You must have read about it, about the current situation at Rastatt. During the construction of a tunnel under the very, very busy the Karlsruhe – Basel line, part of a project to double the capacity of this route, monitoring instruments detected a subsidence under the two existing rail tracks on 12.08.2017. The ground depressed around 50 cm and caused the rails to buckle. All rail traffic, passenger and freight, had to be halted.
Update 15.09.2017: The line can be opened 5 days earlier as expected!
Karlsruhe – Basel, also known as the ‘Rheintalbahn’ is a crucial part of the European rail freight corridor A (Rhine – Alpine). Its closure has disrupted passenger traffic, meaning passengers have to search for alternative modes of transport like busses. The closure has also results in considerable economic damage for many railfreight operators, logistic companies and their customers; Words such as ‘disastrous’ (KombiVerkehr) and ‘dramatic’ (SBB Cargo) are being used. These all have published very critical statements, some of the calling for direct (financial) support. Meanwhile, it has been officially stated it will take until 07.10.2017 02.10.2017 to get the line open again. A short-term solution, such as repairing at least one track with temporary measurements, is out of the question. It has already led to a dispute on the highest levels between Germany and Switzerland.
The saddest thing is, that this incident brings severe damage upon the image of rail transport, a sector that already is having a hard time to defend its market share against road transport and waterways. Railfreight customers quickly have to find alternative ways to get their goods to the south of Europe meaning most have to put their containers on trucks. Question is how many of these will return to rail after the Rastatt tracks are being repaired. Generally, it is considered being a blow for the ‘modal shift’ philosophy. Getting goods from the road onto the rails is a broadly supported theme, but the Rastatt incident shows that rail operation is still very vulnerable (just two tracks damaged!) and inflexible (not enough drivers and rolling stock to take use the available capacity in France for example). It is risky to rely on this modality.
Work with what you have
Is there then nothing possible to get around that little Rastatt town? Of course there is. The German rail authorities soon appointed alternative routes via Austria, Germany and France, but all have considerable drawbacks, and not enough capacity. The route via Austria is much longer, and the available capacity in France can not be used as there are not enough French-speaking loco drivers. The best alternative in Germany is the Gäubahn (Stuttgart – Zürich) but very unfortunate: that line was closed due to construction work until 06.09.2017. All this resulted in a different, very creative solution that required extra time, extra energy, extra money, competing operators working together and in this case… diesel locomotives…but it worked; In the first weeks after the Rastatt incident, many freight trains were redirected via the non-electrified routes Ulm – Singen (double-track) and Horb – Tübingen (single-track). On the first one, DB Cargo’s 232 series diesel locomotives were available for haulage. SBB Cargo hired a Vectron diesel locomotive from Siemens to pull trains.
On Stuttgart – Tübingen – Horb DB Cargo had two BR 232s available, SBB a black G1206 midcab machine and Rheincargo sent the silver and freshly revised DE62 (Class66). In the evening local operators, such as the Hohenzollerische Landesbahn, also had locomotives available. With these locomotives and certified drivers it was possible to use around 50% of the capacity of the line.
We decided to pay a visit to the Stuttgart – Tübingen – Horb route and document the unique rolling stock combinations on 28, 29 and 30.08.2017.
Rottenburg am Neckar