March 2001

New "Rolling Highway" Concept French SNCF is buying "rolling highway" cars which can take tall trucks through tunnels. Rather than using small wheels, the new cars, developed by Modalohr, have low-floor mid-sections with retractable ramps so that the trucks can drive right up on the rail car. A similar concept has been demonstrated by a company in northern Sweden, but not much has happened with that project. See also SNCF PR. (March 28th)

Eight Dead in Belgium A crowded commuter train collided head-on with an empty train in central Belgium, leaving at least eight people dead. The empty train is reported to have been wrongly switched into the path of the passenger train which was heading south from Leuven to Louvain-la-Neuve. Belgian railway officials said the driver of an empty two-car train went through a red signal and ploughed into a southbound passenger train carrying about 30 people. Signal operators spotted the train speeding on the wrong line at 95 km/h and cut the power to that line, but it was too late. (March 28th)

Anti-Nuclear Protesters Cemented to Track

A train carrying a consignment of nuclear waste to a storage site in northern Germany has been temporarily reversed to a secure location after protesters blocked the railway on Tuesday the 27th. Demonstrators have cemented themselves to the tracks, and while efforts to remove them have been going on through the night, it may be several hours before the route is clear. (March 28th)

Protesters in Berlin have attacked the offices of the German state railway to demonstrate their opposition to the company's planned transport of nuclear waste across Germany. DB AG will transport German radioactive waste from La Hague in France where it is being reprocessed, to a storage site in northern Germany. The shipment, which is due to begin next week, will be the first in three years since the German Government suspended nuclear transports due to safety concerns. (March 21st)

Renfe Buys 32 HSTs Renfe has ordered 16 ICE3 and 16 Talgo350 trains for the high speed line Madrid - Barcelona, which will go into service 2002 to 2004. The total value of the contract is Ptas111 000m. A maintenance contract with the manufacturers for the first 14 years has been signed. The ICE3 trains will have eight cars seating 404, and the Talgo350 trains will have twelve coaches seating 318. See also El Pais story in Spanish and Siemens PR in English. (March 27th, thanks Tobias Köhler)

DB AG Splurges on ERTMS German DB AG is spending €1750bn on the new GSM-R wireless phone system which will be the basis for data transmission in ERMTS, the new standardised European signalling system. In April, a new test line between Berlin and Leipzig will be using ERTMS, and Italian FS has already started their testing between Florens and Arezzo. The new system can be implemented step-by-step in conjunction with existing equipment. (March 27th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Manila: Renovation of Oldtimer Tramway The Manila Development Authority has endorsed a $149-million joint project with Korea for the rehabilitation of the vintage tracks of the Philippine National Railways Corp. and the installation of additional stations from Caloocan to Parañaque. The project will pave the way for the rehabilitation and construction of 11 stations and 10 smaller stops. (March 27th, thanks Alan Reekie)

Zimbabwe Cancels All Trains Zimbabwe's fuel shortages worsened this week as the country's only rail company on Thursday cancelled all its passenger services for a second day running, while captains of industry warned that companies were beginning to close shop. (March 21st)

National Express Hit by Rail Chaos National Express, the UK transport group, said on Wednesday that disruption caused by October's Hatfield rail crash dragged down passenger revenue by 10-15% in the final quarter of last year. "There is still ongoing disruption but passenger numbers for the first 10 weeks of the year have been gradually increasing and are now only down three per cent year on year," the company said. (March 21st)

One Dead in Amtrak Derailment Amtrak's California Zephyr train derailed in Iowa farm country late on Saturday the 17th, killing one person and injuring 90 as passenger cars plunged down a steep embankment, authorities said on Sunday. The train, which travels from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., near San Fransisco, derailed outside Corning, Iowa, at 11:40 p.m. CST (12:40 a.m. EST Sunday), marking the third major Amtrak accident in three months. All 15 cars and two locomotives making up the train derailed, Amtrak said. See also Reuters story at Yahoo. (March 18th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

Railtrack Asks Government for Money Railtrack has asked the British government to advance £1.5bn ($2.19bn) of funds - 50 per cent more than previously published - amid growing concern about the rail operating company's cash flow. Railtrack has asked for about £1.5bn due in government grants and subsidies after 2006 to be paid up front as soon as possible. Ministers have been warned Railtrack could run out of cash by the end of September without the extra money. (March 15th)

German Transport Minister Wants Vertical De-integration German Transport Minister Kurt Bodewig said over the weekend that he wanted Deutsche Bahn, which holds responsibility for both track and trains, to cede responsibility for the railroad network in an effort to increase competition and double the amount of freight traffic on the system by 2015. "The independence of the network is no longer a question of 'if', but a question of 'when' and 'how'," Mr Bodewig said in a speech in Stuttgart on Saturday. See also Handelsblatt story. (March 15th)

British SRA Needs More Money The Strategic Rail Authority has asked the government for more money for the railways because its budget is being eaten up by the current crisis. Sir Alastair Morton, SRA chairman, believes his 26bn budget for the next 10 years will not be enough to make the big improvements it wants. His biggest problem is that the SRA must pay about 1.5bn more to subsidise Railtrack's increase in charges to train operators from April. (March 12th)

