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Europe’s intermodal rail network loses billions

BRUSSELS: September 05, 2017. Over 20 European rail and logistics organizations are warning Europe's intermodal network is "about to collapse" following the closure of the Rhine Valley freight corridor connecting Northern Europe with Italy via Switzerland.

In an open letter to EU Transport commissioner Violeta Bulec and Transport ministers in eight Northern Europe countries, the organizations say the closure of the line at Rastatt, Germany due to subsidence and subsequent flooding during tunnel construction, will cost the intermodal rail industry billions of euro by the time the line is reopened on October 07.

Rastatt According to the industry groups, around 50 percent of the trade between Northern Europe and Italy is carried via 200 intermodal trains a day passing through the Rhine Valley.

As a result of the closure at Rastatt, only 25 percent of the volume is re-routing via Germany, France and Austria and intermodal traffic is now 15 percent of its normal level.

The letter to Bulec said this has resulted in container congestion at transshipment terminals along the Rhine Alpine Corridor; supply chain disruption in plants north and south of the Alps – "with a very large number of production sites about to come to a standstill;" an increasing modal switch from rail back to road that will take years to reverse; and decades of investments in the railway system damaged or destroyed.

"The Rastatt disruption and the current crisis management is a perfect example of what is wrong with European rail freight transportation," said the letter that pointed out the lack of diversion routes in case of traffic disruptions; the inability to switch drivers from one national train operator to another; no international coordination of construction sites; and no international crisis management for the European rail network.

Noting the construction chaos at Rastatt could have been avoided, the organizations are calling on Bulec and her country peers to establish a task force at ministerial or EU level; add more drivers on the diversion lines to increase rail capacity from 20 to 60 percent; simplify operating procedures on the re-routing lines; support freight companies that are directly affected by the Rastatt interruption; and set up a special commission to make sure the current rail closure never happens again.

Deutsche Bahn said it was resolving the line closure by pouring concrete into the tunnel under the line, dismantling 150 meters of overhead line, removing tracks, ties and ballast, and installing a 120 meters long, one meter thick concrete slab to stabilize the ground, provide structural support, and serve as the foundation for new tracks.

Dirk Rompf, member of the management board of DB Netz and responsible for large-scale projects declared: "We are confident that work will be completed on schedule and want passenger and freight service on this heavily traveled section to be restored."

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