Aerial picture of the Rastatt tunnel on 17-8-17. Photo credit: Benedikt Spether

Construction works of Rastatt tunnel postponed till this autumn

Construction works to complete the Rastatt tunnel do not commence this summer, as was originally planned. The works have been postponed until this autumn, taking into account the already ongoing construction work on the west-east section towards Stuttgart region. If anything happens, the availability of alternative routings would be jeopardised.

This was explained by Sebastian Wilske of the Regional Planning Association Upper Middle Rhine. It is one of the examples how awareness about the possible consequences of a disruption has grown, he said during the latest broadcast of RailFreight Live. “The stretch currently under construction is part of an alternative route in case of a disruption. Construction works at Rastatt will not start until this redundant infrastructure is at full capacity.”

The infamous disruption

Rastatt Tunnel is an important structure on the line between Karlsruhe and Basel, which in turn forms an essential link on the Rhine-Alpine Corridor. It is one of the busiest sections of railway in Europe. The twin tunnels will eventually lead traffic under the city. Construction works started in 2013.

However, on 12 August 2017, water and soil penetrated part of the new Rastatt tunnel. As a result, the ground subsided and the railway tracks above the tunnel warped. The entire line between Karlsruhe and Basel was closed for traffic until 2 October 2017, one-and-a-half months later, causing significant damage to the industry. One of the major problems was a lack of alternative lines.

Karlsruhe-Basel project

Never again

Ironically, it is the incident at Rastatt that has led to more awareness about the planning of construction works. The availability of redundant infrastructure is of utmost importance to ensure that a disruption would, never again, harm the rail freight industry as much as it did in the summer of 2017. The estimated losses are somewhere between 1 and 2 billion Euros.

That this awareness has increased also becomes evident when you look at the conditions set in infrastructure projects, Wilske explained. On the same Rhine-Alpine corridor there is an electrification project planned. “One of the questions asked when preparing for this, is whether the lines would be used as a redundant network.”

We need more

This is not to say that we are now in a much better position, he warned. “The awareness may be there, but there is still a lack of redundant infrastructure capacity. We need more infrastructure, but this has a development term of 10 to 20 years. Therefore, it is not so surprising that in these last three years, there has not been so much improvement.

“Also, we still see operational friction at the borders, and this is something that can be improved on a shorter term. Trains should be able to cross a border without any restrictions, but this is currently not the case.”

Another accident

The latter became evident when another accident took place on the corridor. On the night of 2 April a terrible accident took place on the railway line near Augen, Germany. One person died and part of the railway line was badly damaged. Right away, the line was closed for all traffic from Freiburg up till Basel in Switzerland. The closure took until 8 April.

Although this was considered a short-term disruption, the prescribed procedure of rerouting traffic was implemented. “The redirection through Germany worked out well, but there were problems with the rerouting through France due to the requirement of certain driver permissions.

Language requirements

For example, European legislation states that locomotive drivers must possess a B1 level of language competency in every country they drive a train. This means that train drivers are only able to drive on certain routes, which is experienced as a limitation in times of disruption. Although trains could be diverted via other routes, there is a lack of eligible drivers to operate these trains.

“On the ground, nobody cares which language the driver speaks, said Wilske. “There is a big imbalance between what the regulators want, and what the people in the field want.” Railway undertakings have been allowed to test alternative means of ensuring effective communication during railway operations, but legislation has not yet been formed.

Watch the interview

Below you can watch the RailFreight Live interview with Sebastian Wilske:

Also read:

Line closure Rhine-Alpine corridor: have we learned our lessons?

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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