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March 2003

Double Derailment Blocks Sydney-Melbourne Line

derailmentThe main line between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, had to be closed for several days after a Pacific National standard gauge freight train detailed 5km south of Chiltern, 200km north east of Melbourne, damaging 3km of its own track and the parallel broad gauge track on Sunday 16 March. A broad gauge V/Line passenger train derailed on the damaged track minutes later. Brakes on the freight train are thought to have jammed, causing several grass fires in the minutes leading up to the derailment. The drivers' union contends the track is so bumpy it causes back pains for the drivers. See also Rail Page editor Brian Evans' photos at (March 27th, thanks David Bromage)

Great South Pacific Express to Cease

ornate restaurant The weak global economy and international tensions have forced the suspension of one of Australia's great luxury train journeys. Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express and Queensland Rail have announced they will stop services of the Great South Pacific Express from June 8. Costing A$35m, the 21-car train was launched in 1999 to take advantage of the boost in tourists prior to the Sydney Olympics. The train travelled between Sydney and Kuranda, a rainforest village just north of Cairns. See also article on building the train and promotional material. (March 27th, reported by David Bromage)

Soybeans Grease Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern now uses an environmentally friendly track lubricant made from soybeans instead of petroleum. The new product was developed together with University of Northern Iowa and decomposes through natural processes in a matter of weeks after application. NS says it is more efficient than petroleum grease in reducing wear through its greater durability and capacity for reducing friction. It also reduces the USA's reliance on imported fossil fuels. See also UNI news item and explanation of general uses for soy-based lubricants. (March 27th, thanks John Brydle)

Madrid-Barcelona HSR Delayed Indefinitely

Velaro ICE3 train The opening of Spain's €7bn high speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona has been delayed indefinitely due to caverns opening up under the track and problems with signalling. Between July and October last year there were five deaths, which unions attribute to the breakneck speed of the work, which has been contracted out by GIF, the Spanish rail administration. Train operator Renfe has ordered 16, 350 km/h Velaro ICE3 trains from Siemens to run on the new railway, as well as 16 Talgo350 trains. See also more Talgo350 photos. archive (March 20th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

EU Freight Deregulated

Strikes Over Deregulation

Any certified company may now operate freight trains on certain main lines in Europe. This has angered left-leaning unions in Sweden, and all rail unions in France, who have gone on strike. Also, French freight operator SNCF Fret's boss, Francis Rol-Tanguy has been ousted as he is not thought to be enthusiastic over deregulation. See also strike in Stockholm, stories at DN and SFT. (March 20th)

Open Access In Effect in Europe

EU A new law on open access for freight trains went into effect in the European Union on Saturday the 15th. It guarantees access to so-called freight freeways (Trans-European Rail Freight Network, TERFN) for any certified railfreight operator. By March 2008, access rights will be extended to the whole European rail network. Access charges will be based on the marginal cost (ie excluding building costs) to the infrastructure provider. See also press releases from the European Commission, Swedish Banverket, British EWS, and Belgian SNCB. archive (March 17th)

Remote Control Pushes BLE Out of Driver's Seat

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers organised a rally of 300 people outside the Federal Railroad Administration's headquarters in Washington DC on March 11th, to protest a "federal oversight of remote controlled locomotives". The BLE contends that remote control is unsafe. However, the United Transportation Union sees no such problem. Remote control allows conductors, brakemen and other workers organised by the UTU to manoeuver trains in yards, eliminating the need for an engineer. Engineers are organised by the BLE, and are better payed than conductors and brakemen, which explains why the BLE opposes remote control and the UTU doesn't. See also the BLE's remote control page. Click for "pro remote control" pages at the American Association of Railroads, Federal Railroad Administration, and UTU. (March 17th)

Poland Slashes Subsidies

More than a thousand rail services in Poland have been cancelled since Monday the 10th after a dramatic cut in government subsidies. The cuts are a part of a gradual restructuring that critics argue is long overdue. archive (March 17th)

DSB Rescues Arriva's Passengers

Arriva logo A driver shortage has forced Arriva Denmark to replace several trains with slower bus services since the take-over from DSB in January. The government sewed up a deal on Friday March 7th where DSB will run the Århus-Struer part of Arriva's Jutland franchise from April till December. DSB will use its own drivers and vehicles, which will ease Arriva's driver shortage and stop them having to run replacement busses for cancelled trains. The government is charging Arriva DKK46m for hiring DSB to take over the trains, and has further claims on Arriva for cancelled trains in January and February. DSB has been renting out 39 train drivers to Arriva since January. See also Yahoo News and Berlingske's Arriva page. archive (March 11th)

SBB Runs Trains in Italy

G 2000 Swiss SBB will be running its own freight trains, primarily carrying steel, between Milano in northern Italy and the Swiss border starting December 15th. Three new G 2000 locos will be purchased for the service, as well as 128 containers. The G 2000, built by Vossloh, is a modular loco which can be configured for different purposes. See also Eurail Press bulletin. (March 9th)

Shanghai Maglev: an Orgy in Coolness

swish! The 430 km/h Shanghai Maglev is as cool as it sounds, The Globe and Mail reports. Regular tickets for the trial service are sold out a week in advance. Crowds gather below the elevated line to stare in wonderment. When complete, the train will connect Shanghai with the airport. Meanwhile, Shanghai's fling with skyscrapers is giving way for chique boutiques in restored old buildings. Editor's comment: Maybe building the world's largest museum railway would help Shanghai find its roots. See also Railway Gazette item. archive (March 8th, thanks Jakob Christoffersen)

New Zealand Reconsiders Privatisation

The New Zealand government has been looking at buying back privatised rail tracks and then opening them up to competition, but has not commented on its intentions since January, when reports that it was looking at a buy-back drove Tranz Rail share prices up. Tranz Rail has asked for NZ$17m from Transfund, a road funding body that last year was given NZ$30m to spend on "alternatives to roading". See also "Don't charge road users if rail buyback goes ahead." archive (March 8th, thanks Jakob Christoffersen)

Amtrak Replaced in Boston

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, a joint venture among Connex, Bombardier and Boston’s Alternate Concepts, has signed a $1bn five-year contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to provide commuter rail services. archive (March 8th, thanks Joe Pesaturo)

Vancouver Plans Rail Line

A proposal for a Vancouver - Airport - Richmond rapid-transit line, which would incorporate a rail line along Cambie Street, as well as a tunnel, has been presented and is being reviewed at public consultations starting this month. is a website set up in opposition to the project. (March 8th, thanks Jakob Christoffersen)

Florida Chooses High-Speed System This Fall

The top contenders to build and operate the first leg of Florida's constitutionally mandated high-speed rail system say it will cost taxpayers between $2,1bn and $2,7bn over 30 years to get the line up and running. One consortium, led by Bombardier, wants to run diesel trains at 241 km/h. Another, called Global Rail, advocates an electric train. A third bidder is pitching a monorail and a fourth,, sees a swissmetro-like system of vacuum tubes and vehicles moving at 483 - 6437 km/h (300-4000 mph) in an intercontinental system. The state's high-speed rail authority is not expected to endorse a route or team until next fall. If the project eventually moves ahead, trains are not expected to run until 2007. If it comes to naught, a transit triangle, anchored by a high-speed leg from the airport to Disney World, would give the region an alternative train system. archive (March 7th, thanks Jakob Christoffersen and John Brydle)

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