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2020 Report - Maintenance and continued use of the Fehmarn Sound Bridge

Apr 30, 2020

Foto - Fehmarnsundbrücke

0 Executive Summary

On 30 November 2018, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) requested us to review the efforts made by the German railways network operator, DB Netz AG, and the regional Schleswig-Holstein road construction authority to clear the maintenance backlog of the Fehmarn Sound Bridge. Maintenance of the Bridge has been neglected since 2000 or earlier. This report presents the key findings. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and DB Netz AG provided comments on the draft report. We have given consideration to their key comments in this report.

Since 2016, DB Netz AG has not done enough to live up to its promise to allocate more funds to clearing the maintenance backlog of the Fehmarn Sound Bridge. The efforts made so far have been of little help to reduce the backlog. What is more, the 2018 inspection shows that the condition of the Bridge has continued to deteriorate ever since.

From 2016 to 2018, DB Netz AG did nothing more than replace a suspension cable of the Bridge damaged since 2014. To preserve the structure of the Bridge, the only significant step the network operator took was to renew the anchorages for the cables at each end of the network arch. In late summer 2019, DB Netz AG initiated anti-corrosion treatment of the cables found to be less heavily damaged. DB Netz AG did not take any other steps. We are concerned because since 2012, DB Netz AG and the road construction authority have imposed and tightened load restrictions and speed limits because the Bridge is reaching its stability limit.

Several proposed projects had time overruns that largely go to the account of DB Netz AG:

  • Replacement of the substructure of the expansion joints (end cross girders) that has already been heavily corroded since 1997;
  • Renewal of curbstones;
  • Replacement of the heavily damaged suspension cables and renewal of anti-corrosion protection of suspension cables;
  • Replacement of two sliding bearings that were to be replaced already in 2018;
  • Relubrication of sliding bearings at two-year intervals.

Accordingly, the maintenance backlog has not been reduced. On the contrary, the backlog has increased from €21 million to €22.6 million. As matters stand today, DB Netz AG will not keep the promises made to double spend on maintenance work to more than €10 million from 2017 to 2020. In 2017 and 2018, DB Netz AG invested €280,000 only. According to recent information of DB Netz AG, in 2019, it had made available some additional €100,000 for this purpose. In 2020, DB Netz AG intends to invest more than €10 million into capital works, €5 million of which via equity. In light of the delays occurred, we consider this approach rather optimistic, especially since a major portion of the funds has not yet been allocated to specific measures.

Even though DB Netz AG promised the PAC to clear the Bridge’s maintenance backlog by 2024, we could not see any increased effort. The new project management which has been in place since April 2019 and the increased use of funds envisaged as from this year do not change anything about that.

The Bridge has heritage protection status. If the Bridge is to be used for road traffic beyond 2035, the maintenance shortcomings need urgently and promptly be addressed. This is one of the reasons why we urge the network operator again to do more to ensure efficient and effective maintenance of Fehmarn Sound Bridge in the long term and address the shortcomings that have meanwhile become even more severe.

After the Fehmarn Belt tunnel has been put into service, the DB Netz AG intends to electrify the existing Fehmarn Sound Bridge for a transitional period until the Bridge is replaced by a new construction. No detailed information on the need and value for money of this project is available.

Based on the current state of affairs, we have doubts about the added value of electrifying the Bridge possibly for a very short period of time. We doubt as to whether this action is structurally feasible and efficient. Also we see the risk that the Bridge’s further use for road transport as demanded by the PAC may be jeopardised by the temporarily increased load.

As long as DB Netz AG does not provide a detailed justification for electrifying the Bridge, we advise against taking this action. Alternatively, DB Netz AG could offer rail replacement services of coaches or buses to long-distance and local passengers. In particular electric freight trains may use the Jutland line instead.

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