You have to give credit to the people that have kept the campaign for the re-activation of the Freiburg – Breisach – Volgelsheim – Colmar railway line alive. For a decade they’ve been campaigning, and the next step is a day of action on 14th April – where they aim to make a human chain from Breisach to Volgelsheim, across the Rhein. I don’t yet know my schedule in April – if I can I will join them for the day of action, having also already been there in the summer of 2022.
Fixing this missing link leaves me in a sort of quandary. Were it not France on one side, it would have long been solved. But it is France, and it is a regional and not a TGV connection, so no one in France gives a damn about it.
It is also not the easiest missing link to fix either. The Freiburg – Breisach line is at capacity and would need to be double tracked. The foundations of the old railway bridge between Breisach and Volgelsheim were re-purposed for today’s road bridge in the 1950s, and so you need to either build a new railway bridge or re-purpose the road bridge and build a new road bridge. And there is a hydroelectric power station in the Rhein, and a hill with vineyards on it and a castle on top that you need to circumvent. None of it impossible, but definitely not easy. And there are tracks still from Volgelsheim to Colmar, but they are not in a good state and would need to be electrified to make this service viable.
Just 30km south of Breisach there is a working railway bridge – at Neuenburg am Rhein. It is on the line between Mulhouse and Müllheim (Baden) and I went there too, in September 2022, and managed to even cross the bridge by train and photograph another train crossing the bridge with the drone:
The problem is that since then the service on this connection has gone from bad to worse – SNCF that operates these trains for Grand Est – says it has too few train drivers allowed to drive in Germany, and has been running buses instead. The problems started last year, and we now know there will be no trains until sometime in spring 2024 at the earliest.
International connection the lowest priority, so it’s the first for the chop.
But isn’t change on the way, I hear you say? Didn’t France and Germany order a fleet of 30 Régiolis trains to sort out all of this – to mean that Offenburg – Strasbourg and, if they have some drivers, Mulhouse – Müllheim (Baden) – will be run with larger capacity electric trains rather than the diesel trains in use today (although both lines are wired throughout)?
Yes, but… what is happening with these trains is very unclear. When the first train was revealed to great fanfare in 2021, the plan was to start operating them in December 2024. Yes, this year. But then Baden-Württemberg said the contract to operate the trains would only start from December 2026 – I have written it all up here. I have heard rumours that some interim solution might be found for the period between 2024 and 2026, but at the time of writing have no confirmation of that.
So there you have it. A mess. At the border between two major, rich and powerful countries that are supposed to be the motors of European integration.