March 99

New York's Metro North Railroad had a fine solution to disturbing cell phone conversations: put all passengers who use them in one car. But free speech issues killed the quiet. Swedish SJ has successfully mobile/cell phone free compartments on intercity trains. (March 30th)

Swedish rail administrator Banverket wants to build a third track on the Stockholm - Malmö main line between Eslöv and Malmö starting in 2007. (March 30th)

Militant Amtrak unions are scuppering a plan to save millions of dollars by putting train maintenance out to tender, the Boston Business Journal says. (March 29th)

Swedish SJ wants to reduce its workforce by 3600 people to 12 000, over four years. By 2003, SJ will thus have shrunk its workforce by three quarters since 1989, just after the rail administration Banverket was broken out of the state railway. (March 29th)

The planned Bothnia Railway is a flop, say the forestry companies in northern Sweden who are expected to be the railway's biggest customers. The Swedish Forestry Committee says the money would be better spent elsewhere on Swedish infrastructure. The railway will be financed by the national government (91%) and affected municipalities (9%). (March 29th)

Oliver Keating's high speed rail site, which has been offline for months, has resurfaced at (March 29th)

A record fine has been dealt to British construction company Balfour Beatty following a train derailment which blocked two lines for nearly a week. The fine amounts to £500,000. (March 27th)

A groundbreaking ceremony for a 340 km high-speed Taiwanese railway was held on Friday the 26th. It will link Taipei with the southern city of Kaohsiung and is touted as the largest transport project under way in the world. Official Site. (March 26th)

Russia's finance ministry has proposed restructuring the government-backed bonds of RAO Vysokoskorostnye Magistrali (VSM, or High-Speed Railways). VSM, which is building a high-speed rail link between Moscow and St Petersburg, has total overdue payments on its principal debt and interest amounting to 435 million roubles ($17.98 million). (March 26th)

Dutch Reform

Nederlandse Spoorwegen is to be privatized in stages and will be listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange by May, 2002, the Dutch Minister of Transport says. Analysts say the railways are unlikely to fetch a high price analogous with earlier privatisations, like the post & telephone company. The stock exchange listing does not affect NS Cargo, for that company is to be taken over by Deutsche Bahn.

Also, regional services are to be put out to competitive tender, whereas the profitable "core network" will continue to be run by NS under a monopoly untill 2010. (March 26th)

FT.comRailtrack will spend £27bn to clear bottlenecks and expand the capacity of the rail network by 30 per cent over the next 10 years. The spree comes in response to political pressure, but Railtrack's failure to meet its target of reducing delays to passenger trains by 7.5 per cent in the current year could make for tense discussions with Chris Bolt, the acting rail regulator. Passenger delays have been cut by 3-4 per cent although freight train delays have been cut by 12 per cent. Of the £27bn, £730m will go to rail connections to airports and £400m to adapt tunnels and bridges to accommodate larger freight container wagons. (March 26th)

Canadian National's US$2.4-billion takeover of Illinois Central has been approved the by the US Surface Transportation Board. CN said the actual integration won’t start until July 1, after the board issues its written report May 25th and the decision takes effect June 24. Among the STB's conditions are:

A runaway train carrying hundreds of people to the Kenyan coastal port of Mombasa derailed at high speed Wednesday, killing at least 32 people, including five foreigners. Sixteen carriages lay on their backs or sides at the scene, some of them badly mangled. See also story and photos at CNN. (March 25th)

Rail passengers in south-east England stood and watched helplessly as their regular train to work failed to stop at three stations into London. The train skipped the stops in order to arrive on time at the end destination. Train operator Connex said it was "standard operating procedure" to make delayed trains miss out stops. (March 25th)

The Channel Tunnel has been voted the best construction achievement of the 20th Century in a survey of engineers. (March 25th)

Shortlines in Rotterdam, one of many new European upstarts in the rail business, gets no - or hardly any - reaction when it invites suppliers of locomotives to submit a quotation. (March 23rd)

124 cars broke off from a Norfolk Southern train on Friday the 19th in Georgia, USA, and rolled 18 miles. Nobody was hurt but the Federal Railroad Administration is investigating. (March 23rd)

