December 99

Workers at Hungary's national railways MAV will stage a 60-hour strike from January 10 to January 12 unless MAV's management approves their wage demands for 2000, three railway unions said on Tuesday the 28th. MAV has offered an average 8.5 percent wage increase for next year, but the unions are demanding more. (December 30th)

FT.comSiemens will try to mount a new bid to run part of London Underground, the German company said on Wednesday amid speculation that it could join a rival consortium. It was also rumoured that another group was "shaky". The developments followed the collapse of Siemens' NewMetro consortium bid for one of three 2.5bn projects to run the Tube infrastructure, a month after Taylor Woodrow withdrew from the partnership, claiming it was too risky. find (December 30th)

Railtrack is calling for a huge increase in government subsidies to fund improvements in the rail network. Chief executive Gerald Corbett says that subsidies might have to rise by 1bn to 2.3bn if the company is to meet government targets for modernising the rail network and improving signalling and safety. "If the country needs a bigger and better railway, ultimately more money will have to come from government," he says. (December 30th)

Britain's East Coast Main Line to Scotland may be run by Stagecoach and Virgin rather than by GNER, if Virgin/Stagecoach can show that it is in the interests of passengers that the two major London to Scotland franchises should be in the hands of a single franchisee (Virgin already runs the WCML). The Strategic Rail Authority has also shortlisted bidders to run lines around London. find (December 30th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

French SNCF and German DB AG plan to cooperate on the launch of a next-generation 320 km/h TGV train which would enter service in ten years' time. The two chiefs Louis Gallois and Helmut Mehdorn have who worked together in the early stages of the Airbus Industrie program, and point to the European aircraft consortium as an example of what they envisaged for future cooperation in the rail sector. (December 30th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comTaiwan High Speed Rail has selected a Japanese consortium as preferred bidder to provide trains and signalling for the $17,4bn link. The announcement surprised Eurotrain, which was selected as preferred bidder two years ago. However, the THSRC has had trouble finding money for the project. The Japanese consortium, which includes Mitsui Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, will provide finance with help from the Japan Bank for International Co-operation. The trains, signalling and communications equipment provided by the Japanese consortium represent about 17% of the cost of the project. Trains will cover the 345 km between Taipei and Kaohsiung in 90 minutes. Eurotrain is promoting a train with ICE power cars and double-decker TGV coaches, and has offered to take a 10% stake in the train and electrical system project to help clear financial logjams and ensure it won the lucrative contract. TGV technology was selected for Korea's Seoul-Pusan high speed link which was tested by President Kim Dae-Jung on December 16th. See also Reuters story. find (December 29th/30th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Siemens has acquired Rockwell's Integrated Local Government (ILG) business, which provides real-time, citywide systems to improve information management for public transit and public safety departments. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed. (December 29th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Canadian BC Rail wants to lay off 20% of its 1600 unionized workers to cut costs. The company cites competition from truckers and the collapse of the Asian export market in 1997 as reasons for the trim. But the union delivered a 72-hour strike notice on Christmas Eve and the railway responded by locking out workers. The Pacific Starlight millennium pasenger train has been cancelled, as well as some other special passenger trains. The roughly 1000 ticket holders will get full refunds as well as vouchers. The union offered to lift its strike notice for 30 days if the company lifted its lockout notice for the same period of time, but the railway refused. (December 29th)

BNSF and CN Combine

BNSF and Canadian National have agreed to pay penalties to each other if either company walks away from the deal, or if the US Surface Transportation Board imposes certain conditions on the deal. There are different penalties for different scenarios, and they range from US$150m to US$450m. The two railways expect to save US$500m to US$600m from economies of scale in the first three years after the deal. (December 29th)

The US Surface Transportation Board will be more stringent than usual in reviewing the BNSF/CN merger because so many recent railway mergers in the United States have gone awry. (December 29th)

FT.comBurlington Northern Santa Fé and Canadian National are combining operations; each share of CN will be exchanged for the equivalent of 1.05 of a share of BNSF that in turn would be exchangeable into shares of a new holding company, North American Railways Inc. The deal aims to capture a bigger share of the cross-border market for truck and rail transportation, which is growing more than 10 per cent annually on the back of increased US-Canada-Mexico trade flows.

The new company would be 70% owned by BNSF shareholders. The deal is subject to regulatory approval in Canada and the United States, and to the approval of shareholders. BNSF had C$13,2bn in revenue and 44 500 employees in 1998, whereas CN had C$5,2bn in revenues and 23 500 employees. The head office of North American Railways will be in Montréal and the company will have a majority of Canadian directors. However, those are conditions set by the law which privatized CN in 1995. The law also restricted single shareholders to no more than 15% but didn't put a limit on foreign ownership. Around 60% of CN shares currently are held by U.S. investors.

