Breaking – Semi-trailer transport to resume in Denmark
According to the Danish Civil Aviation and Railway Authority, transportation of pocket wagons on semi-trailers can resume in Denmark from 20 April under very particular conditions. Specifically, the Danish authorities came up with some short-term measures to apply on the Great Belt Bridge and allow intermodal traffic to get back on tracks while easing the disturbance on the rail freight industry.
The newly introduced measures are to some extent in accordance with what rail operators active in the region proposed a few weeks ago. In particular, Kombiverkehr had requested actions concerning the sufficient insurance of loading safety, the correct loading and exit inspection from railway undertakings, operational restrictions according to wind speeds, and, last but not least, consistent wind measurements based on considering wind peaks and not average values.
The temporary measures introduced by the Danish authorities aim to restore semi-trailer transport through the Great Belt Bridge for the time being until a more specific regulatory framework applies with long-term effect. The proposed measures are the following:
• The type of hitch used by the semi-trailers must withstand vertical forces greater than or equal to 85 kiloNewtons.
• For a train to start its trip, there must be a third-party assessment stating that the type of hitch used is suitable as a secure and sufficient lock (vertical force ≥ 85kN).
• Semi-trailers loaded on pocket wagons must have a gross weight of at least 14 tons (approximately 12,7 tonnes) to secure their stability on the tracks.
• Railway Undertakings must provide sufficient documentation of how the above conditions have been incorporated into their Safety Management System.
• The action plan from JNS Urgent Procedure of April 2019 (initial safety measures following the deadly accident on the bridge) on recommendations for procedures and control when loading semi-trailers on terminals must be complied with at terminals, regardless of hitch type. This means that the initial safety framework is still in action.
• If a terminal conducts loading and checking, there must be an agreement with the terminal operator regarding the requirements of the loading procedure and checks of this and the competence requirements for staff.
Additionally, for these measures to apply, there is a need to determine and define some further specifications. For instance:
• Documentation concerning the competencies of the third party that will conduct the hitch assessment.
• A clear description of the procedure that ensures a gross semi-trailer weight of at least 14 tons.
Hitch type in question
The overall impression from the measures dictates that they could work beneficially to mitigate the existing problems in Denmark and partially restore traffic. However, the hitch type that should withstand forces of 85kN is still in question. It is still unclear how many pocket wagon locks use this kind of hook or whether they could be adjusted to start using it now. Moreover, it could be considered an exaggerated number that poses more restrictions to railway undertakings than providing solutions.
Joint attempt for a permanent restoration
The aforementioned measures constitute the first step towards normality. However, according to the Danish authorities, this time will come only after completing crucial procedures. The Joint Network Secretariat Normal Procedure meeting is a priority since it will determine all the needed future actions and accept or reject any possible safety measures.
Moreover, the Danish Investigation Board’s investigation results are also critical to comprehend the 13 January safety incident’s nature and proceed to possible resolutions. Finally, it is also urgent to consider the wind measurements conducted by Denmark’s rail Infrastructure Manager-Banedenmark in cooperation with the Danish Technical University.
After all these procedures, the sector and authorities will acquire a clearer picture of the situation, the causes, and the next steps for safe rail freight transport. In the meantime, the rail sector could use the temporary measures despite that they might look complicated and multifaceted. In any case, this is an opportunity to start recovering from the three-month-long financial and operational perturbation while resuming transport through the Great Belt Bridge, with a focus on absolute security.