Temporary halt for giant German rail project: company

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Germany's state-owned rail company said Tuesday it would temporarily suspend work on a contentious rail project following a Green party victory at the weekend in the venture's home state.

Deutsche Bahn said it would put off the seven-billion-euro (9.9-billion-dollar) revamping of the railway network in and around the southwestern city of Stuttgart until a new state government is voted in in May.

"Until the state government comes together, Deutsche Bahn will not undertake anything new on the rail project Stuttgart 21, neither in terms of construction nor by awarding contracts," board member Volker Kefer said.

The project has attracted raucous weekly protests for several months and was blamed in part for an electoral rout of the centre-right government of wealthy Baden-Wuerttemberg Sunday after nearly six decades in power.

The Green party, which campaigned against the project and is expected to take the helm of its first state government there after a stellar showing in the poll, has said it would let voters decide the future of Stuttgart 21.

The plans aim to make the city and the region part of a 1,500-kilometre (930-mile), high-speed rail route across Europe, but would require a major revamp and partial destruction of Stuttgart's beloved historic train station.

Kefer said Deutsche Bahn was willing to work with the new state government to resolve the increasingly emotional dispute, but noted that it saw existing contracts to build the project as valid.

"In any case it is the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and not the state government at the time that is the signatory," he said.

Opponents say most citizens are against Stuttgart 21, which they argue will be much more expensive than planned, potentially dangerous and do little or nothing to speed up rail traffic.

The Greens have called for a major re-think including maintaining Stuttgart's train station largely in its current form.

© 2011 AFP

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