Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online


Berlin is in enough trouble with its brand new “Willy Brandt” international airport. The multi-million Euro facility was due to open in June 2012, but a series of seemingly endless planning issues have kept it firmly shut and despite costs to taxpayers in millions, there is still no opening date in sight.

Now a new and equally intractable planning nightmare has come to haunt another section of Berlin’s public transport: the city’s U-Bahn underground network. Berlin has just ordered two new “wide” trains which are supposed to provide more sitting space for passengers. The trouble is that they are too broad for major sections of the capital’s tunnel network, which will now have to be rebuilt. The new trains will just pass through the existing tunnels but safety regulations stipulate that there must be at least half a metre gap between the train and the tunnel wall to allow passengers to escape in an emergency.

The upshot is that from August until next November a key section of the city’s U-Bahn from Bismarckstrasse to Wittenbergplatz – roughly equivalent to the stretch of London Tube between Earl’s Court and Green Park – will shut down after 9pm to allow for the widening work.

Other lines will also be affected, but these have yet to be announced. It seems there is no way out of the dilemma. At a cost of €158 million, Berlin plans to order 24 more of the trains which, barring more problems, will be delivered sometime  after 2015.