The German government has approved legislation that will require rail operators to prioritize the transport of petroleum and coal products for power generators over other goods and passengers.
The legislation – drawn up by the Economy Ministry – follows an energy supply assessment which warned of possible supply disruptions to coal-fired power stations, which have been exacerbated by the drying up transportation waterways due to recent droughts.
About a third of Germany’s coal imports pass through the Rhine, but barge loads had to be reduced – sometimes by as much as three quarters – to reduce weight and prevent ships from grounding.
Disruptions have already taken place. Earlier this week, a ship carrying coal to Germany became stuck in the Waal River due to low water levels, the second time this has happened in a matter of days.
The government’s energy supply assessment commented: ‘Due to very low inland navigation, accumulated coal stocks could fall rapidly.
He added: “High demand and scarcity of rail freight transport capacity is causing a difficult situation in coal and oil logistics.”
The decision to prioritize carrying coal on trains comes as Germany seeks to rapidly increase coal-fired power, as part of a broader goal to reduce dependence on imported coal. Russian gas.
Before the start of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Germany had planned to phase out coal by 2030. To wean itself off Russian energy imports, several mothballed coal-fired power plants are in the process of coming back online. . In addition, 15 coal-fired power stations that were due to close next year will now continue to operate.
“We want to free ourselves as quickly as possible from the grip of Russian energy imports,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “This requires very sophisticated logistics, which means favoring energy transport by rail.”
But concerns have been raised that prioritizing coal will add more problems to the country’s already full-capacity freight network.
“It’s not an easy decision because it could mean that in some cases other trains have to wait,” said Transport Minister Volker Wissing. He added: “It is all the more important to create clear rules today before the additional need for energy manifests itself and the demand for transport increases in autumn and winter.”
The prioritization will last for the next six months.
At the same time as Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet approved the train measure, the government also passed new rules aimed at cutting gas consumption by a fifth this winter.
These rules include a ban on heating private swimming pools and most exterior lighting of buildings and monuments, and from September all public buildings except hospitals must be heated to a temperature not exceeding 19 degrees centigrade.