February 00

Siemens wants to buy the core train-making part of Czech CKD from the Czech government. But Siemens refuses to take over any part of CKD's debt. (February 29th)

Amtrak's plan to add new long-distance routes is the first step toward a new philosophy that passenger train service can be expanded and actually make money rather than requiring additional government subsidies, officials said on Monday the 28th. That assertion, based on a "market-based analysis", will be placed under a hot light by Congress and by Amtrak critics in coming weeks precisely because it is so different from the corporation's past attempts to reduce subsidies by cutting routes. In fact, Congress started the process that led to Amtrak's market-based analysis of routes on the assumption that some routes would be cut. The new trains will also increase Amtrak's profitable, mail, express & refrigerated goods services. See also earlier WP story, as well as Reuters and Dow Jones stories, and AP story about 175km/h trains in the midwest. Now would be a good time to purchase a relevant book: "Derailed: What Went Wrong and What to Do About America's Passenger Trains". By Joseph Vranich. find (February 29th)

British un-Model

The Connex strikes are off. Train drivers' union Aslef announced on Friday the 25th that it had reached an agreement with the passenger train company and had cancelled all seven 24-hour stoppages in the London area. The national strikes by train guards, affecting all British TOCs (see below), have not been cancelled though. (February 29th)

British train guards have voted to stage five 24-hour national strikes. The dates have yet to be determined and the strikes may be called off if an agreement can be reached with Railtrack within a week. Railtrack last year changed safety regulations such that overall safety responsibility for train safety was shifted from train guards to drivers. The Rail Maritime and Transport Union claims that the "real reason" for the change is to free the guard of responsibilities which would allow train companies to change his role, for instance, for on-board sales "such as tea and biscuits". Railtrack is in charge of setting this type of safety rule, though this is set to change. See also Yahoo Full Coverage. (February 23rd)

Connex' train drivers in the Aslef union are staging 24-hour strikes on Feb. 29th, and on March 8th, 16th, 24th, and 27th since they can't agree with Connex on how the transition to a 35-hour work week should proceed. Aslef is also unhappy with the management's conduct. (February 23rd)

British Connex's train drivers have called off a series of one day strikes after a deal was agreed for a shorter week. Under the deal, settled during talks held over the past few days, hours will be cut to 36 by this October. Another of Aslef's main demands, the phasing in of 100% pensionable pay by 2003, has also been met. Connex runs commuter trains around London. (February 3rd)

Remarkable Lack of Leadership

Swedish SJ will retain its monopoly on the "profitable" passenger network including the new Øresund bridge, a draft for a proposition for revised transport policy shows. And SJ will not be able to get back lost traffic by saying it is now profitable. This may save SydvŠsten from losing its wcml franchise. SJ will also be converted into a limited company by year's end, but will remain 100% government-owned. The draft has been obtained by Gšteborg-Posten, and the final version will be presented to parliament on March 22nd. It says that "there is reason to develop passenger rail successively and in a controlled fashion". This alludes to problems for travellers getting tickets for new train operating companies which hadn't co-ordinated their ticket systems with SJ.

Editor's comment: This was because the government never clearly asked them to. Some of the new TOCs say the government did ask them, but SJ wouldn't comply and the government wouldn't make them. Another felt his company was asked to make its own system. After the government's remarkable lack of leadership in this issue led to chaos when the new operators took over in January, Minister of Business Bjšrn Rosengren met with the TOCs to ask them to match their systems and said, "I hope we don't have to meet again". Given Mr. Rosengren's own carelesness, and that of his department (which oversees railways), his behaviour is impudent and irritating. Regardless, it may be just as well to leave SJ's good-enough network services alone. (February 24th)

Hungarian MAV and its rail unions signed a labour pact on Tuesday the 22nd following the end of the nation's longest rail strike. The unions agreed to a real wage increase of 2-3%, while the original demand was 4-5%. The unions have also agreed not to strike for the next three years. The key issue of MAV deducting union membership dues from wages, was not included in the pact. The two sides will continue negotiating on the dues issue until a self-imposed deadline of March 31st. (February 23rd)

