Swiss railway industry proposes four measures to eliminate crucial bottleneck on Rhine-Alpine corridor

2022/08/22 at 1:57 PM

The lack of capacity on the Rhine Valley Railway between Karlsruhe and Basel poses more and more challenges for moving freight on the Rhine-Alpine Corridor. One of them is the gradual reverse modal shift from rail to road, especially for time-sensitive goods. Therefore, VAP Verband der verladenden Wirtschaft, an umbrella organisation of the Swiss private siding and wagon owners, proposed four measures to eliminate this bottleneck.

In August 2017 there was the biggest disruption on the Rhine-Alpine Corridor, which was caused by a collapse in the Rastatt tunnel. The incident has serious consequences on the railway industry, especially on its freight segment. Today, the corridor is facing some disruptions and delays due to the lack of capacity. “The current capacity bottlenecks, on the other hand, are noticeably worsening and represent a worrying constant. Construction sites, technical disruptions and insufficient diversion routes are putting such a strain on operations that regular freight transport operations are hardly possible anymore,” VAP Verband der verladenden Wirtschaft states.

Alpine-Rhine corridor, source: Netzwerk Europäischer Eisenbahnen (NEE)

As the Swiss association notes, even small disruptions have a huge influence on intermodal transport and supply chains using the mentioned corridor. “Already today, shippers are showing a tendency to shift back to the road, especially for time-sensitive goods,” VAP adds. To improve the situation, it also calls for implementing four key measures. “The completion of the Rhine Valley railway between Karlsruhe and Basel is not expected before 2040-2045. Workable alternative solutions shall be implemented by then,” the umbrella organisation highlights.

Modernisation and electrification of the Wörth-Strasbourg line

The first measure is related to the north-south axis on the left bank of the Rhine. It primarily includes the modernisation and electrification of the Wörth-Strasbourg line. “This will create a parallel diversion route that will put an end to the construction chaos and ensure both transit and import/export traffic, which is important for the Swiss economy,” VAP explains. The implementation of the project will create an additional capacity for 60 freight trains per day just in within a few years. Furthermore, the association notes that the Swiss authorities should more actively negotiate this issue with the neighbouring countries to enhance the mainline.

Alternative routes on both banks of the Rhine

The two other measures dealt with launching new diversion routes in France and Germany. In the case of France, its railways, which are located near the Rhine, can be used as diversion routes when some sections of the Rhine Valley Railway will be closed on the right bank of the river, i.e. in Germany. For instance, a four-week-long total closure is scheduled for summer 2024. To provide this option, the railways of France and Germany should find temporary solutions for communication between German-speaking train drivers and French-speaking dispatchers. It could be done via the use of linguistic apps or by hiring bilingual staff at the infrastructure control centres.

Some tracks of the Rhine-Alpine corridor require modernisation, source: Netzwerk Europäischer Eisenbahnen (NEE)

In the case of Germany, the diversion routes, which are on the right bank of the Rhine, should be easily accessible for railway undertakings. “Therefore, prior to line closures, infrastructure managers must ensure that there are no open construction sites, that the facilities are problem-free and that the necessary equipment (overhead line, train length, storage areas, etc.) is available for all trains using the alternative routes,” the Swiss association calls.

Joint working body for rail infrastructure managers

To smooth the disruptions on the Rhine-Alpine corridor caused by the construction or modernisation works, more intensive communication among rail infrastructure managers is required. “We propose the establishment of an international working body of the infrastructure managers of the corridor with the involvement of the transport ministries. The aim is active coordination of the requirements of the infrastructure extension on the one hand and a marketable transport offer on the other,” VAP Verband der verladenden Wirtschaft proposes in its paper.

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