During the last rail strikes in Germany, rail freight transport continued to operate, particularly by freight railways beyond Deutsche Bahn (DB), which accounts for 60% of the country's rail freight transport. These railways are maintaining their planned schedules, ensuring the delivery of passengers and goods.
Peter Westenberger, Managing Director of the DIE GÜTERBAHNEN association, notes that member companies of their organization are not participating in the strike and are functioning normally. He mentions that these railways are operating reliably, benefiting from a less congested network due to the strike. Westenberger emphasizes that the concerns raised about supply chains and supplies being in jeopardy due to the strike, initially stirred up by DB, are not shared by DIE GÜTERBAHNEN.
A key aspect for the coming days is the responsibility of DB InfraGO to keep the infrastructure accessible for companies not involved in the strike. Recent days have seen some signal boxes understaffed or unmanned, such as in Regensburg and Karlsruhe, which can disrupt European freight transport corridors. However, Westenberger points out that InfraGO has improved in managing such situations compared to previous strikes, with earlier compensation for staff losses and better communication with companies.
The impact of the strike on most supply chains is reportedly minimal for several reasons. Only DB Cargo, with a 40% market share, is striking. Additionally, rail transport typically does not carry many time-critical goods. The shipping industry often uses storage areas to buffer against various risks, including strikes, weather, and others. January also tends to be a period with lower overall goods transportation.
After the strike, there is usually a short period required to clear any backlog of goods. Private freight railways, referred to as "unsung heroes" by Westenberger, will contribute to resolving these backlogs. While a swift end to the strikes is preferred to avoid further damage to the industry's image, private freight railways are playing a crucial role in maintaining operations during this period.
DIE GÜTERBAHNEN has recently organised a protest of its own – but of a different type. Convoy of locomotives of private rail freight operators blasted their horns on a run across Berlin to protest against government’s plans to cut planned funding for rail freight transport in the 2024 federal budget.