February 2002

No Error Margin in Sydney Sydney's (Australia) rail system is perilously close to "strangulation" because of soaring passenger numbers and recurring track and train faults. The findings of a report, kept secret for more than a year, say "operational paralysis" can be avoided only by spending at least A$20bn in the next decade on urgent maintenance. Further ahead, five new train lines - including three Metros styled on the London Underground with trains running every two minutes during peak hour - and nearly 80 extra stations, should be built in the next 40 years to cater for massive passenger growth, the report says. For now, suggestions include adding more tracks to a bridge. See also more SMH stories, 1, 2 and 3. (February 26th, thanks David Bromage)

300 People Dead in Egypt Fire ripped through a crowded midnight train near Cairo early Wednesday the 20th, killing 366 passengers in the worst disaster in more than 150 years of Egyptian rail history. Initial investigations indicated the fire had started when a passenger tried to light a small gas stove. Egyptians often use portable stoves to brew their own tea and coffee on train journeys. The driver did not immediately realise the train was on fire and continued moving for 7km before stopping. The draught coming from the open windows would have fanned the flames, causing them to spread swiftly. See also Reuters and New York Times stories. (February 20th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

CargoNet LogoNorwegian-Swedish Merger Norwegian NSB Cargo and Swedish Green Cargo are merging their bi-modal trains under a new company called CargoNet. Green Cargo's bi-modal subsidiary RailCombi is being transferred to the new company which also will run conventional trains in Norway. The new boss, Kjell Fröyslid, says there is demand for new trains including ones connecting the major Nordic airports. (February 18th)

Future Østerport stationConstruction in København Danish DSB has prepared passengers for construction which will disrupt a main line through København between the central station and Østerport untill May 10th. Only local trains and Øresund trains will pass the site. The construction is part of a project to add more tracks between København central and Østerport so that more trains can terminate at Østerport, thus increasing capacity at København central. The new tracks will provide more flexibility and reduce delays starting May 10th, but the whole project will not be ready untill 2004. (February 18th)

Øresund Link Exceeds Projections There have been 30% more passengers than projected on the København-Malmö Øresund trains in 2001. And there were 20% more passengers in January 2002 compared to a year earlier. However, 12% of trains were more than five minutes late. The goal for this year is 10%. There have been many problems with the new Adtranz/Bombardier trains, including doors which wouldn't open due to sand/gravel on the platforms after snowfall, faulty sensors indicating full toilet tanks, and a safety system which caused the trains to stop for no good reason. The joint operators, Danish DSB and Swedish SJ, have been compensated in the order of SEK30m, or €3,2m. See also a short Yahoo story about the increase in passenger numbers. (February 15th)

Was Adtranz a Lemon? Bombardier is seeking C$1,4bn ($870m) in damages from DaimlerChrysler, claiming it was overcharged when it bought Adtranz last year. This is more than the C$1,1bn Bombardier paid for Adtranz. Bombardier says applying generally accepted accounting principles to Adtranz shows how little the company was worth, and cites "unrecorded costs required to complete contracts with third parties". The claim comes amid mounting international concern over the accounting practices employed by large companies. (February 15th)

Government Underwrites Tube The British government has agreed to underwrite 95 per cent of the money borrowed by the private companies hoping to take over the London Underground infrastructure. The bidders, Metronet and Tube Lines Group, have been given the guarantee via London Underground, which will continue to operate Tube services, and Transport for London, the London mayor's transport executive, which will take responsibility for LU. (February 15th)

Eurotunnel Struggles With Debt Eurotunnel is working on another loan restructuring in an attempt to reduce its £9bn ($12,7bn) debt mountain. Turnover fell in 2001 from £599,6m to £563,9m, mostly due to the fall in telecoms sales. The disruption to rail services caused by asylum seekers cost £20m in lost business. Losses per share were 6.4p (5.9p). Eurotunnel's case against operators withholding part of their operating charges is due in court later this month. (February 15th)

Tear Down the EuroWalls

EC Wants More Open Access, Faster In a new white paper, the European Commission is proposing to speed the integration of the freight rail market, by introducing open access to domestic traffic, not just international. It also wants to bring forward the date for this to 2006 rather than 2008. The Commission also advocates creating a European Railway Agency, with around 100 staff, which will coordinate the groups of technical experts seeking common solutions on safety and interoperability. The package, presented January 23rd, also includes other more nebulous proposals. See also the full report, and coverage at X-Rail. (February 2nd)

