Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Intermodal Freight Stakeholders Gather to Discuss Disruption to Rail Cargo and Possible Solutions

Aftershocks from Rastatt Rail Tunnel Collapse Lingers On
Shipping News Feature
GERMANY – SWITZERLAND – EUROPE – The disastrous rail tunnel collapse at Rastatt in August prompted Swiss based intermodal operator Hupac to organise a forum this month, ‘Rastatt: never again’, which was attended by many senior stakeholders from the European rail freight industry and led by some heavyweight speakers, including the CEO of DB Netz, the company many present blamed for the appalling ongoing disruption to cargo following the accident.

So far the only thing which has mitigated the collapse was the fact nobody was injured, but those present at the forum, held on December 6 in Düsseldorf’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, were in the mood to tell Frank Sennhenn from DB Netz, the boss of the company responsible for all German rail infrastructure, exactly what they thought of the lack of preparation for such an incident, and to ask what was he going to do to ensure such a situation never arose again.

Collectively many of those affected are looking to the Deutsche Bahn subsidiary to stump up for the costs and delays they and their customers have incurred due to the lack of preparation for such an occasion. Wim Blomme of P&O Ferrymasters asked:

“Where are the contingency plans for rail, where is the agility required to support the supply chain at all times? When incidents happen, the persons responsible should not shy away from assuming their responsibility so that confidence can be restored.”

Rastatt caused 7 weeks of unprecedented delays for intermodal traffic across Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Benelux countries and, in response, the DB Netz executive acknowledged the problems both economic and organisational which it had engendered. He promised that teams of national incident managers would be trained and established to deal with any future problems, with plans in place for diversions and revised track allocations with suitable alternative equipment such as spare diesel locomotives available.

One of the biggest problems during the affected period was that of the paucity of staff able to deal with a sudden influx of information in foreign languages, and this was another area Sennhenn said would be looked at with the possibility of interpreters being available when required. He commented:

“The whole sector has to double its efforts to make rail freight more flexible in daily business and especially during incidents. Rastatt is an opportunity, and we invite all stakeholders to join us on this journey.”

One of the lead speakers, Rudolf Büchl, head of the infrastructure management arm of SBB Swiss Railways, said crisis management plans were already in place, with agreements on the main problems such as sudden capacity requirements, timetable reconstructions and supervision of such engineering and construction projects already implemented, following his company’s discussions with DB Netz and earlier similar agreements with the Rhine-Alpine corridor infrastructure managers. He continued:

“We are performing the Rastatt follow-up together with DB Netz as a tangible example of close international cooperation. We are happy to improve international crisis management together with our neighbours on the basis of our experience. And as a multilingual country we have some experience in effective language management, with bilingual operations in the new Gotthard base tunnel.”

Peter Füglistaler, Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport, emphasised the necessity of pan European attitude to rail freight. He observed that disruptions such as Rastatt cut across the national boundaries of the traditional infrastructures and require truly international coordination. This he felt was the task for government Transport Ministers who should concentrate on harmonising international technical standards and interoperability.

The Hupac group was particularly suited to holding this event as it has seventeen subsidiary companies operating across Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium as well as Poland, Russia and China. Group CEO Bernhard Kunz, said he would be looking to offer feedback from this meeting at his operation’s General Assembly in June 2018.