04 Dec 2020, 13:03
Benjamin Wehrmann

Report criticises subway’s climate impact in Berlin as city’s newest line starts service

Clean Energy Wire / Tagesspiegel

A new subway line in the centre of Berlin has drawn criticism for its climate impact due to an expert report finding that new subway projects in the German capital on average only pay off in terms of emissions reduction after nearly 140 years. "The construction of one kilometre of subway tunnel on average emits about 100,000 tonnes of CO2," the report compiled by former railway planners Frank Geraets and Axel Schwipps and Berlin Green Party mobility spokesman Matthias Dittmer says. The gap closure of the new U5 line connects the railway station Alexanderplatz with the city's landmark Brandenburger Tor with three new stops on a stretch of 2.2 kilometres after nearly ten years of construction work. "The fact that new subway lines in tunnels don't solve the climate problem but instead make it worse was an unexpected finding for us too," Dittmer told newspaper Tagesspiegel. The main reason for the subway’s negative climate impact is the extensive use of concrete and steel, the authors said, which is not compensated by a sufficient number of new passengers giving up their car in favour of the public transport option. The report assumes that one in five car drivers switches their mode of transportation from car to subway and also accounts for the falling number of (combustion engine) bus rides thanks to new subway connections. The authors conclude that building more tramways instead of subways would be a far more climate-friendly public transport option, since emissions from building tramway routes are up to 14 times lower than for subway tunnels at only a fraction of the cost.

Expanding public transport options is one of the key measures Berlin's city governments and many others in Germany intend to take to bring down the country's notoriously high transport emissions, with a denser network of connections believed to generally increase the use of rail and bus services. Public transport providers in the whole country are struggling to contain the damage caused by falling passenger numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has sweepingly reduced the demand for mobility services and led many people to use their private car instead of shared public transport options.

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