Russian Acting President Vladimir Putin declared Wednesday the 23rd that he strongly opposed breaking up the country's huge natural gas, electricity and rail transport monopolies, and said management must look out for workers' rights. Small companies can't do that, he says. "Business must get used to the idea that its leaders bear full responsibility for the destiny of employees," Putin said. "It is impossible to consider a market to be civilized when salaries aren't paid for months, while enterprises are yielding profits." Well it's a good thing companies can make money selling weapons, at least. (February 23rd)

A man who pretended to have died in the crash of two passenger trains in west London last year has been granted a five-month suspended sentence. (February 23rd)

Swedish un-Model

Stockholm Citypendeln management and train drivers have finalized the contract for wages, rooms for overnight duties and other issues. The content of the contract was agreed to in January, but when faced with the written agreement, labour leaders wouldn't sign it, and negotiations started again. However, Citypendeln still has to cope with a shortage of drivers, even though they require fewer than SJ needed for the same service. SJ ran the trains untill January 6th 2000, and many Stockholm drivers do not see the point in going to Citypendeln untill their months of severance pay from SJ are up. Clearly, franchising systems such as those in Sweden or Britain require that franchisees have access to labour belonging to the franchise, just as they need access to trains belonging to the franchise. Citypendeln hopes finding drivers will be easier with a signed labour contract. Trains have been running half-hourly rather than every 15 minutes since Citypendeln took over. (February 22nd)

Citypendeln, the franchisee which took over the operation of Stockholm's commuter trains from SJ on January 6th, has finally reached an agreement with its unions about working conditions. The parties have also agreed to discuss further the issue of retirement age. Wages had been agreed to earlier, but Citypendeln has suffered serious service disruptions because it couldn't find enough train drivers. Relations with unions have been sour since Citypendeln last summer announced it would only need 70% as many drivers as SJ had, and that the rest would have to go. Since private train operation began in Sweden in 1989, this is the first time that labour relations have been so poor that a serious labour shortage has arisen. Transit authority SL has taken the unusual step of lowering the price of monthly passes to 300 from 450 crowns to compensate for the poor commuter train service. find (January 26th)

Skanska logo

BLS logo
Skanska is a member of the SATCO international consortium that will construct 25 km rail tunnels in the Swiss Alps. The tunnel order is worth CHF586m ($365m). Skanska has a 25% share in the contract. The customer is BLS Alp Transit, a subsidiary of the private Swiss railway BLS. The tunnel system will link Raron in the Valais canton with Frutigen in the Bern canton. Skanska is also the company that made a mess of the Hallandsås tunnel in southern Sweden. First they tried to bore the tunnels, and when that didn't work because the ridge was too porous, they reverted to digging. When they attempted to watertight the tunnels, the chemical used did not react properly, spilled into the groundwater and contaminated livestock. See also map. find (February 22nd, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Railtrack will spend Ł2,5bn to "renew and enhance" the railway infrastructure in the next financial year 2000/01 starting April 1. This is Ł500m more than this year, over three times the amount that British Rail was able to invest on average in its last ten years, and more than double the amount invested by Railtrack in its first year in the private sector three years ago. Railtrack has been under pressure from regulators to invest more. (February 22nd, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

A preliminary study has been done on the possibility and advantages of a railway connection between Albania and Kosova, sources from the general railway department told the Albanian Telegraphic Agency. The ATA reported this on January 1st. (February 22nd, thanks Paul Treanor)

Harsco has received orders for railroad maintenance-of-way services and equipment from Union Pacific and BNSF, as well as for rail grinding equipment in Argentina from Buenos Aires' public transit network. The combined orders are expected to generate revenues of up to $22 million over the next three years. Formed in October 1999 by combining Harsco's Fairmont Tamper division and its newly-acquired Pandrol Jackson business, Harsco Track Technologies has worldwide manufacturing and service operations in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. (February 22nd, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

