The aftermath of Rastatt
Rhine Valley Line reopens after repairs at the German rail network while operators affected by the crisis wrote an open letter to Brussels to learn the severe lesson for the future
German infrastructure manager DB Network restored operation on the Karlsruhe - Basle Rhine Valley Line on October 2nd following the reconstruction of a section of the line at Rastatt, seriously damaged by a landslip on August 12. The line is used by 200 freight trains a day and the collapse at Rastatt has caused huge disruption on this key north-south freight artery, with services diverted or cancelled.
The collapse was caused by groundwater entering the construction site of the new 4.27km rail tunnel being constructed beneath Rastatt.
During last 7 weeks the interruption has heavily impacted intermodal logistics beween Benelux, Germany, Switzerland and Italy: “Rastatt must never happen again!” cry altogether some 30 rail and logistics associations in an open letter sent to the European Commission and to the Transport Ministries of all European countries, urging for structural changes and processes that are needed to make intermodal logistics more robust and reliable.
“Let’s learn the lessons! The closure of a small stretch of railway line must never again lead to the chaos and wide-reaching economic damage of Rastatt. The disaster has directly exposed rail as the weak link within the integrated logistics chain. A strong transport supply system underpins vital trade relations between European countries and beyond, as well as local, national and European economies. Customer confidence in rail transport has also been damaged, jeopardising modal shift in the coming months and beyond. This must be rapidly restored if rail is to continue playing a key role in Europe’s sustainable transport system. The scale of the disruption, both in terms of duration and its impact on international services; the absence of robust international crisis management tools; the lack of viable, alternative routes, particularly on neighbouring networks, with both national obstacles and language requirements for train drivers preventing the unrestricted use of such routes, are all elements that contributed to the extensive damage and that must now be urgently addressed” wrote therail freight customers seeking support and leadership to ensure that rail is left in a stronger position, not a weaker one, from this incident.
“Lessons must be drawn, recommendations must be made and actions must be taken in order to address the challenges facing the rail sector. Rastatt disaster definitely shows the urgent need for effective international coordination of rail freight services by national ministries and infrastructure managers, with the strong support of the European Commission” continue rail freight customers, well determined to ensure rail’s strong contribution to Europe’s competitiveness, suggesting that as a first step the following structural changes, relief measures and processes are needed:
1) Risk management and contingency plans The Rastatt disruption shows that there is the need to have contingency plans based on robust risk management. For each main line, there must be pre-defined alternatives, to be elaborated and constantly updated together with railway undertakings and multimodal partners such as CT operators, rail/road terminals, private sidings, sea ports and inland shipping services.
2) Crisis management. A structure should be put in place for much-needed day-to-day coordination between national infrastructure managers, railway undertakings, terminals, private sidings, operators and customers in case of an emergency.
3) Overcoming national obstacles. Incompatibilities between and particularities of national rail systems result in a situation, as exposed by the Rastatt incident, where available capacity on the rail networks of neighbouring countries cannot be used. The interoperability of the European rail network must be strengthened.
4) International coordination of infrastructure works. Line closures or restrictions, whether planned or unplanned, must be managed in such a way that they ensure viable solutions for existing traffic and limit the negative impact on the quality of service offered to the end customer; this is still not the case today.
5) Operational cross-border management. The Rail Freight Corridors are an excellent basis for international cooperation on rail freight services, but today they lack essential operational competences to ensure competitive rail services.
6) Incentives to minimise the impact of disruptions on rail services. The infrastructure Manager must be incentivised financially to ensure better planning of infrastructure works and to find solutions that minimise impact on rail services and therefore limit the economic impact on their own organisation.
7) A rail platform. The Rastatt disaster has exposed weaknesses in rail as part of the integrated logistics chain. Effective coordination of the follow-up is needed in order not to miss the opportunity to make changes.
8) Immediate relief for the sector. The interruption for almost two months of normal rail freight services on Europe’s main North-South artery has had an enormous economic impact on rail freight logistics. Costs for the sector have simply increased, with no change in their fixed costs, whilst no compensation has so far been received, with the exception of Switzerland’s announcement to partly compensate. This situation increases the vulnerability of the sector, particularly for the smaller companies unable to absorb the costs.