31. May 2016

“The Gotthard tunnel is a major transport policy achievement”

Gotthard base tunnel / German business sector hoping for 740 meter trains

Berlin, May 31 2016.

To mark the opening of the world’s longest rail tunnel on June 1, the German Pro-Rail Alliance has congratulated the Swiss on completing a major transport policy feat. “Our neighbours are showing us the way. The Gotthard base tunnel is a milestone for the environment and the economy. It is part of a far-sighted, modal shift concept that is supported by the Swiss public and has so far managed to get nearly 70 percent of alpine freight onto the railways,” said the managing director of the Pro-Rail Alliance, Dirk Flege, on Tuesday in Berlin. “Whereas German politicians make all the right noises about rail freight transport while at the same time putting important infrastructure projects on hold, modal shift in Switzerland has constitutional status.” The fact that Germany has not completed upgrades on the access lines to the Gotthard tunnel in time is symptomatic of a lack of transport policy vision. “Investing in environmental protection in the transport sector is worthwhile – Germany’s economy will also profit from Switzerland’s achievements,” said the Pro-Rail Alliance manager.

Michail Stahlhut, chairman of SBB Cargo International, believes that the new base tunnel will enable a third of current road freight tonnage to be immediately shifted to the railways. “Because the new Gotthard tunnel is built for trains measuring 740 metres in length we can get around 30 percent of freight transport off the roads using the same number of trains,” reckons Stahlhut. “The Gotthard is massive opportunity for rail freight transport in Europe.” However, neighbouring countries must now also upgrade their rail networks for long freight trains. “Italy is already making its network fit for 740m trains. In the German government’s current infrastructure plan, a decision on long freight trains has surprisingly been put on ice,” criticised Stahlhut. “A small amount of money would lead to a big rise in efficiency if the length of freight trains could be increased to 740m,” said the chairman of SBB Cargo International. “Germany really should make the most of this opportunity”.

The director of the Port of Hamburg Railway, Harald Kreft, also appealed to the federal government to bring its infrastructure policies into line with Europe and to upgrade railway infrastructure in Germany for the benefit of rail freight transport. “The performance of any network is only as good as its weakest link. Upgrading measures such as the Gotthard base tunnel are a good example of successful cooperation on national and European transport policies that make freight transport more sustainable and more economical right across Europe. From the Port of Hamburg’s point of view, upgrading the German and European rail networks to allow systematic access to 740m freight trains offers similar potential.”

Germany has fallen behind in in taking measures to upgrade its rail infrastructure for freight transport. In the Netherlands, work on the Rotterdam to Genoa corridor, which was agreed on a government level back in 1996, was already completed in 2007, the same year that Switzerland opened the Lötschberg tunnel. This has now been followed by the 57 km long Gotthard base tunnel. By the end of 2020, when the Ceneri base tunnel goes into operation, Switzerland will have completed its work on this main European corridor, at a cost of 23 billion Swiss francs. In Germany, only the line from Baden-Baden to Offenbach and the Katzenberg tunnel near Efringen-Kirchen have so far been completed. According to the German transport ministry, upgrading the Karlsruhe to Basel line to four tracks will only be finished in 2035, with all measures scheduled for final completion even later, in 2041.

Pro-Rail Alliance managing director Dirk Flege added: “At least the green light has now been given for work on the Rastatter tunnel, after a delay of 15 years. Immediate action is now also needed on the outstanding work to evaluate the measures that are classified as ‘on hold’ in the government’s infrastructure plan. Then the access lines to the Gotthard base tunnel on the German side can be upgraded for 740m freight trains. We are expecting the federal transport ministry to act rapidly on this. Especially since upgrading the line for 740m trains will only cost 60 million euros.”


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