June 99

Five people died in a car in Sweden on Tuesday the 22nd when the "Volvo train", loaded with truck cabs in containers en route from Göteborg to a factory in Olofström collided with the car at a crossing east of Borås on the Coast-to-Coast railway. The train weighed 310 metric tonnes and was moving at about 90 km/h; the car was pushed sideways in front of the train a distance of 500 m (see photo). The crossing is equipped with "half gates", meaning gates that cover the right half of the road. Locals say the gates weren't working properly and would be down for hours at a time without any trains coming, and so people would pass them. Rail administration Banverket concedes that communications were inadequate since locals' warnings weren't acted upon. Banverket has no safety hotline but may set one up. "Half gates" are cheaper than full-width ones but you can zig-zag between them. In any case, all such gates in Sweden, even full-width ones, are flexible so you can drive through them even on the electric start motor of your car. This is in case your motor dies when you're on the crossing. More at Borås Tidning, and in English at Infoseek. (June 26th)

gizmoAmtrak and Motorola are equipping train conductors with handheld ticket checking devices (aka gizmos=) for fare collection. The devices will relay ridership and revenue data to Amtrak's database; this will let conductors sell tickets for cancelled reservations or re-sell the seats of ticketed passengers who do not board the train. The system will also make it easier for Amtrak to find out who is on a train in the event of an accident. (June 25th)

Stockholm Local Transit will introduce a travel guarantee for the subway in August. If a subway train is delayed more than 20 minutes, the affected passenger may be reimbursed for a 200kr taxi ride against the receipt and a form. Two hundred crowns taxi money gets you almost from one end of the subway system to the other. The Stockholm subway green line has become the butt of bitter jokes as Siemens' new signalling system delays trains, sometimes for hours. More about the subway. (June 25th)

British Privatization: Mixed Results

British train travel maintains its upward trend, rising by 7% over last year, according to the Bulletin of Rail Statistics published by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. (June 25th)

FT.comTwo years later, British rail privatisation remains mired in controversy. The punctuality and reliability of train services shows no sign of improvement, while the number of complaints rises. (June 25th)

FT.comThe Railtrack director in charge of the 2.1bn modernisation of the west coast main line, Britain's busiest rail route, has resigned only a few days after the company finalised its plans for the first stage. (June 25th)

Pre-tax profits have doubled for Richard Branson's Virgin Trains - despite its rail services being among the most unreliable. A recent report showed that Virgin's West Coast and CrossCountry services failed to achieve targets for reliability and punctuality. However, the company defends its 28m profit figure for 1998-99 as "very modest". (June 24th)

Commuters and tourists travelling in London are set for a summer of misery after it was announced one of the key tube lines will be closed for eight weeks. The Circle Line is one of the most important routes under the capital, connecting mainline rail stations such as Paddington, Victoria, Liverpool Street and King's Cross. It also passes such famous landmarks as the Houses of Parliament, the Natural History Museum, Madam Tussaud's, and the Tower of London. (June 24th)

A high speed train travelling at 100 mph crashed into the rear of an empty commuter train on Britain's West Coast Main Line injuring 29 people. The express train, forming the Virgin Trains' 0635 Euston - Glasgow service was approaching Winsford station in Cheshire when the accident occurred at 0852. The empty train, belonging to First North Western was en route from Crewe to Manchester Piccadily. (June 23rd)

Rail Cargo Europe, the company formed by the takeover of Dutch NS Cargo by German DB Cargo, will start operations January 1st. Rob den Besten, boss of NS, says "Rail Cargo Europe remains open for other partners." See also story in English. (June 23rd)

The operators of Melbourne's first privately operated tram service face stiff penalties if they fail to significantly improve the punctuality and reliability of trams, or keep their customers satisfied. Transfield, the builder of City Link, has won the 12-year contract to run half of Melbourne's tram system in a deal that the government says will save taxpayers $290 million. (June 22nd)

The Australian Bluebird tourist train which services the Barossa region could be extended to the Upper Spencer Gulf on Australia's southern coast. (June 22nd)

FT.comEurotunnel has announced plans to double its freight capacity by 2003, to take advantage of the strong growth in freight traffic across the Channel. The new trains will require the building of an extra track at terminals on both ends of the tunnel. Eurotunnel backed the start of a service between London Wembley and Gremberg near Cologne two months ago, the first regular service between the UK and Germany, as well as the creation of a faster freight link between the UK and Sopron in Hungary. (June 22nd)

