Fire extinguishing test at Rotterdam Waalhaven

Waalhaven Rotterdam may open for shunting dangerous goods

Regulators in the Netherlands have agreed that under strict conditions, shunting wagons with hazardous substances are permitted again at Waalhaven Zuid, an emplacement yard in the port of Rotterdam. However, infrastructure manager said on Tuesday 18 February to need more time to adapt the facilities before it is actually opened up for the shunting of dangerous goods.

Rail freight operators have not restricted to use the emplacement yard since 13 September 2019. This was due to problems with the extinguishing facilities; a test proved that these facilities were not up to standard. The temporary closure has had a major impact on the industry, as operators had to relocate to other shunting yards to keep operations running.

Not all tracks

A solution is now in sight. The DCMR environment service and the Rotterdam Rijnmond Safety Region (VRR) have given their green light for the use of a temporary extinguishing facility under very strict conditions. Conditions include that ProRail must properly maintain the system and closely monitor its operation. The extinguishing system will be regularly inspected and tested.

Moreover, the fire extinguisher still does not reach all corners of the yard. As a result, carriers cannot yet use all of the tracks. For this reason, ProRail does not immediately start using the yard for shunting wagons with hazardous substances.

“First, we will make adjustments to get more tracks within reach of the fire department. This week we are looking at the adjustments with VRR and DCMR to be able to resume shunting with hazardous substances on some of these tracks. Until then, we will continue to handle the shunting of wagons with hazardous substances via other railway yards, as was the case in recent months.

Frustration

The temporary closure of Waalhaven Zuid has led to the frustration of rail freight operators. They had to make additional kilometres, requiring extra manpower and extra time to reach alternative shunting yards such as Kijfhoek and the Botlek. “We can handle the situation, but it should not last months”, said Markus Bertram, General Manager of LTE when the closure was just announced.

The situation did last months: more than five at the moment. On top of this came the announcement of ProRail last week that operators would not be compensated for the additional kilometres they had made with the subsidies that were promised to them for 2019. “The extra distance basically balanced out the subsidies we would have been given in 2019”, explained Dennis de Roo, Manager of Van Donge & de Roo BV.

Track access charges

As part of the measure package, a deal that was formed between the Dutch government and the rail freight industry, a grant amount of 12 to 14 million Euros is made available every year up until 2023. This should lead to a considerable reduction of track access, bringing them in line with the costs of the railways in neighbouring Germany.

“The incentive of this deal has been to operate more economically. But due to circumstances that were not our fault, we had to make extra kilometres. On the short stretch from Rotterdam to Duisburg, we have had an increase of 8.8 per cent in infrastructure costs this year. We are now penalised for this: we are not receiving the full subsidy because of this additional distance”, comments de Roo.

Important yard

Waalhaven is a crucial yard for the transport of containers, tank containers, trailers and swap bodies that come in and out of the port and are forwarded to destinations such as Venlo, Tilburg, Coevorden and Duisburg, but also further on to Poznan, Milan, Vienna, Budapest and China. Rail plays an important role in this hinterland transportation, but is also at fierce competition with the road.

During a test on 13 Friday, September 2019, it turned out that there was insufficient water to extinguish a possible fire in or around wagons. Also, the water did not reach far enough during fire fighting and it took too long for the fire brigade to extinguish the fire. As a result, ProRail firefighters and incident fighters would have to work too close to a possible fire.

A link to a water basin in the area was suggested as a temporary solution. But this solution turned out not to be robust enough. Halfway through a test of this system, a clutch came loose. ProRail then made adjustments that were tested in January. These are now approved by the regulator.

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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