Tuesday, November 30, 2021

European Rail Operators, Freight Forwarders and Rolling Stock Managers Launch Bitter Attack

German Multimodal Operations at a Near Standstill as Bottlenecks Grow
Shipping News Feature

GERMANY – The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), along with several other major industry players such as the European Association for Forwarding, Transport, Logistics and Customs Services (CLECAT) and the European Shippers Council (ESC) has written an open letter to the European Commission in a blistering attack regarding the parlous state of rail freight in the country at present.

The authors point out that, with six of the nine main European rail corridors passing through Germany, any works undertaken have to be handled with meticulous planning. They state that for the past two weeks very intensive construction works being undertaken on the German rail network of DB Netz, the part of Deutsche Bahn which manages track affairs, have thrown the entire system into confusion and coming to ‘a near standstill’. The cause is said to be a ‘backlog of investments’.

Many parts of the system, particularly along Rhine Alpine Rail Freight Corridor, have been unable to function efficiently and dozens of international freight trains had to be either parked and/or were ‘heavily delayed due to the inept management and lack of problem solving capacity’ by DB Netz. ERFA and the others say the result has been unnecessary bottlenecks choking the system.

All of this of course goes against the aspirations of the EU Green Deal and Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, specifically designed to make the mode more attractive and increase its market share. The current situation is producing exactly the opposite effect with loss of customer confidence with the potential to cause significant reputational and economic damage to European rail freight. It worsens existing congestion problems in European Seaports and their hinterlands and contributes to further supply chain shortages.

The combined voices of these railway undertakings, intermodal operators, shippers, freight forwarders, wagon keepers and industry associations say immediate action by DB and DB Netz is needed, and in order to ensure the good functioning of rail freight supply chains, the authors request the following actions are taken as soon as possible:

  • Better coordination at international level between the various infrastructure managers for the planning of major works and construction site planning. The tendency to split construction works in smaller pieces leads to a less integrated and less international coordination
  • Equal rights for freight and passenger train in the planning phase regarding restrictions and capacity loss. Cost-benefit analysis including the possible loss of transport capacity
  • A ‘freight reset procedure’ should be adopted under which – using additional train paths provided during the weekends – operators of regular freight trains can remedy the delays caused during the weekday construction works and thereby catch-up to begin the new week with a clean slate
  • More intensive monitoring of construction works with the primary goal to avoid timeouts
  • Clear contingency plans (material, personnel and processes) to prepare for possible disturbances
  • Establishment of a commission which involves Railway Undertakings for the approval of works that foresee disruptions of more than 50% of the rail capacity
  • Proactive and comprehensive communication at management level in the event of serious disruptions
  • Strong commitment and priority for providing alternative capacity for international rail freight services, particularly along rail freight corridors

In addition to sending the open letter to the European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, it also went out to Andreas Scheuer and Volker Wissing at the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and Frank Sennheim at DB Netz. The full transcript can be accessed HERE.