Rhine’s low water levels impacts German shipping, Berlin’s government plans to give energy essentials priority by rail

Germany plans to give the transportation of materials and equipment essential for energy production priority on the country’s rail networks should water levels on the Rhine fall further and hamper shipping by river, a draft decree shows. According to Reuters, DB Netz, the rail network arm of railway operator Deutsche Bahn, has already rejigged usage conditions to give preference to trains carrying mineral oil products and hard coal for power generators as Germany tackles an energy crisis.

“The aim is to ensure the ongoing operations of power stations, refineries, electricity grids and other system-relevant infrastructure,” said the draft drawn up by the transport and economy ministries and seen by Reuters. It also referred to gas and transformer equipment for power production and transmission to be given priority over passenger services and other industrial requirements.

Germany’s government cabinet has to approve the provisional legislation that would be limited to six months, the draft said. “We need extraordinary measures to ensure supply security,” economy minister Robert Habeck in a statement.

Water levels on the Rhine are low because of unusually hot and dry weather, making it impossible for many vessels to navigate the critical shipping route fully laden.

This has coincided with a shortage of gas for power stations, heating and industrial processes due to reduced Russian exports has led to temporary switches by operators back to more coal and oil usage.

Cargo and passenger ships have been struggling with low water for weeks. Inland waterway ships must take the draft of the ship into account when loading their cargo. When the water levels are low, they can carry less freight, and at some point the transport becomes uneconomical.