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German Rail Strike Puts New Pressure on European Shippers

Nelso silva
Nelso Silva / CC BY SA 2.0

Published Jan 23, 2024 3:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The conductors' union for German rail line Deutsche Bahn has gone on strike, shutting down cargo service for customers on large sections of the company's network. 

Union GDL is striking over pay and working hours, seeking a lighter workload. It went on strike earlier this year for a three-day period, and is now planning a six-day walkout in order to pressure DB to negotiate. 

The strike officially begins Wednesday, but Deutsche Bahn's DB Cargo division reports that a number of freight trains have already shut down as of Tuesday evening. These trains have not reached their destinations, affecting cargo for customers in the Alps, Poland, Scandinavia and - crucially - the large seaports in Holland and Belgium. These two nations are home to Europe's largest container ports. 

DB said that many shippers have already stopped booking rail freight in advance of the strike, and that it is expected that many will shift to trucking instead as an interim solution. 

The firm said that it will do everything possible to "ensure that supply-relevant freight trains arrive despite the strike."

The strike may put new pressure on Northern European businesses and manufacturers, which have already suffered shipping disruption from the Red Sea security crisis. Amidst persistent attacks off Yemen, virtually all container lines have diverted away from the Red Sea, using the much longer Cape route instead. This adds about 10 days to a typical boxship transit, and that 10-day delay creates a gap for just-in-time supply chains.