September 14, 2017

Rastatt calamity underlines need for track and train separation

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THE closure of the north-south corridor in Rastatt, Germany, is a disaster for rail freight on perhaps the most heavily-used intermodal corridor in Europe. According to operators, only 15% of the normal 200 intermodal trains per day can operate on diversion routes.

Some trains are delayed two weeks; customers are furious with German Rail (DB) for not having contingency plans (as required under Article 54 of Directive 2012/34/EU) worked out with neighbouring infrastructure managers such as SNCF Network and ÖBB infrastructure.

DB Networks was like a rabbit caught in car headlights; Mr Guillaume Pepy, the French National Railways (SNCF) president was on holiday and it was left to European Rail Freight Association (ERFA) members SBB Cargo, BLS Cargo and Hupac to demand co-ordination between DB Networks, SNCF and OBB infrastructure and train operators.

There is no relaxation of the language rule in France, there are not enough diesel locomotives to use on the non-electrified diversion routes finally arranged, and of course, DB ensured that most of the diversion paths available went to DB trains.

So, the other operators are suffering very badly; they must claim compensation from DB and the German government and insist that this does not get bogged down in the German courts for years. After all, in Britain, if Network Rail (NR) closes a line, it has to pay compensation on terms dictated by the Office of Rail Regulation, often running into many millions.

And the compensation must be high enough to influence behaviour; in Britain it does incentivise NR to speed up work; in Germany, any compensation does not seem to have the same effect on DB Networks, 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 failure of DB Networks to have contingency plans in place 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 and Infrastructure Managers (CER) to retain integrated railways, where its own operator gets priority and competition is pushed to the sidelines.

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.

Tony Berkeley

Lord Tony Berkeley is chairman of the Rail Freight Group, the representative body of Britain's railfreight industry which includes 150 companies covering logistics, train operations, terminals, and infrastructure managers. He is also a board member of the European Rail Freight Association, the grouping of private operators and other companies promoting European railfreight. Berkeley sits in Britain's House of Lords, where he was an opposition transport spokesperson in 1996-97, and is secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group. Berkeley was public affairs manager of Eurotunnel from 1981 until the end of construction of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, and is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, fellow of the Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics, and an honorary fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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