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May 2001

New People, Technology Rescue Railtrack? Railtrack is to recruit engineers qualified in other industries to "rebuild belief in the railway". Chief executive Steve Marshall said: "We recognise that both Railtrack and the industry has to rebuild its credibility with its customers and the wider public." Railtrack is also considering inspection of the condition of the network by train-mounted video equipment using digital recognition techniques. There are also plans for track geometry measurement from in-service trains. See also PR. (May 31st)

Access Charges Too Low, Says Railway Freight Australia, the privatised railway in Victoria, Australia, has warned that the Victoria State Government's plans for open access will undermine investment in the railway, by forcing the railway to charge artifially low access charges. The company says that the neighbouring state, South Australia, is implementing better rules. (May 31st, thanks David Bromage)

Another Rolling Stock Company Brambles Industries has received at least four formal bids for its Group CAIB rail wagon rental business in Europe, heightening expectations the company is near to selling the division. All offers are believed to be in excess of Brambles' reserve price for CAIB, valued by analysts in excess of $500 million. Rolling stock companies and co-ops are sprouting in Europe as new operators seek to lower their fixed costs. (May 31st, thanks David Bromage)

Oz: NSW Increases Rail Spending A 16% increase in public transport funding in New South Wales will be targeted mainly at railway track maintenance and signalling to boost the reliability and safety of the network. Over the next four years more than $1 billion in extra funds will be spent on trains, including $320 for track maintenance, $147 million on new signalling and safety programs and $122 million on train maintenance. But only $41 million in additional funds will be spent on new lines. (May 31st, thanks David Bromage)

Oz: 2000 km Converted to Standard Gauge A A$140 million five-year program will convert some 2000km of broad gauge lines in Victoria to standard gauge. Ballarat is an example of a town which will benefit, as it currently has two incompatible rail systems. (May 29th, thanks David Bromage)

No New Beach Line in Sydney The New South Wales Government has dumped plans to build a rail line to Bondi Beach and instead will pour more than $86 million into fixing peak-hour problems on CityRail's Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra lines. Those advocating the project have long argued that only a rail extension would improve frustration over public transport services, cut travelling times and ease congestion by encouraging bus passengers to use trains. However the governnment felt that ridership predictions were too optimistic, and also disliked a $2.50 "access fee" for passengers using the new station. (May 29th, thanks David Bromage)

Government Repairs Privatised Melbourne Trams The Victoria Government has drawn intense criticism after it announced that the repair bill to fix Melbourne's historic W-class trams had risen to $4.2 million and that taxpayers would pay most of it. The entire fleet of W-class trams, which are about 70 years old, was pulled from service nearly a year ago after several accidents and repeated complaints from drivers about faulty brakes. Operators Yarra Trams and M>Trams have previously argued that the Kennett government gave them incorrect information about brake safety on W-class trams when they were privatised in 1999 and that is why the state should pay for repairs. See also Herald Sun story. (May 29th, thanks David Bromage)

Bombardier Pays Less for AdtranzBombardier expects to pay less than the $725m originally agreed last year for Adtranz, DaimlerChrysler's rail division, after extensive negotiations. The takeover last year pushed Bombardier into the top slot in the $25bn-a-year business of building trains and related equipment, ahead of Alstom of France and Germany's Siemens. (May 28th)

New Speed/Endurance Record

swoosh!New TGV Record - 1100 km in 3,5 hrs A TGV Réseau made the 1067 km run from Calais by the Channel tunnel to the southern port city of Marseilles in just 3 hrs 29 min on Saturday the 26th. The train averaged 306 km/h (190 mph). The public relations coup was staged to generate publicity for the 251 km new TGV Méditerranée line from Lyon (Valence) to Marseille. The new line will have TGV Duplex, TGV Réseau and TGV Sud-Est trains, all painted in blue/silver and running at a top speed of 300 km/h. The new line, which opens for commercial service on June 10th, is aimed at generating between 5m and 6m additional passenger journeys a year, an increase of 30 per cent.

