Why build a tunnel …
… from Sweden to Germany?
On the 8th of March 2007, visionary politicians from Berlin, northern Germany, Denmark, and Western Sweden came to Oslo bearing a torch of great ideas and ambitions, and signed the COINCO Charter at Oslo City Hall.
COINCO is an acronym for Corridor for Innovation and Cooperation. The initiative originated in Berlin and Copenhagen in 2005 and started as an INTERREG project, financed by the EU and the regional partners between Berlin and Oslo. Cooperation on innovation, best practice governance and energy were among the major themes, but the one that received the most attention was the possibility of the construction of high speed rail (HSR) infrastructure between Oslo and Berlin.
The ceremony at Oslo City Hall ended with all of the participating cities – from Berlin and Copenhagen, Malmö, Helsingborg, Göteborg and Oslo – signing the COINCO Charter, thus marking the end of the first INTERREG project. The responsibility to continue the process was handed over to the City of Oslo, represented by the governing Mayor Erling Lae, and as it happened, this was then further passed on to the region’s public development agency Oslo Teknopol IKS. Together with its sister organization, Business Region Göteborg, it defined a project plan and an organizational form and financing so the cooperation could be continued.
The birth of COINCO North
At the same time, a new INTERREG program covering the Scandinavian part of Europe was coming up, and it was considered the most suitable program for continuation. This meant, however, that the German part was not eligible for participation.
New political leadership in Copenhagen took power, which turned out to be more introverted and less interested in international cooperation. The northern Scandinavians – mainly carried through by the governing mayors of the City of Göteborg – Göran Johansson and Erling Lae of the City of Oslo – decided for practical and formal reasons to split the project in two, and – for a while – to focus on the northern Scandinavian part of the corridor. It was always the intention to bring the northern and southern part together again at a later stage.
This is how the project COINCO North was created – which later also received the more telling name: The Scandinavian 8 Million City. The concept builds on the fact that the regions of Oslo, Göteborg, Malmö and Copenhagen consist of a potential polycentric mega region of more than 8 million Scandinavians who share similar language and culture. The basic idea was and is that, by the core COINCO idea of establishing a HSR infrastructure, one could cut the travel time from currently 8 hours by slow train between Oslo and Copenhagen down to 2.5 hours HSR (and with Göteborg right in between these two cities).
After first being declined once, COINCO North was finally granted funds through a second INTERREG project, starting in the spring of 2008. Three years of intensive work and studies followed to manage the project at Oslo Teknopol under the dynamic and young architect Floire Nathanel Daub from the Oslo School of Architecture. A small and effective team was built up around it, with an effective partnership with Business Region Göteborg.
It soon became the most important long-term strategic project of Oslo Teknopol ever. Talented and highly motivated people were recruited and it did not take long before they saw that this was a great idea. It soon became clear what potential a future HSR corridor could provide as far as solving Oslo’s urban growth problems – Oslo is the fastest growing city in Europe. By bringing the smaller cities south of Oslo closer to the City of Oslo and Göteborg, modern rail can effectively relieve the pressure on Oslo.
Its potential benefits for the Norwegian and Swedish labour market are also huge. Sweden has high unemployment. There are 60,000 Swedes working in the Oslo region – and thus also putting unnecessary pressure on the housing market. By HSR it would take a little more than an hour to Göteborg, instead of today’s four hours, and then it would be possible to commute between the two cities.
Modern rail also results in an enormous reduction in emission, compared to air, road and truck transportation. COINCO North created an enthusiasm that one does not often find in today’s work environment. It had significant impact on the Norwegian HSR debate. A short animated film about the Scandinavian 8 Million City was given 30 seconds on national TV. A poll a few days later in June 2008 showed 84 % of the population were positive towards HSR in Norway.
The stakeholders therefore decided to continue, still with only Scandinavian partners. In the meanwhile, Copenhagen’s political leadership had changed and again wanted to participate as a formal partner. After all, the HSR corridor and the 8 Million City concept would make Copenhagen’s role in Scandinavia more important.
COINCO North II was accepted on the 8th of December 2011 and started in January 2012. It will run through most of 2014. Floire Nathanael Daub is still project manager – now working directly for the City of Oslo and the governing mayor of Oslo, Stian Berger Røsland (H).
COINCO North II continues to provide evidence and documentation to the public and the politicians in Scandinavia. It is hoped that the argumentation is so strong that the Norwegian Parliament will make the formal decision in 2013 to invest in the first HSR link to Göteborg. This is of course also a Swedish matter. Swedish government has already decided to make substantial upgrading of the rail system on the Swedish West Coast, in the corridor north of Göteborg towards the Norwegian border.
