EUROPE: ‘The European system of rail logistics is about to collapse’, warned more than 20 trade bodies on September 4 in an open letter to European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and German Federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt. The letter was copied to seven other transport ministers and Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director of the European Agency for Railways.

The letter was issued by associations including the European Rail Freight Association, logistics body CLECAT and the International Union of Wagon Keepers. It urged action to mitigate the effects on rail freight and the wider logistics sector of the blockage to the Rhein Valley main lien by the tunnel collapse at Rastatt, south of Karlsruhe in western Germany, on August 12, which has blocked European Freight Corridor 1 until October 7, according to infrastructure manager DB Netz.

The associations said that by that date, railway logistics will have suffered ‘immense damage’. The letter disputes the claim made by railway infrastructure managers that 150 of the 200 daily freight trains that usually use the Rhein corridor could be re-routed via various routes including Stuttgart and Singen in Germany, the Brenner corridor in Austria and the Alsace region of France. The letter asserts that in practice only a quarter are being successfully diverted, and for intermodal traffic the associations claim this figure is just 15%.

According to the letter, one major problem in diverting trains is a lack of available and qualified drivers for the alternative routes, along with national rules which, for example, prevent German-speaking drivers operating trains in France.

The associations propose a series of short-term measures to try to mitigate the crisis. These include:

  • establishment of a task force at ministerial and/or EU level with crisis competencies, which includes infrastructure managers;
  • provision of support to operators to perform short-term reinforcement of the driver pool on the diversionary routes;
  • simplification of operating procedures on diversionary routes, co-ordinated by ERA;
  • implementation of a special commission for ‘the short-term review of the largest and most serious freight traffic blockade in recent decades’.