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June 2003

Connex Loses British Franchise

Connex is to lose its franchise southeast of London. The Strategic Rail Authority says poor financial management is to blame. The Connex South Eastern franchise had been due to run until 2006, but will now cease at the end of the year. The SRA will then manage the franchise until it finds a new franchisee. It will then be rolled into a larger integrated Kent franchise as announced December 11th 2002, incorporating the planned high-speed domestic services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. This new franchise will be let in 12-18 months. See also IRJ bulletin, FT story and press releases from Connex and the SRA. archive (June 30th, thanks Ifor Davies)

First Alice Springs-Darwin Train in February

map, click for enlargement Australia's famous Ghan train will make its first run on the new northern half of Australia's north-south trans-continental railway on February 1st. The first freight train on the line will leave from Adelaide on the south coast January 15. Tracklaying for the new 1410 km Alice Springs-Darwin railway started in the spring of 2002. See also press release. archive (June 22nd, thanks Alan Reekie)

Runaway UP Train Crashes into Homes

A runaway freight train in Los Angeles reached speeds of 110 km/h before it was derailed without warning Friday the 20th by Union Pacific railroad officials, sending the 31 lumber cars crashing into four homes and injuring a dozen people, none seriously. A spokesman for UP hinted human error was to blame, since it was unlikely that brakes failed on all 31 cars. Train brakes are on by default when not coupled to a locomotive. A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said it is almost unheard of for a train to break loose from a switching yard and then cover such distance, almost 50 km. About 20 homes were evacuated. The railroad said it arranged hotel accommodations for the families and was assessing the cost of repairing the homes. See also a LA Times story and newer CNN story. archive (June 22nd)

Connex Takes Over in Sweden

Trains Change Hands Without a Hitch

Connex took over two Swedish franchises over the weekend; night trains to the north and the Kinnekulle trains northeast of Göteborg, with new direct services to Göteborg. The night trains have lost their panorama coaches which the previous franchisee, Tågkompaniet, has kept. But there are new restaurant coaches with catering by Svenska Orientexpressen and TravelVision screens showing news and movies. (June 18th)

Tågkompaniet sues Rikstrafiken

Tågkompaniet says that Connex has dumped the price of the night trains and is suing Rikstrafiken, the franchising authority, for SEK 53,5m which is the profit they would have had from the five-year franchise. Tågkompaniet says that Connex price of SEK62m per year is unrealistic since most costs like rolling stock and wages are fixed. Tågkompaniet's bid was SEK105m per year. See also article at Länstidningen i Östersund. archive (June 18th)

NSB Drops Brands, Night Trains

NSB Drops Brands

Kjetil Refsnes Jørgensen Norwegian NSB has dropped its Signatur and Agenda brands for intercity and regional trains. NSB says passengers appreciate the service and comfort in the new class 73 (Signatur/Agenda) and class 93 (Agenda) trains, but the brand names were confusing. Compulsory advance reservations also scared away passengers, so tickets can again be bought from the conductor. See also NSB press release. archive (June 16th, photo Kjetil Refsnes Jørgensen)

Norwegian Night Trains Terminated?

NSB says it will discontinue its night trains on January 5th unless the government gives it more money. The night trains lost 20-25% of their passengers last year. Train operator Connex, which recently took over night trains to the north in neighbouring Sweden, has expressed interest in taking over NSB's night trains. A bus company says that for the money NSB is asking to run the trains, they can take the passengers for free and give them free dinner and breakfast too. NSB says there aren't any profitable night trains anywhere in Europe. See also NSB press release. (June 16th)

DB Discord

Stall and Wear Down

red signalsConnex has several dozen legal cases against DB in Germany. Two start this summer, one regarding if DB must publish Connex' trains in their timetable, and another regarding if the province of Brandenburg really has signed over all its services to DB without a bidding process. Der Spiegel writes that while DB says it welcomes competition, it works against competitors at every step. (June 15th)

DB Cuts 40 000 Jobs?

German DB AG plans to cut 40 000 jobs, according to an article in the Handelsblatt newspaper. DB's boss Hartmut Mehdorn is to have said at a conference that the current workforce of 210 000 could be cut by as much as 20%. But a DB spokesperson says this is silly and there are other ways to lower costs and raise productivity. See also Die Welt story. (June 15th)

DB Boss: We Are On the Right Track

In an interview with Financial Times Deutschland, DB boss Hartmut Mehdorn says he is confident that the company can be 20% privatised by 2005. He feels that the whole company should be sold as an entity and that the profitable freight division shouldn't be sold separately. He also defends the new fares structure, saying the €45 extra charge for changing reservations was an isolated mistake. Measures will be taken to compete better with low-fares airlines, which helped lower the number of train trips over 500km by 13% in a year. (June 15th)

DB Gives Up on Revenue Management?

Karl-Friedrich Rausch is the new boss of German DB AG's passenger services since May. He is effecting a course change, and plans to simplify the new price system introduced in December. The aim was to raise revenue by making it cheaper to book in advance but more expensive to buy a ticket the same day. Plans to lay off 2000 workers have also been put on ice. Management now wishes to speak with the unions about reducing costs so that the company will be more competitive when bidding for regional concessions. • DB and Vodafone are co-operating to provide better mobile phone coverage to train passengers. Vodafone will have access to the railway's own systems. archive (June 4th)

Brum Gets Underground?

