1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Germany makes coal a priority on rail network

August 24, 2022

Germany's Cabinet has approved a move to prioritize coal on the country's rail lines. After years spent moving away from coal and nuclear power, Germany has been forced by Russia's war against Ukraine to reconsider.

A train yard in the state of North Rhine Westphalia
Rail lines are becoming more important as a drought has dried rivers in GermanyImage: Stefan Ziese/blickwinkel/picture alliance

Germany's Cabinet granted priority status to shipments of coal on the country's extensive rail networks during the energy crisis that will confront the European Union this winter. Digital Affairs and Transport Minister Volker Wissing, of the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), made the announcement following Wednesday's Cabinet meeting.

The decision is a result of strained supplies — a consequence of the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine.

"It is clear that everyone has an interest in ensuring that we have a stable energy supply," he said.

Low water levels on the Rhine and the nation's waterways are also forcing some maritime traffic onto Germany's strapped rail lines.

Shipping on Rhine has slowed to a trickle: DW's Ashutosh Pandey

What do the new rules mean?

The legal ordinance gives priority to energy shipments, such as to coal-fired power plants. Accompanying the legal document is a 10-page addendum listing relevant, affected rail lines.

People residing by railroads may have more noise, as the new rules suspend the Railway Noise Mitigation Act.

Deutsche Bahn, the country's national rail network provider, will also adjust the conditions of use for the country's short-distance rails in the near future to accommodate transportation of oil and coal cargo.

"This can also mean that passenger trains have to wait," with delays already a frequent enough occurrence on the nation's busy rail lines. Wissing said there should be as little disruption as possible.

The Digital and Transport Ministry did not rule out the possibility that changes could be made with regard to train-path allocation in the future.

Keeping power plants turned on

The new regulations will apply initially for six months.

The goal of the new rules is to secure electrical power and ensure that power plants and refineries can operate without shutdowns.

Given cuts and concerns about a halt in future supplies following Russia's decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany has reconnected coal-fired power plants to its electrical grid after moving over several years toward phasing them out.

ar/jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)