Rhine left bank high-speed line, Strasbourg – Mainz

This is the second part of a proposal for a new high-speed rail corridor, along the left (west) bank of the Rhine. Read the introduction and route summary first, in the first part: HSL Basel – Strasbourg – Karlsruhe. This second part describes a high-speed line (HSL) north of Strasbourg, consisting of:

  • an upgraded and 4-tracked Strasbourg – Lauterbourg line;
  • a new line parallel to the Rhine, roughly from Lauterbourg to Frankenthal, bypassing Ludwigshafen;
  • an upgraded and 4-tracked line through Worms to Oppenheim;
  • a new line across the Rhine: east of Bischofsheim it would join the line from Darmstadt, with 4 tracks from there to Mainz;
  • a link toward Frankfurt.

The earlier proposed HSL to Karlsruhe would diverge from the Strasbourg – Lauterbourg line, about 35-45 km north of Strasbourg. For the HSL to Mainz, the rest of the Lauterbourg line would be upgraded: there is a possible alternative alignment, along the Autoroute A35.

From the German border at Lauterbourg, the existing line continues as the Bienwaldbahn to Wörth (15 km). The new HSL would diverge here from the existing line, to bypass Wörth.

North of Wörth, the old lines have a zig-zag alignment. They are the 50-km Wörth – Schifferstadt line, and a section of the Pfälzische Ludwigsbahn, for another 11 km to Ludwigshafen. (Map by NordNordWest, CC 3.0 licence).

The new HSL would bypass Speyer and Ludwigshafen, with connections in both directions to the existing line. The terrain is not an issue, with elevation difference of about 20-30 m. However, the new line would cross several forested areas, and for environmental reasons a tunnel may be preferable there. Although the HSL could follow motorways and main roads in places, that would make it longer: there is no single north-south road corridor.

The best option is a new 65-70 km bypass line, from Lauterbourg to Frankenthal, to the west of the urbanized areas, and about 7-12 km west of the Rhine. Except at Rulzheim, the line would lie west of the existing north-south rail route. The bypass would have no stations: there would be connections to the existing main line into Speyer (at Lingenfeld), and to the Kaiserslautern – Ludwigshafen line (west of Schifferstadt). Trains would leave the HSL to serve Mannheim: if they served Speyer and Ludwigshafen, they could rejoin the HSL at Worms. At Frankenthal, 10 km northwest of Ludwigshafen, the HSL bypass would rejoin the existing alignment.

HSL Basel - Strasbourg - Mainz, Ludwigshafen bypass.

The existing line is the 67-km Ludwigshafen – Mainz railway, with Worms as the only intermediate urban centre. Its alignment is generally suitable for a 4-track Ausbaustrecke, or a HSL alongside the existing tracks. The line through Worms itself (population 82 000) is not suitable for high speeds, but that would not be a problem if all trains stopped there. They would connect to regional services in 5 directions.

North of Worms, the new line would cross a possible HSL Saar- Kaiserslautern- Frankfurt, which would be the main high-speed route from Paris (more on that later). Connecting curves would allow high-speed services from Worms toward Frankfurt, and from Mainz to Kaiserslautern.

Via the existing line, it is 57 km from Frankenthal to Mainz. However, north of Worms the line runs between the Rhine and higher ground, at the edge of the Upper Rhine Plain. North of the Oppenheim, the line curves around the escarpment: the plateau is about 100 m higher than the floodplain. The new line would therefore cross the Rhine south of Oppenheim, and continue parallel to the river on the right bank.

Click to enlarge: The lines as built, from an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with the new line superimposed…

High-speed bypass of existing rail line Oppenheim - Mainz.

The HSL would end at Bischofsheim, where it would join the main line from Frankfurt and Darmstadt. The line through Bischofsheim itself is wide enough, but the new line would require 4 tracks onward to Mainz. The historic railway bridge with towers is an obstacle, but the additional tracks could be built further north. The approach tunnels south of Mainz station, recently expanded to 4-tracks, are probably sufficient.

Old Rhine bridge at Mainz: image with CC 3.0 licence by user Heidas

With almost 200 000 inhabitants, Mainz is a major destination itself, and the interchange station for Wiesbaden. Some trains could continue along the existing Rhine left-bank line, to Koblenz and Köln.

Just outside Bischofsheim, there would be a fork from the HSL toward Frankfurt, joining the existing main line east of Rüsselsheim. With additional connecting tracks, trains could access the south end of the Köln – Frankfurt HSL and serve Frankurt airport. In any case, trains from the left-bank HSL could continue to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, providing an almost complete duplicate high-speed route from Basel.

The corridor is about 320 km long, from Basel to Mainz. With a minimum of three intermediate stops (Colmar, Strasbourg and Worms), journey times from Basel, to either Frankfurt or Mainz, should be just under 2 hours.

Rhine left bank high-speed line, Strasbourg – Mainz

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