Settlement after 2009 Cologne Metro disaster 16 Jul 2020

TunnelTalk reporting

More than 10 years after the fatal metro works collapse in Cologne in March 2009, the years of legal processes have been brought to a close with an out of court settlement that will draw a line under any further court actions and permit a long-awaited section of the North-South Line to be completed.

Fateful day of collapse in March 2009
Fateful day of collapse in March 2009

It was during excavation of a sump facility in the bottom of an open-cut line junction that the structure was undermined, bringing surrounding ground into the collapsed area and demolishing an adjacent apartment block and the historical archive building. The collapse cost the lives of two residents in the apartment block and destroyed records in the archive building dating back to medieval times. Civil works for the new 4km long twin tube North-South underground line for the Cologne tram system were complete; the open-cut junction structure the last element in progress towards opening the line to services in 2010. The line and stations either side of the collapsed zone eventually opened in 2014 with buses carrying passengers across the incomplete section to continue their journeys. At the time, costs to recover the collapsed zone and complete the line were estimated at between €620 million and €1 billion.

Given the devastating and deadly circumstances of the collapse, criminal prosecution proceedings began in 2018 against individual defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter. In its judgment, the Cologne District Court determined that the catastrophe was unequivocally and unquestionably caused by an error in the underground line junction construction. A construction supervisor of project owner KVB, Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe, was sentenced to probation for negligent homicide, another was acquitted and in a second criminal trial, the senior construction manager of the contractor, the ARGE Los Süd JV, received a one-year suspended sentence. The JV of Bilfinger Berger, Züblin, and Wayss & Freytag was working on the 3km southern section of the new line with five underground stations, and a consortium lead by Hochtief and including Strabag, Keller, Brueckner and Bauer, was completing the 1km northern section with the sixth underground station.

Buckled steel decking over the collapsed shaft excavation
Buckled steel decking over the collapsed shaft excavation

In press release statements distributed by the three equal-partner companies of the ARGE Los Süd, each has agreed to an out of court settlement with the City of Cologne and KVB, to pay total of €600 million, €200 million each, in final settlement of all civil lawsuits against the JV, after which the parties will dismiss further claims against each other.

Under the settlement agreement, the JV partners have agreed to complete, at its own expense, the refurbishment and extended completion of the structural shell of the track switching facility. The works will include integration of a space for a future memorial of the fatal event.

The three JV partners explained in their press statements that the €200 million payments are covered largely by company insurance payments and that they will have no impact on the earnings estimate of the publicly listed companies for 2020. BAM on behalf of its operating company Wayss & Freytag stated that for the remaining part of the payment, not covered by insurance, it will take an exceptional charge in the 2020 accounts for an amount of about €40 million. Ed Züblin AG has been a subsidiary of Strabag since 2005 and Bilfinger civil construction became part of the Implenia Group of Switzerland in 2015.

In its extended press release, the Strabag Board stated that: “the agreement helps to avoid another long legal dispute about the cause and amount of damage, which would tie up material and human resources. Despite the fact that the cause of the damage has not been conclusively clarified, the consortium has agreed to discontinue the reconnaissance inspections at the accident site. This clears the way for the refurbishment and completion of the track switching facility and the conclusion of the underground line. The Management Board welcomes the settlement, which averts a further long phase of uncertainty.”

“In view of the extremely complex issue regarding the cause of the damage, which has kept all involved parties occupied for more than 11 years, and would probably have kept them occupied for another 10 to 15 years, and after intensive consideration of all options, we consider the agreement reached to be reasonable – not only for all project participants but also for our shareholders,” said Thomas Birtel, CEO of Strabag SE and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Ed Züblin AG. “The time has come to draw a line under the past and to focus on the challenges facing us in these difficult times. Still, the third of March 2009 will remain a deeply tragic day that we will never forget.”


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