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April 2004

Broken Trams Hinder Siemens' Profit

A design error in Siemens' Combino trams has cost the company €364 in three months. 170 tram experts are at work fixing the problems, and many cities which bought Combinos have taken them all out of service. Transit authorities say they are billing Siemens for their extra costs, but Siemens says they aren't paying. In Potsdam, Germany, museum trams are coming to the rescue. Siemens' profit has been rescued by a 60% increase in mobile phone sales. See also stories at Eurail Press and Ny Teknik. archive (April 29th)

Rail Rubbers Reduce Noise

Train noise was reduced by 3dB when 100m of track was noise-dampened using rubber affixed to the sides of the rails with simple clamps. The effect is significant but is drowned out by the trains themselves. The tests are being done by Swedish rail administration Banverket near Svedala in southern Sweden. Banverket is also testing another technique with tiny noise screens affixed to the track with powerful magnets. Banverket says the tests increase pressure on train operators to make their trais less noisy. See also Ny Teknik story. archive (April 29th)

SJ Cooperates with Competitor

TiB Itino Diesel train Swedish state passenger train operator SJ is co-operating with private competitor Tågkompaniet to run an unprofitable franchise, Tåg i Bergslagen. Tågkompaniet will take over operations August 16th till the end of the franchise in the summer of 2006. The two companies plan to continue cooperation to strengthen their position against large multinational companies like Connex. Separately, TiB is suing SJ for not honoring the franchise extension to 2009. See also Dagens Nyheter story, Tågkompaniet press release, and Tåg i Bergslagen notice. archive (April 24th, photo Ulf Palm/TiB)

North Korean Blast Kills 154

Two trains collided in a North Korean station on Thursday the 22nd. The ensuing explosion obliterated the station, reports the BBC, quoting aid workers. It appears power cables touched rail wagons loaded with ammonium nitrate fertiliser. The station is called Ryongchon and is located in the north near the Chinese border. Hours before the explosion, North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, passed through Ryongchon by train on his way home from a trip to China. This has fueled speculation on the cause of the accident. See also Ryongchon backgrounder. (April 24th)

Rumours of Railion Expansion

Green Cargo Officially for Sale

Green Cargo logo The Swedish government wishes to sell freight operator Green Cargo to a company which could help it expand internationally. International traffic is growing twice as fast as domestic, and a foreign partner/owner would make it easier for Green Cargo to take advantage of this. Green Cargo has lost money since it was formed out of SJ's freight division in 2000, but has reduced its loss and number of employees, while increasing volume and punctuality. German Railion has long sought to buy Green Cargo. Much of Green Cargo's foreign traffic goes through Germany. Green Cargo currently depends on foreign train operators to drive its trains outside Sweden. Due to new open access laws, these operators are also potential competitors. See also press releases from the government and Green Cargo, newspaper stories 1 and 2, article by Leif Pagrotsky, Minister of Business, government proposition PDF, and older rumour article. (April 23rd)

Railion Buys ÖBB Freight?

Railion logo German Railion wants to buy state-owned Rail Cargo Austria, but the Austrian government says it is not selling, and that the recent reform envisages RCA expanding market share. Railion believes that in two or three years, there will only be room for 3-4 large rail freight groups in Europe. Perhaps Railion is right, because open access for rail freight will be implemented in the EU in 2007. Building on the partial deregulation from March 2003, this will be complete deregulation including international, domestic, and cabotage. Railion has previously swallowed Danish and Dutch freight companies as well as minorities in other rail freight operators. Swiss SBB has expanded outside its borders, and Norwegian CargoNet has bought the Swedish intermodal operator RailCombi. archive (April 13th)

Youth Sabotaged Paddington

A fifteen-year-old boy who sabotaged track and signals near Paddington station in London has been apprehended by police. Trains pass the affected area at up to 160 km/h. The damage had the potential to cause injuries and death. A spokesman for Network Rail said: "Crimes of this nature can lead to a penalty of life imprisonment. We would like to see perpetrators prosecuted to act as a deterrent to others." See also story at The Scotsman. (April 20th)

