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Stuttgart railway project hits the buffers

BERLIN, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Plans to turn Stuttgart's main train station into a state-of-the-art transport hub for the industrial region are two years behind schedule, state rail operator Deutsche Bahn said on Friday, calling for a cost and timeline update.

The project to rebuild the central railway station from a terminus into an underground through station was started in 1994. But planning delays and protests meant construction only began in 2010.

The station, serving the home of industrial giants like Mercedes-maker Daimler, was scheduled to open in 2021, but Deutsche Bahn said it was 24 months behind despite efforts to speed up work in recent months.

The Stuttgart delays come as Germany grapples with improving its infrastructure. A planned new airport for the capital Berlin, another high-profile project, is years behind schedule.

Businesses and the International Monetary Fund have warned that without increased investment, decaying infrastructure could become a drag on growth.

According to the European Commission, Germany's railway and road infrastructure, while still among Europe's best, has deteriorated in quality since 2013, in part reflecting reflecting inadequate investment.

Critics say that the insistence of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative government on targeting a balanced budget at all costs have come at the cost of infrastructure decline.

The parties that are negotiating to form the next government after this month's national election have all said they are minded to chart a tight fiscal course.

The costs of the Stuttgart project are currently estimated at 6.5 billion euros ($7.54 billion), to be shared by Deutsche Bahn, the local and federal governments, and Stuttgart Airport.

Deutsche Bahn said it had commissioned a review of the timeline and costs which would be presented to its supervisory board in December.

Originally due to open in 2011, the planned Berlin airport is years behind schedule and still has no fixed opening date, although owners hope construction can be finished next year.

The delay is also one of the reasons behind the collapse of Air Berlin, which filed for insolvency in August and operates its final flight on Friday.

While also delayed by three years, Hamburg's Elbe Philharmonic concert hall did successfully open this year. ($1 = 0.8623 euros) (Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Thomas Escritt Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)