The COINCO North II stakeholders are now convincing the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments that Norway and Sweden should cooperate for a HSR link not only to Göteborg but all the way to Øresund. This might already have had an effect; growth in rail budgets can now be seen in both Norway and Sweden. For Norway, the Follobanen with the 19-km long tunnel of HSR standard to Ski is in fact the first step towards the European continent. Huge investments in upgrading are being made both around the Oslo fjord and south of Stockholm and Goteborg. A future HSR system connecting all the Scandinavian capitals is emerging.
As COINCO North I and II progressed, it also became clear that the real benefits – especially for the environment through the reductions in emissions – would not be taken to their full potential unless the original COINCO idea of connecting Scandinavia to the European continent with HSR was brought to its logical conclusion.
The Øresund Bridge has been a success in the sense that it has more traffic than expected. It is already at its capacity limits. This is forcing more of the transportation flows from Norway and Sweden to use ferry solutions in the south of Sweden to Germany and Poland in order to reach the continent. The roads in Germany, Poland and Scandinavia are rapidly being filled up with more trucks, with the associated negative consequences for environment, congestions and road safety.
In the original COINCO visions, the stakeholders saw new alternative HSR routes crossing Øresund and through Denmark, through the Femernbelt, and then further to Hamburg, to be connected to the emerging European continental HSR system.
However growing scepticism in the Danish government for costly investments, combined with the financial crisis and lack of space for infrastructure in the congested larger metropolitan Copenhagen led to a scrapping of the ideas. There was also the fear that Denmark would become a transit country for fast growing Swedish and Norwegian truck flows.
Although the City of Copenhagen is still positive and a partner in COINCO North II, today’s situation is clear: There will be no new fixed HSR link over the Øresund. However, discussions on a metro connection between Copenhagen and Malmö are now taking place. The latter makes more sense for the two cities, since their labour markets are becoming more and more integrated, and this will take some of the pressure off the Øresund Bridge. In any case, Copenhagen could in the future be a short metro-ride away from the trans-Scandinavian HSR line between Oslo and Berlin, and thus take full advantages of the infrastructure.
About the same time, the project management of COINCO North at Oslo Teknopol decided to go to China and Taiwan to learn what Asia is doing with their HSR plans and investments. China is emerging as a superpower, in terms of HSR as well. The Oslo – Berlin line would be 1,000 km altogether. In China 16,000 kilometres of HSR are to be built before 2020.
Bold plans are being made for connecting Asia with Europe through the UN supported project “The Iron Silk Road”. Currently, Turkish and Chinese state companies are connecting Asia and Europe with a new HSR from Ankara to Istanbul. The next steps will be connecting into the European rail grid and thus effectively easing trade with all the major European cities.
Berlin is the most important European city for the Chinese and the upcoming transportation hub in Europe. In a not so distant future, the majority of global trade flows between Asia and Europe will be by rail, much faster and more energy-friendly than today’s solutions.
What surprised the Oslo Teknopol delegation the most was the new project of the 106 km long tunnel under the Bohai Bay in north-eastern China. The Chinese told us that there were plans of building a tunnel from mainland China to Taiwan – a stretch of more than 150 km – “ but there was still some political issues to be solved before this one could start” they said with a smile.
The idea of a looking into a tunnel from Southern Sweden to north-eastern Germany is fairly obvious from this perspective. It is a shorter distance and the geological conditions are more stable. Over the next few days, the idea of constructing a tunnel under the Baltic Sea was discussed with other Chinese experts, who were not at all surprised or dismissive.
The logical sequence was clear: in order to bring the original COINCO vision back on track, Oslo Teknopol had to also look more directly to the original partner, the City of Berlin. Since Denmark says no to new fixed HSR links over the Øresund, someone had to look closer at the tunnel alternative between Sweden and Germany, taking the shortcut straight to Berlin. However, it was impossible to investigate this alternative within the COINCO North II project, because it had its agreed and contracted agenda and set of stakeholders.
The original COINCO vision was too big, and too important, and too significant to let sink into formalities and second-best solutions, though. The politicians of Scandinavia and Germany should also have a chance to look at the optimal long term solution before this 100 year infrastructure decision is made in the respective parliaments. So – with some reorganizing of roles at Oslo Teknopol and the City of Oslo – Knut Olav Halvorsen, former CEO of Oslo Teknopol, went to Berlin to renew the original COINCO vision and mobilize its original German partners. This was the beginning of the COINCO South project. On January 1st 2012, COINCO South was launched as a project, with its registered office in Berlin.
The shortcut and the COINCO challenge
The first pilot for COINCO South looks closer into the geological conditions under the Baltic Sea. Is it technically possible to build a tunnel between Sweden and Germany? The idea was presented to the right Swedish industrial stakeholders, and Örjan Wolff, CEO of Bergab, who is also head of the secretariat of Bergsprängningskommittén, where some of Sweden’s most important industrial companies are represented as members.