The railways hope to save C$890m over three years by making better use of rolling stock, melding administrative functions, and other economies of scale. The new railway will stretch from Los Angeles to Halifax and from the Gulf of Mexico to Vancouver. Executives are promising the new railroad will start at an operating ratio of 70% (70 cents spent for each dollar of revenue) and head down from there.

BNSF and CN will be under pressure not to repeat the extensive train delays which followed Burlington Nothern's aquisition of Santa Fé in 1994, Union Pacific's takeover of Southern Pacific in 1997, and CSXT's and Norfolk Southern's split-up of Conrail this year.

There will be much discussion about competition. "It's a double-edged sword," says Lisa MacGillivray, president and managing director of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association which represents 400 shippers across Canada. "It'll be seamless transportation on one railroad from Halifax to Long Beach, but you'll have no choice but to use it."

The Port of Halifax is excited about the deal since it gives one-company service from the port to the entire Midwest. Port president David Bellefontaine says he's not afraid of a monopoly since CN has been the only railway there for years. CN knows that if it doesn't offer competitive service and rates, shippers will route their cargo through ports in Montréal or New York instead.

See also FRA statement.

Company info: Stories: (December 21st/22nd, thanks David Fry and Bengt Mutén)

Olympic transport organisers will slash rail services on outlying lines during the Games in Sydney, Australia in September. They have warned passengers to expect increased train travel times with some stations to be closed. Existing timetables will be scrapped allowing services to be redirected to meet the demand of spectators and tourists getting to Games venues and popular visitor areas. (December 24th, thanks David Bromage)

The troubled New South Wales (Australia) rail system is to undergo a safety audit after the latest mishap - the derailment of a Sydney commuter train on Monday the 20th. Thousands of commuters were forced to abandon train travel after an empty train derailed and interrupted service. The State Government has ordered the wheels of every train and carriage in NSW to be checked in the wake of a continuing series of errors on the railways, including the recent Glenbrook disaster and the disappearance - twice - of the Indian Pacific from indicator screens on Monday the 20th. The Minister for Transport, Mr Scully, says that the Department of Transport had engaged an internationally known safety management consultancy, Richard Oliver International, to examine the system. (December 22nd, thanks David Bromage)

Victoria's (Australia) tram and train manufacturing industry will be destroyed, with up to 6000 jobs lost, if the largest private operator of the state's public transport system pushes ahead with plans to have rolling stock built overseas, industry insiders warn. National Express, the British transport giant that runs Swanston Trams, Bayside Trains and VLine Passenger services, confirms that it is talking to several companies, including foreign ones, in a bid to secure a deal. (December 22nd)

An A$1.4bn, 27 km rail link will speed travel across north-western Sydney, Australia by 2006 and ease congestion on other commuter lines. One of the largest links to be built in Sydney, it will also pass through seven existing stations which will be upgraded as part of the project. Most of the route will be located underground in tunnel. It will be fully integrated into the existing rail network. Official documents. (December 18th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comCommon safety standards are the European Commission's latest weapon for making recalcitrant governments and rail administrations grant access to their tracks to licensed operators. Any licensed rail operator meeting safety standards to run services along routes forming an agreed trans-European rail freight network - either within one country or internationally. Operators must be allowed to extend services along branch lines linking the main network to ports or important terminals within a certain distance. See also Cargoweb story. find (December 17th)

Light Rail Galore

The light-rail extension from San Jose to Mountain View in California opens today after an 11 a.m. ceremony at the downtown Mountain View depot at Castro Street and Central Expressway. People can ride the Tasman West line free until Feb. 1. Spurred by the first extension in eight years, an urban-style housing and office boom is occurring along the new, nearly eight-mile route. (December 17th, thanks Alan Reekie)

Mexico City has inaugurated a long-delayed new subway line, portraying its completion as a victory against budget restrictions imposed by the federal government. Construction of the 13,5 km B line, which began in October 1994, cost 4.5 billion pesos. A 10 km extension is scheduled to be completed by November 2000, taking the line beyond Mexico City proper and into the sprawling residential neighborhoods of Ecatepec, in the State of Mexico. (December 17th, thanks Alan Reekie)

