Shippers and freight operators complain to EU ministers over ‘Rastatt emergency’
Shipper and freight representatives have written to European transport ministers calling for urgent action to address the “Rastatt emergency” and its effects on European logistics flows.
Representatives said the disruption of the Rhine-Alpine Freight Corridor in Rastatt near Karlsruhe in southwest Germany was “causing immense damage to the rail logistics sector”. In an open letter signed by around 20 transport associations to the German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt and to the EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc, copied to the transport ministries of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, France, Luxemburg and Austria, the representatives highlighted European intermodal traffic as being “particularly disadvantaged” by current rail disruption, with only 15% of its “habitual volume” accommodated by alternative routings.
Representatives including the European Shippers’ Council and European Association for forwarding, transport, logistics and customs services (Clecat) stressed that the Rhine valley line was “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.”
They told European ministers: “The Rhine valley railways will be interrupted for almost two months because of the Rastatt construction site accident. Once the route is reopened the announced date of 7 October 2017, railway logistics will have suffered immense damage.
Outlining the the situation currently facing shippers and freight operators, the representatives said that 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.
“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.”
They said a lack of locomotive drivers in the Brenner and Alsace region was “the main reason why most of these capacities are not used - even three weeks after the disruption, adding: “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.”
As a consequence, they said “the European system of rail logistics is about to collapse”, noting: “The transhipment terminals of intermodal transport along the Rhine Alpine Corridor are congested with containers and are refusing to accept additional loading units. Supply shortages and production stops have already occurred in large numbers of plants north and south of the Alps - a very large number of production sites are about to come to a standstill.
The representatives said that decades of investments in the European intermodal rail system was being be damaged or destroyed, along with “damages running into billions arise for the economy, for industry, for the railways, operators and transport companies.
“Part of the rail traffic will be lost to the road, and it will not be possible to win it back for years. The EU modal shift aims are endangered.”
They said the Rastatt disruption and the current crisis management was “a perfect example of what is wrong with European rail freight transportation”, explaining: “On important freight transport corridors, there are not enough diversion routes that are planned as stand-by and that can be readily used in case of traffic disruptions. A transnational corridor perspective for infrastructure planning and management is still very basic.
“There is no international coordination of construction sites on the railway infrastructure. Alternative and diversion routes that are suitable for freight traffic were partially or completely closed during the construction of the risky tunnelling in Rastatt because of other construction works.”
The representatives pointed out that “national railway particularities make it difficult to divert to lines of other countries. German-speaking train drivers, for example, cannot be deployed on the diversion lines via France.”
They added: “There is no structure for international crisis management in rail freight transport. The much needed day-to-day coordination between national infrastructure managers, railways, terminals and operators is extremely slow and inefficient.”
In terms of what must now happen in the short term, they said: “It is still unclear for many railway experts to understand why the total closure of the line could not have been avoided or significantly shortened by the building of a temporary, single track replacement line immediately after the damage of the Rhine valley line due to construction works.
“In order to avoid the blackout of the system and a permanent loss of trust of the market, the following measures are needed:
1. Establishment of a task force at ministerial and/or EU level with crisis competencies, including the infrastructure managers.
2. 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.
3. Simplified operating procedures on the re-routing lines, with the coordination of ERA European Union Agency for Railways.
4. Examination of exceptional, temporary measures to support the freight companies that are directly affected by the Rastatt interruption and that face severe existential problems.
5. 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.”
The representatives concluded: “Europe relies on the railways as the eco-friendly mode of transport of the future. Hoping not to lose our chance of guaranteeing a competitive railway logistics, we rely on your full support. Together, we are committed to make rail logistics work also in this emergency situation.”