About 400 delegates from the impressive Swedish mining and construction industry came to Stockholm to network, learn, get inspired and assess their strength. They liked the idea. Soon after, Wolff organized a team of the best industrial geologists in Sweden: Dick Karlsson, Sweco, Ph D Robert Sturk, Skanska, and Ph D Eric Hegardt, Bergab. By end of January, the report The Shortcut will be the first published report from the COINCO South project.
In parallel, it was necessary to build the Berlin team. Berlin is a fountain of talented, hard-working and creative people. Carmen Lucia Reiz had been hired in the first phase to help identify the most important stakeholders. Through her network, Andreas Krüger, Marc Piesbergen, Fabian Röthke, and Andreas Steinberger were recruited for different roles as speakers, advisers and doers in combination.
As in Scandinavia, a HSR via Stralsund could solve many of Berlin and Northern Germany’s long-term development issues. The last half-year has also opened the team’s eyes for the energy cooperation that is potent in the idea of “Norway as a Green Battery”.
The City of Stralsund was put on the map as the most natural and logical entry point for the tunnel in Germany. Several meetings followed, including with other cities of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and of course Stralsund in particular. The old Hansa City of Stralsund became an official COINCO South partner, by signing the first Letter of Intent (LOI) on November 28th of this year.
Stralsund will take a coordinating role in the COINCO Challenge project, where six universities and higher education institutions in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Brandenburg and Berlin are looking into different aspects of a HSR connection between the Scandinavian 8 Million City and COINCO South. Students at the Masters level will work with different kinds of challenges in engineering, urban planning, environmental protection, regional development, tunnelling and energy issues.
The COINCO Challenge started in November 2012 and will continue for most of 2013. The students’ results will start to flow into the German debate and planning process in the years to come.
And then there is Berlin. Much can be said about Berlin. It is unlike any city in the world, and words soon become insufficient. Its dramatic history and hard-earned wisdom, its size, its present political role, its world-class scientific community, its growing economic and political importance for Europe, its amazing infrastructure and the fact that it is the centre for the Deutsche Bahn (DB). This organization kept Germany together and reconstructed it after turbulent times. And of course: DB also defines the HSR system of the future Germany.
Berlin also plays a special cultural role, which boosts creativity and excellence at the same time. It very much makes sense for Scandinavia to be better connected to this global city. Berlin is not only connecting the North and the South of Europe, but is also the city where the West meets the East, through the Iron Silk Road and the emerging rail routes between Europe and Asia.
COINCO GmbH and the next step; the European TEN-T program
There will most likely not be a fourth INTERREG project to finance the cooperation. Three-time financing is already exceptional in the EU system. COINCO South is therefore a privately financed project at the moment and aims to bridge the cooperation over to the next phase. The cooperation is going to be lifted up to the next level. COINCO GmbH is established as a private organization – with the aim of bringing COINCO North and South back into one cooperation again.
We have taken the liberty to change the definition from the old general INTERREG definition to: Cooperation on Infrastructure in the Nordic Corridors, in order to focus on the fact that infrastructure is the key. Through infrastructure, other synergies will arise, such as increased innovation, competitiveness, tourism, research, labour market stimulation, emission reductions, road safety and increased understanding and integration in this part of Europe in general.
First, we will cause additional ideas and pilot studies to be carried out within the project COINCO South and COINCO GmbH. The projects The Shortcut and The COINCO Challenge are keywords here. Then, it will soon be time to reunite the original COINCO Charter partners. It would make sense that this takes place in a conference in Berlin this time. The aim should be a more formalized committed public and private partnership (PPP) that works hard on lifting the corridor into the official European TEN-T program, which was also stated as one of the main aims of the original COINCO Charter from March 2007. The charter is of course still valid and binding. Very soon, more substantial and national and international research programs should be established – with Sweden and Germany and EU playing the main roles in the beginning.
Norway, which is formally outside the EU but a full member of the European Economic Area (EEA) cooperation, could be brought into a fruitful role for all parties through the ideas of the “Green battery”, once the idea is more politically mature. It is of course also expected that Norway will join the European network, by making the first decision on the corridor from Oslo to Göteborg in the fall of 2013. Perhaps Norway can also do her part with some financing of HSR infrastructure further south, including the tunnel between Sweden and Germany? Norway has already invested in the Eurotunnel.
The Baltic Sea Tunnel fits into the new investment strategy for the growing Norwegian petroleum pension fund, which will soon reach 500 Billion Euros. Preliminary estimation of the cost of such a tunnel is 20 billion Euros. China is also watching the COINCO initiative, and will be there, as both a possible industrial and financial partner.
Back to Berlin
Berlin started the journey of COINCO and will now receive the torch once more. The politicians and the stakeholders of the COINCO Charter in March 2007 were right: it is a great idea to increase the cooperation between Oslo and Berlin. Oslo has had her turn. COINCO North and COINCO South should be patched back together and Berlin should take the initiative.