The government of South Australia has confirmed it wants to re-open the rail network in the State's south-east, and is calling for expressions of interest from private operators. Transport Minister Diana Laidlaw says previous cost benefit studies have failed to show a commercial case to reopen the lines, but that a connection with the new rail link through to Darwin has given the South East a new chance. (February 22nd, thanks David Bromage)

The New South Wales government should scrap a planned railway bridge through the Lane Cove National Park in Sydney, Australia because it would create excessive noise and pollution along the banks of the Lane Cove River, protesters said at a rally on Sunday the 20th. (February 22nd, thanks David Bromage)

Work will start on the proposed Darwin to Alice Springs railway in Australia's Northern Territory in September of this year, Chief Minister Denis Burke expects. Mr Burke says there are still some contractual "fringe issues" to be settled between the consortium and the governments involved. Alice Springs is in the centre of Australia, and the railway will run north to the coast. find (February 18th, thanks David Bromage)

Italian workers are staging a strike tomorrow (Friday the 18th) from 10:00 till 18:00, Swiss SBB reports. (February 17th)

British airport operator BAA and transport company National Express on Tuesday the 1st said they were bidding to take over the franchise for rail services to Stansted airport. The companies said they would triple train capacity to the airport north of London if awarded the service by the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority, the body in charge of awarding franchises. find (February 15th)

Taiwan's HSR project has run into more problems. Communist China, which does not like other countries recognising capitalist Taiwan as a sovereign country, has been angered by the deal with a Japanese consortium. Extended loan negotiations for the $2,2bn project in Taiwan have delayed the signing of the contract. But details of the contract would be finalised as early as this week, said a spokeswoman for Mitsui, one of the Japanese consortium leaders. find (February 15th)

East Japan Railway will next month sell its costly machinery for widening the gauge of rails for 76 million yen to an Australian construction company that is set to repair the rails of Thailand's national railway. Measuring about 130 meters in length, Big Wonder, as the US-made machinery is nicknamed, has multiple platform cars and a crane and its own engine. Big Wonder removes old rail ties, sets the new gauge, fixes new ties and carries out final adjustments. (February 15th)

Tropicana LogoTropicana Products, which operates the food and beverage industry's only unit train, is refreshing its railcar fleet. The company has completed a deal with Millennium Rail, for the construction of 135 new refrigerated railcars. The new cars will be put into service on Tropicana's "juice train," which transports chilled juice from Florida to distribution centers in New Jersey and Ohio. (February 15th)

Canadian Pacific is reviving its passenger train service out of Calgary -- but it will cater to an exclusive crowd. A five-star rail excursion service will be headquartered in a $3-million, 12-metre-high, glass-domed pavilion attached to the historic Palliser Hotel. See also press release. (February 15th)

Passenger number rose 5,5% at Thalys, the French-Belgian-Dutch-German HSTs, in 1999. Thalys is gradually making progress since it started operating in 1996: from 1,5m passengers over eight months in 1996, 3m passengers in 1997, 4,5m in 1998, and 4,98m in 1999. The trains are already grossing 101m Euros (about $100m) annually. The 300 km/h trains connect Brussels with London, Paris, Amsterdam and Kšln. Passenger growth last year was 6%, while revenue increased 11%. find (February 12th/January 18th, thanks Alan Reekie)

120 miles (193 km) of mixed-use UP track will be equipped with Positive Train Control as part of a project with the Illinois Dept. of Transportation and the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado. The computer-controlled PTC system will prevent trains from speeding or crashing. (February 11th)

Europe Combined Terminals will cancel its 30-year contract for the exploitation of the Molo VII container terminal in Trieste, Italy. Labour problems are the cause of this. ECT has operated the terminal since March, 1998. (February 11th)