Russian Ministry Becomes Company Russia's railway system could be hived off into an operating company as soon as the first half of next year, leaving the government directly responsible only for regulatory matters, according to plans currently being drawn up by the railways minister. In an interview, Nikolai Aksyonenko said he wanted to create a single state-owned company in 2002 that would contain railway infrastructure, freight and passenger traffic, while leaving the state in charge of regulation including tariffs and safety issues. There would be open access for freight trains, and private sector competition in rail maintenance. find (March 7th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

German-Japanese Tests at 385 km/h German DB AG is testing a new bogie at 385 km/h between Berlin and Stendal (halfway to Hannover). The tests are being conducted in collaboration with JR East and a company called Sumitomo. Bombardier-Talbot in Aachen has developed the new bogie which has been mounted underneath an ICE2 car. The tests aim to "reduce weight while preserving ride quality" which presumably means making suspension more efficient. (March 6th)

NS Sells Share in Railion The Dutch Railway will sell its share in Railion, the German-Danish-Dutch freight operator controlled by the German railway DB AG. See also story in English and (March 6th)

Beijing-Shanghai HSR China will build a high-speed rail link between Beijing and the eastern port of Shanghai in the next five years. The line, with an estimated cost of $12bn, is one of several major rail projects included in the country's draft 2001-2005 five-year economic plan. Interested bidders for the 1300km project include the German Transrapid maglev group which is building an airport link in Shanghai, as well as the Siemens/Alstom Eurotrain group pitching a conventional train, and a Japanese consortium pushing a Japanese fast train. (March 6th)

Revenue Up in Pakistan The Pakistan Railways earned Rs2618m during the first quarter of the current financial year which is Rs385m more as compared to the corresponding first quarter of the last financial year. According to the Railways department, the increase in revenue is the result of a sustained effort of the government to improve the service and provide better facilities to passengers. (March 6th)

Vermont Doubles Commuter Service Vermont's only commuter train is expanding service starting this week so riders can leave home earlier and get home later. [Editor's note: I would prefer leaving later and returning earlier.] Since Monday the 5th, the train has expanded its service from four trips in each direction to nine, and add weekend service with five trips a day on Saturday and on Sunday. Vermont lies in the northeastern US, just south of Montreal. (March 6th, thanks Alan Reekie)

400km Link Creates Chinese Artery Construction of a long-expected 2400km railway running parallel to the Yangtze, China's longest river, is of national importance and is set to be approved by the central government. Construction of the railway consists chiefly in the laying of 400km of track across a mountainous area to connect existing railways that run from east to west in the Yangtze River valley. When completed, the Yangtze River valley railway would run 2400 km from Shanghai on the east coast to Chongqing, the biggest industrial city in southwest China, to become a major east-west transportation artery in China. (March 5th)

Russia Ditches HSR, Pays Back Investors After 30 months of heckling by foreign and domestic investors in St. Petersburg's failed $5 billion state-backed high-speed railway project, Prime Minster Mikhail Kasyanov on Thursday officially ordered the Finance Ministry to pay them back. The Finance Ministry said that this month it would begin to pay back a total of about 1 billion rubles ($35 million) worth of bonds bought by some 2,500 investors. (March 3rd, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Muddle in Estonia

Baltic Rail Services will take over Estonia's state rail firm Eesti Raudtee from Rail Estonia, which failed to produce a financing scheme acceptable to the government. "As we have stated earlier BRS will try to be able to sign an agreement in the coming months. We will start with due week," said Guido Sammelselg, BRS's deputy chief executive. See also newer story and earlier story. (March 3rd, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

The privatisation of the Estonian freight operator Eesti Raudtee had been halted by a court pending a hearing in March. One of the losing bidders, RER, is going to court over the sale because winning bidder Rail Estonia doesn't have the experience and financial know-how to operate the line. The public is said to be unhappy with the government's perceived affinity for American ownership. RER is backed by Swedish SJ, while Rail Estonia is backed by RailAmerica. The sale of passenger operator Edalaraudtee to British GB Railways has run into trouble as GBR says more subsidy is required to run "socially necessary" services. Some services are now being run by busses. See also letter from GBR. find (February 19th, source: Business Central Europe, Feb. 2001)

China Builds Transrapid China began construction on Thursday the 1st of the world's first commercial Transrapid maglev. The line from the Shanghai financial district to one of the city's two airports is due to open in 2003. The German-designed train is meant to carry 600 passengers at 400km/h. After a brief ceremony alongside the planned route, the Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, Huang Ju, pushed a button to start a pile driver that began sinking the first foundation girder for a railway workshop. The German firms are supplying the trains and stations, while Chinese companies are building the magnetic track. Neither side has disclosed a price, though the Germans say their portion should cost less than DM2bn ($950m). See also International Herald Tribune story. find (March 2nd)

Stray Auto Derails Train; 13 Dead At least 13 people have died in a freak high-speed accident involving two trains in North Yorkshire, Britain, on the morning of Wednesday the 28th. A passenger train crashed into a car which had skidded off a highway and onto the tracks. While it was still moving, the passenger train then collided with an oncoming freight. The GNER passenger train was moving at 200 km/h, while the Freightliner train was going 120 km/h. See also BBC page, Yahoo page, and Danger Ahead page. (March 1st)

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