Flickr photo by GRÜNE Baden-Württemberg
High-speed rail is great, and better for the environment than cars or airplanes, right? So why are environmental protesters up in arms in Stuttgart, where the government is moving ahead with plans to reconstruct the central rail station as part of an HSR line from Paris to Budapest? All politics, as they say, are local, and have united an odd consortium of fiscal conservatives who insist that the multi-billion Euro project is too expensive during a time of austerity, and Greens who are upset by plans to clearcut a portion of the Schlossgarten park to construct the station's new underground platforms.
The city has seen a number of mass protests over the summer, capped off most recently by the occupation of the park by thousands of people. Just today, police moved in with water cannons & tear gas, no doubt because some of the pensioners in the photo above were getting rowdy. The conservative Christian Democrats (Angela Merkel's party) have held power in the prosperous southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg since 1953, and the uproar is likely to see their coalition fall in local elections in March.
What can we learn from this mess? High-speed rail opponents in the US are likely to hold up this example of why we shouldn't make these investments. But to me, much of the anger seems to stem from the assertion that the money could be better-spent elsewhere. Rather than investing in systematic upgrades, Deutsche Bahn (along with the federal & state governments) have opted for an architectural showcase piece which may end up having little beneficial impact on the German rail network. Infrastructure isn't sexy, and it's always tempting for politicians to back the project with the most visual impact...hopefully the proper lesson is that by picking the wrong ones, it could shorten their careers.