August 25, 2017

Rastatt closure impacts Swiss freight operators

Written by  Anitra Green
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The damaged track at Rastatt. The damaged track at Rastatt.

THE temporary closure of the Karlsruhe - Basle section of the Rotterdam - Genoa freight corridor following a major landslip at Rastatt on August 12, caused by water entering the new tunnel, is having a major impact on Swiss rail freight operators.

Operators have been busy finding out alternative routes including other means of transport, but there is widespread criticism that Germany has no Plan B for such an eventuality on this critical route, which carries around 200 freight trains a day.

SBB Cargo and SBB Cargo International, which operate about 600 freight trains a week, say that their entire system is affected. SBB Cargo is diverting trains via Schaffhausen, Singen and Stuttgart, with 24-hour operation at the Schaffhausen terminal and trains running through the night. Engineering work on the line has now been partly suspended to accommodate the extra traffic. SBB is also exploring alternative routes through France and Germany, and has transferred part of its freight to Rhine barges.
For BLS Cargo, 140 out of the weekly total of 400 freight trains are affected, and BLS is looking at alternative routes through France as well as barge services.

The port of Switzerland in Basle says that Contargo and Swissterminal, the two leading handling companies, have introduced 24-hour operation, with Contargo doubling its service from Rotterdam from three to six barges a week. This tri-modal port is also looking at other options. “This incident clearly shows that all modes of transport are needed (Rhine, rail, road, air) to ensure that supply lines are maintained in an occurrence like this,” says the port of Switzerland.

Swiss intermodal operator Hupac reports that 70% of its business is affected, with serious consequences for supply lines to end-users, involving 155 trains per direction per week. Hupac has now worked out alternatives for at least 50% of its services, with diversions via Stuttgart, the Brenner, Tarvisio and France, as well as diverting some traffic to barge services.

Operators are incurring additional costs due to the diversions, particularly where they are using longer routes through Austria. Whether any compensation will be paid is a moot point.

Work to stabilise the tunnel damaged by the earth movements involves a section of the tunnel being filled with concrete. This will bury one of the boring machines which would otherwise take too long to dismantle. A 120m section of the line is being completely cleared of ballast, rails and catenary so that a 1m-thick concrete slab can be installed as a base, with the track being relaid on top. The terrain in this part of the Rhine valley is challenging, with the ground water only 3m below the surface. DB Network expects to reopen the line at Rastatt on October 7.

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