Birmingham, England, could get a £3bn subway if a campaign launched by Lord Mayor John Alden is successful. Claiming that a Tube system would solve Birmingham's traffic problems for 100 years, John Alden proclaimed the scheme a "big idea for the 21st century". "Our great city cannot be allowed to slowly choke to death because of a paralysed transport system. We do not have sufficient space on the surface to build wider roads, or to build tram lines along the sides of the roads," he says. Birmingham tram, click for enlargementBirmingham is already adding a 3,2km city centre extension to its new light rail network. It is called the Metro but is a surface tram system, not an underground railway. (June 15th, thanks Nicolas Newman)

Koreas Relinked

North and South Korea have held a symbolic ceremony to re-link cross border railways severed by war more than 50 years ago. Engineers from both sides tightened the screws on the railway tracks that will, it is hoped, eventually carry passenger trains between the two countries. archive (June 15th, thanks David Trinh)

British Mail Ditches Trains

British Royal Mail has announced that is dropping its mail trains and moving to a system based entirely on trucks and planes. This affects train operator EWS' 49 daily mail trains which have been 93,5% on time (within ten minutes), against a target of 95%. The post says it can get the same flexibility and quality without trains, but at a lower cost, and that the new system will save it £90m per year. See also BBC stories 1 and 2, IRJ bulletin, and press releases at EWS and Royal Mail. archive (June 12th)

Six Dead in Germany

Human Error

The accident was due to human error, Der Spiegel reports. As the signalling system on the line was out of order, each train had to be cleared by the traffic controller. He cleared a train to leave Schrozberg station on the single-track line though another one had not yet reached Schrozberg. Both trains were going 80 km/h at the time of impact. Normal service will be restored tomorrow (Friday). (June 12th)

Six Dead in Germany

Six people died after two regional passenger trains collided on a single-track line west of Nürnberg in Germany on Wednesday the 11th. One carriage and an engine came off the rails, and parts of the wreckage fell down a steep embankment. Both train drivers died. One of the trains was a class 628 diesel multiple unit and the other train was pulled by a class 218 diesel locomotive. See also Eurail Press bulletin and press release. (June 11th, reported by Matt Carlson)

19 Dead in Spain

At least 19 people died and about 40 were injured in a head-on train collision in Spain between a high-speed passenger train and a freight train on Tuesday the 3rd. The passenger train, with about 90 people on board, was en route from Madrid to the south coast city of Cartagena. The passenger train was given permission to leave Chinchilla station, on to the single-line track and into the path of the oncoming freight train. Train operator RENFE says the crash was due to a human error as the signalling system was working perfectly. The impact was so great that the engine of the freight train catapulted over the top of the passenger train, the first carriage of which was totally destroyed by fire. (June 4th, reported by Matt Carlson)

Failure Inherent in Network Rail?

Network Rail logo Britain's rail regulator has warned that Network Rail's spending is unsustainable. Tom Winsor says it needs to develop a "purposeful and realistic" business plan for delivering better train services. He also says it is overspending and underperforming because it doesn't have shareholders. Instead, it has 116 members, drawn from the rail industry, unions and bodies such as the Scottish Executive, while its ability to finance its operations depends on £21bn of support from the taxpayer. By 2006, Network Rail plans to have spent £27,8bn on repairing and upgrading the railway network, almost £12bn more than the regulator had originally expected. Despite this, or maybe as a short-term consequence, delays are up 9%. Mr Winsor also says a larger share of tack access charges should go to Network Rail. See also stories at The Independent and BBC, and Network Rail press release. archive (June 4th)

BC Rail to be Part-Privatised

BC Rail logo BC Rail is owned by the province of British Columbia in western Canada. The government is now looking for a private company to take over operations while the government retains ownership of the network's 2315 km of tracks. BC rail made a C$77m profit last year but has a C$503m debt. The government has not decided if the operator will assume any debt. The companies interested include Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, OmniTRAX, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Union Pacific. Of these, CN is the only one with connections to BC Rail on its own network. See also press release and Google News. archive (June 4th, thanks John Brydle)

SmartCards Stay in Your Pocket

Melbourne Australia will introduce smart card ticketing in 2007. The new cards would automatically pay the required fare and do not need to be taken out of a pocket or purse. In Hong Kong, some commuters have their smartcards in wristwatches or jewellery. The cards are likely to be embraced by banks and retailers to become electronic small change "purses" for items such as newspapers, coffee, parking fees, etc. London England is introducing a similar system called Oyster cards. (June 4th, thanks David Bromage)

Tiny Screen Reduces Noise

sreen attached to railA new type of noise screen is being tested in Sweden. By installing the screen as close as possible to the source of the noise, it can be made very small, only 22,7cm (~9 inches) high. This makes installation very cheap compared to conventional screens, and doesn't block the view for passengers. The screen rests on the sleepers and is held in place by powerful magnets attached to the rail. It works best at speeds of about 150 km/h and higher, and reduces noise by about 5 - 10 dB, or 50 - 60%. The design is pattented by Per Littorin. archive (June 2nd)

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