Nasty Chicago Derailment

At least twelve people died when Amtrak's "City of New Orleans" hit a flatbed truck carrying steel at a crossing south of Chicago Monday night (the 15th), knocking cars off the track in a fiery crash that injured more than 120 people. The overnight train links Chicago with New Orleans. According to RailWatch, a Texas-based coalition of 300 local officials from across the country, rail crossings were the sites of more than 500 deaths and 1,800 injuries in 1998. A study by the group said that a train collides with a motor vehicle every 90 minutes in the United States. Older CNN story. Map showing Chicago, USA. (15:40 CET March 16th)

More stories:

Federal Highway Administration authorities are drafting tough new penalties to crack down on commercial truck drivers who violate rail crossing rules. (March 22nd)

See an instructive animation of the crash at the Chicago Tribune. Requires Shockwave Flash which is only a 218k download. See photos at Excite. (March 20th)

The fire that engulfed the sleeper car of the City of New Orleans last week was fed by fuel spilling from two state-of-the-art locomotives specifically designed to prevent diesel fires after derailments, raising questions about the safety of a whole new generation of train engines. (March 20th)

The truck driver may have thought the train he crashed into was a slow-moving freight rather than a faster passenger train, and this would explain why he tried to make it over the crossing before the train. (March 20th)

Several new grade crossing safety systems are being tested in the USA. One is a cable barrier being used along rail lines in Wisconsin. The cable drops into place as the train approaches and not only blocks access to the tracks but also stops vehicles that try to barrel through it. (March 20th)

In 1997, 245 Amtrak trains were involved in accidents reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration. Of all the reportable accidents, 183, or 74 percent, were attributable to motor vehicle operator inattention or impatience. Some 114 of those accidents occurred at crossings with active warning devices, such as gates, flashing lights and bells. Industrywide, collisions at grade crossings killed or seriously injured about 2,100 people in 1996, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics. (March 17th)

The worst damage occurred to the first cars of the train. Two engines and a baggage car were left piled atop each other. The next car back, a sleeper, contained many of the people who were injured, authorities said. The sleeper came to a rest at a right angle to the tracks but still upright. Photos. (March 16th)

Stopped freight trains are causing delays as long as an hour in Chicago street traffic and prompting officials to seek tougher fines and even criminal penalties against the offending railroads. (March 13th)

The Airtrain Citylink consortium will build an 8,5 km rail link for A$223m between the Australian city of Brisbane and its airport. (March 18th)

FT.comNational Express' rail division increased its operating profit before exceptional costs by 31.5 per cent to £25.9m last year. NE operates five British rail franchises including the Gatwick Express. (March 18th)

FT.comEurotunnel tripled its operating profits from £57m to £184m in 1998, comfortably exceeding the forecast of £151m made at the time of its financial restructuring in 1997 (see article). Patrick Ponsolle, executive chairman, said: "We must however recognise that even if our recovery is progressing well, it is still far from complete." (March 17th)

The New South Wales State Government in Australia will spend $500,000 on a feasibility study for a very fast train link between Sydney and Newcastle, and says it is committed to the task. State Transport Minister Carl Scully says the study is part of an upgrade of the line announced last year and claims it is more a matter of when rather than if very fast trains will be introduced. (March 17th)

First American HST

The New Amtrak Acela trains will start testing at the Pueblo, Colorado test track by the end of March and enter commercial service in the Northeast by December. In tests on a 13.5-mile loop, it will reach 165 mph (266 km/h), take curves at 130 mph and top out at 150 mph in passenger service. The performance tests will be followed by endurance tests to simulate starting and stopping the train over 20,000 miles. (March 17th)

Acela logoAcela is the name for Amtrak's new tilting HSTs, connecting Boston, New York and Washington. The previous name, American Flyer, was a trademark of toy train maker Lionel. The trains are manufactured by Bombardier. The trains will be introduced in other parts of the USA after being implemented in the Northeast, the Chicago Tribune reports. (March 9th/12th)

Washington DC subway train operators have been ordered to slow down and use manual controls while a potential safety problem is investigated. Switches that control signals, speed and train separation have failed three times in the past three months. (March 13th)

In an effort to make Indian train travel safer, the Ministry of Railways is distributing walkie talkies to train crews. (March 13th)

