Friday, September 1, 2017

German Rail Tunnel Collapse Harms Freight Deliveries and May Spark Huge Potential Claims

Possible Ramifications for UK HS2 Development
Shipping News Feature
GERMANY – UK – The collapse of the new rail tunnel at Rastatt on August 12 as it was being bored has caused major interruptions to freight traffic after the subsidence of the ground above dropped track levels by up to half a metre resulting in major deforming of sections of track which normally see up to 200 freight trains pass over daily. Now the Chairman of the Rail Freight Group and board member of the European Rail Freight Association, Tony Berkeley says the problem has ramifications for Britain's oft maligned HS2 project.

The tunnel collapse happened after water and earth fell into the new passageway, the tunnel was being constructed using a method whereby the ground has to be deep frozen and some authorities are theorising that the technique was afflicted by the high summer temperatures. Repairs are now expected to take into the first week of October and all talk now is of compensation claims which, considering the ramifications so far, are likely to be extensive.

The problem really only afflicts freight traffic in any major way with a bus service shifting passenger traffic around the damaged section, whilst a statement from DB Netze, the German infrastructure group, confirmed the long delays affecting this key Karlsruhe – Basel section of Rhine-Alpine Rail Freight Corridor 1. There have been a rash of submission stops, suspending track borne container traffic on various routes, including even extending to cargo in boxes and on semi-trailers to the northern Italian cities of Busto Arsizio and Novara by the Rail Service Centre based at the Port of Rotterdam.

These extensive suspensions illustrate what a key route the affected line is. Submission stops are not something anyone in the industry takes lightly, the Rotterdam suspension was forced by the number of cargo units blocking the freight terminal and freight entering has had to be banned, whilst currently nobody seemingly has any idea how long this situation may last. The bans mean extra pressure on routes between Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg to Italy and Switzerland and reports are that many of these services are becoming overloaded.

The major problem now is, as a result of these submission stops, and we believe the current level to be unprecedented, there will be a loss to terminals and carriers of millions of euros. There are reports that, in Rotterdam for example, there is a problem of where to park an excess of semi-trailers, cargo units which of course unlike containers, cannot be stacked. Deutsche Bahn and the Hochtief and Zublin consortium responsible for the Rastatt development seem to be in the firing line for the vast number of claims likely to arise and will doubtless be shuffling through their insurance policies to ensure they are fully covered.

For traffic that is being rerouted, the nature of rail freight claims is normally a case of mitigation by paying for the cheapest possible route, therefore diverted trains would normally be invoiced at the rate for the original direct route rather than any more expensive diversions. Deutsche Bahn has said it is speeding up work currently being undertaken between Stuttgart and Hattingen to transfer trains currently having to use the Neckar-Alb Railway line.

So how is this catastrophe viewed in the UK with the already controversial HS2 development due to proceed? Tony Berkeley says the problem is an object lesson for engineers working on the British development. A look at the plans shows HS2 engineers are planning an even larger cavern for HS2 underground junctions just under the six track approaches to Euston and this should serve as a warning. Tony Berkeley concludes:

”[This situation is] not good for DB Netz’s reputation or for the rail freight sector. Some people blame the hot weather that made ground freezing more difficult, some blame the contractor and some DB Netz, the infrastructure manager. Could it have been avoided? A full inquiry will hopefully provide an explanation.”

Photo: Contractors have filled the collapsed tunnel with concrete as an emergency measure.