"Haller Willem" to Osnabrück reactivated
Pictures magnify by selection.

June 12th, 2005: Reopening celebration for the Dissen/Bad Rothenfelde – Osnabrück track.

"Haller Willem": Rail transit for 1.4 million $ per mile

Big warning sign at a crossing near a newbuilt platform. Big day-glow, reflecting warning signs for motorists: "Railroad back in operation".

In addition to a mainline connection, the German cities Bielefeld and Osnabrück are connected by a rural singletrack line, parts of which are quite curvy and steep. Reason for the unfavourable alignment are cost cutting attempts of the 19th century. The line touches the town of Halle, known to tennis fans for the Gerry Weber Open. It is named "Haller Willem", after an operator of team and coach, Wilhelm Struckemeyer, who had his business on this line before inauguration of the railroad in 1886, and was widely known for his humour and ~200 kg weight.

The line was built to lower standards than the mainlines around, and did not receive similar improvements towards higher speed and less labour. Until closure, barriers at level crossings were still cranked mechanically, using technology of the early 20th century. Due to the crewing requirements, the railroad tried to get rid of the line. The number of passenger trains was reduced below usefulness. In 1984, the rest of the passenger traffic was bustituted.

More precisely: one half of the "Haller Willem" was bustituted. Within the former West Germany, the state of Niedersachsen has the worst public transport system off the main routes. The abandonment of one half of the "Haller Willem", the part located in Niedersachsen, followed common traffic policy standards within that state.

Rural green line, small platform, DMU has stopped. Reopening day at Kloster Oesede station.

The other half of the route, Bielefeld – Dissen/Bad Rothenfelde, located in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, limped along with low amounts of traffic, but closure wasn't accepted. Instead, a contract protecting the line was signed by state and railroad, and in the late 1990s, a modernization project improved that part of the route to modern standards. Success followed quickly: While the passenger figure used to be 1500 per day, this changed to 3400 in 2004, and is increasing further.

Looking at the success of the neighbours, even the state of Niedersachsen finally decided in favour of reactivation – at a time, when small trees started to grow in the track. The reactivation project, Dissen/Bad Rothenfelde – Osnabrück, closed the gap between the state border and Osnabrück-Hörne, where this secondary track joins into a mainline. Part of the reactivation was modern, remote controlled or train operated signal and level crossing equipment, bringing the infrastructure operating costs down to modern standards as well.

As it is normal in Germany and several other EU countries, the trains aren't operated by the infrastructure owner. After bidding, and until 2013, the subsidy for operation was contracted to the Nordwestbahn, an operator owned by Connex and the cities of Osnabrück and Oldenburg. Unlike USA practice, the operator gets a fixed amount of money, unless penalized for not fulfilling the contracted quality standards. Subsidized operation does not outrule high profit or bankruptcy – despite the subsidy, success depends on performance.

Dissen/Bad Rothenfelde – Osnabrück-Hörne infrastructure project
Length of reactivated track 22.848 km
Line opened August 15th, 1886
Closed for passenger traffic June 2nd, 1984
Passenger train average speed, 1983 43 km/h
Trains per direction per day, 1983 4, 3 on weekends1
Passengers per day, 1983
Closed for freight traffic 1991
Track leased by VLO2 January 1st, 2000
Lease timeframe 30 years
Yearly lease 1 DM (€ 0.51)
Total reactivation cost € 16.3 million3
Cost/km € 0.71 million
State/federal funds 80%
VLO funds, recovered from track access price 20%
New rails + ties, ballast cleaning, some subgrade repairs € 9.7 million
Cost/km € 0.42 million
Max. axleload 20t4 (44092 lbs)
Level crossings eliminated 8
Pedestrian crossings, set of railings 4
Level crossings upgraded 23
Level crossing improvements € 3.4 million
Cost/crossing € 148000
Signal system/box, automatic train stop € 0.9 million
Stations built, at old or new location 5
Of these, with passing track 1
Platform length 110 m
Platform width 3.5 m
Platform height 76 cm
Average cost per station5 € 100000
Train timing Dissen – Osnabrück Hbf 31 – 32 minutes
Bus timing Dissen – Osnabrück 50 minutes
Line speed 80 km/h
Average stop distance 4.4 km
Average speed 50 km/h
Weekday memory schedule Hourly, 18 train pairs
Saturday 17 train pairs
Sunday 11 train pairs
Forecast: Max. ridership with halfhourly traffic 3600 / day
First weeks of operation 800–900 / day
4 months later 1700 / day

1 The number of trains is best explained as a measure to support line closure. Some years before, it was higher, though there never was an attempt towards memory schedule or similar modern traffic concepts.
2 VLO = Verkehrsgesellschaft Landkreis Osnabrück (Osnabrück County Traffic Society, a local public transport company in public ownership).
3 This is the planned figure – not every detail of the project has been finished yet. It is expected, that the final amount will be slightly lower.
4 Old bridges still passed the check at this value. The track could support a higher figure.
5 Station costs include the platform with access ramp, video and loudspeakers with central control, travel information board, bus stop shelter, seats, (lights ?).