FT.comThe London Underground is at bursting point. Rush-hour overcrowding is spreading to trains outside the peak while the crush is so bad at some busy stations staff have to hold passengers at street level until the platforms below have cleared. Passenger journeys rose 8 per cent to a record 832m in the year ended March 1998 and have continued to rise. (March 13th)

NJ Transit expects ridership to explode after 2002, and plans to buy 400 train cars, and agency officials said they plan to purchase 650 transit buses. (March 12th)

FT.comGNER is to become the first privatized British train operating company to relaunch a cars-on-trains Motorail service when it begins a London to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness service at the end of this month. (March 11th)

FT.comEurotunnel has signed a 15-year deal with BAA, the UK airports group, to manage retail outlets at either end of the tunnel. Also, Eurostar cut operating losses by 30 per cent to £95m last year and is on target to break even in 2005. Eurostar's current operating losses should not be confused with Eurotunnel's current operating profits. (March 11th)

In an effort to make trains run on time, German DB AG is employing 150 "Pünktlichkeitsmanagern", or On-time departure performance managers. (March 11th)

British Railtrack knew about the unsafe condition of a line where a freight train crashed in Kent in 1997, but they took no action to remedy it, according to a report from the Health and Safety Executive. (March 10th)

German DB AG wants to raise prices for short-distance passenger trains to offset the impact of the planned ecology tax. (March 10th)

SL A 32 © Jan LindahlThe first of Stockholm's new trams has been shown to the press. They are built by Bombardier in Vienna and Belgium, and assembled by Adtranz in Västerås, Sweden. They are 30,4 m long and have three double doors per side, and low-floor throughout except over the end bogies. They reach 80 km/h and weigh 37,5 metric tonnes. (March 10th, Photo used with permission. More photos at Swetramway)

FT.comSir Robert Horton is to step down as chairman of British Railtrack at the end of this year. The announcement came a day after the government unveiled its detailed plans for the railways at a national rail conference. Railtrack denies being "investment shy". However, the way privatisation has been arranged means there is no incentive for Railtrack to expand capacity on the network, says Gerald Corbett, chief executive. (March 9th)

FT.comSome British railway lines may have to close and buses may need to replace trains on other routes to reduce costs, a report by a group of transport academics and industry executives warns. "The Treasury cannot ignore the huge sums required to support marginal services," the Railway Reform Group says. (March 9th)

FT.comPlans for a £200m rail freight terminal near London's Heathrow airport could run into objections because it would eat into the undeveloped "green belt" around London. (March 9th)

Thirteen people were hurt in Erfurt, Germany, in a collision between two regional trains on Tuesday the 9th. One of the trains ran a red light. (March 9th)

ICTDB Reise & Touristik, the passenger train division of German DB AG, plans on becoming Europe's number one in intercity travel. Service enhacements include introduction of ICT trains Stuttgart - Zürich in May, telephone and internet bookings, as well as better co-ordination with taxi and car rental services. (March 9th)

German trains rolled fewer kilometres in 1998 than in 1997, despite ICE traffic not declining after the tragic Eschede accident. Still, DB AG's CEO Johannes Ludewig says the year was a success. Mr Ludewig has recently outmanoeuvered Mr Heinz Dürr, chairman of the Board of Directors. Mr Dürr has publicly accused Mr Ludewig of being an incompetent manager, writes Der Spiegel in the March 1st issue. Mr Dürr has been replaced with Dieter Vogel. (March 8th)

A fire in the Köln, Germany, railway station disturbed rail traffic on Monday the 8th. (March 8th)

The Texas Public Policy Foundation says new light rail systems in Miami, San Diego, Dallas and Los Angeles are so expensive that it would be cheaper to lease every passenger a new BMW for life. (March 8th)

Isreal has decided to build a commuter rail line linking Tel Aviv with its Petah Tikva and Kfar Saba suburbs. The building and operation of the railway will be put out to tender. (March 8th)

The New South Wales Government has signed an agreement to further develop a proposal for a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Canberra. (March 8th)

The Central Ohio Transit Authority will try to convince voters this fall to approve what could be a permanent half-penny sales tax to fund an ambitious expansion of its bus service and to establish eight commuter rail lines over the next 20 years. (March 8th)

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