After its takeover of Bahntrans from Thyssen Haniel and Deutsche Bahn, Belgian Railroads has discovered many skeletons in the cupboard. It is reorganizing drastically in order to limit its losses. (June 22nd)

France maintains its determined opposition to European Union plans to open up rail freight to greater cross-border competition, blocking a potential agreement after late evening negotiations. "Despite substantial majority support, we weren't able to get full consensus today," acting EU Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock told a press conference on Thursday the 17th. (June 18th)

Twenty years after the last passenger train left Oklahoma, Amtrak rolled back into the state on Monday the 14th with daily service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas. (June 18th)

Swedish SJ is going to order new trains for over a billion SEK ($850m) for regional services round the Mälar Valley west of Stockholm. The railways north and south of the lake have been rebuilt or upgraded for speeds between 160 and 250 km/h in recent years. This is the biggest Swedish order for trains since twenty X 2000 EMUs were ordered from Adtranz (then ASEA Traction) in 1985. SJ now has 40 such trains. More here. (June 17th)

FT.comRailtrack has been offered the task of linking the Tube to the national rail network in ambitious plans, announced yesterday, to transform travel in London. John Prescott, deputy prime minister, braved the wrath of the unions by giving Railtrack, which owns and operates the UK's rail infrastructure, the chance to take over "subsurface" Tube lines such as the Metropolitan and District. Under Mr Prescott's rail integration scheme, passengers will be able to make cross-London journeys without changing trains, through the integration of the Tube with overland lines. (June 17th)

FT.comMore than 30 "serious" applications have been made to a government fund for improving British passenger rail services, Mike Grant, the newly appointed rail franchising director says. The money is being asked for projects such as park-and-ride schemes, joint ticketing arrangements between trains and buses and more frequent train services. Proposals come from local authorities, train operating companies and private companies new to the railway industry. (June 17th)

FT.comWhen it comes to awards for export achievement, the British Council deserves a special honour. In May it organised a one-day seminar in Switzerland to teach the managers of one of the world's best-run railway systems what they can learn from the managers of one of Europe's worst. The title of the seminar - Privatisation and Deregulation of Public Railways: Can it Work? - was pitched diplomatically. (June 17th)

A British fleet of brand new trains is being repaired after passengers complained they were letting in rain. The Turbo Star trains, which cost 2.5m each, have been running between London St Pancras and Sheffield for less than a week. But manufacturer Adtranz was called in to repair all 17 trains after passengers on the Midland Mainline service complained they were getting wet. (June 14th)

The 4.6-mile (7 km) Hollywood extension of Los Angeles' new subway opened on Saturday the 12th to huge crowds eager to test the new experience of getting around by underground rail instead of by car and bus. More than 105 000 people rode at least a portion of the 11.1-mile Metro Rail Red Line route that includes the new segment. (June 14th)

The Australian Federal Government's Rail Taskforce has called for a greater commitment to rail transport for both freight and passengers. The taskforce has thrown its weight behind the Canberra to Sydney fast train proposal saying it would like to see the project eventually expanded to link all east coast cities. (June 14th)

FT.comThe Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation is having trouble attracting necessary capital, but the government is not providing any more money. The lack of capital is pushing back dates for groundbreaking and completion, so the railway will not likely be ready for the year 2003 as planned. The company has not made a final decision between Euro-Train and Japan's Shinkansen bullet-train technology. Differences over how to share a tangled web of risk and potential reward between the government, lenders and THSRC, which won the 35-year contract to build and operate the line, have fuelled uncertainty over one of Asia's biggest infrastructure projects. Infoseek story. (June 2nd/9th)

Technicians in Philadelphia literally took the bubble wrap off one of Amtrak's new Acela trains on June 1st, revealing the first visible sign of dramatic changes coming to the Northeast Corridor. The train was towed there late last week from the Bombardier assembly plant in Plattsburgh, N.Y., for months of testing on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and Philadelphia-Harrisburg lines. (June 9th)

Canadian National has delivered more than C$190 million in rate reductions and cash payments to grain farmers and shippers since the Western Grain Transportation Act was abolished in 1995, says Peter Marshall, vice-president of CN's Prairie division. "CN believes it's vital -- at this critical stage in the evolution of Canada's grain handling and transportation system to set the record straight on CN's contributions to the industry," Marshall said. (June 9th)

1.2 million trees will be planted along the Channel Tunnel Rail Link this spring, in an effort to compensate for clearing ahead of the building of the railway. (June 9th)

Canadian officials launched an investigation on Saturday the 6th into a bizarre series of train accidents in which a passenger train collided with a van, killing three men, and then went on to hit a woman several hours later. (June 8th)