Germany and France Coordinate Freight French SNCF and German DB AG have agreed to try to double their cross-border freight traffic within five years, but the bilateral accord is seen in Brussels as a way of sidestepping broader plans to liberalise rail freight throughout the European Union. The rail chiefs said in Paris they would introduce a shuttle service of dozens of interoperable locomotives from this summer to link marshalling/classification yards on either side of the frontier. See also press releases from DB and SNCF, and a 7-page report in PDF format. (February 2nd)

ICE3 in BrusselsICE3s on Test in Belgium Two ICE3 trains are on test in Belgium ahead of the autumn opening of the Frankfurt-Köln high-speed railway. If there are enough multi-system ICE3s, a two-unit ICE3 train will start in Frankfurt and split in Köln, with one unit running on to Amsterdam and the other to Brussels. Else, one of the two trainsets will be single-system, and the multi-system unit will continue alternately to Brussels or Amsterdam. The international Thalys trains will not continue past Köln because when operating under German 15kV 16,7Hz, these TGVs are not powerful enough to climb its steep grades at full speed. See also information about Köln-Frankfurt HSR and Brussels-Germany HSR. (February 2nd, photo Alan Reekie)

Amtrak Threatens to Cut Most Trains Amtrak on Friday the 1st threatened to discontinue all long distance train service and lay off 1000 employees by October if Congress doesn't give it $1.2 billion in the next budget year. "Everyone knows that you can't make a profit while running a network of unprofitable trains but that is exactly what we are expected to do," said Amtrak President George Warrington. Last week the Transportation Department's inspector general reported that Amtrak lost $1.1 billion in 2001, the most in its 30-year history, and is no closer to operational self-sufficiency than it was in 1998. See also New York Times story. (February 1st, thanks Bengt Mutén)

may they rise againNew WTC Commuter Rail Station New York Governor George Pataki and New Jersey Governor James McGreevey have announced a $300 million Port Authority contract for the construction of a new temporary PATH station at the World Trade Center site. The contract also includes related work in the PATH tunnels and in Jersey City that is required in order to restore access to Lower Manhattan from New Jersey and to reopen Jersey City's Exchange Place PATH station. (February 1st)

Australia Privatises

Port and Rail Owners Take Over Australia's two largest rail freight operators have been sold to a consortium of transport companies, Toll Holdings and Lang Corporation. National Rail, owned by the federal government, and FreightCorp, owned by the New South Wales government, were sold together because FreightCorp owned 70% of National Rail. The sale price of A$1.17 billion includes 465 locomotives and 9700 freight wagons, but the government will keep the tracks. This will be integrated with Toll's existing road and rail freight network and Lang's port operations, covering over 7000 route kilometres across all mainland states. In its last year, National Rail lost A$2.3m, its best result since being established in September 1991. Both Toll and Lang shares rose on the announcement. See also Financial Times story, map, The Australian story, audio reports 1 and 2, FreightCorp site, and National Rail site. (February 1st, thanks David Bromage)

New Owner Upgrades Track The consortium bid includes a commitment to invest up to A$50m to the upgrade the Melbourne-Perth and Sydney-Brisbane rail corridors to allow double stacked trains to operate from Melbourne to Perth via Parkes, and to reduce transit times between Sydney and Brisbane. However, that investment depends on the NSW and federal governments agreeing to a track leasing proposal by the end of March.

Cheers All Around "The new operator will develop an integrated road and rail freight system, building on the extensive network of regional depots operated by the companies," said federal transport minister John Anderson. • The Rail, Tram and Bus Union is pleased with a three-year job guarantee, but says the sale income should be re-invested in the interstate rail network, which requires at least A$3bn over the next 10 years, according to union secretary Allan Barden. • An audit last year by the Australian Rail Track Corporation for the Federal Government found that if more than A$500 million was spent on rail track and signalling - A$400 million of it on the corridor linking Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane - it would take more than 110 000 long distance truck movements a year off roads. See also another SMH story and press releases. (January 31st, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

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