Provincial Executive Member Fleur Gräper (D66) hopes there soon will be more clarity regarding the Friesenbrücke situation, preferably before the summer.
Ever since the bridge over the Eems River near the small town of Weener was rammed by a ship in December 2015, the discussion has been pending whether the bridge should be restored to its original state or whether a completely new bridge – including advanced technology – should be constructed.
This last modern option (plan B) has been put forward by the Meyer Werft. This ship builder from the city of Papenburg is – in view of the current circumstances – greatly in favour of replacing the old bridge with a new bascule or swing bridge. In their view this would obviously be the perfect option in terms of accommodating a fast and cheap passage for the cruise ships constructed at their shipyard.
This far Meyer has already been obliged to reach deep into its pockets in order to rent a crane for hoisting the damaged bridge out of the Eems as well as for supplying replacement public transport between the cities of Weener and Leer. Amounts to the tune of € 250,000 a cruise ship are mentioned in this context.
The federal state of Lower Saxony fully supports Meyer Werft. However, what are the considerations of the Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the central government in Berlin in this matter? It is an open secret that Meyer Werft’s contacts reach as far as the Bundestag itself. And this involves more than just one single political party. Both SPD as well as CDU members appear to regularly show up at the shipyard.
Managing Director Bernard Meyer has probably already made it quite clear to Berlin that plan B would – both financially as well as economically – be the best choice, seen from the shipyard’s point of view. Which politician will dare to argue with that, in the knowledge that this shipyard provides employment – directly and indirectly – to more than 20,000 people both within as outside Germany?
Though Gräper continues to hope for a ‘summer decision’ in this matter, it seems that in fact Meyer shall determine when as well as what kind of a solution shall be chosen for the Friesenbrücke. The fact that Meyer and Lower Saxony are heavily in favour of a modern bridge does indeed appear to jeopardise the ambitious railway plans of the Northern Netherlands and North Germany. For Groningen has since long been promoting the Wunderline: a quick and frequent railway connection with the city of Bremen. Such a connection seems to have less chance of success if the Meyer option is chosen. Earlier this week, Gräper mentioned in the Provincial States Commission that a completely new built bridge shall lead to a train passing frequency of twice every hour instead of four times as is desired for the Wunderline. This is due to shipping regulations, which prescribe that – in this case – water transport must be offered the opportunity to pass such a bridge every half hour.
The Provincial Executive Member has made it clear to DB that preparations for plan A should under no circumstances be abandoned. DB has obliged by conducting further research in this context. DB however has also been directly consulting behind the scenes with Meyer and Berlin. The results of these meetings have not yet been finalised though. This kind of delay in itself appears to be to the benefit of the shipbuilder, because until any solution for the ‘new’ Friesenbrücke is implemented, cruise ships shall indeed be able to be transported unhindered over the Eems River near Weener for the coming years.
So it appears that – for the time being – Groningen shall have to maintain its patience regarding this matter.