FT.comFrance has dropped its reservations about a new rail tunnel under the Alps linking Lyons and Turin in Italy in the wake of the fire in the Mont Blanc road tunnel two months ago. A firm decision could be taken at a Franco-Italian summit in 2000. (June 8th)

FT.comBAA, the UK airport authority which owns airports including London Heathrow and Gatwick, is considering setting up further rail links from central London to Heathrow after a rise in passenger numbers on its Heathrow Express service. (June 8th)

A Swedish-German study of the Danish railway DSB has revealed that some main lines are in such bad shape that speeds must be reduced to 80 km/h from 120 or 160 km/h. (June 8th)

The famous Schweberbahn 'Hanging Railway' in Wuppertal is to re-open today 8 weeks after a train fell into the river killing a number of passengers and injuring many more. (June 8th)

Work will begin next year on the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link after the selection yesterday of a United States-based consortium as the preferred builder. More on new Australian HSRs. (June 8th)

Even in a best-case scenario, it would be "close to a decade" before the first Canadian high-speed train could make a pioneering run between Montreal and Toronto, Canadian Transport Minister David Collenette says. But Via Rail Canada can't wait that long for revitalization, Collenette said. A reform package is to be expected by September; Collenette presented no details apart from saying mistakes made in Britain would not be repeated. (June 7th)

A lightning strike at CSXT's communications center in Florida knocked out part of the railroad's signal system Thursday, slowing or halting rail traffic -- including 11 Amtrak trains -- in parts of the US East and Midwest. The lightning strike at 5:30 pm EDT in Jacksonville, knocked out the company's signal system between Chicago and Philadelphia, in portions of Michigan, and in the Kentucky-West Virginia coal region. (June 7th)

The moment of truth for Norfolk Southern and CSXT was midnight, May 31st. Neither railway had any major problems in implementing their newly aquired parts of Conrail into their systems. But a human error delayed the start-up of Norfolk Southern's computer systems for hours. (June 3rd)

The British rail regulator Chris Bolt has warned Railtrack to reduce the delays it causes to train passengers or face the prospect of heavy fines. (June 3rd)

The subsidiaries of German DB AG have been converted into limited companies (Aktiengesellschaften or AG). They are DB Cargo AG, DB Netz AG, DB Regio AG, DB Reise&Touristik AG and DB Station&Service AG. They are all 100% owned by DB AG, which in turn is 100% owned by the federal government. They are all candidates for total or partial privatisation, with the exception of infrastructure provider DB Netz. Read more about the German rail reform. (June 2nd)

Canadian National and Illinois Central have signed agreements to establish two fiber-optic cable joint ventures with Worldwide Fiber Inc. The joint venture will have preferred access to laying cables along the railways. (June 2nd)

A 440 million mark ($244 million) train station opened Thursday the 27th at Frankfurt airport, connecting travelers arriving at continental Europe's busiest airport directly with Germany's high-speed ICE trains. The station will be served by up to 84 IC and ICE trains daily. National connections to and from the airport have been speeded up by 30-40 minutes, since it is no longer necessary to change trains at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. But a fire drill revealed shortcomings in fire safety. The Frankfurt Airport has some pages in English about the train station; also see the DB AG press release. (May 28th/June 1st)

FT.comRenaissance Trains, a company backed by former senior managers of British Rail, could become the first new train operating company since privatisation if its bid to run a direct train service between London and Hull is successful. Renaissance hopes to start its service in May 2000 if it can obtain space in the timetable. (June 1st)

FT.comTrams return to the West Midlands in Britain on Monday 31st the with the start of services on the 145m Midland Metro between Birmingham city centre and Wolverhampton. The 13-mile line, running for much of its length along former rail track, is the third system to open since the revival of the modern tram, and is expected to carry 10m passengers a year. (June 1st)

Rumours have it that Railtrack is keen to bid on the privatisation of the London Underground. Railtrack is not commenting on the rumours. (June 1st)

Revellers from a Beerfest in the Belarusian capital Minsk were killed as they rushed for cover from a sudden downpour of rain. Reports suggest that up to 2000 people tried to cram into the access tunnel to Nemiga underground station. (June 1st)

Canadian National is acquiring 200 RoadRailer Mark V highway trailers and 130 RoadRailer railroad bogies for daily Toronto-Montreal service starting in early August. CN will operate dedicated terminals in the two cities. RoadRailers can be hauled on and off railroad tracks by truck tractors and do not require overhead cranes, and look like this. (June 1st)

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