Britain-97

See also: British Rail News 1999 - Erik's Rail News Front Page

The Office of the Rail Regulator is having a look at British Railtrack's track access charges. (December 23rd, 1997, more here)

British National Express is buying ScotRail and Central Trains. The British rail reform split up services between different operators and some companies have already started to gobble up other ones. Stagecoach, the bus company that bought several train operating companies, a vehicle leasing company, and two nordic bus companies has become a multinational. The purchase of the leasing company Porterbrook attracted the interest of the British competition authority.

Now, National Express is also expanding and the Mergers and Monopolies Commission has approved the purchases on the condition that NE sells the Scottish bus company Citylink. There has been concern that some companies control both the buses and trains in certain regions. (December 20th, 1997, more here)

British Railtrack is banishing dark corners from its stations to make them feel safer. 40 million is going into lighting and cameras. (December 3rd, 1997, more here)

British Railfreight Distribution is finally going to be sold. A preiminary deal on privatization was reached between the government and the English, Welsh & Southern Railway in March, but several players had interests which were to be satisfied, so the deal was delayed. (November 25th, 1997, more here)

Too few drivers in Britain is one result of aggressive cost cutting by the new privatized train operating companies. Seven toc's are advertising for new drivers in the monthly newsletter of the trains drivers' union. Two others were denied advertising due to a shortage of space. Likewise, cost cutting has resulted in too few vehicles to carry passengers. (These reports, from Die Welt, contrast with those of The Financial Times which paints a rosier picture of the privatized industry.) (November 12th, 1997, more here)

Angel Trains, the British leasing company, expects to make an operating profit of 147.1m in the year ending March 98, The Financial Times has learned. The company was privatized for 672.5m but is expected to net 1bn when floated on the stock exchange. (November 10th, 1997, more here)

British Virgin Rail and Railtrack have agreed to a revenue-sharing agreement which will encourage Railtrack to upgrade the London - Glagsow west coast line for 225 km/h running with tilting trains by 2005. Work to be done includes resignalling and modifications to tunnels and platforms to accomodate the tilting trains. This would shorten the London - Glasgow journey time to from five hours to four, and London - Birmingham from 100 minutes to 60. The line's freight capacity should remain unaffected. See also Virgin needs 40 tilting trains. (October 26th, 1997, more here)

Commuter fares in London may on average rise slightly faster than inflation next year. The regulator has allowed certain well-performing train operating companies to increase rush hour fares by 5,1%; inflation is currently running at about 3%. Subsidies will rise or fall to compensate for revenue lost or gained. (October 18th, 1997, more here)

British freight railway EWS resents the expansion of passenger rail and fears their service may be compromised by congestion. (October 15th, 1997, more here)

Great Western trains has ordered eight DMUs from GEC Alsthom for 38 million ecus (36m) for 200 km/h service in England and Wales. The five-car air-conditioned trains will seat 330 passengers and have info displays. They are due to enter service just after the turn of the century. They will be "wheelchair and bicycle accessible" which presumably means they are partly low-floor. (October 4th, 1997, more here)

The crash outside London last Friday may have been caused by the automatic train protection being switched off. A representative of a drivers' union said the ATP was in such a state of disrepair that it was switched off. The accident claimed six lives and 13 were seriously injured. The Great Western Trains Swansea -Cardiff -London/Paddington train was moving at 145 km/t when it hit an empty freight that ended up on the GWT train's track. (September 22nd, 1997, more here)

The London Underground will have to be privatized if the acute investment backlog is to be alleviated, ministers of Britain's new left wing government said on Tuesday. Accountancy firm Price Waterhouse has done a study for the government and it concludes that the kind of money required cannot be found without increasing the government's budget deficit. The study advocates splitting the infrastructure between three companies, and having separate train operating companies. But the LU corporate identity would remain unchanged. (September 18th, 1997, more here)

British Steel is shifting to rail the transport of 70% of its 1 million tonnes of steel shipped annually, by 1999. The former British Rail companies shipped 200 000 tonnes in 1996, and EWS, the company which bought the former BR companies, is this year carrying 500 000 tonnes from BS' plants in Wales. BS has received a government grant for construction of the necessary terminals. The company reports bouyant demand for steel for autos and white goods (washers etc). (September 18th, 1997, more here)

Connex South Central is aborting its attempt to run suburban trains around London every 10 minutes on September 28th, 1997, citing lower demand in the winter months. Railtrack says the number of trains will be unchanged since last winter, before the increase in frequency. (September 18th, 1997, more here)