German DB AG is introducing a new ticket price system in the spring of 2001, and may join Lufthansa's Mile&More points program. In an interview with the magazine Stern, DB AG's boss Helmut Mehdorn also says the Berlin-Hamburg conventional railway can be upgraded in 1¸ years for DM350m, cutting travel time from 2¸ hours to 1¸ hours. (February 10th)

The first of Adtranz' Øresund trains won't be delivered untill the end of March, instead of last October which was the original plan. Adtranz hopes to deliver 10 trains by the start of services July 1st, but the trains can't be put into revenue service untill staff has had training on them. In addition to the Øresund trains, Danish IC3s and Swedish Kustpilen trains (identical to the IC3s) will be used. find (February 10th)

Transrapid Officially Dead

Germany has finally abandoned plans to build the Transrapid Berlin-Hamburg Transrapid. Passenger fares could never have repaid the cost of building it. The German government said it would spend no more than 6.1 billion marks in taxpayers' money to subsidize it, but the sum remained available if a maglev train were to be built elsewhere. There are several suggestions for alternate use of the money, ranging from airport maglevs to new highways. find (February 9th)

FT.comThe German Transrapid maglev will almost certainly grind to a halt on Saturday the 5th at last-ditch talks on the future of Germany's Transrapid magnetic levitation system. The meeting between Reinhard Klimmt, the German transport minister, Hartmut Mehdorn, the new head of German railways, Deutsche Bahn, and senior representatives of the three companies building the Transrapid is not expected to resolve problems surrounding the planned 292km high-speed route between Berlin and Hamburg. Doubts surrounding the viability of the project have grown recently, spurred by a statement from Mr Mehdorn, newly appointed to run Deutsche Bahn, who said the state railway was unwilling to finance a loss-maker, no matter how advanced its technology. The consortium will demand over DM100m in compensation from the government for planning costs, and let go of 200 workers if the project is not rescued. See also Die Welt story and Yahoo Full Coverage in German. (February 3rd)

Köln Toll at Eight

An overnight, international train derailed and fell down an embankment and eight people died in Brühl, near Kšln, Germany just after midnight on Sunday, local time. The train was going from Amsterdam in Holland to Basle in Switzerland with 300 passengers aboard. The police said this afternoon that the train was moving at 120 km/h, when the limit was 40 km/h. Officials said the track near where the crash happened had been under repair. The train was diverted from the main line to avoid the section under repair and derailed as it rejoined the main line.

No mechanical defects have yet been found with the train, the track or signalling. German Railway Union officials have rejected any criticism of the driver stating that he "new the road". The driver had received his intitial training as driver with a private rail freight company and later transferred to Deutsche Bahn where he received further training. The German news television channel N24 said the driver of the train, who survived the accident Sunday, only had seven months of training instead of the required three years. N24 quoted colleagues of the driver who said that new employees who had already worked in technical jobs had had their training time shortened as part of cost-cutting measures at the German train company Deutsche Bahn. See also AFP story and Yahoo Full Coverage. (February 6th/9th)

The Irish government says it will press ahead with plans to build a 300 million Irish pound ($378 million) underground rail link in the historic heart of Dublin after experts gave the project the green light. The three-km stretch of underground would run from St Stephen's Green in the south of the city under the River Liffey to Broadstone in the north, with the central O'Connell Street as one of the likely stops. The underground, unlikely to be completed before 2005, would link up with a new light-rail project running to the outskirts of the city and also serving Dublin airport. find (February 9th)

An Egyptian court has jailed 13 rail staff for negligence after a woman passenger fell to her death through the floor of a train in December 1998. (February 9th)

ÖBB's Taurus

Photo: SiemensAustrian ÖBB's 75 new 1016 "Taurus" loco look like this. They will also be produced in a dual-system version, the 1116 series, for services to Hungary. 1116.001 is to start tests between Hegyeshalom and Budapest for about 2 weeks from February 1st. This will be delayed if there is a strike. The locos develop 7MW, reach 230 km/h and are similar to the German 152s, initially designed by Siemens as the "Eurosprinter". The mechanical part of the loco is being built by Krauss-Maffei. Similarly to the Italian E412, the new ÖBB loco is both fast and powerful, suggesting mixed service. This is in contrast to DB AG's passenger-only 101 and freight-only 152 locos. See also HunRail.

