Start of construction and construction halted in the same month: work on the first contract section of the Semmering Base Tunnel had scarcely begun in January when the Austrian administrative court withdrew its approval for the project – at least temporarily – for ecological reasons. Local residents close to the construction site at the north portal and an environmental organization had successfully lodged a protest. The Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) commented that they were still committed to the Semmering Base Tunnel project. On account of the administrative court’s decision however, the impending main construction activities were temporarily postponed. A new environmental approval decision assuring ecological compatibility is now required prior to them being resumed. The completion of the flood protection for the community of Gloggnitz remains unaffected by the halt to construction. The installation of lifts at Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag stations is also being continued.
Postponements are always likely given such major and complex approval proceedings, is the rather laid-back official reaction on the part of the ÖBB – no other project has been so frequently scrutinized with such thoroughness in Austria in recent years. At the end of March the ÖBB remained convinced that it would soon be able to continue with constructing the project and thus adhere to the cost and time frame. The 27.3 km long tunnel is scheduled to be completely finished by 2024. 3.1 billion Euro are earmarked to cut travelling time between Vienna and Graz by 30 min, make passenger and goods traffic more competitive on rail and relieve the world cultural heritage site over the Semmering (please also see the report on p. 56). ⇥M.K.