Rastatt - rail freight operators up in arms

Over 25 rail freight organisations have written an "open letter" to the European transport authorities scathing about their "complacency" and demanding the urgent formation of a transnational task force to alleivate the situation.

The letter is addressed to federal German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt and to the EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc, with copies to the head of the EU Agency for Railways Josef Doppelbauer and the transport ministers of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, France, Luxemburg and Austria.

The Rhine valley railways will be interrupted for almost two months because of the Rastatt construction site accident, near Karlsruhe, in August.

By the time the route is reopened - the announced date is 7 October 2017 - railway logistics will have suffered immense damage, says the letter.

It states:

  • For the 200 freight trains a day that usually run in the Rhine valley in September, there is in theory diversion capacity for 150 freight trains via Stuttgart-Singen, Brenner and Alsace according to the infrastructure managers.
  • The Rhine valley line is the main line for intermodal traffic in Europe. Around 50% of the trade between Northern Europe and Italy via Switzerland is normally performed by intermodal transport on this axis.
  • At present, the freight railways can manage only 25% of the normal volumes on the re-routings via Germany, France and Austria.
  • Intermodal transport is particularly disadvantaged: the diversion volumes of this strongest market segment reach less than 15% of its habitual volume.

The lack of locomotive drivers in the Brenner and Alsace region is the main reason why most of these capacities are not used even three weeks after the disruption.

Because of the difficult operational conditions of the diversions via Stuttgart-Singen, the majority of the trains have to be cancelled or run with extreme delays of several days.

To alleviate the situation, the operators are demanding:

  • Establishment of a task force at ministerial and/or EU level with crisis competencies, including the infrastructure managers.
  • Support to the railway undertakings to perform short-term reinforcement of the driver pool on the diversion lines via Brenner, France, Stuttgart-Singen-Schaffhausen area by releases in favour of freight traffic: by this measure the diversion capacity can be increased from 20% today to 50-60% within 2-3 days.
  • Simplified operating procedures on the re-routing lines, with the coordination of ERA European Union Agency for Railways.
  • Examination of exceptional, temporary measures to support the freight companies that are directly affected by the Rastatt interruption and that face severe existential problems.
  • Implementation of a special commission for the short-term review of the largest and most serious freight traffic blockade in recent decades, including contingency plans, construction site planning, prioritisation of traffic, etc. Rastatt must never happen again!