July 99

The German federal government has cancelled funding for a high-speed railway from Nürnberg to Erfurt. However, this may lead to a lawsuit since the railway is partially funded by EU money. The province of Thüringen is also considering a suit. (July 31st 1999)

Berlin's new central station is slowly taking shape at the Lehrter Bahnhof. Almost 800 long-distance trains will daily pass the station, as well as 1800 commuter trains and 1000 subway trains. The station is costing DM800 million. (July 31st 1999)

Preparations for the building of a commuter line from Hamburg in Germany to the city's Fuhlsbüttel airport has been delayed by land use disputes. An opening date of 2005 now looks optimistic. (July 31st 1999)

London Underground has been fined £300 000 for breaches of Health & Safety legislation related to the death of a woman who fell between two carriages of a tube train on New Year's Eve 1996. (July 31st 1999)

British Railtrack has been charged with manslaughter after a train driver, who was using the telephone at a signal to report a problem, was knocked down and killed by an express train. Railtrack had apparently been told that the telephone was too close too the railway line in 1993, almost two years before the accident. The company had taken no action to remedy the problem. (July 31st 1999)

New York City's Long Island Rail Road has been so plagued by problems that many passengers with monthly passes refuse to show to them to conductors as a protest. Underinvestment in trains coupled with too much traffic on too few tracks is a recipe for problems. (July 31st 1999)

Free Papers Take the Train

metro logoFree newspaper Metro is starting two more public transit distributed editions, this time in Philadelphia USA with SEPTA commuter trains, and Santiago in Chile with Empresa de Transporte de Pasajeros Metro, the operator of the subway.

Metro started in February 1995 as a free and brief but serious newspaper distributed in the Stockholm subway and commuter trains & stations. Investment was recouped in less than a year. There are now local editions of Metro Göteborg and Malmö, as well as in the Netherlands (in collaboration with Nederlandse Spoorwegen), Budapest, and Prague. Metro typically pays a fee to the train operator and publishes a page of traffic information in return for the exclusive right to distribute free newspapers on the trains and in the stations. Metro is owned by the Swedish TV, radio and newspapers group MTG which is listed on stock exchanges in Stockholm and New York. (July 17th/28th 1999)

Metro has a copy-cat in the Netherlands called Spits; ironically, it is distributed primarily in the Amsterdam metro, but also "manually" at entrances to railway stations. Spits, owned by the Telegraaf, and Metro both started Dutch circulation this summer. Spits means peak, primarily as in peak rush hour, or the best football players. The Economist has an article in the current issue about the internet threatening traditional newspapers. (July 18th 1999, reported by Ernst Kers)

FT.comGreat Western Trains has been fined a record £1.5m for safety lapses that led to the Southall train crash that killed seven people and injured a further 150 outside London in September 1997. Two safety systems on the train were either not working or had been switched off and the driver was not looking ahead just before the crash. A Swansea to Paddington express passed a red light at 125mph and hit a freight train. See also BBC stories. (July 28th 1999)

FT.comBritish Connex Rail, an offshoot of Vivendi of France, is to remove seats from one its most modern train types to create more standing room for commuters to London. The privatised company runs trains into London on some of the busiest commuter lines in southern England. Connex said removing seats was the only way of achieving an immediate increase in capacity on the trains. Running 12-carriage trains instead of the eight-car trains at present would require longer stations at some stations and the boosting of power supplies to the track. The proposal requires the approval of the railway safety authorities which is expected within the next month. (July 28th 1999)

FT.comCanadian Pacific is cutting 1900 jobs, or about 10% of the workforce, by the end of 2000. This is part of an effort to improve efficiency and compete better with Canadian National, which announced 3500 layoffs nine months ago. CP's operating ratio (expenses as percentage of revenue) rose from 79% last year to 81% in the second quarter this year, and the goal is 75%. Analysts have said the only way to achieve the goal is by reducing the workforce. Also see The Globe and Mail story. (July 23rd 1999)

c20Stockholm's new subway car has been plagued by numerous problems, and SL has now asked the manufacturer Adtranz to fix the latest one. During a few weeks of hot weather in the Swedish capital, the temperature in the cars shot up past 40C. This constitutes a breach of contract as the specification required that the temperature inside should not exceed the temperature outside. Some other problems the trains have had: the doors would not close when the car was full of people; the tunnels weren't as wide as their specification suggested, so they had to be modified to fit the new trains; passengers trying to pass closing doors got stuck and were dragged along the platform. However, your editor has tested one and they are surprisingly quiet. The ride is also very smooth, as is acceleration and deceleration. (July 22nd 1999)

