Rhine Alpine rail route reopening early

Rhine Alpine rail route reopening early

Repair work on the Rastatt section of the Rhine Alpine rail route will be completed early. Credit: DB

The crucial north-south Rhine Alpine rail corridor will be reopened on Oct. 2, five days earlier than anticipated and offering a modicum of relief for shippers struggling to find alternatives during the busy post-summer season.

Deutsche Bahn said the cooperation between several rail operators would enable the full length of the Rhine Valley railway line, or Rheintalbahn, to be opened before the scheduled date of Oct. 7.

"In such a difficult situation, every day counts for our customers in the freight and passenger transportation sectors. It is therefore reassuring that we will complete the work earlier than expected," said Ronald Pofalla, Deutsche Bahn board member for infrastructure.

On August 12 work on the new Rastatt Tunnel freight bypass caused the track through the Rhine Valley to subside by half a meter (1.6 feet) between Karlsruhe in Germany and Basel in Switzerland, making the route unsuitable for rail traffic. This immediately blocked the way for more than 100 trains a day, forcing cargo shippers to scramble for alternatives, which were themselves limited because of widespread maintenance work by rail operator Deutsche Bahn and its subsidiary DB Netz.  

Godfried Smit, European Shippers' Council policy manager for inland transport and trade facilitation, said it was costing ESC members an additional €100 to €150 ($120 to $180) per TEU to transport containers affected by the route closure.

“It is difficult for shippers to find solutions because of all the maintenance work on the other routes, and if you have to suddenly buy transport on the spot market it is more expensive than the prices you will have had on longer-term contracts,” he said.

Executives from the major rail companies of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and France agreed to cooperate to minimize the impact of rail freight looking for alternative routes to the Rhine Alpine link. The rail freight operators have thrown additional locomotives and drivers into a joint pool to handle an anticipated sharp increase in freight traffic on the north-south corridor. This has enabled the reopening date for the Rhine Alpine route, originally scheduled for Oct. 7, to be brought forward by five days.

Freight traffic traditionally increases strongly on the north-south corridor at the end of the holiday season.

Deutsche Bahn said organizing replacement services for freight transportation would remain one of its major tasks until the line reopens. Relieving some of the pressure has been the early reopening of the Stuttgart-Hattingen line on Sept. 7.

An estimated 70 additional train drivers are working in freight transport, primarily on routes to Italy via France and southern Germany. Some drivers have also joined Deutsche Bahn from rail companies in neighboring countries.

“The challenge is that not only do these drivers need to have the requisite knowledge about our vehicles and routes, they must also have the relevant language skills,” Deutsche Bahn said.

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.