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March 2000

Major proposals on the future of public transport in Dublin, including an underground line between Spencer Dock and Heuston Station, are to be presented to Government ministers in two weeks, The Irish Times has confirmed. (March 30th, thanks Alan Reekie)

Siemens success as a leading supplier of light rail cars in North America was bolstered recently with orders from three customers totaling $80 million. Calgary has ordered 21 new vehicles, bringing the number of Siemens vehicles there to 117. Denver has ordered six, for a total of 37, and Salt Lake City has ordered five, for a total of 31. Bombardier of Montréal is the competitor to beat, having sold hundreds of cars to New York City. (March 25th, thanks David Fry)

The British Train Chartering Company announces the launch of ShowTime!, the installation of audio-visual equipment on board Orient Express's The Northern Belle. ShowTime! is a full range of plasma screens, speakers, roving mikes, with video/CD/PC playback that allows the use of The Northern Belle as a venue for seminars, promotions or entertainment. The Northern Belle private train is due to be launched at the end of May 2000. (March 25th)

The Øresund trains won't be ready by the time the bridge opens this summer. The first train has been delivered, but that is the only peice of good news: there are several technical glitches, safety authority Jernbanestyrelsen has not received documentation concerning possible disturbances on signalling equipment, testing at the site of the transition from Danish to Swedish power hasn't begun, and the Västerås factory is 22 weeks behind schedule. find (March 24th)

Danish freight operator DSB Gods may be liquidated if it does not merge with German-Dutch Railion. There has been little progress merging DB Cargo with NS Cargo, and DB AG's new boss Hartmut Mehdorn is thought to be unenthusiastic about the whole idea. A cross-border alliance or merger is a key element in saving loss-making DSB Gods. See also background article. find (March 24th, thanks Flemming Block)

The Danish parliament will be considering investing in ATC in the 2001 budget. Many Danish lines do not have ATC (Automatic Train Control), but a cheaper technology may be installed instead. Three people died in an accident in Denmark March 2nd. (March 24th)

German DB AG has started running fast mail trains from Hamburg and Bremen, via the high-speed Hannover-Würzburg railway, to Nürnberg and München and back. The trains run at 160 km/h but can reach 200 so as to not delay faster trains behind them. Each "Parcel Intercity" leaves shortly after 8pm and carries 40 containers of express mail. 10 000 containers of mail will be taken off the roads each week. The trains started running as a test in January, and the test will be evaluated in the spring. If the trains do well, Stuttgart will be added to the network, and the service will be offered to other customers as well. (March 24th)

The Deutsche Eisenbahngesellschaft, a German rail operator, increased its revenues 22% in 1998 over 1997. The increase is due to more than doubling revenues from regional passenger rail services payed for by regional authorities. Before 1996, regional passenger rail in Germany was payed for and run by DB AG and the federal government. The number of train-kilometres of regional passenger rail in Germany has increased 14% since 1994. (March 24th)

German DB AG hopes spin off 9000km of "Nebenbahn" or lines with little traffic. Negotiations are expected to be finished by the middle of this year. (March 24th)

Plans for a maglev from Berlin to the proposed Schönefeld airport have already run into problems. If the mini-Transrapid should be built, it would mean big cost increases and delays to the rebuilding of the Lehrter Bahnhof. (March 24th)

Berlin will be getting "duo-trains" that can run both on the S-bahn city railway as well as on plain train tracks, if the CDU party gets its way. This would be cheaper than extending the S-bahn network. More about Berlin: a new north-south railway has doubled in cost to DM4bn. (March 24th)

Orbcomm logoCSXT is equipping 2800 locos with Pinpoint, a locomotive tracking system from GE Harris. Orbcomm is the satellite communications provider for the Pinpoint system. CSXT is already using the Pinpoint system to track a portion of its locomotive fleet and plans to install the system on the remainder of its fleet by mid-year. The Pinpoint system enables railroads to determine each locomotive's position within approximately 100 meters. The Pinpoint system also provides fuel-level status and several other on-board data reporting features critical to locomotive operations. Orbcomm provides two-way equipment monitoring and tracking services through the world's first commercial low-Earth orbit satellite-based data communication system. archive (March 19th)

STB Kills BNSF/CN Merger

The Surface Transportation Board yesterday ordered a 15-month moratorium on all railroad mergers, responding to complaints from major industries and members of Congress that further consolidation in the industry could essentially end competition. The order, which effectively blocks the proposed combination of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian National railroads, makes the railroad business a rare exception to the merger mania sweeping many other major industries. CN's Paul Tellier said:

"The effect of the STB decision is to deprive CN and BNSF of their statutory right to a prompt and fair hearing. We will immediately initiate an appeal of the STB decision, and vigorously pursue all avenues that are open to us under applicable law." See also story, STB press release, CN press release, BNSF press release, and background story. (March 18th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

Wall Street is abandoning railways because of their inability to live up to promises made before they merge, and make money. There is also a percieved conflict between the short-term interests of shareholders, who want high dividends, and rail users, who want more investment in new trains, track, signalling, and software. (March 11th)

