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The question is already in the title, but I guess some context might be interesting:

I'm living in Munich (Germany). It is the area in Germany which is probably most expensive to live. Even the surrounding area is way more expensive. Building higher is only partially possible due to construction regulations (e.g. in the center nothing is allowed to be higher than the Frauenkirche; roughly 100m).

Most desired are the areas close to S-train stations, especially close to the ones that are highly frequented (I'd guess about one train every 2 minutes or so).

Almost at the center, there are buildings next to the train tracks. For example the Munich Google office. However, I have never seen buildings over the tracks (except for bridges). And the tracks cover a lot of space which is super central. To give you an impression, look at the screenshot below:

  • North of the tracks, east of the yellow-colored bridge, you can see the Google office. the building isn't huge, but it's not small either.
  • The big building in the top of the screenshot is Paketposthalle. It covers an area of 20.000 m².
  • We're talking about 2200 EUR/m² to 4200 EUR/m² (source)

enter image description here

For this reason, I wonder why I haven't seen any buildings directly over train tracks. Is insulation against the noise the problem? Is safety a problem, e.g. if a train derails? Is it the vibrations that might damage the house? Building safety exits? Is there not enough area below where one could build the support structures for the building?

There are way more expensive areas around the world than Munich. I guess Hong Kong / Tokyo / Shanghai might be one extreme example. Do they have buildings over train tracks? I'm not talking about underground ... but thinking about it, I'm not quite sure if there would be a difference if the city grows over the train tracks.

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    $\begingroup$ Noise, safety, vibration are all valid issues. You have answered the question. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Dec 20 '19 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ But are they equally difficult? Especially for noise, I guess the work-arounds are comparatively cheap (having thicker walls / a "floating floor"; triple-glass windows are pretty amazing - I was once in a house directly next to a highway and you couldn't hear anything of that when the windows were closed) $\endgroup$ – Martin Thoma Dec 20 '19 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I guess there are houses which are build over train tracks. So those counter-examples might indicate how expensive it is / at which price per m² it becomes a valid option. $\endgroup$ – Martin Thoma Dec 20 '19 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ There's an element of, it's only done when absolutely necessary. If diesel powered trains are used the exhaust will be an issue, particularly if the rail lines are completely covered creating a tunnel. The wider the zone of rail lies the more difficult & expensive it would be. Another issue would be if the ground is "soft" it may not have the bearing capacity to tolerate concentrated loads from the walls of the enclosing structure (tunnel) that the houses would be built on. $\endgroup$ – Fred Dec 20 '19 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ A better solution would be to put the rail lines underground (in a tunnel) and then put houses on the land where the rail lines were. $\endgroup$ – Fred Dec 20 '19 at 19:33
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Basically you'd first need to wrap a tunnel around a working track with the least amount of interruption, with all the access, egress, safety Mesures, utilities, drainage, etc. And then try to create a new city grid of roads, buildings, utilities over it.

It will be impossibly expensive, and very disruptive to daily life of people in the neighborhood.

As a rule of thumb, demolishing something and building from scratch is always much easier and cost-effective than trying to work around an existing, working project.

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  • $\begingroup$ Having the trains down in a hole (effectively, even if not literally) would also make their maintenance much more expensive. Even if everything were government-owned and controlled by the same ministry, the people in charge of taking care of the trains and the tracks would be pointing this out, probably loudly. $\endgroup$ – TimWescott Dec 20 '19 at 21:53
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Check out Wien Franz Josefsbahnhof. From the German Wikipedia:

Die letzten Gebäude auf dieser Überplattung wurden Anfang der 1990er Jahre fertiggestellt, vor allem das sogenannte Universitätszentrum Althanstraße (UZA) mit dem ehemaligen Standort der Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (UZA 1) sowie den bestehenden Geowissenschafts-, Pharmazie- und Biologieinstituten der Universität Wien (UZA 2-5).

or, in English:

The latest buildings to be built on that superstructure were built at the beginning of the 1990s, among them the so-called University Centre Althanstraße (UZA) housing departments of Vienna's University of Economics (UZA 1) as well as geoscience, pharmaceutical and biology departments of the University of Vienna (UZA 2-5).

They are quite unhappy with these buildings, but only because they were built shoddily back then. I studied there when I was younger - no problem with the trains below.

I'm sure there are many more places where buildings are erected over railways.

Edit: I tried to find more information. It seems that the idea of superstructures - "Überplattung" (as it is called in Austria) or "Überbauung" (general German term) - was en vogue in D/A/CH from the 1970s onwards to maybe the 1990s, but then fell out of favor - I do not know why, but most publications are from before 2000. There are a few remarks in this century about Stuttgart 21 (that that would have been a possibility to keep the older tracks), Regensburg and some places in Austria - but none of these is more than an idea.

Strange ...

... the railways don't seem to have big reservations; check out e.g. the parking deck in Krems a.d. Donau (Lower Austria) which is built squarely over the station tracks - which do have quite some shunting for the nearby Danube harbor.

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Who owns the land the tracks are running on? In North America, I would refer to the land as the Rail Operator's Right of Way. I would hazard a guess that most rail companies want to just focus on the business of running trains and for the most part are not that interested in real estate that does not pertain to them. Building a building over tracks will usually involve some sort of disruption to rail operations. When material falls off buildings (eg falling concrete) its a potential hazard for track operation. When it comes time to replace the building, demolition plans will most likely disrupt rail service again. While admittedly deals can be struct with the Right of Way Owners that would generated another revenue stream for them, it may not always be in their interest as it takes focus away from running trains.

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