The long-awaited feasibility study for an alternative route for freight trains in the Middle Rhine Valley, which is plagued by rail noise, is available and assumes lower costs than previously assumed.

The costs estimated therein would be 6.8 billion euros and thus below previous estimates by the federal government, said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) in the "SWR Aktuell Summer Interview".

Manfred Koehler

Head of department of the Rhein-Main editorial team of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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The study was sent to the states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse.

Now it has to be checked whether the costs are in the right proportion to the benefits.

The feasibility study is about whether the construction of a 100-kilometer-long tunnel system through the Westerwald and the Taunus for freight trains to relieve the pressure on the World Heritage Upper Middle Rhine Valley is realistic.

According to Deutsche Bahn, the existing tracks on the right bank of the Rhine are one of the busiest freight train routes in Europe between Genoa and Rotterdam.

The sound funnel-like Rhine Valley amplifies the noise.

According to the Pro Rheintal association, local residents suffer from insomnia, headaches and high blood pressure. 

"First signal: thumbs up!"

The railways point to improvements such as noise barriers, rail web dampers, smoothed tracks and whisper brakes on trains.

Experts predict that the construction of such a tunnel system would take decades.

Wissing recently told the German Press Agency that he hopes "that there will ultimately be a perspective for implementation".

The FDP politician added: "But the citizens there also know that an alternative route will of course take a very long time." In the SWR, Wissing spoke of a "Herculean task".

Nevertheless, he knows about the noise pollution for people.

“This alternative route has to come.” Now a traffic forecast is needed for 2040. “That is now the next step.

But the first signal for the region is: thumbs up!” 

The Greens in the Hessian state parliament called on the Federal Transport Minister Wissing on Monday to draw up this traffic forecast quickly and then to start with the concrete planning.

In addition, the Federal Transport Minister should not hide behind his statements in order to delay projects that can be implemented more quickly, such as the upgrading of the railway line from Hagen via Giessen to Hanau.

This could relieve the residents of the Rhine Valley in the medium term.