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April 2000

Railpower develops environmentally friendly locomotives and has recently recieved a CAD $1.5 million investment brokered by Goepel McDermid, the company which brought Ballard to market. Ballard makes a fuel cell which only leaves water vapour as a byproduct; the cell will be available in cars starting in 2004. Railpower has developed a gas-powered turbine electric motor for yard switching engines. The turbine runs at a constant, optimal speed and powers an electrical generator which powers the electric engine. This solution cuts NOx emissions by 90% compared to other yard switching engines. See also Railpower and Ballard websites. (April 29th)

CN's and BNSF's legal challenge to the Surface Transportation board's 15-month moratorium has been speeded by a decision to make the process "expedited". Oral argument on expedited judicial review will be held June 13, 2000. See also BNSF press release, Globe and Mail story, and ERN backgrounder. find (April 29th)

A pregnant woman was one of three people hospitalised when an XPT train hit a semi-trailer near Orange in New South Wales, Australia on Thursday the 27th. Eyewitnesses say the truck was crossing tracks at Spring Hill just before midday when the Dubbo-Sydney Countrylink train clipped its tail, derailing the train's engine and damaging a signal box. (April 28th)

Sydney train controllers will vote on an agreement rather than strike over it next Monday, following a day of negotiations. The threatened stop-work would have left thousands of commuters stranded. Members of State Rail (Australia) management met with the NSW Labor Council and rail unions today in an effort to resolve the dispute over pay increases and job cuts. (April 28th)

Sydvästen Bankrupt

SJ will take over the wcml from Sydvästen on May 11th, but how much SJ is being payed by Rikstrafiken to do so is still a secret. Sources to the G�teborgs-Posten newspaper say that SJ is asking for SEK20m. "Our experience of purchasing is that we in the future won't have any one-year contracts; instead the contract period should be five years," says Bj�rn Sundelin, chief negotiator at Rikstrafiken. (April 29th)

Sydvästen's owners have put the company in bankruptcy proceedings, but the bankruptcy reciever will run the trains untill a solution is found. SJ will probably run the trains starting the week of May 8th, but is demanding SEK20m to do it. Sydvästen's owners, the Go-Ahead Group, Via GTI, and BK Tåg were unwilling to put more money into Sydvästen. When they put in their winning bid to run the Swedish West Coast Main Line for one year with no subsidy, they were reassured by government officials that the unusually short franchise would be extended. But this was not written in to the contract and the government decided in January that the franchise would not be extended. The government has thus handled the issue with the sensitivity of a steamroller and lost at least 20 million crowns of taxpayer money in the process. Not to mention all the uncertainty, delay and other costs for passengers, Sydvästen and SJ. See also G-P story and the press release. (April 28th)

Sydvästen will stop operating trains on Friday morning unless a meeting held on Thursday produces results the management is pleased with. Sydvästen CEO Rolf Torwald says that when the one-year franchise contract was signed, government representatives insinuated that it would be extended. That hasn't happened, and Sydvästen is making less money than extended. But Rikstrafiken, the Swedish authority for purchasing unprofitable rail services, says that they will sue Sydvästen if they do not fulfill their obligation to run the trains. However, Sydvästen says they will go bankrupt and Rikstrafiken would thus have to sue the owners of Sydvästen. This would likely require a clause permitting this in the contract. Thursday's meeting will likely result in either an extended franchise or SJ taking over operations. A third possibility is that Sydvästen gets regional traffic purchased by regional authorities along the west coast main line, while SJ still gets to run its Nordlys intercity København-G�teborg-Oslo trains with NSB next year as planned. See also press release and G-P article. (April 26th)

Sydvästen, the operator of the Swedish west coast main line, may try to get rid of the one-year franchise before the year is up. The company, backed by Via GTI, the Go-Ahead Group and BK Tåg, had planned to make a small profit and be well positioned if the government were to extend the unusually short franchise. But revenues are lower than expected since passengers are increasingly buying the monthly passes from the regional transit authorities, instead of the plain train tickets which give revenue to Sydvästen. But the regional transit authority says that isn't true. Sydvästen may try to hand over the operation to SJ, or SJ may buy Sydvästen and run it as a subsidiary for regional services on the wcml.

