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On 7 February the agreements will be signed, which will mark the start of the actual construction phase of the Wunderline. The railway connection shall offer a major economic incentive for the whole northern border region. Provincial Executive Member Henk Staghouwer on collaboration, the blurring of borders, letting go and confidence.

“Due to the construction of the Wunderline, the railway connection between Groningen, Bremen and the intermediate areas shall be improved, resulting in further strengthening the territorial, social and economic cohesion between the Province of Groningen and the Federal State of Lower Saxony. The Wunderline shall provide a major contribution to the sustainability ambitions as well as the climate goals of the Province of Groningen.”

With these words addressed at the Provincial Council of Groningen the last hurdle of a six-year governmental endurance race was finally reached. It was in 2012 that the first seed was planted towards facilitating easier railway travelling between Groningen and Bremen as well as towards reducing travelling time to less than two hours. And now, just before last Christmas, the Provincial Council has indeed decided to grant the funds for the final – first and second – actual construction phase of the Wunderline, thus allowing the agreements in this context to be signed by both countries coming 7 February.

Persistence and audacity

„This success is the result of the effort of all partners involved. It hasn’t always been a walk in the park for the past six years though”, Provincial Executive Member Henk Staghouwer emphasises. „It has been a process of persistence, of continuing the dialogue and of showing courage. During the last six months the project saw an increase in German support, which allowed us – supported by the business community, mayors, network organisations, universities and a coalition of Members of the European Parliament as well – to overcome the last hurdles we faced. The general importance of the project is now widely supported.”

„For a long time there have been doubts as well as long and many discussions, yet ultimately all our differences in terms of governmental culture and budget dynamics have been resolved – something I’m really proud of. In that respect my predecessor Fleur Graper should also get the credit she deserves. Since the summer of 2018 I have assumed responsibility over her former dossier which included this project.”

Dealing with setbacks

The accident at the Friesenbrücke in December 2015, when a freight ship rammed the long railway bridge across the Ems near Weener, was an unexpected setback in the process. The bridge is a key link in the railway connection

“The realisation of the first phase of the railway connection is scheduled to be completed in 2024, together with the restoration of the Friesenbrücke. It should be possible by then to travel from Groningen to Bremen in 2 hours and 26 minutes time.“

with Bremen. It did take a while before this important link in the railway connection even remotely seemed nearing its restoration. „Though the bridge itself does not form part of the project, it is of key importance for the project to succeed, allowing a major reduction in travelling between Groningen and Bremen. Luckily, decisive action was taken on our German neighbour’s side towards a quick restoration of the bridge, which was a big relief for all involved with the Wunderline project.

Future-orientated collaboration

„The realisation of the first phase of the railway connection is scheduled to be completed by 2024 together with the restoration of the Friesenbrücke. It should be possible by then to travel from Groningen to Bremen in 2 hours and 26 minutes time, thanks to a faster Dutch commuter train and a transition possibility in Leer (Germany). The extension of the GroningenWinschoten commuter train service is an important step in this first phase.

Subsequently the second construction phase shall be implemented: reducing travelling time to 2 hours and 11 minutes with an express train service every 2 hours from Groningen with a stop in Leer; this should be completed by 2030. Lastly, we would like to implement the third construction phase, which still needs funding and which shall facilitate a direct express train service every two hours (same travelling time as mentioned above) between Groningen and Bremen.”

„The Wunderline represents a future ticket towards social economic improvement in our border region, labour migration stimulation, knowledge exchange as well as simply towards a comfortable and accessible railway connection for students, labour commuters and tourists. It shall prove to be a sustainable transport alternative, while perfectly meeting the need for improved door-to-door mobility in our region. It is therefore my sincere hope that we shall be able to continue cooperating at such a concrete and future-oriented level in the years to come.”

The ceremonial signing on 7 February this year shall take place at the Dutch-German border in the small town of Winschoten. Delegations from Lower Saxony, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the Province of Groningen and the Ministry of Infra structure and water Management shall meet at this festive moment.

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