Germany’s Flagship Engineering Projects Flounder 1

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
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Elbe Philharmonic Hall
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Some of Germany’s biggest and most prestigious construction projects have met with severe delays and huge cost blowouts, imperiling the sterling reputation of the nation’s engineering sector.

Germany has long been renowned for the excellence of its engineering sector, which has spawned a slew of world-beating corporations including Siemens, BMW and Daimler AG.

Around half of the Germany’s exports are directly related to engineering, comprised of either machinery or infrastructure products. This strength has enabled the country to maintain a trade surplus with China as it industrializes, and weather the broader woes besetting the European economy.

The outstanding reputation of Germany engineering could come under threat, however, as a result of the troubles now plaguing some of Germany’s flagship construction projects.

When work first commenced on the Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport in September 2006 its projected construction cost was 2.83 billion Euros, with an expected completion date of 2010.

The airport is intended to finally furnish the German capital with a single aviation hub for all of its c0mmerical traffic, replacing the Berlin Tegel Airport and the Schonefeld Airport, which serviced the western and eastern sides of the city respectively prior to unification.

Berlin Brandenburg International Airport

Berlin Brandenburg International Airport

Unfortunately for Berliners, however, the project has met with interminable delays, leading to a huge blowout in costs. As of this past October, the project’s supervisory committee has estimated that final costs could be in excess of 5 billion Euros, while extensive noise insulation measures threaten to add a further 600 million Euros to expenses – more than twice prior estimates.

The airport has suffered from endemic problems in the years since construction commenced, including a defective fire safety system and cracks in floor tiles, compelling officials to delay the opening date on four occasions. German aviation expert Dieter Faulenbach da Cost has said the problems plaguing the construction of the airport are so severe it may be preferable to tear it down and begin again from scratch.

While the most hopeful estimates point to completion of the airport at some point in 2014, if the past is a reliable guide to the future then work on the project could continue for at least half a decade after it was originally scheduled to open.

The “Stuttgart 21” railway project has suffered from similar cost blowouts. While 2009 estimates pegged total costs at around 4.5 billion Euros, this amount has since risen to 6.5 billion Euros as a result of the engineering challenges involved in building some 30 kilometres of tunnels and 25 kilometres of high-speed lines for the city.

Computer-generated image of underground train station in Stuttgart

Computer-generated image of underground train station in Stuttgart

An internal document leaked in February 2013 revealed that officials are now only pushing through with the project because abandoning it would incur greater expense, and that they would not have given approval for its construction had they been apprised of its final cost.

Problems with Germany’s flagship engineering projects are not confined to the transportation sector. Work on the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg is suffering from parlous difficulties, which have led to repeated re-scheduling and cost increases.

Costs for the concert hall, intended to be the centrepiece of the revamped HafenCity quarter in Hamburg, were originally projected to be 241 million Euros in 2007, with a completion date of some time in 2010.

This cost estimate rose to 450 million Euros in November 2008, before rising to over half a billion Euros in August 2010. The completion date has also been pushed forward repeatedly, with construction work now scheduled to finish in October 2016, and the earliest date for the opening of the concert hall in the spring of 2017.

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  1. Bernhard Voll

    The issue with these projects is not the engineering component, this is still valid and world class. The problem is that with public projects it is a public tendering process with the requirements to select the most competitive proposal. This leads to shortcuts and a decision making process which is more defined by political will and pure commercial price based purchasing (usually the decision makers are not engineers but public servants with a commercial background) than the selection of the best quality. To get it through parliament a lot of public servants show low costs so the politicians say yes knowing that costs will blow out anyway. And, this is not a German problem but rather a global one. Just think about the cost blowouts for our public projects here in Australia!