Great North Eastern Railway has ordered two pendolino tilting trainsets for 225km/h running from Fiat Ferroviaria. The 11-car EMUs are meant to reduce travel time London -Edinburgh to 3 hours 30 minutes. If GNER is able to lengthen its 7-year franchise, it will buy more trains. Christopher Garnett, GNER's boss, says passenger volumes grew 10% in the first year after privatization. (September 10th, 1997, more here)

High speed railways on divided highway medians are a great idea, researchers at John Moores University in Liverpool think. The trains would reach 320 km/h which would shorten travel time London -Birmingham from 105 minutes to 35, London -Manchester from 150 minutes to 80, and London -Glasgow from over five hours to under three. The researchers have done a study which is currently being reviewed by the British department of transport. (September 2nd, 1997, more here)

40 tilting high-speed trains are required by Virgin Rail, one of the new operators on the privatized British railways. On Friday, Virgin is expected to invite bids from ten companies to design, build and maintain the 40 trains, for between 500m and 600m. An order should follow this year, with delivery starting 2001. The trains may look strange as they must fit inside the narrow British railway profile despite tilting. Companies competing include Adtranz, Bombardier, General Electric, General Motors, Kawasaki, and Siemens. GEC Alsthom will team up with Fiat. (GEC Alsthom is instead allied with Bombardier in building trains for Amtrak.) (August 26th, 1997, more here)

Fare and timetable information is not being properly provided in Britain. In April, only 52% of calls on the national rail inquiry telephone line were answered. The rate now is 82%, but companies have raised response rates by bringing in unqualified staff simply to pick up phones. The Rail Regulator John Swift has announced that Train Operating Companies will be collectively be fined in a month's time unless service improves. The fine will be 50,000 for every percentage point of calls not answered between 85 per cent and 90 per cent, and much more for percentage points below that. (August 21st, 1997, more here)

Angel Trains, one of the three British train leasing companies set up and privatized by the former government, may be floated on the stock market in the USA or Britain. Any flotation must be well-timed, as stock markets are expected to experience a "correction", meaning lots of money may leave the markets all at once. Angel Trains is currently owned by its management and the Nomura bank. In 1995, the business made a pre-tax profit of 107m on turnover of 290m. Why it is to be sold is unclear. (August 21st, 1997, more here)

Problems with open access are showing for the first time in the wake of the great British rail reform. To simplify billing, the private rail authority Railtrack has agreed to rent track access to the freight train operating company English, Welsh & Southern Railway for a lump sum, 18 months in advance of when the trains run. However, EWS wants elbow room and will not specify precisely when the trains will run until much later. This makes it hard for other (much smaller) freight operators to make timetables and offer transport services.

This unfairness has been examined by Rail Regulator John Swift. He suggests that EWS be forced to give up those slots which it cannot assure will actually be used. Further, EWS has restricted access through 14 bottlenecks on the British rail network. (August 5th, 1997, source Financial Times)

Recruiting part-time train guards among commuters is a controversial idea hatched by British train operators after seeing this practised in Hong Kong. Unions are threatening strikes on the 85% of the rail network unless the TOCs back down. The train guards would get 5.25 an hour, a uniform and training. They would be responsible for checking that doors are shut before giving the signal to the driver to depart and for making announcements. Those who are caught sleeping on the job will be fired. Good colour vision is required of prospective train guards. (August 5th, 1997, source Financial Times)

The British train and bus company Stagecoach almost triples it's profit to 120,5 million pounds for 1996/97. Stagecoach has bought several British train operating companies in the privatization. (August 12th, 1997, source Ny Teknik)

British Northwestern Trains has ordered 27 DMUs for 200 km/h running from GEC Alsthom for 64 million pounds. The trains, built in Birmingham, will enter revenue service by the year 2000 and are replacing a third of NWT's fleet. The order includes an option for 50 additional trains, but no maintenance, which has been a fashionable feature of similar deals announced in recent years. This is GEC Alsthom's third major British order this year. (August 2nd, 1997, source GEC Alsthom)

British Prism Rail made a loss of 5,5 million pounds in the first 14 months of operation. Before exceptional items pertaining to bidding and restructuring, the result was a profit of 6,9 million pounds, or 31,2 pence per share. Revenue rose 7,5 %. Prism Rail owns London Tillbury Southend, WAGN, South Wales & West and Cardiff Railway. (July 13th, 1997)

The British windfall tax raises 4.8 billion pounds, the finance minister Gordon Brown announced Wednesday. The privatized companies British Energy, BG, British Telecommunications and Railtrack together face a levy of 1,45 bn pounds. (July 3rd, 1997)

