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Freight operators reschedule to avoid Rastatt tunnel collapse

21 Aug 2017

EUROPE: Rail freight operators are working to implement diversionary routes for north-south intermodal traffic, after German infrastructure manager DB Netze confirmed that the key Karlsruhe – Basel section of Rhine-Alpine Rail Freight Corridor 1 would remain closed for an estimated six weeks following a tunnel collapse at Rastatt on August 12.

Problems with boring work for a new freight bypass as part of the Rhein Valley quadrupling project caused ‘serious deformation’ to the existing tracks, which subsided by half a metre, as well as affecting nearby buildings. Initial estimates suggested that the line could be reopened in around two weeks, but DB Netze now says it is likely to remain closed until the end of September.

While passengers are being bussed around the closed section, alternative routes must be found for the 170 to 200 freight trains which typically pass through Rastatt each day. According to intermodal operators’ association UIRR, neither of the two alternative routes proposed has sufficient capacity. The electrified Stuttgart – Singen route is only partially double track and also affected by engineering work, while the other is a single-track secondary line and sufficient diesel traction is not available at short notice.

Some traffic can be rerouted via the North Sea – Mediterranean Corridor 2 and Scan-Med Corridor 3, but both of these suffer from loading gauge and train length restrictions.

Swiss intermodal operator Hupac, which normally runs 155 trains a week via Rastatt, expects to be able to provide around 50% of its normal capacity. It is planning to run 41 trains via Stuttgart and eight via München and the Brenner corridor, and is also looking at sending some traffic via Salzburg and Tarvisio. To the west, Hupac has agreed paths for five trains per week via the Sibelit corridor through France, but it is also resorting to barging traffic between Worms and Basel. BLS Cargo reports that it has been working to find crews and motive power to reroute some services via France and others via Singen.

UIRR says the disruption at Rastatt comes on top of ‘a summer of rail infrastructure misery’, noting that ‘extensive and often unco-ordinated works’ on different networks had already been causing excessive disruption to the continent’s principal north-south rail freight axis. More than 10% of intermodal trains in June and July had to be cancelled because of the works, undermining market confidence and causing ‘significant losses’ for many of its members. It points out that longer journey times mean that the available rolling stock cannot be used to operate as many trips as normal. Noting that extensive engineering blockades are envisaged on the Baltic-Adriatic Corridor 5 in Austria, Germany and Italy during 2018, UIRR is already concerned that ‘these works and the contingency arrangements around them appear insufficient and largely unco-ordinated’.

UIRR President Ralf-Charley Schultze says Europe’s rail sector needs ‘to improve its processes and procedures’ and ‘enhance the resilience of rail transport’, including better cross-border co-ordination of engineering, which remains ‘particularly weak’, despite the Rotterdam Ministerial Declaration and Sector Statement of June 2016. The association is calling on EU member states to ensure that long-distance freight trains are given preference over passenger traffic in such circumstances, given the relative ease of bussing passengers.