CN Gets Wired

GE Harris logoCanadian National is implementing a new computer-aided dispatch system by GE Harris which uses rules checking to prevent silly dispatching orders. The system's flexible architecture and support tools will enable CN to quickly modify certain variables, such as track layout configurations, and add dispatching seats as needed. (July 21st 1999)

Provia logoCanadian National is implementing a new system for "supply chain execution software" by Provia which will help CN keep track of its 22 128 km rail network, and its fleet of over 1400 locomotives and approximately 64 000 railcars. The suite will also interface with CN's existing SAP R/3 finance and supply management suite. (July 20th 1999)

Railtrack and the Tube

British Railtrack will be barred from taking over day-to-day running of London's Underground system as part of the government's public-private partnership plans for the network, the Times newspaper said on Monday the 19th. (July 21st 1999)

FT.comFancy bidding for the biggest project around, the London Underground, against one of your bigger customers? Thought not. The contractors and engineers lining up to pitch for the Tube's infrastructure concessions must be relieved that Railtrack's insatiable commercial appetite has been restrained to just one out of three concessions. They can get on with their bids for the other two without treading on its toes. (July 21st 1999)

The construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in Britain will be aided by a Global Positioning System by Trimble. The GPS uses satellites to establish one's exact position and is widely used for navigation purposes. However, the system's precision is down to the centimetre. (July 20th 1999)

Norfolk Southern is hoping to divert 50 000 loads a year from truck to rail on a direct, single-line service originating in Port Arthur and traveling to cities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nationally, Norfolk Southern wants to convert 1.1 million truckloads from highway to rail annually. The service, launched in June, has already attracted a number of Houston users, including several major corporations. (July 20th 1999)

American Rail Gripes

The growing cloud of diesel fumes in North Jersey towns is making it painfully clear that the freight railroads will keep thumbing their noses at towns with legitimate health and noise complaints unless they get some pressure from Congress, the Bergen Record writes in an editorial. (July 20th 1999)

Conceding that they've shortchanged Chicago, railroad hub of the nation, rail executives vow to spend as much as $700 million to address the chronic complaints of aldermen and their noise-weary residents. (July 20th 1999)

Freight train congestion, caused by computer glitches and other problems the two railroads have faced in the June 1 acquisition's wake, has resulted in recurring delays to Amtrak trains traveling between Chicago and the East Coast, including all service through Toledo. (July 20th 1999)

Gunderson has rolled out it's new AutoMax car, which transports automobiles, sport utility vehicles, and light trucks. BNSF has ordered 159 of the two-unit articulated Auto-Max cars. (July 20th 1999)

FT.comThe Settle-to-Carlisle (Britain) railway line, a picturesque route across the Pennines that is fast developing as a crucial north-south freight route, could be closed for several months while essential work is carried out. The Settle-Carlisle line faced closure 10 years ago, but a campaign by rail enthusiasts and local people led to it being retained with a limited passenger service. (July 18th 1999)

A new type of magnet has been tested in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA. It is powerful enough for use in magnetic levitation applications, but is not electromagnetic ie does not require any power. (July 17th 1999)

The sale of British Railtrack in 1996 massively undervalued the company, a House of Commons committee has found. A staggered sale would have gained billions extra in revenue and been closer to the company's true value, it said. The value of Railtrack shares shot up after privatisation. The sale raised £1.9bn, but by February this year the company's value was £7.8bn. (July 17th 1999)

Seventeen people were killed when an express train collided with a derailed goods train near the city of Agra in the north of India. The accident occurred at around 0215 (local time) on July 16th between Mathura and Agra. The Madras to New Delhi 'Grand Trunk Express' struck the freight train which had become derailed just a few minutes earlier. Thirteen of the passenger train's coaches were derailed. Agra, in Uttar Pradesh state, is about 160 km from New Delhi. (July 16th 1999)

FT.comLoyola de Palacio, 49, is the EU's new transport commissioner. She is Spain's first woman commissioner, and the FT describes her as a "tough debater who masters briefs easily and has a reputation for strong, free-market convictions". She has also been Spain's minister of agriculture. Directorate-General for Transport official website. (July 16th 1999)