The train used was TGV-Reseau #531, which left Calais at 16h30. This full-length TGV has been specially equipped with monitoring equipment, which measured temperature of components and kept an eye on the pantograph. The highest speed reached by TGV 531 was 336 km/h, and only the normal scheduled traffic on the high-speed network prevented it from arriving a few minutes earlier. The world speed record for trains is 515 km/h, set by another TGV in May 1990, and the record for magnetic levitation trains is 552 km/h. See also official site with statistics, photos and other info; ABC story, AFP story, press release, and TGV map. (May 27th)

China Considers Giant Maglev Project China will build a 1250km long Transrapid maglev train track between Beijing and Shanghai if the 33km airport link in Shanghai, under construction, proves successful, says Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Ronghi. Also, a faction in the provincial parliament in Bavaria wants a Transrapid maglev München-Augsburg-Stuttgart (about 200km) instead of a planned high-speed railway. (May 24th)

Fourteen Killed in Bus Collision A train plowed into a passenger bus in Russia's western enclave of Kaliningrad on Wednesday, killing 14 people and injuring 18. The collision occurred at a rail crossing near the village of Ovrazhnoye in the Kaliningrad region, about 1131 km west of Moscow. (May 24th)

One Dead in Mexico Collision A light rail train smashed into the back of another train in Mexico City on Monday the 21st, killing one and injuring 37 others. The train smashed into the back of a train stopped on a curve in the tracks shortly after 21:30 between the Tasquena station and the outlying district of Xochimilco in the southern part of the city. The cause was not immediately known. (May 24th)

Critical Time for Railtrack

Railtrack tipped for post-election shake-up Roger Ford, business editor of the magazine Modern Railways, has told Ananova: "The Government have got to do something, and my guess is that they will seek some sort of stake in the company after the General Election, and perhaps even turn it into a non-profitmaking trust." (May 24th)

Railtrack Loses Money, Reorganises Railtrack has announced worse than expected losses of £534m ($758m) as a result of exceptional expenditure following the Hatfield train crash last year. Railtrack said it would have to spend an additional £700m a year over the next five years and confirmed that next year it will ask the regulator to allow it to recover some £2bn of this. The regulator has already agreed to bring forward £1.5bn of grant that did not fall due until 2006. The company will be divided into three activities, each with its own operating board. The three areas of activity identified by the company are: core network operations; enhancement and major programmes; and property and new business. (May 24th)

Virgin and Railtrack Settle The on-going feud between Virgin Rail Group and Railtrack over compensation for the lost revenues following the Hatfield crash, ended on May 8th when the companies announced they had reached an agreement. As part of the deal Railtrack will pay Virgin just over £100m ($144m) in compensation, and in return Virgin has agreed to waive its right to take legal action over losses incurred up to June 30 2001. (May 24th)

New Chairman at Railtrack John Robinson, Railtrack's new chairman has set out his "in principle" strategy, which promised to balance the interests of passengers and shareholders. Mr Robinson said his first priority was to make the rail network "safe and reliable". That way he would win back the confidence of shareholders, other private investors and the government to fund the company, he said. (May 24th)

Robber Gang Attacks Passengers in India A gang of about 25 robbers boarded the train at Sagardighi and targeted a group of businessmen who also boarded the train from the same station. The businessmen were returning from a wholesale market for cows at Sagardighi and were carrying cash with them. Five passengers fought back, and one of them was stabbed in the stomach. (May 24th)

Swiss Merger

BT and SOB Form SOB Swiss private railways Südostbahn and Bodensee-Toggenburg are merging in order to better compete in the deregulated European rail scene. The two companies have railways between the Bodensee lake, on the Swiss-German border, and the Zürichsee lake, south of Zürich. The merged railway will be called Südostbahn, and its chairman will be Dr. Guido Schoch, currently director of BT.