Sydvästen may be able to extend the franchise though, since a government bill says that the wcml will be franchised next year as well. Previously, it looked like the franchise would only be for one year and thereafter the line would be SJ's again. The government bill says that NSB and SJ should run their international Nordlys trains, and that another company could run regional services. Parliament must approve the bill before it becomes law. Editor's lament: wouldn't it have been much easier just to have made the franchise five years from the start? Who ever heard of a one-year franchise? They're complete nincompoops in the "ministry of business" which swallowed the ministry of communications after the last election. find (April 16th-18th)

Danish DSB is making it even easier to bring your bike on the train this summer. The base price for bringing your bike is 10kr, and depending on how many zones you travel, the maximum price is 50kr. You need to reserve a space for your bike on InterCity trains, but not plain trains. The bike comes with you on the same train, instead of having to be taken apart and sent with a later train such as in neighbouring Sweden. 1 Euro = dkk7,45 ~ US$1. (April 18th)

bridgeFlooding in Hungary is forcing detours. More info will be available at HunRail later. (April 18th)

Railtrack's Role

The UK rail regulator has proposed that Railtrack, the UK company that maintains and operates track and signals, should be given greater incentives and should be able to increase access charges. Tom Winsor, the Rail Regulator, said that Railtrack should be incentivised rather than penalised for investment. Railtrack said that this could mean that access charges could rise by an estimated £1bn a year by 2006. (April 15th)

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett told The Observer newspaper that 'We have moved completely off the profit agenda and the shareholder agenda. After we were privatised we stayed on a profit and shareholder agenda for too long. We have now gone over to the public service obligations agenda as agreed with [rail regulator] Tom Winsor.' But Railtrack denies this is true. Also, Railtrack has unveiled a bigger than expected spending package for the ageing rail network, saying it could spend 52bn over the next 12 years. find (April 3rd)

Montreal-Toronto in 3� hrs

Eighty per cent of the new Via money will go to the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, slashing travel times between Montreal and Toronto from just over 4 hours to 3� hours. find (April 14th)

Canadian Transport Minister David Collenette has announced a new funding package to revitalize Via Rail Canada worth $400 million over the next five years. "Today, the Government of Canada is acting to significantly renew passenger rail in Canada," said Mr. Collenette. This reverses a 10-year old policy to lower subsidies to Via. The money, which is in addition to Via Rail's annual $170 million subsidy from the government, is earmarked for fleet renewal, signal modernization and infrastructure improvements over the next five years to eliminate the accidents, delays and dwindling service that have plagued the 23-year-old system. See also press release. find (April 13th)

The Quebec government has unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan that will bring sweeping changes to Montreal-area highways and public-transit networks over the next 10 years. By 2010, officials said, Montrealers will have at least eight new metro stations, seven more kilometres of underground track, a new suburban train to Mont-Saint-Hilaire and new bus-only lanes on the island and on the ice bridge next to the Champlain Bridge. But critics say that metro extensions off the island of Montr�al are a waste of money. The Anjou extension of line 5 has no critics, however. (April 14th)

Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is planning new rail services. Diesel Fuel -- not the more usual electricity -- will propel light-rail trains from Greenboro Transit Station to LeBreton Flats, beginning in August 2001. The pilot project, which was approved by regional council in September, will bring to Ottawa lightweight trains made by a German subsidiary of Canadian-based Bombardier. Council approved an infrastructure cost of $16 million and $394 000 operating costs for each of the first two years. (April 14th)