ICE3The German ICE3 train has been presented to the public at Siemens' test track in Wildenrath, Germany. It looks a bit like the ICT but is faster, 330 km/h instead of 230 km/h. Here it is shown at Eurailspeed 1998 in Tobias Köhler's photo. See also the Mercurio ICE3 page. (July 15th 1999)

logophone Mobile phone users can now put their train tickets in their mobile phones when travelling in Austria. The Austrian railway, ÖBB, lets you pay for your train ticket via your phone bill. The proof of purchase consists of a short electronic text message sent over the network. (July 14th 1999)

Spanish Talgo, German Siemens and French Alstom are firing up to build what could prove the world's fastest commercial train, streaking between Spain's two biggest cities at up to 350 km/h. They all hope to land a contract worth nearly US$1 billion for trains on a new line between the capital Madrid and the country's second biggest city Barcelona. (July 14th 1999)

The German government is "looking for a new partner" to build the Transrapid maglev Berlin-Hamburg, because the track is going to cost DM8bn to DM9bn, rather than DM6.1bn as estimated earlier. The public-private consortium has a contract stating that the government will pay for the track, whereas Adtranz, Siemens & Thyssen will pay for the trains and get most of the revenue. Since the government has said it is not putting up any more than the DM6.1bn already committed, the Transrapid will most likely not get built unless someone else stumps up the necessary cash. Also, Deutsche Bahn has more than halved the estimated number of passengers to just 6.28 million annually. However, the railway is not confirming the number officially, since all factors aren't yet on the table. Read an article in English which criticizes the Transrapid project. German Yahoo has a Transrapid news page. See also story in English. (July 14th 1999)

German rail freight continues to lose ground to road haulers. The Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft estimates that rail's market share fell from 21% in 1991 to 14% now. (July 14th 1999)

Union Pacific is helping jammed Norfolk Southern by sending it a number of idle workers. The move will help Norfolk Southern cut through the congestion that has afflicted the eastern railroad network since June 1, when it began operating about 58 per cent of former Conrail routes. Norfolk Southern, which along with CSX has taken over the former Conrail system, has suffered serious computer problems in recent weeks, causing delays in switching and sorting trains. (July 14th 1999)

In its long-term objective to better serve rail passengers in the area, the New York City MTA is taking a major step in integrating the historic rail service territories of Manhattan. The East Side Access project, with construction estimated at $3.2 billion, is already underway and, by 2009, will give Long Island Rail Road passengers direct access to Grand Central Terminal, in addition to LIRR's existing Penn Station terminus. (July 14th 1999)

German DB AG and Swedish SJ have signed an agreement with the Swedish forest company Assidomän to run two daily trains from Hallsberg (between Stockholm and Göteborg) to Maschen (near Hamburg) for EUR40m per year. The transport was previously done by truck and boat. Trains returning to Sweden will be filled with other goods. See also SJ's and Assidomän's press release, and a poor translation to English. (July 13th 1999)

German DB AG will build a new digital mobile telephone network for the railway operations in Germany. Mannesmann Arcor will be the project's general contractor and responsible for planning and building the GSM-Rail network. (July 12th 1999)

Polish PKP wants foreign investment and know-how, and German DB AG seems a preferred candidate. (July 12th 1999)

A "fail safe" mechanism caused a commuter train to derail outside Sydney, Australia on Saturday the 10th. "If there's a signal failure or human error, the mechanism operated automatically and will derail the train as a matter of cause," a State Rail Authority spokesman said. Three people were injured in the accident. This section of track has been the scene of at least six other rail accidents in the past 60 years. (July 11th/12th 1999, thanks Waikit)

Public transit in Victoria, Australia, is run by several different private companies, and a row has erupted over the fact that one company has stakes in "competing" tram lines. (July 12th 1999)

Eight people died in China on Friday the 9th when an 18 carriage train carrying about 1000 people derailed near Hengyang in Hunan province. (July 12th 1999)

The Acela isn't the only train improvement project going on in the USA. Many other passenger rail projects with different levels of ambition are underway or being studied, a Reuters article explains. (July 12th 1999)

The derailment of an EWS coal train on July 8th, 1998, near Firth of Forth, Scotland, was caused by track defects. But the underlying cause was the failure of management systems of Railtrack and its contractor First Engineering Limited, according to a report by the Health & Safety Executive. (July 11th 1999)

Amtrak's 'Sunset Limited' collided with a truck on a crossing on 8 July derailing the train and injuring 18 people. The train, carrying 235 people was en route between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida when it collided with the truck hauling a salt water disposal tank. (July 11th 1999)

China is testing its fastest ever locally-made passenger train at 200 km/h. (July 11th 1999)