SBB Assimilates Privates Besides SOB/BT, Regionalverkehr Mittelland is the only other standard-gauge private Swiss railway which is independant of the state railway, SBB. Last year, SBB and Mittelthurgaubahn agreed to pool their passenger services in a new company, while SBB and Lötschbergbahn/BLS have split the market such that SBB will run intercity services, while BLS will run Bern commuter services. See also BT PR, SOB PR, and network maps; BT and SOB. (May 15th, thanks Tobias Köhler)

STB Says CN/WCTC Merger is Minor The US Surface Transportation Board's has decided to treat the proposed CN/WCTC merger as a "minor" transaction, which means that the STB's merger moratorium does not apply. The moratorium was started as a reaction to CN's attempt to merge with BNSF, something the STB felt required a new set of merger rules. The CN/WCTC merger is now set to be okayed or denied by September 7th. See also full text of ruling. (May 15th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

Plan for British Freight A £4bn plan to dramatically increase the amount of freight transported by rail, has been unveiled by the Strategic Rail Authority. The SRA hopes to increase the amount carried by freight by at least 80% over the next 10 years. The improvement plans include the creation of new freight tracks, the re-opening of abandoned lines, and the introduction of longer freight trains. (May 15th, thanks Alan Reekie)

New Lines in London The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and Transport for London (TfL) are to work together to develop plans for two major new rail links across London. £150million is being allocated for project definition and design development work, which is due to start immediately, for the East-West ('CrossRail') project. At the same time, further feasibility work on the North East-South West (Wimbledon - Hackney) project will begin. (May 15th, thanks Alan Reekie)

Railtrack Knew of Hatfield Cracks Railtrack knew of a serious problem with the track at Hatfield before the tragic accident, in which four people died, according to an inquiry. Quarterly ultra-sonic tests carried out by Balfour Beatty gave results that should have indicated a serious problem, but they appear not to have been acted on. Inadequate management by Railtrack of contractors looking after the rail infrastructure was also cited by the inquiry as a problem, the BBC reports. (May 15th, thanks Jan de Haan)

Regional Rail Revival in Oz Four regional rail lines in Victoria, Australia, after Premier Steve Bracks announced A$30m in funding. Two of lines will be run by the existing V/Line Passenger, which is owned by national Express of Britain. The other two will be put out to tender. The lines had been discontinued after the previous government cut funding. (May 15th, thanks Les Brown)

HSL Zuid Contracts Awarded The Dutch government on Thursday the 10th awarded its biggest ever private sector contract - a €2.59bn deal to lay and maintain track and power equipment for the high-speed rail link being built from Amsterdam to Brussels. It goes to a consortium including Germany's Siemens and two UK project finance houses. Siemens is to supply the electrical machinery, while the track will be laid by BAM NBM, a large Dutch construction group. The link is due to come into service in 2005, significantly cutting journey times. An Amsterdam-Rotterdam trip will take 35 minutes instead of an hour, while fast trains from Paris to Brussels will be able to continue northward at similar speeds. See also PR. (May 14th)

SNCF and DB AG Link Freight Operations? French SNCF is not ready to buy into Railion, the German-Dutch-Danish freight operator controlled by DB AG. However, Franco-German rail freight does not work as well as it could and some kind of joint-venture should be expected by year-end. (May 7th)

No Swedish Strike SEKO has called off the strike for after the employers' federation agreed to uniform rules for working hours for all rail operators. Working hours will also be cut from 40 to 38 hours per week for employees with irregular hours. SEKO was afraid deregulation would start a wave of comeptition based on lower wages. (May 7th)

Intermodal Success CN's intermodal traffic grew by 13% last year due to rising fuel prices, road congestion, faster rail delivery times and improved transfer technologies. Now CN wants the government to give tax breaks to truckers who take the train. This would save governments a combined C$500m in road repair and congestion costs, reduce greenhouse gases by about nine megatonnes a year and lower the number of truck trips made in Canada by about 3 million a year, CN thinks. (May 7th)

