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Rail operators want compensation for Rhine Valley closure

BRUSSELS: November 27, 2017. Three European rail freight associations want DB Netz, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, to pay customers full compensation caused by the recent seven-week closure of the Rhine Valley freight corridor connecting Northern Europe with Italy via Switzerland.

In September, 20 rail and logistics organizations wrote to EU Transport commissioner Violeta Bulec and Transport ministers in eight Northern Europe countries, saying the line closure at Rastatt, Germany due to flooding caused by tunnel construction would cost the intermodal rail industry billions of euro.

The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), the Network of European Railways (NEE) and the International Union for Road-Rail Combined Transport (UIRR), now want DB Netz to acknowledge full liability for the loss of business "and to propose a clear, fair and easy structured financial settlement of the Rastatt incident within a short time".

Rastatt DBAll three organizations say DB Netz "has a clear responsibility and liability" to customers who base their business on the assumption "of unhindered access to a rail infrastructure".

Noting DB Netz was responsible for the construction work at Rastatt and the subsequent risks, the rail associations claim the company decided on a course of remedial action without consulting anyone about the subsequent operational and financial damage to the European industrial supply chain.

"The freight sector expects a major contribution by DB Netz to rebuild the lost trust and to support the extra efforts in convincing customers that rail is still a reliable partner in the supply chain," they declared in a joint staement.

"The DB Netz incident in Rastatt has made 2017 a black year for European rail freight, both operationally and financially," claimed the alliance.  "The lack of contingency plans and incompatible, underperforming re-routing options caused significant damage to the whole value chain of rail freight transportation as well as to the industries that have entrusted their volumes to the ecologically sustainable rail system," it added.

ERFA, NEE and UIRR are proposing the European Commission implement five steps to avoid a similar event in future: strengthen international freight traffic operations; introduce risk management and contingency plans; create reserve capacities and interconnect rail freight corridors; overcome the current language obstacle to flexible railway production; and improve international crisis management in case of future disruptions.

Deutsche Bahn, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and the Rhine-Alps Corridor responded to the proposals saying they would set up an international incident management system "to minimize the effects of [future] major disruptions; work to create the framework conditions for a more flexible production including finding ways to overcome language barriers; and explore "diverging regulations that complicate the cross-border use of personnel and trains".

Commenting on the effects of the Rastatt closure, head of Germany's Pro-Rail Alliance Dirk Flege said: "The government is now paying the price for having been stingy with upgrades to the rail network over the last few decades.

"We would wish that the federal transport minister understood his role as that of a crisis coordinator for the rail freight operators in Germany and in other European countries, which would help them to overcome this line closure and survive economically," Flege continued.

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