Germany gives priority to rail freight services in energy crisis

Germany’s freight transport infrastructure is beginning to be affected by the country’s economic and energy crisis.

The German Transport Ministry has just agreed with Deutsche Bahn that freight services will have priority over passenger services. The ministry issued a statement on Wednesday (24th August) explaining that “in order to secure the energy supply, energy transport should temporarily have priority on rail.

The Federal Government laid this down today in an ordinance that the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection has drawn up together with the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport. The aim is to ensure the operation of power plants, refineries and power grids.” Further comments by the transport ministry implied that there were a number of other problems beyond Germany’s energy supply that also moved the ministry to respond.

Transport Minister Volker Wissing said that in addition to “securing the supply of the power plants”, low water levels on the Rhine meant that “inland shipping can only transport reduced loads and the important railway lines are already overloaded in some cases, or at least heavily used, even without additional energy transport”. This seems to suggest that the network is struggling to cope with the consignments that have been moved from Rhine barges onto rail freight. Water levels have recovered on the Rhine over the past few days, so this might offer some relief. However, the impact on Deutsche Bahn has been immediately noticeable with reports of delays to passenger services.

Germany is facing twin problems of changing energy logistics patterns and a freight transport system struggling to cope with existing demand. The obvious response is to increase road freight capacity; however, many of the market sectors affected are bulk cargoes where road freight is less competitive, and there is the issue that the road freight sector is also struggling to cope with demand. 

Yet the German economy is not in good shape. The latest numbers show year-on-year GDP growth of 0.1%; however, the medium-term prospects are not good, with the Ifo economic institute suggesting that growth will be 3% lower than it otherwise would have been over the next 12 months. It is possible that the problems of the freight transport infrastructure will be relieved by lower domestic and export demand in the economy generally.

Source: Transport Intelligence, 25th of August 2022

Author: Thomas Cullen