Late Mail in Britain The British Post Office has threatened to remove first class mail from rail and put it on the roads or even in the air because of a failure by the rail industry to help deliver millions of first class letters on time. The PO said it was in discussions with rail operator EWS to see what improvements could be made. Of the 59 mail trains which operate each night, 20 or more are running 30 minutes late and miss vital connections with delivery vans for onward transmission to sorting centres. (May 7th)

Strike in Ireland A strike in Ireland is set to start on Tuesday the 8th as a union protests against disciplinary measures against seven of its members. (May 7th)

German Rail Cuts 51 000 Jobs A fifth of all the jobs at German DB AG will be axed by 2005. Eighteen thousand jobs will be cut at the Fahrweg track company, 18 800 at the passenger division and 14 700 at the freight division. In total, 51 000 jobs will be cut from a total of 223 000. The Transnet union thinks only 47 thousand jobs are at stake, and that most of the cuts will be handled through employees getting new positions in the company. See also Transnet PR. (May 7th)

Railtrack Shares at Historic Low

Railtrack Falls Below Float Price Railtrack's financial crisis worsened on Tuesday the 5th when the share pice plunged 17% to £3.64, which is lower than the price it was sold for. Shares rose sharply on the very first day of trading in May 1996. Investors considered the stock a steal since train operators were obliged to run more and more trains, and thus pay more track access charges. Few people then knew that the network couldn't cope with the increase in traffic. Railtrack is now set to be ejected from the FTSE 100 index. (May 7th)

Railtrack Share Price week 21Railtrack Share Price Down As the scale of the rail network owner's problems sank in on Friday the 25th, Railtrack's shares fell to £4.29, near the £3.90 level at which they floated in 1996. On Thursday the company revealed the latest bad news: rail maintenance and replacement costs - in its core business - are to rise by £700m a year. That amounts to £2m a day. Add in rising costs, and efficiency and performance targets set by the rail regulator that Railtrack claims it cannot meet, and the company needs another £4.3bn over the next five years. That is on top of a rising debt mountain, forecast to hit £8bn in 2003. (May 28th)

Alameda Corridor Renews LA The Alameda Corridor is a grade-separated new route for freight trains to cross Los Angeles to the port. It will open next April to accommodate trains 2,4km long. New technology such as super-efficient warehouses may be the future for this part of LA, which lost aerospace and defense business with the end of the cold war 10 years ago. (May 7th)

More Bickering in Britain

Dissent Over Rescue After six months chaos on a network that is literally cracking up, the government's £60bn rail renaissance - launched last summer - is falling apart. The cause is not just breaking rails, or the fragmented privatised industry structure, but also growing divisions between those at the top who should be trying to put it back together. The Strategic Rail Authority cannot agree a detailed strategy without certainty about Railtrack's financial position; train operators, therefore, cannot bid properly for franchises - making it more difficult for Railtrack to work out proper costings and understand its financial position better. It is a cycle of blame that is hard to break because of the deteriorating relationships between many of the main figures. (May 4th)

Railtrack Pulls Out of Thameslink? Railtrack wants to pull out of its commitment to build the flagship Thameslink 2000 project to build a railway connecting north and south London. The move highlights the rail network operator's increasing problems finding funding and skilled managers to handle potentially lucrative, but highly risky, investment schemes. Last month, it also signed away exclusive rights to build the second phase of the Channel tunnel rail-link to north London and to upgrade the east coast mainline from London to Scotland. See also Railtrack's timetable of woes. (May 4th)

London Underground Battle The International Rail Journal has published a story about the privatisation battle over the London Underground. The national government wants to separate infrastructure from train operation, but the city government opposes this. (May 4th)

HSR Study in Florida The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill 88-14 Monday the 30th that would set up a 10-member High-Speed Rail Commission to study the costs of a high-speed rail system and other high speed rail issues. Voters approved a constitutional amendment last November that directed legislators, the cabinet and the governor to proceed with the development of a high-speed rail system. (May 2nd)

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