December 98

Hungary will face its longest railway strike in history in January if loss-making MAV does not reach a wage settlement with unions demanding a 21 per cent increase. MAV is offering 13 per cent. (December 31st 1998)

Adtranz has sold eleven two-car EMUs to two Swedish transit authorities, in Gävleborg and Västmanland. The EMUs are of the Crusaris Regina type introduced this year. It is unclear if Adtranz has actually sold the trains or if they are being leased; Adtranz has said before that with the fragmentation of the rail operator market, it may become more difficult to achieve economies of scale, and some sort of owner pool may be necessary. But Adtranz wants to build and sell, not own, trains. (December 30th 1998)

The DBAG Cargo-NS Cargo merger has been protested by British intermodal operator RFG. RFG says DBAG has a history of anti-competitive behaviour, and has asked European competition minister Karl van Miert to set several conditions for approving the deal, including a commitment to provide good quality track "slots" for rival operators and to allow them to use their own locomotives and engineers. (December 29th 1998)

Kawasaki Rail Car has been awarded a $190 million contract to build 100 new cars for the New York City subway. There is also an option for up to 112 additional cars. (December 29th 1998)

The US Surface Transportation Board has reduced the burden of proof for shippers accusing railways of charging unfair prices. Shippers are happy and railways are unhappy with the decision. (December 24th 1998)

Problem-plagued Union Pacific has reported two consecutive weeks of normal service to customers. The STB has required the UP to submit performance reports since service problems began. This requirement will be taken over by the American Association of Railroads after the new year. The new reports will be weekly and cover the entire industry. (December 24th 1998)

Police in Germany say they have arrested two men suspected of trying to extort around $6m with threats of sabotage to the railway network. But, bomb threats are still disrupting service. Fighter jets, fitted with surveillance cameras, have been guarding the country's railway lines in response to the threats. German newspaper Die Welt reports that the German Railway has been awash in sabotage this year. People are removing bolts from turnouts and putting obstacles on the track. There have been no lethal incidents. Die Welt has made two interviews. (December 21st/22nd/24th 1998)

SJ Loses Big Time

Only a week after losing the deal to run commuter trains in Stockholm, Swedish SJ has now also lost the bid to run intercity trains on the West Coast railway between Göteborg and Malmö. SJ has given up trying to run these trains profitably and has asked for government assistance. Instead, the government assigned operation to the same group that won the Stockholm commuter trains, the British Go-Ahead Group, French VIA G.T.I., and Swedish shortline BK Tåg. This consortium will run the trains for free, ie they get no subsidy but get to keep all the ticket revenue. (December 24th 1998, source: Tåg-Nytt)

Under the new boss Daniel Johannesson, SJ has shown lukewarm interest in unprofitable deals. Mr Johannesson has said publicly that SJ should relinquish 25% of its business to competitors; this presumably means that much of it is not very profitable. This is a change from the former boss Stig Larsson who stressed the advantages of an integrated company which more easily can despatch resources to where they are needed. A court case from Mr Larsson's time, in which SJ was accused of price dumping, has turned out in competitor BK Tåg's favour. SJ appealed the decision in December. (December 24th 1998)

12kbSJ has lost the deal to run commuter trains in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner of the competitive tender was the Citypendeln consortium, consisting of Swedish rail operator BK Tåg, French VIA GTI, and the British Go-Ahead Group. SJ says that since it was a competitive tender, it doesn't matter that they lost because the profits would have been so low anyway. On weekdays, about 250 000 people use the commuter trains. The deal is worth about three billion SEK, about US$375 million, and is for driving and maintaining the trains for five years. SJ will still be manning the stations. See also story in English at the Financial Times. More reporting by TÅG here. (December 15th 1998)

International freight rail in the EU has been on the rise since 1990, even though overall freight traffic is down, Eurostat says. The same study says freight rail has risen overall since 1996. (December 23rd 1998)

The European Commission said on Tuesday the 22nd that it had approved additional British government financial support for the Channel tunnel high-speed rail link. (December 23rd 1998)

