Finish Amsterdam metro line, committee advises

One of the underground stations under construction in Amsterdam.
By our news desk

Amsterdam's disputed North-South metro project should go ahead as planned, a special committee headed by former agriculture minister Cees Veerman recommends.

The Veerman committee, which was set up to advise on the future of the controversial metro line, published its findings on Thursday. It also predicted the cost of the new line will be another 700 million euros higher than anticipated, which means the city will probably have to go to the national and provincial governments for extra funding.

The construction of the so-called North-South metro line has been plagued by numerous delays and budget overruns since it began in 2003. Digging a 7-kilometres-long tunnel through the sandy soil under the Dutch capital proved more problematic than expected. Last year, work on an underground station on theVijzelgracht caused severe subsidence which seriously damaged a number of historic houses. The homes sank up to 23 centimetres deep and have since been declared unfit for habitation.

Huge financial claims

The independent Veerman committee was asked by the city council to investigate the possible scenarios: repair the damage and complete the tunnel, or abandon the project and face huge financial claims.

Initially estimated at 1.4 billion euros, Veerman now says the line is expected to cost 3.1 billion euros. Amsterdam cannot bear that financial burden alone and Veerman recommends that it asks both the national government and the North Holland province to help out.

At a city hall press conference in Amsterdam on Thursday, Veerman summarised the arguments against calling off the ambitious project. He made it clear that terminating the project would lead to claims by the national government for a refund of subsidies already paid to the city. Construction companies working on the tunnels and stations have invested heavily in specialised equipment and staff, and would also lodge claims. Giving up the North-South line now would cost the city 1.7 billion euros, according toVeerman.

Amsterdam would also be left with a number of substantial holes in the ground for which an alternative use is not easy to find. Some tunnel sections which are already finished could be transformed into tramway tunnels. For others, conversion into underground parking garages, or even nightclubs or museums has been suggested. But the economic benefits of such makeshift solutions will never outweigh the benefits of a completed metro line,Veerman said.

'Intrinsic to the drilling process'

The North-South line, Amsterdam's fourth metro line, has been deemed essential for Amsterdam's economic development: it will link the isolated part of the city north of the riverIJ with the city centre on the southern shore and the southern business district. If work on the Vijzelgracht can resume, the North-South Line can be completed in 2017. Original plans predicted the metro would be operational by 2011.

Despite the announcement of another significant budget overrun, Veerman said it was not the technical and financial problems that shocked him. "Our main concern is the organisation," he said. Amsterdam city executiveTjeerd Herrema resigned over the project in February, and an investigation into the much-criticised decision-making process over the North-South line is underway.

Opponents of the scheme continue to warn about the risks of trying untested technology under Amsterdam's historic city centre, and point to the calamitous developments in Cologne, where the historic city archives collapsed as a result of metro tunnel building under conditions similar to those in Amsterdam. "Not all risks can be controlled," the committee's report reads. "Subsidences of a few millimetres to several centimetres will occur and are intrinsic to the drilling process."

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