German Government Refuses to Remove Crucial Rail Freight Bottleneck

Once again, cost-cutting bureaucrats and ecologists have joined forces in Germany to sabotage crucial infrastructure projects. The German government, relying on the opinions of “experts” who have no clue about the requirements of rapid and efficient rail freight operations, has now rejected the plan to build a 118 km long tunnel system along the Rhine, between Bonn and Wiesbaden, which covers a crucial section of the major railway corridor from Rotterdam to Genoa. . The concept for this Westerwald Tunnel had been presented by the Niemeyer engineering team more than 20 years ago, but repeatedly postponed.

The Institute of the German Economy (IW) has documented that the entire time needed today to lay new rail tracks beyond a length of 30 km is an average of 274 (!) months. Nonetheless, there were hopes that the Westerwald Tunnel would receive the official okay.

The Dutch-based rail freight journal interviewed Willy Pusch, the leader of the pro-tunnel citizens initiative founded in 1994, who argues against a simple upgrading of the existing routes and tunnels, which are far too narrow for modern container traffic. Instead, a new line solely dedicated to freight trains, which could travel at up to 160 km/h and double current capacity, is the only meaningful solution. This assessment is shared also by the German association Allianz pro-Schiene. “A bypass route is absolutely necessary to relieve the pressure from the Rhine Valley route”, stressed a spokesperson from the association. The old Rhine Valley route is already saturated and rail freight traffic is expected to increase even further.

Pusch mocked the government’s “assessment” that the number of trains running would have to increase tenfold, before even considering building the new line. How that might ever happen is a giant paradox, he said, as today there are roughly 600 freight trains passing through the Rhine Valley every day, with the noise particularly plaguing the inhabitants of the region at night. There is no way 6,000 trains could ever run there. “You have to think about this figure and you will realise that there were no experts at work”, Pusch concludes.

If the government’s decision stands, it can be expected is that the rising rail freight volumes will no longer use the German Rhine Valley route, but shift to others — for instance, from the Netherlands through Belgium and France. The 6,000 trains daily which the German government forecasts will be running outside of Germany.

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