A new light rail line has opened in Manila/Quezon City in the Philippines. But the $655-billion Metrostar Express stalled twice on the inaugural run. The new line, Line 3, is 17,8 km long, and connects at both ends with the 14 km Line 1. (December 15th, thanks Alan Reekie)

elevated railwayOne of the world's most polluted cities has a new weapon in the war against congested streets with the opening of a $1.5bn transport system. Bangkok's Skytrain - the city's first electric train service - began regular commercial service on Sunday the fifth. It is 100% privately funded which is unusual (unique?) for an urban transit service. See also FT.com story, New York Times story, and press release in German. find (December 5th/8th, thanks David Fry and Richard Mlynarik)

Major US freight railroads and Amtrak will temporarily halt operations just before midnight this New Year's Eve as a precaution against Year 2000 computer problems. (December 17th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comThe cost of upgrading British Railtrack's West Coast Main Line is set to rise to 5.8bn, almost two and a half times the original estimate in 1994. The sharp rise has been caused by Railtrack's decision to drop plans to use the advanced moving block signalling system because of concerns over whether it could be made to work. This would have allowed more trains to use the existing lines and avoided having to replace the ageing signalling infrastructure. The upgrade will be done in two phases; in Phase One, over 900 signals will be fitted with TPWS (Train Protection Warning System) and top speed will be 200km/h by 2002. Phase Two is slated for completion by 2005 and will let trains run at 225 km/h. For Phase Two, Railtrack will renew the existing lineside signaling and overlay on this a modern transmission-based signaling system following the ERTMS/ETCS standard (European Rail Traffic Management System/European Train Control System). ERTMS/ETCS is an "open standard" to which many different manufacturers are meant to offer competing products. find (December 15th)

British Franchise Extensions

FT.comBritish Virgin Rail has said it will use 1bn to buy 35 high speed tilting trains for the east coast main line from London to Edinburgh if the shadow Strategic Rail Authority awards it the franchise. Virgin said on Tuesday the 14th that it would spend a further 2.2bn on track and infrastructure improvements if it won the line, which is part of a review of franchises being carried out by the authority. (December 15th)

The Great North Eastern Railway has been selected by the Strategic Rail Authority of the UK as one of three rail franchises with which it will enter into negotiations for the replacement of its existing franchise which expires in April, 2003. The franchise replacement process cannot result in the early termination of GNER's existing franchise. The new franchise is expected to be for 20 years. find (December 8th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comVirgin Trains says it wants to bid to run the east coast mainline, on which the company is believed to be planning to operate high-speed tilting trains. Virgin, which already runs the west coast mainline and Cross Country Trains, is competing against Great North Eastern Railway, the current operator. (December 8th)

FT.comBritish Prism Rail says it would consider bidding for new franchises as they come up for renegotiation over the next few years. The group has already submitted proposals to renew its existing franchises - LTS Rail, WAGN, Wales & West and Cardiff Railway - for up to 20 years. The comments came as the group announced a fall in operating losses to 104,000 (2.6m) for the six months to October 16 - the company is projected to make a full-year operating profit because much of the revenue is skewed to the second half, when customers renew season tickets. Prism Rail website. find (December 2nd)

FT.comBritish Railtrack says it will challenge new efficiency targets proposed by Tom Winsor, the industry regulator. Mr Winsor published a provisional financial framework for the company for the five years from April 2001. Under the regime Railtrack would have to make efficiency gains of five per cent a year on an annual maintenance and renewal spend of around 1.3bn ($2.1bn). The document allows for a pre-tax rate of return of seven per cent on a regulatory asset base of 4.07bn. Chris Bolt, the previous regulator who retired earlier this year, had indicated that the rate of return would be in the order of five to six per cent on a base of around 3.5bn. find (December 15th)

Building a high-speed train system is a "logical next step" in meeting California's transportation needs, one that would complement existing road and air connections and generate more than $300 million a year in profits, according to a state board. The board also says that two public-opinion surveys found that more than 60% of Californians favor construction of the system even if they must pay more sales tax. Californians for High Speed Rail is an independent lobbying organisation. find (December 15th)

Nonchalance

In an underwhelming attempt to not block crossings, CSXT has promised not to park trains such that they block public highways in northern Ohio. CSXT calls it "a voluntary pilot demonstration program" which, in cooperation with local officials, establishes "No Parking Zones" for trains on selected (not all) crossings on highways. These crossings will be kept open in all preventable circumstances. A Toledo Blade story politely mentions "No Stopping Zones" even though CSXT's press release uses the phrase "No Parking Zones". (December 14th)

