New high-speed alignments between Berlin and Hamburg

These improvements to the high-speed rail line Berlin – Hamburg are part of a series of proposals, for the triangle Hamburg – Berlin – Szczecin. Read first the introduction, on new rail infrastructure north of Berlin.

The 284-km Berlin-Hamburger Bahn runs north-west from Berlin to Hamburg. The shortest route would be along the bank of the river Elbe, but the line runs further north. It only approaches the river at Wittenberge and Boizenburg.

Berlin-Hamburger Bahn: map by NordNordWest under CC 3.0 licence

After German reunification, a complete new high-speed line (Neubaustrecke / Schnellfahrstrecke) was considered. So was a cut-off along the Elbe, between Boizenburg and Wittenberge, shortening the route by 6%. These projects were displaced by a proposed maglev line, which was then abandoned because of the cost. In the end, the existing alignment was upgraded for high speed (Ausbaustrecke).

That has the advantage, that the route to Schwerin also benefits. With the high-speed line Schwerin – Lübeck, proposed here earlier, the Schwerin branch would also be the main route Berlin – Lübeck.

The present double-track line carries high-speed trains at 230 km/h, regional trains, and freight trains. That works, because present service frequencies in Germany are low. New construction would shorten the route, avoid slower sections, and allow a more intensive service. (The planned London – Birmingham high speed line will carry trains every 3-5 minutes). Any increase in capacity must apply to the entire route: new sections of line imply extra tracks on the remaining sections.

Route options

A new line along the Elbe, from Wittenberge to Boizenburg, is still technically feasible. However, the Elbe banks are largely protected landscape (Naturpark), and now part of a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve. Part of the line could follow the disused Wittenberge – Lüneburg line, but beyond Dömitz, it would be on entirely new alignment. It would almost certainly conflict with the protected status of the zone, so that option is not considered further here.

The existing alignment could be shortened by a cutoff line between Neustadt (Dosse) and Karstädt, running north of Perleberg. This would be used by high-speed trains to both Hamburg and Schwerin.

Another new section could start near Hagenow, and follow the Autobahn A24 to the edge of Hamburg. This is primarily for Berlin – Hamburg traffic, but would also provide a faster line from Hamburg to Schwerin. Beyond Schwerin, it would connect to the proposed HSL to Rostock, creating a through Hamburg – Rostock route. The A24 alignment is only slightly shorter, but it would segregate high-speed traffic, and can be built for 300 km/h.

Between these two new sections the line through Ludwigslust would be four-tracked and upgraded for higher speed. Alternatively, a new line could be built alongside it, with a new tunnel through Ludwigslust station, or a new approach curve west of the station.

Alignments are not described in detail here. The new lines are intended for long-distance passenger traffic only. Regional and inter-regional trains would continue to serve interchange stations such as Wittenberge, Ludwigslust, and Hagenow-Land.

Upgrading, from Berlin

The lines to Hanover and Berlin split at Spandau, which is inside the built-up area of Berlin. The line between Spandau en Nauen, 35 km from central Berlin, would certainly need four tracks, since there are relatively intensive regional services. Alternatively, the stations could be served by a parallel S-Bahn line – which also requires two extra tracks. (At present, the S-Bahn ends at Spandau, but there are plans to extend it to Falkensee).

Beyond Nauen, the line carries long-distance trains, and one all-stations service: Regional-Express line RE2 to Wismar. Nevertheless, new regional services, and segregation of traffic, probably require four tracks as far as Neustadt (Dosse), 75 km from Berlin.

The new cutoff line would start north of Neustadt station. It would be about 62-65 km long: built across agricultural land, with no intermediate stations, and carrying only high-speed trains.

Long bypass of Wittenberge on the line Berlin - Hamburg.

At Neustadt itself, space is a problem: it is the junction for the proposed regional rail line Schwerin – Parchim – Neustadt, and other restored regional lines. However, the alignment itself is perfect, so the logical solution is extra high-speed tracks through the station, in tunnel or on viaduct. At the other end, the new cutoff line would rejoin the existing line, 5 km north of Karstädt.

The ‘A24 Neubaustrecke’ would leave the existing alignment east of Hagenow Land station, and pass north of Hagenow. It might follow part of the old line to Ratzeburg, but that is not absolutely necessary. Near exit 10 it would join the A24 Autobahn, and follow it for about 50 km. The new section would be about 72-75 km long.

Between exits 5 and 6, the new line would diverge from the Autobahn, to join the existing line between Aumühle and Wohltorf. These are the outer suburbs of Hamburg: Aumühle is the terminus of S-Bahn line S21. The relatively dispersed suburban housing makes it difficult to cut new alignments through the area, and the link might be in tunnel.

HSL along the A24 Autobahn between Berlin and Hamburg.

The 24-km section, from the new junction to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, would also need extra capacity. Unlike the Berlin – Nauen line, this section carries only one regional service: Regionalbahn line R20. There is one intermediate station: Bergedorf, also served by a few Intercity trains. (The others are served by the parallel S-Bahn). More frequent regional services would need extra tracks, which is difficult with the curving and restricted alignment into Bergedorf.

The total length of new alignments between Berlin and Hamburg would be about 135-140 km – almost half the existing route. With a new parallel line through Ludwigslust, there would be a 175-km section designed for 300 km/h. It should then be possible to reduce Berlin – Hamburg journey time to 80 minutes, and Berlin – Schwerin time to under 70 minutes.

New high-speed alignments between Berlin and Hamburg

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