Tens of thousands protest at German rail project

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Some 30,000 people protested in Stuttgart on Friday against one of Europe's biggest construction projects in the German city, the demonstration organisers said.

The nine-year, seven-billion-euro (nine-billion-dollar) project, which has just begun, aims to transform the city and the surrounding region into the rail crossroads of 21st-century Europe.

But many in Stuttgart, capital of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, say the project is far too disruptive and expensive and that there are other, cheaper ways to speed up the rail network. They also fear it will go over budget.

A previous protest against the controversial project on August 13 attracted "significantly" more than 20,000 people, organisers said, after police had put the number of demonstrators at between 15,000 and 18,000.

The project aims to make the southwestern city part of one of the longest high-speed lines in Europe, the 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) "Magistrale for Europe" linking Paris, Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava, and Budapest.

Engineers plan to blast 16 tunnels and cuttings into the many surrounding hills, build 18 new bridges, lay 60 kilometres (40 miles) of new train track and create three new stations.

Stuttgart's station will be utterly transformed, from a terminus into an underground through-station, so that trains no longer have to chug in and back out but can whiz through on their way to other European destinations.

The project, part-funded by the European Union, includes restructuring the Stuttgart rail node, creating a link to the city's airport and constructing a new line between nearby Wendlingen and Ulm.

Opponents object in particular to the side wings of their beloved train station building, an interwar modernist classic designed by Paul Bonatz, falling victim to the wrecking ball.

The project is set to be a major issue in March in regional elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is currently governed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives with the same coalition partners as at federal level.

© 2010 AFP

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