Freight railways have been fined almost 500 times in the Toledo/Indianapolis region for letting trains block crossings longer than five minutes. Concerned that the railways are treating fines for such violations as a cost of doing business, legislators have proposed laws that would hike the penalties for extended delays of more than 25 minutes and confer special "no-stop" status to certain crossings. find (December 13th)

www.speedrail.com.auAustralian Speedrail has submitted its detailed proposal for high speed rail service between Canberra and Sydney. The ACT, NSW and Commonwealth Governments will now evaluate this detailed submission with a view to making decisions during the first half of 2000. It is anticipated it would then be possible for construction to commence in 2001 and be completed by 2005. Rumours of poor Speedrail finances from before the submission of the report may be unfounded. A lobby group representing business, tourism, property and the construction industry has formed around Speedrail. find (December 13th)

Commuters who flock to Chennai, India in search of employment or to attend to their jobs each day from the western and northern suburbs are frustrated by a combination of inadequate services, inordinate delays and last minute cancellation of trains. "The pattern of giving priority to long distance trains, keeping commuter trains carrying office-goers, casual labour and students waiting, has eroded the credibility of the train service," says a regular passenger. (December 13th)

A German ICE caught fire in a maintenance hall on Wednesday the 8th. Three cars were destroyed. The cause has not been determined, but it may have been the airconditioning. (December 10th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

The European Investment Bank is lending Railtrack 635 million euros ($650.5 million) towards modernising and upgrading Britain's west coast mainline railway between London and Glasgow. "As one of the 14 priority TENs... the west coast mainline is a crucial element in the communications arteries of Europe," EIB President Sir Brian Unwin said. find (December 10th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Amtrak has ordered a further six double decker coaches from Alstom for service on the San Diegan corridor which serves major cities in Southern California and the Central Coast. Amtrak has previously ordered eight five-car double-deck trainsets, push/pulled by locomotives supplied by General Motors. (December 10th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comRailtrack says it may raise money via a rights issue to fund its burgeoning investment programme in the UK rail network. (December 8th)

Siemens says it has considered a closer cooperation between its Transportation Systems unit and Bombardier, but has no plans for such a move at the current time. Both companies are undergoing restructuring which might be aggravated by "discussions of a closer partnership", Siemens Chief Executive Heinrich von Pierer says. (December 6th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Australia Southern Railroad has signed a five-year service agreement with Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for the management and operation of BHP Whyalla Steelworks' rail network. The five-year renewable agreement with BHP for the operation of two narrow gauge iron ore lines and in-plant switching operations at Whyalla is worth in excess of A$30 million over its first term. (December 5th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Tube Selloff Coming Apart

FT.comBritain's embattled programme for the partial privatisation of London Underground has been dealt another blow since Taylor Woodrow, a leading contractor, said it was withdrawing from one of the bidding groups. Taylor Woodrow said the risks involved in the project far outweighed the potential rewards. The five consortia can each expect to spend about 10m on their bid for a 30-year concession to take over the Tube's ageing infrastructure. find (December 5th)

The British government has abandoned plans to allow Railtrack to take over responsibility for upgrading part of the London Underground and linking it to the national rail system. Railtrack and London Transport have not found it possible to identify practicable schemes that would deliver integration between the Tube and the national railway network in the way envisaged. (December 2nd)

A record 150 159 tonnes of freight crossed the Gotthard pass in Switzerland on Thursday November 25th. This was the first time since its opening in 1882 in which the 150 000t/day mark was reached. An earlier record of 149 310 tonnes was set in September of this year. Erstfeld station saw 84 southbound and 74 northbound goods trains pass though this last Thursday. The line was most heavily used during late night hours from 21h00 to midnight and from 1h30 to 5h00. Trains were typically passing every three to four minutes during those hours. (December 5th, reported by Richard Mlynarik)

FT.comA 600-km freight line from Liverpool to Lille via the Channel tunnel is being pushed by Central Railway, a privately owned company. It is asking contractors to provide up to 10m in risk finance to launch the 5bn project. Central's proposed freight-only railway would run mainly on existing or disused tracks via Manchester, Sheffield and the Midlands to London, where it would either cross the city in tunnels or skirt the south-west suburbs. It would then run alongside the existing Tonbridge-Dover line. (December 2nd)

Signal failure may be to blame for a commuter train disaster outside Sydney, Australia, which killed at least six and as many as 12 people on Thursday the 2nd. The dead and most of the injured were in the front carriage of the commuter train, which was torn open in the impact with a car carrier at the rear of the almost-stationary Indian Pacific. See also ABC story and story at Danger Ahead. (December 2nd, thanks Wai-Kit Tsang)

Six people died south of Los Angeles on the evening of Saturday the 27th when a taxicab lost a race with a commuter train. The cab broke in half and caught fire. All six people in the cab, four men and two women, died at the scene. (December 2nd)

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