Switzerland reaches out to France for North-South rail bypass
Political support for companies operating in the Rhine-Alpine Corridor is on the way. The Swiss government considers supporting financially the electrification of the Wörth-Strasbourg line crossing through France. The aim is to create a long-term viable alternative to the frequently disrupted Rhine-Alpine route.
After some pressure from the Swiss transport sector, the Swiss parliament decided to instruct “the Federal Council to enter into negotiations with France to electrify the Wörth-Strasbourg railway axis on the left bank of the Rhine and upgrade it to the corridor parameters. The expansion is to be carried out with financial support from Switzerland. This could eliminate the biggest bottleneck on the TEN-T corridor Rotterdam-Genoa in a not too distant future”, informed Hupac in last week’s balance sheet media conference.
The French bypass
Problems along the Rhine-Alpine route are causing headaches to most transport companies active in the corridor. The reason is well known: the route is the most heavily used in Europe and capacity is already quite restricted with Infrastructure managers trying to balance their timetables. Moreover, the route’s physical barriers are a cause of concern. Landslides like the one in the Middle Rhine Valley last year March are common. Additionally, one cannot forget the Rastatt landslip in 2017 and the consequences it brought to the European rail freight.
In such cases, lines in the Rhine-Alpine route were closed for weeks or even months. On top of this come scheduled reconstruction and maintenance periods, resulting in line closures that demand viable alternatives. Speaking of alternatives, this is another headache that rail companies need to face. Most of them are very time consuming and are not considered efficient at all.
One of them is the alternative via France. And it is pretty notorious nonetheless. Rerouted services through France run into problems like freight limitations and the lack of train drivers familiar with the route. “Diverted services through France required ‘completely different’ resources in terms of locomotives authorised for those networks, driver skills and terminal capabilities, but only a small number could be sourced from neighbouring countries”, recall transport associations when speaking of the Rastatt example.
A more positive future?
One could conclude that the French alternative file should be thrown in the bin. But this is certainly not the case. With Switzerland willing to invest in the Wörth-Strasbourg line, things could change for the better soon. Electrifying the line running on Rhine’s left bank is the first step to making it more interoperable.
The cake’s icing comes from France and Germany. With more closures planned on the Rhine-Alpine route in the next few years, the infrastructure managers from the two countries are working on an alternative solution via France. “There are working groups discussing the diversion routes, which should result in an improved route through France”, said Phillip Hanze from the Rhine-Alpine corridor.