April 2001

Oz Completes Transcontinental

Australia launches massive railway project The northern half of Australia's north-south transcontinental railway will be built starting in May, after a financial agreement Friday April 20th. The A$1.3bn, 1400km project is for a railway between Alice Springs in the heart of Australia and Darwin on the north coast. Prime Minister John Howard said that "It's one of those projects that governments have got to support despite the bean counters and despite the cynicism of people who don't believe in nation-building projects."

The consortium's aims appear relatively modest. With the track tied into a new A$200m deep-water port in Darwin, it hopes to win time-sensitive freight business destined for Asia - the 38-hour rail journey across the continent will cut the journey from Adelaide to Tokyo by 11 days. The AustralAsia Railway will be built by the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium, which will own and operate it for 50 years. The railway will then be transferred to the government. See also Financial Times story and government Q&A/FAQ. (April 25th, thanks Peter Kain)

Danes Buy 42 Double-Deckers Bombardier (Görlitz) will deliver 42 double-deck cars, including nine driving cab coaches, for the DSB line København - Kalundborg. The trains will be purchased by British Porterbrook for €55m and leased to DSB, and delivered by November 2002. Fifteen diesel locomotives class ME will be equipped with ZWS (Zeitmultiplexe Wendezugsteuerung - the same system that modern push-pull trains in Germany use to remote-control the locomotives) for these services. See also map, DSB page and photos of similar German cars. (April 25th, thanks Tobias Köhler)

drawingAnd 1200 of Those Please British Stagecoach has ordered 1200 new Desiro UK cars from Siemens Transportation Systems Group via Angel Trains Leasing. The order is for 862 20m cars and 339 23m cars, which can be combined to form EMUs of a capacity from 200 to 270 passengers with a top speed of 160 km/h. They will be delivered from 2002 to 2008 and be used in the South West Trains commuter train franchise in London. The €2.5bn order includes a maintenance and repair package. Stagecoach aims to retain the SWT franchise and was recently made preferred bidder. See also BBC story. (April 25th)

OmniTrax Applies for Access to CN Canadian OmniTrax has applied to authorities for access to 2400km of Canadian National's track, saying that negotiations with CN have been unfruitful. CN says OmniTrax is trying to exploit the transportation concerns of Western grain farmers and politicians to secure cheap transportation assets for its shareholders. "We don't want a bunch of guys trying to pull a fast one with the support of politicians," says CN's boss Paul Tellier. CN argues that the Canadian Transportation Agency, the authority which OmniTrax has applied to, does not have jurisdiction to grant running rights. A ruling on jurisdiction is expected this month. See also: CN aims to halve grain transport cycle. (April 19th)

DB AG Chairman Resigns Dieter Vogel resigned as chairman of DB AG's supervisory board on March 7th after rumours that he would be replaced. He felt the government did not throw its weight behind him to quash the rumours. His successor will be Michael Frenzel who has been on the board since July 2000. The Die Welt newspaper reports that the DB AG's managing director Helmut Mehdorn was unhappy with Mr Vogel as the latter was meddling in strategy issues. The resignation was not related to the government's intention to wrest control of the rail network from DB AG, the dominant operator which also owns the track. See also DB AG press release. (April 19th)

Real Restaurants Return to SJ Svenska Orientexpressen is a company which runs two traditional restaurant cars in SJ's trains. When the X 2000 trains took over the role as intercity workhorse, SJ no longer saw the need for the traditional loss-making restaurant cars. But Marcus Petterson has made a business of offering real meals on real procelain plates in a plastic-free environment. His two navy-blue cars, bearing the names of his grandmothers Hildur and Ingegerd, will now have the company of another five renovated cars, named after his grandmother's sisters. See also www.orientexpressen.com. (April 18th, thanks Tobias Köhler)

Tripple Tracks in Stockholm Swedish Banverket is beginning planning for a controversial third track from South Station to Central Station. An earlier attempt to build this track ended in an uproar, and the focus has shifted to quadrupling track between the Älvsjö suburban station across the Årsta straight to South Station. These tracks will be completed by 2004, and Bv aims to have the third track through the old town to Central Stations ready by 2011. (April 18th)

NE Merges British Franchises British National Express plans to combine three of its franchises with the loss of almost a quarter of total management jobs. Critics say the possible disruption from the merger and the loss of expertise could cause further problems for passengers who have endured six months of chaos since the fatal Hatfield derailment. (April 17th)