The Surface Transportation Board will not open Union Pacific's Texas rail network to competition. The sponsors of a "consensus plan" for increasing competition in the Gulf Coast region had argued that the serious delays and congestion that began in the summer of 1997 could occur again if Union Pacific's dominance continued. But the STB and UP agree that service has improved and will continue to improve. It seems that the time of UP's troubles is actually coming to an end; see articles. (December 22nd 1998)

FT.comShareholders in Adtranz, the world's biggest railway equipment maker, have approved a DM600m ($361m) increase in capital as part of a restructuring package to turn round the lossmaking company. Also, German newpaper Die Welt thinks that Daimler-Chrylser, which owns 50% of Adtranz, wants to buy the other half from ABB. (December 21st 1998)

Union Pacific says rail service in Texas has been back to normal for months and asked a federal regulator on Tuesday the 15th to reject calls from the state, shippers and other railroads to allow more competition. Also, the Journal of Commerce reports that Union Pacific's freight levels continue to outpace the problem-plagued performance of late 1997, but only coal and automotive traffic is exceeding the pre-crisis levels of 1996. (December 18th 1998)

FT.comThe privatisation of Railtrack could have fetched almost double the actual sale price of £1.9bn, the British National Audit Office says. (December 18th 1998)

ICE3The new ICE3 trains are really cool. Tobias Köhler took this picture at Eurailspeed in Berlin this fall. Many more pictures are available here at the European Rail Server. The German trains will reach 300 km/h when they are put in regular service in the new millennium. (December 18th 1998)

The Thalys trains between Germany and France have had 8% more passengers than expected in their first year of operation. (December 17th 1998)

FT.comRail safety experts have unveiled proposals for modifying 2,000 of the oldest carriages on the British rail network to make them safer in the event of a crash. The announcement coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Clapham Junction tragedy. Also, the number of deaths on British railways doubled over the last year; and a report has called for the removal of responsibility for railway safety from Railtrack. (December 15th 1998)

A airport link to Montréal's Dorval Airport could be up and running in four years - if a feasibility study now under way pans out, a top Montreal commuter-rail executive says. (December 15th 1998)

5kbA 15-year-old dream to build a cargo expressway through a gritty industrial area of Los Angeles came true on Thursday the 10th with the launch of one of the most expensive public works projects in the nation. Elected officials from all over California were present at a ceremony marking the start of construction of the Los Angeles Alameda Corridor's most critical segment, a 10-mile trench that will eliminate street-level railroad crossings. (December 12th 1998)

Eurostar on a Roll

British Airways may join in running the Eurostar, the EU says, but warns against it taking control of Eurostar's high-speed Channel Tunnel train service. The rail service competes with BA flights on the London-Paris and London-Brussels routes, especially for business passengers, and is due to be run by the Inter-Capital and Regional Rail venture, of which BA is a partner. (December 12th 1998)

FT.comEurostar could soon be running direct trains from Heathrow airport to continental Europe under proposals submitted to John Prescott, deputy prime minister. But plans to run direct regional services from the north and Scotland through the Channel tunnel to Paris and Brussels have been ditched. (December 12th 1998)

Eurotunnel is studying the possibility of building another link under the English Channel. (December 12th 1998)

FT.comBritish authorities have accused Railtrack of making excessive profits from routine track maintenance work and failing to take the risks involved in more innovative rail schemes. Chris Bolt, the rail regulator, threatened a "cap" on its future returns. Railtrack has proved a favourite with investors since it was privatised in May 1996. Its shares fell 64p to £14.57 the day after the regulator's announcement but are still nearly four times their flotation price of 390p. Predictably, the Financial Times frowns on more regulation. (December 12th 1998)


French railroad traffic was expected to return to normal on Saturday as the last units of striking conductors voted to end a 15-day stoppage, the state-owned SNCF railway company said on Friday the 11th. (December 12th 1998)

The strike has continued in France over the weekend of Saturday the 5th. "It is unacceptable in a modern democracy for public services to have a monopoly on strikes that sadly can paralyse a city, if not all of France, within a couple of hours," President Chirac said. (December 6th 1998)