The steam locomotive Svarta Björn, which means Black Bear, has to be the biggest performer ever to hit the annual winter festival in Narvik, a township of 18 000 people about 230 km north of the Arctic Circle. The 81-year-old locomotive's steam hisses, rattling and other noises are the basis for Thursday's premiere of "Steam (loco2trip)," a jazz work composed for orchestra and steam engine. A reviewer said the show had potential, but degenerated into a musical ego trip. There was not enough variation in the music, but as a musical experiment, it was a success, the Fremover newspaper thinks. (March 16th/19th, thanks Martin Steinholt)

SJ is letting go of 5500 workers between now and 2003. Most of this is due to selling ferry, catering and hotel services, and losing government contracts to other train operators. 2100 jobs are dissappearing from SJ itself. This will help SJ raise profits from SEK239m this year to SEK350m next year (1998: a loss of SEK135m). 1999 results were better than 1998 mostly due to track access charges being lowered in an attempt to compensate the railway for dropping the kilometre tax for busses and trucks as part of EU harmonisation. Freight rates are expected to decline, while passenger ticket fares should remain the same. SJ's freight operations are expected to show a profit of SEK80m this year, compared to last year's loss of SEK99m. SJ Gods, now part of SJ Cargo Group, has been making small losses for the whole of the 1990s and it always seems that profits are just around the corner. Train travel with SJ increased 6% during 1999, to a record 7,4 billion passenger-kilometres. 114 million train trips were made. See also the press release. find (March 16th)

Swedish private operator BK Tåg has bought its competitor BSM Järnväg for an undisclosed sum. BSM owner and CEO Jan-Olof Bergkvist says the sale was necessary to inject capital to finance the rapid pace of expansion. BSM has doubled its revenues for three years in a row. There will be no layoffs. BK Tåg still needs to find drivers for its Kinnekullebanan franchise. BSM has revenues of SEK120m and Karlssongruppen, BK Tåg's parent company, has revenues of SEK250m. Including its interests in Sydvästen (southwestern main line) and Citypendeln (Stockholm commuter franchise), Karlssongruppen has revenues of over one billion SEK. The sale has been in the works for almost a year, and several foreign private companies were interested, as well as foreign state railways which wanted to get a foothold in Sweden. find (March 16th)

Hungarian MÁV is closing or "spinning off" 1000km of loss-making lines to qualify for loans from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. But not much else is being done to reform the loss-making railway. find (March 15th)

The German government has offered to pay DM1bn for a 100km maglev test track in China in an effort to get China to choose Gernany's Transrapid maglev for the new high-speed railway linking Beijing and Shanghai. Other consortia vying for the project include Alstom and Siemens with a TGV/ICE variant, and a Japanese group pushing the Shinkansen. The high-speed line is expected to cost $US15bn. The exisiting Beijing-Shanghai line is 1463km long, and the trip takes 14 hours, which is an average speed of 104,5km/h. This is an improvement over 1996, when travel time was 20h 34min. See also International Rail Journal editorial and report on China. find (March 13th)

A Tokyo subway train rain derailed and sideswiped an oncoming train Wednesday morning, the 8th, during morning rush hour. Three people died and at least 40 were injured. The train that derailed had about 240 passengers onboard while the other train had approximately 1300 people aboard, the fire department said. CNN's Tokyo Bureau Chief Marina Kamimura said the train, headed for Yokohama, was leaving a tunnel when the rear end derailed and collided with an inbound train. Subway spokeswoman Sachie Uehara said the train that derailed was traveling at less than 40 km/h. The other train, she added, was reducing its speed before arriving at the station. (March 8th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

Virgin wants to build a new railway for 330km/h between Peterborough and Newcastle on the East Coast main line, one of the busiest routes in Britain. The plans form part of a £5bn bid for the franchise. Virgin says it will cost £3.5bn to upgrade the track, and £1.8bn to purchase 60 very fast trains which would be built in Birmingham and would be fully operational by 2009. Virgin says its application is supported by the other East Coast train operators, Prism (which runs the West Anglia Great Northern), GB Railways (Anglia) and National Express (Midland Main Line). The rail authority will announce its decision in September. The existing operator, GNER, is also bidding to retain its franchise. See also Railway Gazette story. find (March 7th)

At least 35 people died in northern Morocco on Wednsday the 1st when a passenger train collided with a tractor pulling a trailer carrying farm workers. (March 5th)

Three people were killed and 28 injured in western Denmark on Thursday the 2nd when a moving train collided with another that was stationary. The accident occurred at about 07:15 local time at Kølkær station (about 70 km west of Århus), and there were about 50 people in the two trains. The line is not equipped with ATC and transport minister Jacob Buksti says it would be too expensive to install ATC everywhere. A cheaper system must be found for low-traffic lines, he says. (March 5th)

German DB AG has withdrawn its entire fleet of new ICE-T trains after one of them twice derailed in Berlin on Wednesday the 1st. The incidents happened as an empty train was proceeding to a Berlin workshop facility. It was travelling only slowly at the time and no one was hurt. The train was re-railed but came off the track once it began moving again. See also press release and Yahoo story (both in German). find (March 5th)

