Saturday, September 9, 2017

Rail Tunnel Collapse Will Send Shockwaves Through European Freight and Logistics Community for Years

Rastatt Update as the Lawyers Begin to Circle and a Broadside from a Principal Critic
Shipping News Feature
EUROPE – The collapse of the Rastatt rail tunnel which we reported at the beginning of the month continues to have far reaching ramifications for the freight and logistics operators which rely on what may well be the most heavily used intermodal corridor in Europe. With delays for cargo units stretching to two weeks, last week members of the European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) sent an open letter to the German Minister of Transport bemoaning the complete absence of any contingency plans for such a situation and pointing out the lack of cooperation between neighbouring countries and national operators.

Chairman of the Rail Freight Group and board member of ERFA, Tony Berkeley, has been vociferous in his criticism for the abject performances of those responsible saying that the infrastructure manager, DB Netz, was like a rabbit caught in a car headlight; Guillaume Pepy, the SNCF President was on holiday, and it was left to ERFA members SBB Cargo, BLS Cargo and Hupac to demand co-ordination between the DB Netz, SNCF and OBB infrastructure and railway undertakings.

As pointed out in the ERFA letter, language is a big problem, with drivers disallowed from entering France unless they are conversant with the local tongue, and Berkeley says there are also not enough diesel locos to use on the non-electrified diversion routes finally arranged, and of course, unsurprising to any who know the industry, Deutsche Bahn ensured that most of the diversion paths available went to DB trains.

The net result is that operators who are suffering must claim compensation from DB and the German Government but Berkeley points out that these cases cannot be allowed to waste time, possibly years, in the German legal system. Meanwhile in Britain, whose rail system is often considered sadly lacking by many, there are regulations meaning compensation, dictated by the Office of Rail Regulation, can be levied against infrastructure manager Network Rail should it close a line, even if the cost runs into millions.

Such a system has the benefits of persuading the infrastructure manager to ensure lines remain open, alternative routes are made available and delays are minimised. In Germany Berkeley insists compensation should also be high enough to influence behaviour but there is no such pressure on DB Netz, perhaps since most of the trains that are delayed are operated by DB Cargo who cannot really take their own integrated infrastructure manager to court!

The entanglement of the principal German rail operator and infrastructure manager is of course one which has been commented on often before. Deutsche Bahn has been fined heavily for collusion with operators in other countries, is often criticised for flaunting EU regulations and has been accused by a positive host of transport groups of making extensive unfair and illegal financial transfers between infrastructure manager DB Netz and the German operating company. Tony Berkeley concludes:

“This failure of DB Netz to have contingency plans with other infrastructure managers, and to give their own vertically integrated operator priority on what is available just shows the mess that DB wishes to perpetuate through its continuing campaign with the Community of European Railways to retain integrated railways, where its own operator gets priority and competition is pushed to the side-lines.

”National railway fortresses are no way to encourage international traffic and improve customer service. The new German Government, in responding to this disaster caused by its own integrated railway company, should require the infrastructure manager to be completely separated from all its railway undertakings, passenger and freight, pay immediate compensation to those companies so severely affected, and make sure that, in the future, their infrastructure manager should concentrate on working with its neighbours to create a real Single Market in rail, rather than try to impose its failed policies on the rest of Europe.”

Photo: Deutsche Bahn’s first act after the collapse was to pour 2,000 cubic metres of concrete into the hole. The tunnel was initiated partly to assist with noise emanating from the rail traffic.