British Railtrack has taken delivery of a new track aligner which can adjust the embankment gravel to a half millimetre. The machine, called the Stoneblower, is made in the USA by Pandrol Jackson Inc. Seven machines are on order for 21 million pounds. (July 2nd, 1997)

British Connex has ordered 30 four-car EMUs from Adtranz for 1,15 billion SEK for service around London. The sum includes an option for 800 more cars and maintenance. The trains will be equipped with airconditioning, toilets accessible to disabled people, info displays and will be capable of running on two power systems. (June 28th, 1997)

The London Underground is still to be privatized. The former Conservative government had plans for this, which the Labour Party, then in opposition and now in government, opposed. However, confidential documents acquired by journalists show that the new government is pursuing the old one's plans. The only difference is that Labour wants to keep a minority stake, while the Tories wanted a complete sell-off. (June 21st, 1997)

British EWS is starting fast freight train service from England and Wales to Scotland to compete with road haulers. At an average speed of 80km/h, EWS expects the trains to crack the market for food and refrigerated products. Customers can now deliver to EWS's London terminal until 8:30 pm, for arrival in Glasgow at 5:15 the following morning. Previously, this required delivery to the London terminal at 3 pm the day before.

In a separate development, EWS is negotiating with US car manufacturer Thrall Car, to establish a UK factory to make between 500 and 1 000 cars a year over the next five years. This is due to success with EWS's wagon-load service, which has grown tenfold by volume since 1994. (!) (June 7th, 1997)

South West Trains ordered 30 EMUs from GEC Alsthom for 100 million pounds on May 9th, 1997, according to the Railway Gazette. They will have airconditioning, run at 160km/h London Waterloo - Reading and be owned by Porterbrook, which will lease them to SWT. The first train will be delivered in September 1998, the last one before the turn of the century. (June 3rd, 1997)

British National Express was referred to the Mergers and Monopolies Commission on Thursday, as a result of it's aquisition of ScotRail and Central Trains. The referral was done by Ms Margaret Beckett, the trade and industry secretary, against the advice of the Office of Fair Trading. This caused ruffled feathers in London's financial community. (May 23rd, 1997)

Railtrack is renovating 2500 stations for one billion pounds till 2001. The renovations apply to buildings, platforms, foot bridges and information systems. The four large stations Paddington, Waterloo, Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central will each get over 25 million pounds each. (May 21st, 1997)

The British ministries of transport and environment will be amalgamated under the new Labour government, to form a "superministry" under John Prescott. This report conflicts with another which says that another minister recently has taken controll over the Ministry of Transport. (May 7th, 1997)

The Labour party won the election Great Britain and are expected to remedy an investment backlog in the London Underground and sell off Railtrack's railway-unrelated lands, some of which lie in attractive urban areas. (May 2nd, 1997)

London was paralyzed by bomb threats on Monday, and on Friday a bomb exploded in a railway station in Leeds. Several London stations had to be closed on Monday, including Charing Cross, Paddington, King's Cross, Baker Street and Saint Pancras. Several London airports including Heathrow were also closed. The IRA is thought to be behind the threats. (April 21st, 1997)

South West Trains has been fined 750 thousand pounds due to too many late and cancelled trains. Unless performance improves, Stagecoach plc-owned SWT will be fined an additional one million pounds and may lose the franchise. SWT admits they have layed off so many drivers that there aren't enough for all the trains. When SWT in March tried to cancel a train halfway to its destination, passengers refused to leave the train. Way to go SWT!! (April 4th, 1997)

London Underground faces privatisation if the ruling Conservatives win the election on May 1st. A privatisation is expected to bring in 2 billion pounds, all of which would finance a backlog in investment. Three plans are being considered: to sell everything in one peice, to sell lines to different buyers, and to sell the tracks & infrastructure to "Tubetrack" and the rest to train operating companies. The Labour Party say they want to modernise LU with private money but "retain strategic control". (March 8th/27th, 1997)

British Prism Rail has ordered 44 EMUs (not DMUs as earlier reported) from Adtranz in Derby, at a cost of 17 million pounds a year for 12 years; the sum includes maintenance. The trains will be equipped with airconditioning and information diplays. Prism, owned by three bus companies, last spring won the 15-year concession to run London, Tillbury & Southend. The order is considered a sign of optimism in the British rail industry after years of uncertainty due to privatisation. (March 8th, 1997, thanx Stellan Johnson)