The link replaces the ferries which had been the primary means of crossing Great Belt for more than 100 years. After decades of speculation and debate, the decision to construct the link was made in 1986; while it was originally intended to complete the railway link three years before opening the road connection, the link was opened to rail traffic in 1997 and road traffic in 1998. At an estimated cost of DKK 21.4 billion (1998 prices), the link is the largest construction project in Danish history.
Its operation and maintenance are performed by A/S Storebælt under Sund & Bælt. Its construction and maintenance are financed by tolls on vehicles and trains.
The link has reduced travel times significantly; previously taking about an hour by ferry, the Great Belt can now be crossed in about 10 minutes.
To keep the main cables tensioned, an anchorage structure on each side of the span is placed below the road deck. Additionally, a total of 19 concrete pillars (12 on the Zealand side, 7 by Sprogø), each separated by a distance of , carry the road deck outside the span.
During construction of the tunnels, the sea bed gave way and one of the tunnel pipes was flooded. The water continued to rise and reached the end at Sprogø, where it continued into the (still dry) other tunnel pipe. The water thus destroyed two of the four drilling machines, but no workers were injured. Only by drilling refrigeration hoses down into the sea bed and freezing the bottom was it possible to dry out the pipes, remove the defunct machines and complete the drilling from the Zealand side.
The fixed link has produced considerable time savings for travel and transport between eastern and western Denmark. Previously, the average elapsed time involved in car transfer by ferry across the Great Belt was approximately 90 minutes, including the waiting time at the harbours. The time was considerably higher during peak volume periods, that is, weekends and holidays. After the opening of the Great Belt Link, the elapsed time has fallen to between 10 and 15 minutes.
For those who travel by train, the time savings are even greater. The travel time has been reduced by 60 minutes, and there are many more seats available than previously, because more railway cars may be added to a train as the train does not have to fit onto a ferry. The total seating capacity offered by DSB across the Great Belt on an ordinary Wednesday has risen from 11,060 seats to 37,490 seats. On Fridays the seating capacity exceeds 40,000 seats.
On the following stretches the shortest travel times are as follows: Copenhagen–Odense 1 hour 15 minutes, Copenhagen–Aarhus 2 hours 30 minutes, Copenhagen–Aalborg 3 hours 55 minutes and Copenhagen–Esbjerg 2 hours 35 minutes.
The air connection between Copenhagen and Odense has been closed down, and the train has taken a leading market share between Copenhagen and Aarhus.
From an international perspective, the link — together with the Oresund Bridge — provide a direct fixed connection between western Continental Europe and northern Scandinavia, eventually connecting all parts of the European Union except for Ireland, Malta and Cyprus and outlying islands. Most people still prefer taking the ferry between Puttgarden and Rødby, as it is a much shorter drive, and provides a needed break for those driving long distance.
For cargo trains, the fixed links mean a large improvement. Cargo trains can go between Sweden and Germany, and even between Sweden and the UK. The Sweden-to-Germany ferry system is still used to some extent, owing to limited rail capacity, with heavy passenger traffic over the bridges and some single track rail in southern Denmark and northern Germany.
For passenger trains between Copenhagen and Germany, the Great Belt is used for the night trains, which are too long to fit on the ferries. For day trains on the Copenhagen-Hamburg route the Fehmarn Belt ferries are still used, with short diesel trains.
In 2018 however, the Fehmarn Belt bridge is expected to be completed and much of this international passenger and cargo traffic would be shifted from the Great Belt Fixed Link to the Fehmarn Belt bridge. This more direct route would also have the effect of shortening the rail journey from Hamburg to Copenhagen from 4¾ to 3½ hours.
|Vehicle||One ride||One day return||Daily commuting|
|Standard car||205 DKK||360 DKK||Paid per trip via Electronic device, BroBizz, 5% discount for private use|
|Standard car||29 EUR||—||—|
|Motorcycle||110 DKK||—||Solo motorcycles only. Trailer combinations charged at 205 DKK|
|Motorhome, 6–10 m||310 DKK||N/A||—|
|Tourist bus||985 DKK||N/A||—|
Comparing with trains, shortest possible crossing of the Belt:
|Train ticket||78 DKK||156 DKK||1380 DKK/30 days|
Environmental considerations have been an integral part of the construction project of the fixed link across the Great Belt, and have been of decisive significance for the choice of alignment and determination of the design of the construction. Environmental considerations were the reason why the Great Belt A/S established an environmental monitoring programme in 1988, and initiated co-operation with authorities and external consultants on the definition of environmental concerns during the construction work and the professional requirements to the monitoring programme. This co-operation issued in a report published at the beginning of 1997 on the state of the environment in the Great Belt. The conclusion of the report was that the marine environment was at least as good as before the construction work began.
As concerns the water flows, the Great Belt Link must comply with the so-called zero-solution. This has been achieved by deepening parts of the Great Belt, so that the water flow cross section has been increased. This excavation compensates for the blocking effect caused by the bridge pylons and approach ramps. The conclusion of the report concerning the water flows is that the flow is now almost at the level it was at before the bridge was built. The fixed link across the Great Belt has generated increased road traffic volume, which in itself has meant increased air pollution. However, there has been significant savings in the energy consumption of the east-west traffic by switching from ferries to the fixed link. Train and car ferries consume much energy for propulsion. High-speed ferries consume large amounts of energy at high speeds. Also air transport is highly energy consuming. Domestic air travel over the Great Belt was greatly reduced after the opening of the bridge, with the former air travellers now using trains and private cars.
The larger energy consumption by ferry transport, as opposed to transport via the fixed link, is most clearly seen when comparing short driving distances from areas immediately east or west of the link. For more extended driving distances the difference in energy consumption is smaller, but any transport within Denmark’s borders that goes east–west across the link shows very clear energy savings.
At 19:17 on March 3 2005, the 3,500-ton freighter M/V Karen Danielsen crashed into the West bridge 800 meters from Funen. All traffic across the bridge was closed, effectively separating Denmark in two. It was re-opened shortly after midnight, after the freighter was pulled free and inspectors had found no structural damage to the bridge.
The East bridge has so far been in the clear, although on May 16, 2001, the bridge was closed for 10 minutes as the Cambodian 27,000-ton bulk carrier Bella was heading straight for one of the anchorage structures. The ship was deflected due to a swift response from the navy.
On June 5 2006, a maintenance vehicle burst into flames in the east-bound railway tunnel at about 21:30. Nobody was hurt; its crew, three men, fled to the other tunnel and escaped. The fire was put out shortly before midnight, and the vehicle was removed from the tunnel the next day. Train service resumed on June 6 at reduced speed, and normal service returned on June 12 2006.