NYC Collision Injures Passengers

An Amtrak train slammed into a Long Island Rail Road commuter train parked at New York's Penn Station during Monday morning rush hour, causing minor injuries to 130 people. See also Sydney Morning Herald story. (April 19th, thanks David Trinh)

X 2000 Out-competes Airlines

X 2000 trains Four years after Sweden's biggest airport, Stockholm-Arlanda, was connected to the rail network, three smaller airports have closed. Another three, larger ones, are losing money and may be sold or closed. All six serve towns which have 200 km/h X 2000 service to Stockholm. The owner, airport administration Luftfartsverket, says airports within 500 km of the Arlanda hub performed worse than other airports in recent years. See also Luftfartsverket press release, station info in English from Luftfartsverket and train operator SJ, and Erik's essay at an airline lobby's website. (April 17th)

Your Own ICE Train for One Day

At eBay, the internet auction site, you can bid for chartering a German InterCity Express for a day. The highest bidder gets to determine where the train goes and can bring 368 friends and family. Proceeds will go to street kids. The auction starts today and ends April 26th. See also press release. (April 16th)

Laser Scans for People on the Track

Transit authority Storstockholms Lokaltrafik is testing a system of lasers to detect people on the track at subway stations. This can prevent accidental collisions but not suicide. The inventor, Börje Eklund, says the lasers can scan up to one kilometer but do not harm your eyes. SL has previously ruled out radar detection due to cost. The lasers are being tested at Mörby Centrum and Bagarmossen. (April 15th)

Raised Eyebrows at New Eurotunnel Board

Eurotunnel logo Eurotunnel's board of directors has been replaced following a general meeting last week. The new board wishes to renegotiate its £6,4bn in debts, but the banks may simply take over the company instead. Freight operator EWS says it will discontinue its trains through the Chunnel in 2005 unless access charges are lowered, but the new board intends to raise them. See also stories at Independent, Guardian and Telegraph, and Eurotunnel press release. archive (April 13th)

Øresund Intercity Traffic Down

stamp with bridge While regional traffic and automobile traffic continues to increase on the Øresund bridge, intercity rail traffic fell last year. Linx lost 30% of their Göteborg-København passengers, and average only 27 passengers per four-car train when crossing the bridge. Linx has cut the number of trains here from six to three, and moved them to Stockholm-Oslo and Göteborg-Oslo. However Stockholm-Oslo is also performing below expectations. SJ lost 9% of Stockholm - København volume last year. SJ and Linx blame the business cycle, and competition from automobiles and airlines. The railways served by Linx also suffer from being too slow to have a speed advantage over automobile traffic. See also DN story and Øresundsbron's April newsletter. archive (April 9th)

GNER Installs Wifi on All Trains

British Great North Eastern Railway will install wifi (wireless internet access) across its fleet following the successful trial service the company has been running since December. First off will be the Mallard trains, refitted trains on the East Coast main line. The updated carriages will also sport power sockets for notebook computers and other devices. The wifi will be installed by Icomera which has previously fitted the Nordic Linx trains with wifi. See also press releases from Icomera and GNER. archive (April 9th)

GSM-R Delay in Britain

The new GSM-R train radio system will not be fully operational in Britain until 2013, having already been postponed to 2010 from its original date of 2008. GSM-R allows signallers to speak to a number of train drivers at the same time. It is also needed before the Europe-wide train-protection ERTMS can be rolled out in Britain by 2015. But the Strategic Rail Authority is confident that GSM-R "would be ahead of the ERTMS timescale". See also Railnews UK story. archive (April 9th)

Polish Freighter Seeks Capital

Rail Polska, a cargo company, will invest tens of million of zloty on purchasing 500 carriages and 12 engines in 2004, hoping to capture a 10% share of the market by the end of 2005, in competition with PKP. (April 7th, thanks Franciszek Nietz)