DB AG Loses Steam, Reorganises

German DB AG is reorganizing to place a greater emphasis on cost responsibility and customer focus in more places in the organisation. A new marketing department will be started under Klaus Daubertshäuser, formerly of the commuter department DB Regio. The marketing department will also be in charge of relations with provinces and other purchasers of regional passenger services. DB Regio will be folded into the new Personenverkehr (passenger traffic), led by Dr. Christoph Franz formerly of Fernverkehr (long-distance traffic). Each train station will get its own boss responsible for operations and answer to Personenbahnhöfe. The department responsible for allocating track access to DB AG and its competitors will still be wholly owned by DB AG.

Profits evaporated in 1999, and were replaced by a loss of DM170m (1998: +DM334m) despite a 3% rise in revenues to DM30,9bn. Reise&Touristik grew revenues by 3%, Regio by 2%, and Cargo by 4%. The Cargo number is presumably exclusive of the Dutch operations, since NS Cargo and DB Cargo are subsidiaries of Railion, the German-Dutch rail cargo company. See also press release.

A 12% profit margin by 2004 is the plan that CEO Hartmut Mehdorn thinks is reasonable. This would be an astonishing result for a former European chronicly loss-making state rail dinosaur. Amid reports of huge job cuts, DB AG chooses to speak of lowering labour costs by DM14bn. Pro-Bahn, a lobbying group, opposes plans to make eight hubs for passenger traffic and cutting unprofitable InterRegio trains. In the true German spirit of name inflation, some of these trains would be replaced by InterRegioExpress trains, financed by the provinces they connect. DB AG itself says that it is looking at regional services together with different levels of government as well as private railways to improve cost efficiency.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that cost overruns for new stations in Berlin and new railways built by DB Netz require radical cost-cutting which will be achieved through cutting 24 500 employees, leaving 30 600 at DB Netz. (March 5th)

See also Bestandsaufnahme Deutsche Bahn: Das Abenteuer einer Privatisierung by Lothar Julitz.

Union Pacific will build a new intermodal terminal in Chicago. The $192m, 425-acre facility, near Interstate 88, will be built in several phases, as business requires. When completed, it will handle more than 500 000 intermodal units annually. The new terminal will be designed to help improve the quality of service for intermodal traffic as well as allow for future expansion capability. The longest tracks will be 3km long, and there will be a paved area with 4925 parking spaces for trailers and containers awaiting pickup or delivery. find (March 4th)

RailAmerica's Australian-based railroad, Freight Victoria, has commenced grain hauling operations in New South Wales under a contract with AWB Limited, a subsidiary of the Australian Wheat Board. Freight Victoria's success in breaking into interstate markets has also driven a name change for the company: the company is now known as Freight Australia. find (March 4th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

IT Improves Customer Service

ID Systems logoUnion Pacific is testing a wireless tracking system developed by I.D. Systems which entails putting individual tracers on each car, but there will be only one cellular or satellite communications unit per train, which cuts costs. The system will provide UP and one of its customers, FMC Corporation, with real-time location and status of railcars carrying hazardous, high-value chemicals between Wyoming and Nevada. The program will commence in the spring of 2000. Information such as the order of the train, status of contents, and geographical location will be viewable in real time using the system's web-based reporting tools and on-line graphical route maps. Also, GE Harris and ID Systems will collaborate to develop applications and opportunities in the railroad industry that integrate technology from the two companies. (March 1st)

Ariba and BCE Emergis will provide CN with a fully managed business-to-business eCommerce solution. The integrated solution will be delivered through the BCE Emergis marketplace using the Ariba B2B eCommerce platform to create economies of scale and supply chain efficiencies for CN and its suppliers via the Internet. The integrated B2B e-procurement solution will streamline commerce between CN and its suppliers through a complete set of eCommerce services, including online ordering, processing, dynamic pricing, auctioning and electronic payments. find (March 1st)

Internal Labour Dispute

The US National Mediation Board has found in favour of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers on the issue of whether conductors and engineers at Union Pacific should belong to a common craft, namely train and engine service employees. The United Transportation Union, which represents conductors, wanted the reform, while the BLE was opposed. There will not be an election in this matter among UP employees, as the UTU had hoped. The NMB found there was no reason to meld the "crafts", since cross-utilization, where conductors or engineers take over some of each other's work, occurred on less than 1% of trains during a 90-day period. Both unions say that the decision compromises the interests of workers and strengthen the hand of the company. UP has declined to take a position in the dispute. The UTU is filing a petition with the NMB to reconsider the decision of the Labor Panel dismissing the union‚Äös request for a representation election on the Union Pacific Railroad among the craft or class of Train and Engine Service Employees. See also UTU press release and full text of the NMB's decision. (March 1st)

The NMB almost simultaneously granted that "train and engine service employees" should be the common profession to for both engineers and conductors at the Texas Mexican railway, the UTU says. find (March 1st)

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