Photo: Roco/Krauss-MaffeiBoth Märklin and Roco are making HO scale models of the locos. (February 2nd-6th, thanks Tobias Kšhler)

FT.comBritish Railtrack's credit rating was cut two grades on Friday the 28th by Standard & Poor's at the end of a week that saw the company's shares drop to their lowest for 30 months. S&P cut the rating from AA- to A because of concerns about tougher regulation, political hostility, rising investment costs and poor project management. (February 4th)

A German court has jailed a man for life for trying to blackmail the national railway system by sabotaging its tracks. Klaus-Peter Sabotta, 47, was convicted of attempted murder and attempted extortion for a series of attacks on railway lines in December 1998, just six months after the Eschede rail disaster which claimed 101 lives. The Eschede accident is widely branded a "high speed rail accident" even though the track speed was limited to 200 km/h and the line is shared with freight and commuter trains. High speed rail usually means dedicated passenger-only tracks for speeds over 200 km/h. find (February 4th)

The German government will lift its two-year-long ban on the shipment of nuclear waste and allow the transport of some spent fuel starting in August. The government abruptly halted all shipments of nuclear waste in May 1998 after they discovered violations of safety standards. Small amounts of radiation had leaked out of containers transporting the waste to reprocessing plants. See also Die Welt story. find (February 4th)

Strikes in Hungary & Romania

A strike by Hungarian railway workers, which began at midnight Feb 1st, has hit two-thirds of all passenger trains and nearly all freight trains. (February 3rd)

Romanian rail workers ended a strike Tuesday the 25th for a 50% pay hike after a Bucharest court declared their action illegal and ordered them back to work, union officials said. "Even though we question the decision of the court, we have decided to obey and to suspend the strike, the Solidaritatae union said in a statement. (January 27th)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed on Wednesday the 26th that the government would stick to its wage hike limits in face of a threatened rail strike next week. The three biggest rail unions plan an open-ended strike starting on February 1 to force the state-owned railway company MAV to raise wages by double digits. (January 27th)

Hungary's three biggest rail unions will begin an open-ended strike from midnight on February 1 until they reach a wage agreement with railway company MAV, union officials said on Wednesday. The engine drivers union was the last to announce it would join the strike after Hungary's other two rail unions said they planned the labour action. Romania's rail workers will also strike starting Monday the 24th, after the court decision to stop the strike for 45 days has lost effect. find (January 22nd, thanks Ferenc Joo)

FT.comBritish Prism Rail has unveiled plans for a single Welsh railway to cut an hour off north-south journeys. It also intends to add a network of linked bus services. The company wants to create a single franchise from its Cardiff Railway, the Welsh element of its Wales and West system, plus relevant parts from Central Trains and First North Western, its rivals. See also press release. (February 3rd)

A new type of Shinkansen that can run on both standard Japanese narrow-guage tracks and wider 1435mm Shinkansen tracks has completed 200 000km of high-speed testing in the United States, prompting developers of the system to feel upbeat about putting their creation into operation. (February 2nd, thanks David Fry)

The second & third Athens Metro lines opened January 28th. It is the largest and most complex transportation construction project currently underway in Greece. The new underground Metro system will consist of two lines radiating in four directions from Syntagma Square to Ethniki Amyna, Dafni, Ag. Antonios and Monastiraki. A total of 21 stations will be built, serving approximately 450,000 daily passengers. This is in addition to the 330,000 passengers currently being served by the existing Metro line connecting Pireas with Omonia Square and Kifissia. Trains will run every 3 minutes in rush hour, and every 5-10 minutes in non-rush hour. (February 2nd, thanks Alan Reekie)

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