Face-lift for high-speed lines

0 km

of track to renew


turnouts to renew


concrete sleepers to replace

0 t

of ballast to remove, clean, replenish, lay

Overhead lines

to check, partly renew

Rehabilitation of the first high-speed lines in Germany

Almost 30 years have passed since the first high-speed railway lines were opened in Germany at the beginning of June 1991. So it’s time to start renewing this infrastructure that is subjected to large loads. In June 2019, this work was started and is planned to be carried out over the next five years.

When Germany’s first high-speed lines from Hanover to Würzburg and from Mannheim to Stuttgart were starting to be built in the 1970s, part of the concept was the suitability for fast passenger and freight transport, the former to be run during the day and the latter during the night, often at close intervals and with a high degree of reliability. Accordingly, the infrastructure on these lines is subjected to extremely high loads. International operation of the ICE trains started at the same time as these “new build lines”, which are largely separate from the remaining network, were constructed for high speeds. The last one of these was opened at the end of 2017. Today, one cannot imagine long-distance railway traffic without ICEs and high-speed lines.

A view of the renewed track shows the not yet fully ballasted section consisting of new concrete sleepers, newly installed rails and old rails stored on the side.

This is how the passenger travelling in the ICE sees the diversion, at 160 km/h maximum speed through the Leinetal valley rather than at 280 km/h on the straight high-speed line.

Parts of the worksite are high above neighbouring villages, mountains of ballast aid the worksite material logistics.

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Nearly 30 years of high-performance operation

Deutsche Bahn AG started the inevitable project of rehabilitation, which has been planned in detail for many years, in the North of Germany, on the high-speed line between Hanover and Göttingen. The line will be closed for traffic for 6 months. The high-speed line between Mannheim and Stuttgart will be completely renovated in 2020. In the three years after that, further sections will follow between Göttingen, Kassel, Fulda and Würzburg. One consequence of this project are diversions and longer journey times, the other are the deployment of railway construction machines, know-how and personnel over several months as well as a huge effort in material logistics. The main work will be carried out on tracks and turnouts including the ballast bed, signalling and automatic train control. In some places, the overhead line system will also be renovated or renewed.

Long-welded rail transport units pick up the old rails that have been cut to size, in a similar way they delivered the new rails beforehand.

In the Hanover area and in Göttingen the high-speed line that is closed for renovation and the North-South line run parallel.

Syndicates of several construction companies carry out the work, engineering consortiums monitor it.

Several gantry cranes are supplying new sleepers continuously and remove the collected old rails on the way back.

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First building phase: 142 kilometres of track

The high-speed line between Hanover and Würzburg is 327 km long, the first section of 89 km to be renewed runs from Hanover to Göttingen. The challenge: complete renovation of both tracks with full closure, setting up storage locations for material logistics, country-wide supply of material transports, co-ordination of the construction workflow, deployment of machines and work trains on a total of 142 km of track. Syndicates were set up, both by the construction companies and on the part of construction supervision. The route runs mostly far away from villages and is elevated, runs in trenches and on railway embankments to keep inclines as low as possible regardless of the terrain. Therefore, there are only few connections with the rest of the rail network. The total cost of this first complete rehabilitation of a high-speed line in Germany is forecast to be approx. 175 million Euro.

The high-speed line between Hanover and Göttingen is elevated in some parts; this poses additional challenges.

Spoil removal after ballast cleaning with the high-capacity MFS 250; here the line runs on an embankment.

Eleven kilometres south of Hanover, the engineering structures and line routing of the North-South line and the high-speed line separate (top).

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Permanent way newly constructed

The task requires modern heavy-duty machinery. On the track alone, ballast recycling and track renewal machines (up to four simultaneously) are deployed, followed by rail welding machines, tamping machines, track stabilisers and ballast ploughs. In contrast, the disassembly and re-assembly work on the signalling and automatic train control require a lot of manual work that cannot be automated. Further on, the engineering structures of bridges and tunnels will be included in the renewal work so that the high-speed lines will be available to future generations in the usual reliable manner and can absorb the significantly increasing traffic.

First deployment of heavy-duty machinery: renewal of the ballast bed on both tracks successively

The ballast renewal is followed by the complete replacement of concrete sleepers and rails with the use of the fast track renewal train.

After around 30 years of laytime the concrete sleepers on the whole high-speed line are replaced with new, padded sleepers.

Like with the ballast renewal before, the replacement of sleepers and rails is also carried out in sections on both tracks successively.

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High-speed line Hanover–Würzburg: key data

327 km
49 bridges
63 tunnels
110 main-line trains daily, 15.5 million passengers per year at up to 280 km/h
Freight traffic at night (approx. 22.00 to 5.00) at up to 160 km/h