cost explosion. However, this was rejected by the railway and the Danish tunnel builder Femern. The main thing is to dovetail the various parts of Europe more closely with one another, according to the companies.

This will also drives politics. At the symbolic start of construction this morning, the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Enak Ferlemann, said: “It is a project that shows that Europe is growing together.”

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