Eurostar passenger numbers boom

Eurostar has racked up record passenger numbers for the first three months of 2004, increasing 19% over the same period last year. Travel time was reduced last fall when phase one of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was opened. In the latest sign that airlines are feeling the pinch, Belgian carrier VLM has cut its services between London and Brussels. Ryanair recently announced its intention to scrap flights between Stansted and Charleroi airport, near Brussels. British Airways has made similar changes, axing its Gatwick to Brussels service and its flights between London City airport and Paris. See also Guardian story. archive (April 7th)

Should Network Rail and SRA be Combined?

The transport committee of the British parliament suggests combining Network Rail (which owns the track) and the Strategic Rail Authority into a single public sector body - a Railway Agency. Commenting on this, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said "There are too many organisations with overlapping responsibilities. The fragmented and dysfunctional nature of the industry gets in the way of effective decision making and frequently leads to dispute." See also Railnews UK story. archive (April 7th)

£2m Fine for Paddington Crash

British train operator Thames Trains was fined £2m yesterday for "serious omissions" in driver training which contributed to the head-on collision at Paddington which left 31 dead and hundreds injured five years ago. The train collided with another after the driver failed to stop at a signal showing "stop". The driver, who was killed in the accident, had not been warned about the "infamous" signal just outside Paddington station which was known to be difficult to see. It had been passed at red eight times in six years. See also stories at Independent and Telegraph. archive (April 6th)

ICE Trains in Near Miss

ICE Hits Blocks Bolted to Track

A German high-speed train narrowly avoided derailment on Saturday the 4th after metal slabs were discovered bolted to the tracks. Nobody was injured. Police have no clues, but speculation hints at a possible terror campaign on Europe's railways. (April 5th)

ICE Collides With Tractor

A German ICE3 train crashed into a tractor and derailed at 80 km/h on April 1st. Nobody was hurt but a train passing in the other direction very nearly hit the derailed train. See also second story and photo gallery. (April 3rd)

Bomb Found in Spain

Spain Foils HSR Attack

Police found a bomb on the Madrid-Seville high-speed railway on Friday the 2nd. The bomb failed to explode because it had no trigger. That suggested those responsible may have been scared off by security guards as they were planting the bomb. The line re-opened after a few hours' search of the tracks. Spain plans to protect its rail network against terrorism with armoured vehicles and helicopters manned by police, soldiers and civil guards. See also newer BBC story and Aftenposten story with map. archive (April 3rd)

US on Yellow Alert

The US federal government is encouraging transit authorities to conduct random passenger inspections and security sweeps of stations and to increase public announcements encouraging people to report unattended baggage or suspicious behavior. And the Association of American Railroads has created an information sharing and analysis center to collect, analyze and distribute security information to protect physical assets and IT systems. See also more on the AAR's anti-terrorism plan. (April 3rd)

Korean HSR Opens on Schedule

kewll... Korea's first high-speed line opened to the public today as planned. The 300 km/h KTX trains, based on the French TGV, complete the Seoul-Busan journey in 2:40 compared to 4:10 by conventional train. 292 km of the track is new and allows high speed, the rest ordinary. Timings will be reduced further in 2008, when a further 120 km is completed (total 412 km). The project was developed over 12 years and cost $15,3bn. There are 46 trains, 12 made in France by Alstom, and the rest in Korea by Rotem. They are 388m long with 18 coaches, seat 935 passengers, and weigh 771 tonnes. The catenary and TVM 430 signalling are similar to that of LGV Nord (Paris-London). See also – all in Englishofficial page, Xinhuanet story, BBC story, Donga story on economic and societal impact, photo gallery, IRJ bulletin, and in French: SNCF press release and PDF and an excellent map. archive (April 1st, thanks Yasunori Hayashi)

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