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June 2005

Driver's Aid for Ore Trains

Swedish steel company LKAB's ore trains are being equipped with a driving aid system. A central computer computes an optimal speed based on track geometry, signals, other trains, etc. This information is sent to the train driver via GSM-R radio, a European digital standard. This can save 20% on energy. LKAB's trains weigh 8500 metic tonnes. The system has been developed by consultancy Transrail and is called Computer-Aided Train Operation, CATO. The project is financed by LKAB and Swedish rail administration Banverket. CATO is meant to be a national standard for all trains and possibly also a European standard. See also Transrail's CATO page. (June 17th)

New Boss in Russia

Gennady Fadajev has stepped down as boss of Russia's railways, which have been converted to a limited company 100% owned by the government. The new boss is Vladimir Jakunin. He knows President Vladimir Putin since their time together in St Petersburg in the early nineties. (June 17th)

Leaky Valve Stops Traffic

A leaking tank car with liquefied petroleum gas resulted in blocked train traffic in Göteborg in Sweden June 15th. Traffic along the main railway to the eastern suburbs and Stockholm was blocked for five hours. The cause was a leaky safety valve. Shell has decided to remove the valves from their five (5) tank cars and is discussing the issue with leasers of the other 22 cars Shell uses, Ermeva and Nacco. The valves are illegal in some countries since they can leak quietly unnoticed. See also older story. (June 17th)

Freight Car Leasing Monopoly?

A recent deal in the freight car leasing business raises competition concerns. Shares in German leasing company VTG have been sold to IPE-Ross, which also owns shares in Ermeva, a competitor to VTG. Among Ermeva's owners is SNCF, the French state railway. German train operator DB now fears the freight wagons it leases will end up under the control of its arch-rival SNCF. The European Commission recently approved €1,5bn in government support to Fret, SNCF's freight division. (June 17th)

British Sleepers May be Axed

British authorities have asked train operators to detail the cost and patronage of their sleeper trains. Sleepers are less economic than day trains because they are only used once a day. Authorities aim to reduce train subsidies by £6,5bn. Editor's comment: Statistics from ticket sales might provide a reason for keeping sleepers. Passengers might be using night trains one way, and more profitable day services going back. If so, such tickets could be sold as package deals. See also Times editorial. (June 9th)

London-Scotland is Transrapid's New Hope

Government Completes Study

map A study commissioned by the British government shows that a Transrapid Maglev from London to Scotland would cost £20m/km to build, or £16bn, plus the cost of land. Proponents say England's hilly terrain makes the Transrapid suitable since it can climb 10% grades, compared to 4% for conventional high-speed trains. Groups from across the transport sector have warned that planning for a new trunk line needs to start now in order to avoid later problems. And the government is keen to narrow the gap between the economies of the north and south. See also stories in English at Independent, Railnews UK, and in German at Die Welt, Der Spiegel, Der Kurier, and Ultraspeed's website in English at And stories from February; BBC audio report, Guardian story, and Scotsman story. (June 8th, thanks David Peilow)

Editor's comment: This plan seems more realistic than earlier maglev schemes elsewhere. The long distance (800km), frequent stops (Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle) and steep hills between London and Scotland all play to maglev's strengths over conventional high speed, namely higher top speed, faster acceleration, and better ability to go up hills. (June 8th)

Isreal Proposes Palestinian Rail Link

Israel has suggested building a rail link between the country's two Palestinian territories. The idea is to avoid the Gaza Strip being isolated from the outside world. Israel prefers a rail link to a road because they do not trust Palestinians to drive along the Israeli countryside. A "safe-passage" corridor between the two Palestinian territories was part of the 1993 Oslo accords but has not yet been implemented. See also Globe and Mail story. (June 8th)

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