TEE Lives German DB AG, Swiss SBB and Austrian ÖBB are procuring 116 trains for "middle distance", ie up to 400 km. They would run at 200-230 km/h and have been concieved in the "TEE Rail Alliance". TEE, which stands for Trans Europ Express, was a name for such services during the seventies. It started as first-class only, but later added second class, and was finally transmogrified and diluted into EuroCity. (April 16th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Railtrack Doesn't Get It

Bechtel Builds CTRL The American engineering giant Bechtel is to take control of building the £4.3bn second phase of the Channel tunnel rail link from Railtrack. The deal, one of several announcements, is the first sure sign that Railtrack will lose responsibility for investing in new projects on Britain's creaking rail network. Bechtel will now be responsible for running the project and gathering a consortium of contractors to complete the work in 2008. The government will provide partial funding of about £1bn. (April 12th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Railtrack Concentrates on Maintenance? British Railtrack is considering plans to split its core business of operating and maintaining the rail network from the part responsible for making large improvements. Railtrack would change its role to become a holding company overseeing their businesses. (April 11th)

Railtrack Shares hit 4-Year Low Railtrack shares fell to a four-year low on Tuesday amid investor concerns about the stringent conditions imposed by the government this week in return for a £1.5bn ($2.13bn) handout. Analysts highlighted worries about Railtrack's ability to return the rail network to normal, uncertainty about the future regulatory regime and the loss of the company's monopoly over big infrastructure projects. (April 4th)

HSR in Turkey Bidding for the Istanbul-Ankara rapid train project will be launched April 20, while trains will start running in 2003. The trip will take 135 minutes, and the speed of the trains will be 230km/h. See also Turkishpress.com story. (April 12th, thanks Toma Bacic)

Swindlers in Estonia Gibb Limited, a British privatisation consultancy, is being blamed in Estonia over a controversial rail sell-off. Gibb is facing demands to repay its £1.75m fee after the arrest of one investor and the discovery that a key figure in the deal is a fugitive swindler. (April 12th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Oz Trains Get Black Boxes All Australian trains will be fitted with aircraft-style black box data loggers within 18 months, following the April 11th release of the final Glenbrook accident inquiry report. The devices, costing $10 million, were one of 95 recommendations by Justice Peter McInerney in his third report following the December 1999 tragedy, this time focusing on rail safety. (April 12th, thanks David Bromage)

Late Trains and Raised Fares at Virgin British Virgin Trains is expected to come under renewed fire on Thursday the 12th over planned fare rises when the latest train performance figures from the Strategic Rail Authority show that at most only half its services ran on time in February. The figures come only a week after Virgin announced increases averaging nearly 10 per cent - prompting the SRA to call a meeting this morning with Chris Green, Virgin's chief executive, to explain the increases. (April 12th)

Unions Squash SNCF Reform The management of SNCF, France's state-run railway system, on Thursday shelved plans for a big operational overhaul, to head off two weeks of increasingly disruptive industrial action by protesting trades unions. The core of the railways' plan is to break up the highly centralised management structure, and create a series of regional centres with considerable autonomy over all aspects of operations, ranging from freight and passenger services to property development. In this way the SNCF management hopes to provide more efficient and competitive services. The unions have seen this plan as a break with the SNCF's institutionalised role in French society and a step towards eventual deregulation and privatisation. (April 6th)

EU Okays Bombardier-Adtranz Merger The European Commission said on Tuesday it conditionally approved Bombardier's $725 million purchase of DaimlerChrysler AG's rail unit Adtranz, creating the world's biggest producer of railway equipment. The Commission said the companies had agreed to license other firms to ensure that independent companies continue to sell regional light rail trains and trams in Germany, now that Adtranz is disappearing. But the Commission warned that future mergers in the field will be "likely to require very close scrutiny". See also Montreal Gazette story. (April 3rd)

Reform and More Money in Belgium Only a few days after a train crash left eight people dead, Belgium's government has agreed to spend more than budgeted on modernising the country's railways. Some €16bn will be spent over 12 years. The rail company's organisation will also be shaken up and punctuality and passenger targets introduced. Unlike its predecessor, the new board will not feature trade unionists, a step that upset the Socialists. (April 2nd)

Sokol Flies in Russia Russia is in the final stages of constructing a high-speed train link between Moscow and St Petersburg, becoming the first east European country successfully to develop a high-technology rail system. The new Sokol or Falcon electric train - made entirely with Russian technology - will start running in August. It will link the country's two largest cities in three hours and 40 minutes. Previously the trip took a little less than five hours. (April 2nd)

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