Gotard Tunnel, Panama Canal: paralysis of supply chains?

Author: Marek Szymański
Gotard Tunnel, Panama Canal: paralysis of supply chains?

Unexpected events have disrupted European and global supply chains, which will not be without impact on the supply of products in the European Union. On 10 August this year, a freight train in the Gotard Tunnel in Switzerland derailed and effectively blocked passage through the tunnel.

Under normal conditions, 260 freight trainsets per day were passing through the tunnel, and with the unblocking of one rail line, 90 trains will pass through the tunnel. Global supply chains are also being impacted by reduced capacity in the Panama Canal, which has resulted in the worst ship congestion in history. 

A drought unprecedented in years has forced the Canal authorities to impose a ship limit and a maximum draft limit. Experts point out that both events will restrict the flow of goods on the European continent (and, in the case of the Panama Canal, also shipments from Asia to US ports and vice versa). The Panama Canal is one of the strategic locations in the functioning of global trade chains, and experts stress that prolonged congestion could raise global product prices. Trade chain managers fear an effective blockage of the Canal in the event of ship stranding. 

But for European manufacturers and suppliers, the blockage of transport through the Gotard Tunnel is more noticeable for the time being. Indeed, the Swiss railway authority SBB is unable to say when the second line of the tunnel will open. Freight trains are currently being diverted to alternative routes: to the Lötschberg-Simplon line and via the Brenner Pass. Some trains will soon be able to pass through one line of the tunnel, but this will not significantly speed up the flow of goods in this part of the continent.   At the same time, the blockade of the Gotard Tunnel has contributed to a significant slowdown in combined transport in Europe. 

According to Ewald Raben, CEO of Raben Group, the situation at the Gotard Tunnel will not remain without an impact on the European transport industry. – The SBB, together with its partner railways, is doing everything possible to ensure that the routes for freight traffic can be continuously expanded, comments the Swiss railway board. Indeed, the development of intermodal transport in Europe is resulting in increasingly limited capacity on key rail routes. The Swiss Federal Office of Transport (BAV) has asked the government for a grant of 640 million Swiss francs for the expansion of the Lötschberg tunnel, which is also unable to handle all the trains.