IPMA International Project Management Association
17 May 2019 / 9:00

Stuttgart 21 – a mega project in the heart of Swabia

Swabia is a cultural, historic and linguistic region in southwestern Germany. As understood in the modern ethnography roughly coincides with the Swabian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire as it stood during the Early Modern period, now divided between the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Stuttgart is the capital of Baden-Württemberg and place of one of the largest infrastructure projects in Germany, called “Stuttgart 21”. It´s a major railway and urban development project in Stuttgart, part of the Stuttgart–Augsburg new and upgraded railway line as well as part of the Magistrale for Europe (Paris—Vienna) in the framework of the Trans-European Networks. Key part of the megaproject is the renewal of Stuttgart Main station and some 57 kilometres of new railways, including some 30 kilometres of tunnels and 25 kilometres of high-speed railway lines.

First ideas for the megaproject can be traced back into the 1980s, when ideas emerged to better connect Stuttgart Main Station with the surrounding cities through a highspeed railway network. As Stuttgart Main Station was designed as “one way” station it was discussed to change it into a “throughway” and underground station, speeding up the traffic and making available a lot of space in the city centre for residential and business utilization, as in the past the main station occupied vast areas with rail tracks.

As sponsors for the project, federal, state and city government as well as Deutsche Bahn chartered a feasibility study and officially announced the start of the project in April 1994. Two years later the formal procedures started, including but not limited to „Raumordnungsverfahren” (regional planning procedure), “Umweltverträglichkeitsuntersuchung“ (environmental analysis and planning procedure) and „Planfeststellungsverfahren“ (plan assessment procedure), all possibilities for people to get informed, to object or discuss the way a project is performed. Unfortunately, at this early stage of the project, interest was rather small, the political support was provided and only the Deutsche Bahn raised concerns about the feasibility of the project, which was noted but not taken seriously into account. End of the 1990s the financing of the project was ensured by a consortium of federal, state and city government, Deutsche Bahn, Stuttgart Airport and Transport Authorities. The total costs for the project were estimated with 4.8 bln Euro at this time. Planning commenced and in 2006 the state parliament decided with 115 vs. 15 (green party) votes to start the project.

However, in 2007 public demonstrations started, sponsored by private individuals with the backing of the green party and a variety of citizens’ and environmental organisations. One of the aims was to collect signatures and thus force politicians to take the issue to a local referendum. The petition gained overwhelming support, but political wrangling began over whether the issue could be decided by a local referendum in the first place. Legal experts claimed that, as the project was not being financed solely from Stuttgart, it was not for the city of Stuttgart to make the final decision. On 11 October 2008, several thousand citizens of Stuttgart demonstrated against the demolition of the Stuttgart Main Station’s north wing. Since then there have been ongoing demonstrations and on October 1st,  2010, the biggest protest so far took place with an estimated 100,000 people taking part in the demonstration against the project. Protesters suggested a renovation of the current railway station, including creation of some new railways, but respecting the cultural heritage of the Hauptbahnhof terminus and the natural heritage of the adjacent Schlossgarten (Palace Park), a cherished green space that connects the inner city with the banks of the Neckar river. On 30 September 2010, hundreds of demonstrators were injured when the police used water cannon, pepper spray and batons against protestors. The following day, more than 50,000 people took part in the largest demonstration against the project so far.

On 27 November 2011, a referendum was held to decide whether the state of Baden-Württemberg should cease funding for the project. 58.8 percent of the votes cast were against such a withdrawal. While some consider this proof that a majority is favour of the project, others point out this might in parts be owed to questionable allegations which were floated before the referendum, e.g. that consequences of a withdrawal in the end might already be significantly more expensive than completing the project; as well as the fact that the wording might have been misleading for some voters (a ‘yes’ vote would have been in favour of bailing out of the project, and a ‘no’ in favour of its implementation) although the meaning of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was explained on the ballot. Interestingly, since then the state and city government is in the hands of the green party, which now needs to execute what they had opposed before…

Through the project, approximately 117 kilometres of new high speed railway tracks will be built, four new railway stations, in total 55 new bridges and 21 tunnels with a length of 63 kilometres need to be established in a difficult area (mountain area as well as underground in a city with an existing infrastructure…). Total budget accounts to 11.4 bln Euro for both, Stuttgart 21 (7.7 bln Euro) and the high speed railway between Wendlingen and Ulm (3.7 bln Euro). The project team dramatically increased the efforts on communication, stakeholder engagement and marketing for the project. People can visit the site, update themselves through several websites, key benefits – for example the significant reduction in travel time, the potentials for economic growth and creating new urban areas in the city – as well as the avoidance of adverse impact on people and environment are highlighted. The inauguration of Stuttgart 21 is planned to happen in the year 2025.

In talks with the Managing Director of DB Project it was highlighted that stakeholder engagement from the very first moment on, covering all external and internal stakeholders, especially the public opinion and the political parties is of utmost importance for the success of such a complex project.


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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.