Fehmarn plans as German approval nears 17 Jan 2019

Patrick Reynolds for TunnelTalk

Final planning for the Fehmarn immersed tube link is pushing ahead with imminent signing by German authorities of environmental approval for the 17.6km long highway and rail undersea connection from Denmark. While the long-awaited approval has been seen as the last major milestone in preparations to build the link, it has delayed main construction, which, even with the signing, remains unlikely to start this year. Femern A/S continues to anticipate legal opposition to the environmental approval and is keeping its contingency plan for start of construction in 2020, even though contractors are already selected.

Updated execution plans due in Spring
Updated execution plans due in Spring

In a briefing by Jens Villemoes, media spokesman for the developer, TunnelTalk was told that Femern A/S aims to use the next few months to investigate the German environmental approval in depth to help produce updated options to further improve its readiness to execute the huge project. Among the points of review are possibilities for accessing funds approved by the EU (European Union) and examining if some early starts could be possible for particular main works. Femern A/S expects to put its updated plans to its Board, to the Danish Ministry for Transportation and to the Danish Parliament by the second quarter of the year, said Villemoes.

Denmark has been leading development of the project between the coastal towns of Rødbyhavn and Puttgarden and construction of the drydock for casting the concrete immersed tube elements will be in its territory at Rødbyhavn. Puttgarden, in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, is the landfall where the road and rail link will connect into the transport infrastructure of mainland Europe.

Possible start to some early works being considered
Possible start to some early works being considered

Fehmarn won approval from Denmark in 2015, by when it was hoped approval from Schleswig-Holstein would soon follow. Germany, instead, wanted a full second public hearing for the project application. Femern A/S made its second submission in 2016 while also pushing ahead with contract procurement. At the time, it was hoped planning approval could be obtained by early 2018 but it is only in recent weeks did Schleswig-Holstein issue its response as being ready to sign with Femern A/S.

Villemoes told TunnelTalk that the current review by Femern A/S is not expected to result in material changes. “We are still reviewing more than 1,200 pages of documents and we will come up with scenarios on how to proceed with the project within the next couple of months,” he said, adding that the detailed review involves the developer’s legal, environmental and technical advisors “to assess possible impact on the project finances and schedule. We expect to present a plan for our owners during the Spring.”

The detailed review also involves the contractors who have been signed up since 2016 to undertake construction contracts for the concrete immersed tube and the portal and ramps, and the dredging and reclamation works.

Fixed link will accommodate road and rail services
Fixed link will accommodate road and rail services

“As a result of the detailed review and update, any additional costs are expected to be contained within the existing construction budget,” said Villemoes. “While some changes might be minor, such as possibly related to environmental compensation and noise levels, the effects on costs have to be calculated and provided for.” He also confirmed that the previously revised target date for opening the Fehmarn tunnel remains as 2028.

Femern A/S is also looking at possibilities to allow some works to start if, and while, the anticipated legal challenge to the project is heard in Germany, a process that could possibly take up to two years to resolve. Early construction works would get underway in Denmark, as has always been planned, and the contingency plan for having main construction getting underway by 2020 remains the case, said Villemoes.

“But it is possible to apply for an expedited permit, which allows some limited works to take place in Germany concurrent with the court case. Early works in Denmark could include setup of the tunnel element factory and construction of the work-harbour. We will review the various options and present them as part of the scenarios in the coming months.” Only when the updated scenarios are presented will Femern A/S decide what, if any, of the possible early construction starts to pursue.

For the moment, only small preparatory works are underway in the portal region in Denmark. These include utility, road and drainage works, archaeological studies, and relocating of a lake on the tunnel alignment. Inland in Denmark, the road and rail authorities are also improving the networks in preparation of connecting to the undersea link.

Fehmarn will be among the longest immersed tube tunnel in the world
Fehmarn will be among the longest immersed tube tunnel in the world

To prepare for main construction works, Femern A/S recently completed agreements with the contractors for extensions to the validity periods of the contracts, taking them up to the end of 2020. The tunnel, portal and ramps contract is held by the Vinci-led consortium and that for dredging and reclamation work is with a Boskalis-led group. The conditional contracts were signed in mid-2016 with validity periods of 3.5 years, taking them to the end of 2018.

Funding support from the EU was secured for the Fehmarn project in 2015 with validity through its financial period 2019-20. Back then, and following a contract re-bid after tenders exceeded budget, it was expected the project could be completed by 2021. With Fehmarn as a strategic transport link for Europe under the TEN-T programme, the EU has remained supportive of the huge project.

“A constructive dialogue with the European Commission on how best to utilise the funding provided is taking place,” said Villemoes. “The scenarios we will present in Spring will incorporate options for utilising that agreed funding.”


References to other immersed tube projects

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