HIGH-SPEED RAIL LINE NEARS APPROVAL IN GERMANY

HIGH-SPEED RAIL LINE NEARS APPROVAL IN GERMANY

The German Cabinet moved closer Wednesday to approving the construction of a high-speed rail line between Hamburg and Berlin.

Transport Minister Matthias Wissmann and Research Minister Paul Krueger said they expected to conclude negotiations with industry in February and make a "positive decision" by the end of March.A revised financing plan by the project's manufacturers - Siemens AG, Thyssen AG and Daimler Benz AG - led to the positive statements. Under the new plan, the federal government will provide some 5.5 billion deutsche marks ($2.9 billion) toward the cost of the tracks, while the companies will provide the trains. The total cost of the project is about DM9 billion.

The "Transrapid," hovering just above a magnetic track, is designed to travel up to 250 mph. The train is primarily designed to carry passengers, but also could handle high-value cargo. The train would cut the Berlin-Hamburg traveling time from the 2 1/2 hours to 53 minutes.

German industry, which is hoping for export sales of the train, said it would be unable to sell Transrapid abroad if the train were not first built in Germany.

But the ride from here won't be smooth. Several citizens groups have protested the train, saying it will ruin the environment. Transrapid cannot run on conventional track, so the government will have to clear right-of-way for the special high-speed line to be built.