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April 2003

Amtrak Submits Corridor Maintenance Plan

Amtrak has unveiled an $8bn, five-year plan to halt deterioration in the Northeast corridor and to repair locomotives and cars. The proposal, several thousand pages long, is by far the most detailed capital plan ever produced by Amtrak, giving exact budgets and schedules for thousands of projects. It proposes no new significant passenger services, focusing instead on improving the reliability and cost-efficiency of existing services. See also press release and "Amtrak's Top Gunn", a glowing profile of Amtrak's CEO David L Gunn. find (April 29th)

Kansas City Southern Takes Over TFM?

Kansas City Southern plans to take over TFM, Mexico's biggest railroad, as part of a plan to create a new company called NAFTA Rail. KCS is paying $200m to buy Grupo TMM's interest in TFM and another railroad, the Texas Mexican Railway Co. Grupo TMM is a co-owner with Kansas City Southern in TFM and the Texas Mexican Railway, and is said to have financial problems. KCS says it will improve efficiency by installing its computer system at these railways, and that customers would benefit from simpler options. A ruling from the Surface Transportation Board competition authority could take six months to a year. See also KCS press release. find (April 29th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

National Express Quits Franchises?

logo Passenger train operator National Express wants to reduce its nine British franchises to as few as three, at most six, and every franchise must be profitable. "We have been content to look at the division as a whole . . . from 2004 we want viable operating companies making fair returns," says Phil White, chief executive, to the Financial Times. NE quit its Australian franchises in December. find (April 22nd)

London Airports Need More Rail

Gatwick ExpressBritish airport operator BAA has warned the UK government that its airport expansion plans will fail unless they are supported by better rail links. BAA is talking to the government and Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, about a possible congestion charge on vehicles at Heathrow to help to pay for rail and bus services. find (April 22nd)

Mail Underground to Close

An underground railway in London used for mail is to be closed due to falling demand for mail. (April 22nd)

Hungarian Axles Fixed

Hungarian train services were stopped on 34 lines and limited on 27 lines in January, when MAV decided to withdraw 259 BZ multiple units after routine checks found cracks in the axles. Since then, services have restarted on most lines, and all will be restored by October. Repairs and replacement busses have cost Ft310m (€1,26m). (April 22nd)

Basra Rail Link Restored

The first train to Basra since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime has arrived in Iraq's second city. British troops hope to use the 68 km long railway to transport much-needed aid supplies from the port town of Umm Qasr to Basra. See also map showing railway. (April 19th)

EU Blocks SJ Rescue?

The Swedish government's plan to rescue passenger train operator SJ from bankruptcy is to have profitable state-owned companies pay dividends to a fund which would then be used to prop up companies like SJ. This would avoid SJ getting a direct subsidy from the government. However, business lobbies and the parliamentary opposition warn that the plan may not be sneaky enough to get past the European Union's competition and state aid rules, and that the necessary legal deliberations will not be ready in time. SJ announced last fall that it needs €100m by September or it will have to cease operations. See also DN story. find (April 17th)

Tranz Rail Problems Worsen

Ratings Dispute Crashes Stock

Shares in Tranz Rail, New Zealand's privatised train and ferry company, lost half their value Wednesday the 16th after a cashflow crisis was disclosed by a newspaper. Court documents from a dispute with rating agency Standard & Poor's were obtained by the New Zealand Herald. This information shot down Tranz Rail's stock to a record low of 35 cents, leaving the company worth NZ$80,5m. The collapse risks shareholders bailing out and selling their shares to a bidder intending to take over the company.