Friend Hushed Driver's Alchohol Problems

The driver had been drunk at work before -- but his friend and collegue drove for him and didn't alert management. "If I had known, of course I would have taken him out of service and made sure he got help," says Johan Masgård, traffic chief at BSM Järnväg, the private operator now owned by BK Tåg. The petroleum derailment in Borlänge has caused union opposition to random drugs testing to evaporate. "It think we can reach an agreement now. The important thing is that everyone with safety work gets tested," says Bertil Hallen at Seko, the biggest union at Sweden's biggest train operator SJ. Detractors to testing felt that if drivers were to be tested, every employee of SJ should be tested regardless of line of work. (April 14th)

Automatic train control braked the train three times in the 30 kilometres before the train crashed in Borlänge station, rail administration Banverket reports. At one point, the train was braked to a stop even though the driver had the opportunity to override braking once a slower, safer speed had been reached. ATC does not cover Borl�nge itself, however. The driver is thought to have passed a signal at red or caution just ahead of the turnout/switch/point in which the train derailed. Tests confirm the driver was drunk, but police won't say how drunk. See also G-P story and the press release. (April 12th)

650 people will be evacuated for a week while the train is emptied of its contents. The train drivers' union has blocked random drugs & alchohol testing for "integrity" reasons. A new track has been built so that SSAB's steel factory in Borlänge can continue its operations though the old track factory track is blocked by the derailed train. (April 10th)

Six freight cars with liquified petroleum gas derailed and tipped over in Borlänge, Sweden (about 300 km northwest of Stockholm) on Saturday morning (the 8th) at 2:30 am. Each car contains 54 metric tonnes of LPG but none started leaking. The station and central Borlänge were declared off-limits to the public, and thousands of people will probably be evacuated on Monday when works starts on emptying the cars. The driver is suspected to have been drunk and having driven faster than the 30 km/h limit. If he had more than 0,2 per mille alchohol in his blood, he risks a fine or max six months in jail. The train was run by private BSM Järnväg for SSAB which uses the LPG for heating steel. (April 9th)

Local trains in Tokyo will be filled to just 151% of capacity during rush hour, down from today's 183%, if train and subway operators implement a plan conceived by the Japanese government. The problem is that the plan does not detail who will pay how much of the US$32bn cost. The capacity percentages reflect the total capacity of the train including seats and standing room, with newspaper reading possible up to 180%. It is thus not possible to stay informed on the Yamatone circle line where students get extra money for cramming in passengers in the trains, which are filled to 237% capacity. If the plan is followed, Tokyo train riders would not be any more squished then their compacted brothers and sisters in London and Paris. They would also enjoy 46% more space than in 1975 when trains typically were 221% full in the rush hour. Source: Computer Sweden, April 14th. (April 14th)

An ambitious �8 billion plan to provide Dublin with a European-style public transport system has been presented to the Irish government. Electrified suburban rail services to Kildare and Maynooth, metro lines to Dublin Airport, more light rail links, some in tunnels, and an east-west underground in the city centre. These proposals are understood to be the main elements of an �8 billion package presented to the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure development yesterday (the 11th) by senior Dublin Transportation Office officials. Also, the Luas light rail project for Dublin should be built as quickly as possible, irrespective of what may be planned in the future, because the first two lines serving Tallaght and Sandyford would be completed by 2003. It is understood that this was the main thrust of the presentation made to the Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure yesterday by the Luas project director, Mr Donal Mangan. find (April 12th, thanks Alan Reekie and Paul Treanor)

London "Gets it"

London Transport is preparing ambitious plans to develop a network of trams and trolleybuses, which were last part of everyday life in the city in 1952. London Transport is preparing to present detailed plans for trams and guided buses to the London mayor, when he or she is elected in May. They would run from Camden to Stockwell; from Ilford to Barking and Romford; from Greenwich to Woolwich and beyond; and from Uxbridge to Ealing and White City. Plans are also being drawn up for similar schemes in Nottingham, Leeds and Portsmouth. (April 11th)

After keen interest London Underground has published the shortlist of six bidders who have prequalified for the Property Partnership. The bidders will assume the risk in developing Underground stations and properties. More on the project. (April 11th)

