Monday, April 23, 2018

Rastatt Rail Tunnel Report Highlights Intermodal Freight Losses and Calls for Change

Damage to Trade from Tunnel Collapse Estimated at Two Billion Euros
Shipping News Feature
GERMANY – EUROPE – The damage to a mere 150 metres of rail track in the Rastatt Tunnel last August led to unprecedented delays and confusion for freight transport spanning several countries and revealing the weaknesses of a track borne cargo transport system in which railway companies working in a supposedly unified market, were actually operating in different languages precluding the use of drivers internationally, with no suitable diversionary routes and lacking any sort of acceptable crisis management system. Changes were immediately called for.

Now the chief critics of the disaster and its aftermath have released a commissioned report which evaluates the economic damage incurred by determining the value-added losses for the manufacturing and service sectors and concluding these amount to over €2 billion. The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), Netzwerk Europäischer Eisenbahnen (NEE) and the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR) have jointly published a study undertaken by the Hanseatic Transport Consultancy (HTC). This shows only 33% of the scheduled freight traffic was able to operate on a line which could have hosted 8,262 trains under normal conditions during the same period.

Beyond the economic losses caused to rail freight stakeholders and their customers the complainants state that considerable damages were also incurred in terms of modal shift, loss in traffic and confidence in the reliability of the entire rail freight sector. Ralf-Charley Schultze, President of UIRR, highlighted that the confidence of the market players in rail freight and Combined Transport can only be restored by adopting adequate European-level contingency management procedures, which must include a financial instrument to immediately assist stakeholders with the extra costs of impact-mitigation measures.

Schultze asserted that the operators of rail freight transport chains are not capitalised to underwrite these kinds of expenses over a prolonged period. This was backed up by Carole Coune, Acting Secretary General of ERFA who pointed out that European freight railway undertakings were operationally and financially heavily harmed and are not able to bear these types of losses. The ERFA is urging that compensation claims are resolved and paid quickly.

This being done Ms Coune said the focus can then be on ensuring that any future incidents do not have the same consequences or impact on competitiveness when set against road haulage. The development of contingency plans and improved performance by rail Infrastructure Managers, with a focus on cross-border movements must be the positive outcome which arises from this hugely disruptive incident and she confirmed this is a top priority for the ERFA.

The study quantifies that two billion euros thus: €969 million losses by rail logistics companies such as intermodal operators, local strategic partnerships and railway undertakings; €771 million by manufacturing industries and €308 million by related entities such as infrastructure managers and terminal operators.

Peter Westenberger, Managing Director of NEE says his concern is that the whole incident will be quickly forgotten and warned against dismissing it too hastily saying the handbook drafts a list of correct, but incomplete proposals. He says it is for national infrastructure managers to put things into practice. He is concerned that important demands from the rail logistics sector have not been included or implemented, particularly the cross-border coordination of construction work in the networks, compensation costs in case of diversions, and the development and extension of parallel routes so that rail traffic can continue to run in the event of an accident or construction works.

Westenberger points out that every single day of standstill during the Rastatt incident caused damages of around 40 million euros throughout Europe. Therefore, it must be the priority that an incident comparable to Rastatt will never happen again.