Heavy rainfall in France’s Rhône-Alpes region at the beginning of July has caused a landslide near the city of Modane that has since blocked cross-border freight and passenger train traffic relying on this key passage between Italy and France. In addition to high-speed TGV trains, the rail section is used by more than 50 freight trains per week which link the industrial hubs of Lyon in southern France and Torino in western Italy. Several alternative routing options have already been identified in what is described as a test to the resilience of the European rail freight sector. A similarly significant disruption occurred in 2017 when a rail tunnel in Rastatt in southern Germany collapsed and paralyzed international rail freight traffic for almost two months.
The landslide reportedly occurred on July 2 between Saint Michel-Valloire and Modane. The affected section is likely to remain shut until at least the beginning of August due to necessary repair works, which include the removal of excavated material. Four alternative routes have so far been identified by the French rail operator SNCF, which is coordinating the efforts. These include a route via Ventimiglia in southwestern Italy, although frequent passenger trains severely limit this route’s capacity for additional cargo traffic. Three other routes run via the Swiss municipalities of Vallorbe, Bale, and Geneva. Due to congestion on the Vallorbe route, however, it is likely that most trains will be diverted to or from France via Bale or Geneva.
Despite the availability of these alternative routes, a large majority of scheduled freight trains has already been cancelled. Mercitalia, a subsidiary of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, usually runs 40 trains per week via the affected route; however, it was only able to divert five of its trains so far, all of them via Switzerland. DB Cargo operates 10 weekly cargo trains via Modane, but all of its trains have been canceled for the time being. In an advisory, Swiss intermodal transport provider Hupac said it was considering using the Ventimiglia border crossing, but acknowledged that it could only be done to a limited extent. Due to limited capacity on the alternative routes and significantly longer transit times, most of the rail cargo is likely to be shifted to road freight, increasing the number of additional trucks using the border passage via the Mont Blanc or Mont Fréjus tunnels by 250 per day, according to some estimates.
Customers with an interest in freight moving between Lyon and Torino should expect delays to persist until repair works are completed and contact their carriers to investigate whether additional costs for trucking services or additional transit times due to rerouted trains apply to their shipments.