Senio London City bankers believe arranging and selling a bond to finance improvements to the London Underground is feasible and could be simpler than the Government's preferred plan to break up the network and lease it to private operators. The high-level support for the bond plan will come as a major boost to independent mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone. The clear front-runner in the mayoral race is strongly opposed to the Government's preferred public-private partnership scheme. (April 11th)

The UK government plans to test how much it would cost the taxpayer to upgrade London's crumbling underground rail system, comparing its planned public-private partnership with bond financing. But the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions angrily rejected a report that it might abandon its policy of selling off long-term contracts to the private sector under pressure from maverick leftwinger Ken Livingstone. "Red Ken", hot favourite to become London's first elected mayor, has rejected the government's policy saying it would be cheaper to raise money through the capital markets. find (April 3rd)

Fire in Norway

Lillestrøm station won't be opened untill Thursday at the earliest. (April 11th)

Two propane tanks are still burning at Lillestrm station following Wednesday's crash of the two trains carrying them. The danger of explosion is lower but an area evacuation order remains in effect. Train routes north of Oslo, including the airport express to Gardermoen, remain out of service because of the crash and fire at Lillestr�m. Busses are replacing the trains but passengers are warned to expect delays. (April 6th)

The BBC has video footage.

A train carrying butane gas rear-ended another in Lillestrøm, Norway, at 1 am Wednesday morning CET. One butane gas car is leaking and the gas is on fire. 3000 people have been evacuated. The accident has disrupted all rail traffic to the north from Oslo, including the Gardermoen airport link. Both the line and the locomotives are equipped with Automatic Train Control, ATC, and the reason for the collision is unknown. Quick Update: Brake failure caused the accident. find (April 5th)

Imagine stepping on a train near Chicago Union Station at any convenient hour and whisking off at speeds of up to 180km/h to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati or Cleveland. It could happen in the next five to 10 years, said transportation experts at the second annual Midwest Rail Advocates Conference in Chicago on Saturday the 1st. find (April 10th)

A high speed train link between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane has huge support, a survey has revealed. The poll, which sought the views of more than 1,000 people in communities along the proposed corridor, found that 90 per cent believed it would be good for the nation and 84 per cent thought it would benefit regional Australia. find (April 10th)

American rail stocks are rising as investors flee the IT-Microsoft-DOJ rough-and-tumble. Biggies like BNSF, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific have risen since the end of last week, though smaller or more troubled companies like CSX, Railamerica and Wisconsin Central have fallen. (April 5th)

Shares in British Stagecoach fell by 40% on Monday the 3rd after the company warned of cost pressure and said it had sold its Porterbrook train leasing business for a total of �1.44bn ($2.3bn) to Abbey National, the UK bank. Stagecoach said that it was selling Porterbrook because the business needed additional capital to develop further. find (April 3rd)

Wisconsin Central Transportation has increased its stake in British EWS from approximately 39% to approximately 42% of outstanding shares of Great Britain's largest rail freight carrier. (April 3rd, thanks Bengt Mut�n)

The US Federal Railroad Administration has found deteriorating track conditions on many areas of the CSX rail system, including lines used by passenger trains, according to officials of the agency and the railroad. The agency began the two-week systemwide track audit on Feb. 22nd because of a 60% increase over five years in track-caused accidents on the 37 000 km system. find (April 3rd)

The US Surface Transportation Board is seeking public comment on new rules covering major rail mergers. The Board indicated that it intends to propose the elimination of the "one case at a time" rule, which prevents the Board from considering "downstream effects", ie what other railroads will do in reponse to a merger. In a separate development, the Board has granted BNSF access rights over UP tracks to a former Southern Pacific "island", ie a track which was not connected to SP before SP's merger with UP. BNSF will now be able to serve a coal-burning power plant operated by Entergy Arkansas, if Entergy chooses to build track to the former SP "island". The UP had argued against giving BNSF trackage rights since SP didn't have a realistic way of serving Entergy. find (April 3rd)

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