FT.comThe European Commission wants countries to open up 25 per cent of their freight markets to competition within 10 years. Unions fear job losses, and have been striking, especially in France. France's second rail strike in a week was due to continue through Saturday with stoppages and slowdowns cutting services in many parts of the country, SNCF says. But Transport Commissioner Niel Kinnock says that "Our proposals do not pose a threat to jobs. The great and continuing menace to jobs comes from the way in which rail is losing shares of the transport market." The strike in France will continue on Monday the 30th. (November 23rd/29th 1998)

FT.comVirgin Rail has placed an order with Bombardier Transportation of Canada for a fleet of mainly tilting trains for its Cross Country franchise routes. Bombardier will design, build and maintain 78 trainsets for C$2.6 billion. This totals 352 diesel electric cars, of which 216 cars will be equipped with Bombardier's tilt technology. Bombardier will maintain both the new trains as well as the old CrossCountry trains for the life of Virgin's franchise, untill 2012. See Bombardier's press release. Virgin has also decided to drop the idea of buying a mixed fleet of locomotive-hauled and self-powered vehicles in favour of a self-powered fleet to reduce maintenance costs.(December 9th/12th 1998)

No Halland Tunnel

The Halland Ridge Tunnel should not be completed, the Swedish railway administration Banverket believes, because the cost, 4800 million SEK, is much higher than the benefits. The government has the last say, however, and if the government says yes, Banverket says it will take another two years to figure out how to dig the tunnel in an environmentally safe way. If the government says no, the unfinished tunnels will have to be waterproofed in order to preserve the ground water on the ridge. This will take untill 2000. Banverket says that digging a single tunnel instead of the planned two parallel tunnels is not feasible for technical reasons.

Construction has been halted for a year since the scandal with the unreacted poisenous watertighting agent Rhoca Gil. Read the press release, articles from Svenska Dagbladet, and look at SvD's diagram. (December 9th 1998)

FT.comJapan has presented China with a plan for co-operation on the latter's high-speed railway project in a bid to strengthen chances that the Chinese government will choose Japan's bullet train over French and German high speed trains for one of the region's most ambitious infrastructure projects. (December 9th 1998)

A Shinkansen high speed train with variable guage is being tested in Japan. The technology is the same as in the Spanish Talgo trains from the 1960s, but the Shinkansen trains go faster. While the guage is being changed, however, the train may not exceed 15 km/h. (December 9th, more here 1998)

Connections in Germany may be woefully inadequate to accomodate increased traffic from the Betuwe freight route under construction in Holland. (December 9th 1998)

Canadian National's CEO Paul Tellier sees rail competitiveness as critical to Canada's economy because freight exports account for 35% of GDP. Canadian railroads have a tax handicap because they pay 14% of gross revenue in taxes, compared with 8% for U.S. railroads and for U.S. and Canadian truckers. (December 9th 1998)

Europe's freight rail industry is up in arms over DBAG Cargo's decision to raise rates by 20% next year. Intercontainer-Interfrigo will have to drop some services if the rate hikes go through; speculation is rife that DBAG may even pull out of the ICF joint venture. With the purchase of collegue/competitor NS Cargo, it is becoming increasingly clear that DBAG is not shy of throwing its considerable weight around in the new, more competitive rail industry. DB Cargo is coming under increasing pressure to turn a profit. (December 7th 1998)

FT.comMore than 100 000 people who commute into London will see the cost of their train tickets cut from January in what is believed to be the first wide-ranging fares reduction by a privatised train operator. (December 7th 1998)

At least six people are feared dead after a train ploughed through a group of people crossing a rail bridge over the Ghagra river in India's eastern Bihar State on Saturday. This accident is separate from the disaster on Thursday the 26th. (December 6th 1998)

The Great Western Train Company has been charged with manslaughter through gross negligence over a train crash in west London last year. Seven people died and more than 150 were injured when an express train collided with an empty freight train which was crossing the main line at Southall, west London on 19 September, 1997. (December 2nd 1998)

The Amtrak Cascades Talgo train kicked off service from Seattle's King Street Station on Monday, bound south for Eugene. The train will also run north to Portland and Canada. (December 2nd 1998)

Plans for a new railroad tunnel under the Hudson River that would take commuters between Secaucus, N.J., and Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station have been drafted by three agencies. The tunnel would cost $5 billion and would be the first new tunnel under the Hudson since 1957. (December 2nd 1998)

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