Cash Shortage Intensifies Rumours

The cash shortage raises pressure on Tranz Rail to sell assets, which could result in rail customers running their own trains over the network, or the government taking over the network and opening track access to all comers. Tranz Rail has responded by appointing a new interim financial officer. The company also will present a plan for changes in transport policy in May. The trucking division was put up for sale in March. TR is also selling rail cars to a foresting company and the Wellington commuter rail authority, as well as the Wellington Railway Station. See also stories at International Herald-Tribune and Waikato Times. find (April 17th, thanks David Bromage)

EWS Considers 200 km/h Trains

EWS logo British EWS may start 200 km/h freight trains between Edinburgh and London, taking less than four hours. EWS fastest trains currently run at 177 km/h (110 mph). New 145 km/h (90 mph) container services for air cargo will be introduced between Glasgow and London, travelling on the West Coast Main Line, later this year. EWS runs 8000 trains each week. find (April 9th)

EU Approves Cabotage starting 2008

Freight cabotage within EU countries by 2008 was approved by the EU on March 28th. Three countries including France voted against the plan, which awaits approval by the European Parliament. Open access on certain international routes went into effect two weeks earlier. Cabotage means that a company from country A may provide services between two points in country B. The plan would also harmonize standards and safety rules, and establish a European Railway Agency to oversee cooperation. See also European Commission ‘railway package’ page, stories at Ny Teknik, Riksdag och Departement, and bulletins at IRJ and Eurail Press. find (April 8th)

New Bombardier Tube Trains

Bombardier Builds 1738 Tube Coaches

tube train Bombardier has won a €5bn deal to provide trains, signalling and project management for upgrading London's aging metro. The contracts run over 15 years and were awarded by Metronet, a private consortium taking over two thirds of the Tube. The 1738 metro coaches will be built at Derby. Bombardier owns 20% of Metronet. See also BBC story, IRJ bulletin, and press releases from Bombardier, Metronet and TfL. (April 7th)

Tube Privatisation Complete

metronet logo, link to official siteThe British government's controversial public-private partnership (PPP) for the Tube was implemented Friday the 4th when Metronet took over two-thirds of the underground rail system in a 30-year franchise. Metronet will "deep clean" their trains and 150 stations in the first year, and equip stations with surveillance cameras, public address systems, help points and new destination indicators. Metronet will be investing €10,3bn in its network by 2010. The other third of the network was taken over by Tube Lines in January. It will invest €6,45bn in its three lines by 2010. Tube Lines and Metronet report to Transport for London (TfL) which assumes overall responsibility for the Tube, including staffing stations and trains.

Christian Wolmar, critic and author of "Down The Tube", says PPP "is an extremely expensive way of bringing in money from the private sector for a complex and unproven scheme", and that Metronet and Tube Lines will be able to make large profits at low risk. See also BBC stories 1 and 2, and IRJ bulletin. find (April 7th)

Laptops Replace Paper in Swiss Locos

Psion logoSwiss SBB has equipped its train drivers with Psion netBook ruggedised laptop computers. The computer shows the driver all route data, such as construction sites on the track, rail stations and other relevant operation points. An update of the netBook with the data on the server gives the train driver a full picture of all current route changes before he starts his journey. The computers replace 40 tons of paper, Psion says. The netBooks run an application written specially for SBB by Excom. • As it happens, your editor recently bought a netBook too. See also review. (April 3rd)

New Croatian Colours

photoToma Bacic has sent in some early photos of Croatian HZ passenger coaches in new livery: 1, 2 and 3. (April 3rd)

NSB Drops Signatur?

Signatur logoNorwegian NSB is considering dropping its Signatur and Agenda brands for intercity and regional trains, in favour of developing a new identity which can compete with large international companies like Arriva and Connex, which are moving into Norway. The Signatur brand has been tarnished by axle problems with the Adtranz BM73 trains used, which has forced a lowering of the top speed from 210 km/h to 160. See also photos of and data for Signatur and Agenda trains. find (April 2nd)

New British Safety Board

RSSB logoThe British Rail Safety and Standards Board was created April 1st. It is a not-for-profit company owned by the railway industry, and succeeds Railway Safety, a unit of Railtrack, the former track owner. It will establish and maintain existing standards, audit the compliance of train operators with both these standards and their own safety cases, and represent British rail industry in European safety issues. See also RSSB Glossary of Definitions in PDF, which is unavailable at their website. (April 2nd)

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