German DB AG has changed course in its network investment plan. Rather then building flashy new high-speed railways, money is now going to be chanelled into upgrading the existing network (36.9 billion DM) and implementing new IT solutions which will let the railway cram more trains on the track more safely (10.8 billion DM). DB AG is renegotiating with governments the 8-billion DM "Stuttgart 21" project of moving track underground to make way for new city-centre development project. The plan for building an HSR from Stuttgart to Ulm has been shelved. Also see story in English. Read about the German rail reform. (July 8th 1999)

Grip Tightens on British Rail Companies

FT.comBritish Railtrack and the TOCs face unlimited fines if they fail to improve performance and increase investment under planned legislation unveiled by the government on Wednesday the 7th. The new bill gives the Strategic Rail Authority and the rail regulator the power to levy fines for past failings by train companies. Under current legislation, they face penalties only if they fail to improve after being told to do so. South West Trains, for example, escaped a £1m fine for cancellations in 1997 by restoring train services to normal levels. Among the comments was this one: "They don't have the money to do it but this enables them to renationalise the railway. There is a lot of old Labour in it," said John Redwood, Conservative environment and transport spokesman. Also see BBC story. (July 8th 1999)

British railway companies made profits of £1.1bn while subsidies amounted to £1.4bn in the year ending March 31, 1998, The Economist says in its current issue. The respected British magazine also contends that 97% of Railtrack's track access charges are fixed, so the authority has no incentive to increase the number of trains on the network. The report is presented in four articles; read the main one here. (July 5th 1999)

California High Speed

The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners approved a resolution asking that a statewide high-speed rail route should pass by Palmdale Regional Airport. (July 8th 1999)

Who wouldn't want to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco on trains hitting 200 mph, completing the trip in a little more than two and a half hours?, the San Francisco Examiner asks in an editorial. Another article in the same paper is equally supportive. But their columnist begs to differ. (June 22nd/24th 1999)

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has received its staff and consultant recommendations for adoption of a statewide route designed to serve the greatest number of travelers while keeping costs and travel times at their minimum for the 200-mile-an-hour train. When adopted, the alignment will become part of the final business plan that the authority will present to the governor and the Legislature by the end of the year. See also the California High Speed Rail Authority website and their corridor alignment options. (June 18th/25th 1999)

The US National Mediation Board on Tuesday began a closed-door hearing to consider the United Transportation Union's bid to force a representation election on Union Pacific Railroad. The disagreement is part of a larger dispute between the UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. (July 8th 1999)

Finnish VR is laying off 600 out of 2300 staff in workshops and depots. In neighbouring Sweden, SJ last year closed workshops in Göteborg and Malmö, killing off 333 jobs. Modern trains require less maintenance. (July 5th 1999)

FT.comThe Japanese government is selling one million shares in JR East, which operates part of the national bullet train, or shinkansen network, and is considered one of the more competitive parts of the former national railway company since its privatisation in 1987. The government is currently JR East's largest shareholder, with a 37.6 per cent stake. (July 5th 1999)

The Sydney - Canberra (Australia) Speedrail TGV will be operating by 2004 if all goes as planned. The private consortium must show that its cost and revenue estimates are realistic and that financiers are committed. An enviromental review is scheduled to follow next year, and construction should start in December 2000. An extension to Melbourne could be ready by 2009. The trains will operate at 320 km/h, but the alignment will allow future trains to attain 360 km/h. The Sydney-Canberra segment will take 81 minutes. The airline Qantas is a project participant and will be responsible for passenger handling, including all on-board services, ticketing and station management. Passengers will be able to earn and use frequent-flier points, and connect to domestic and international flights. Their baggage will be checked through from the train to the flight. Qantas will be the only airline in the world operating a high speed train, besides British Airways which has a stake in the Eurostar train between England and France/Belgium. Official site: www.speedrail.com.au (July 5th 1999, thanx David Bromage)

Dutch shippers' organization EVO is anything but pleased with the takeover of NS Cargo by German railroad company DB under the name of Europe Rail Cargo. They feel that the benefit of uniform purchase of services from an office in Dusseldorf to be opened later this year, does not match that of a reduction in competition. (July 5th 1999)

Putting a gel on rail track ensures that trains can brake and accelerate easier. A test by Netherlands Railroads' Railinfrabeheer (Rail Infrastructure Management) has made this clear. (July 5th 1999)

Amtrak gave reporters and a group of VIPs the first public viewing of the Acela high-speed train on Tuesday the 29th, in a railyard just two miles (3.2 km) from the Capitol. (July 5th 1999)

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