October 2000

Storm Stops English Trains Due to the "storm of decade" in most of England and Wales the night of Sunday the 29th, the entire rail system came to a halt. Only two trains left Birmingham New Street on Monday the 30th. Most London commuter services were cancelled, as were the London to Scotland Virgin trains. Most of these problems were mainly caused by fallen trees and flooding. This comes only hours after Railtrack boss Gerald Corbett was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 saying that the weekend blitz of rail replacement, which had also caused havoc, was about to wind down and that the rail system should be on the way back to some level of normality. Unfortunately, this current "act of God" has delayed this return to normalcy by at least one full day. (October 30th, reported by Daniel Morrison)

102 Regina Vehicles Ordered Swedish Västtrafik has ordered four three-car Regina EMUs, for about €30m, including maintenance. Västtrafik is the regional transit authority for Göteborg and western Sweden. Initially, the non-tilting 200 km/h trains will be delivered as two-car units, each of which will subsequently be complemented with a third, intermediate car. Delivery will commence during autumn 2001. Adtranz now has 39 Regina units on order in Sweden, totalling 102 cars. Regina is based on Adtranz' Crusaris intercity platform and is similar to the Øresund trains, though without the suction-pump cabs. The Swedish trains are a half metre wider than plain trains (3,45m), allowing 100 passengers to be seated comfortably in each car. Seventy-five per cent of the order value is made in Sweden. (October 28th)

Line Closures Follow Hatfield Crash Thousands of rail users face three days of disruption and delays after Railtrack closed the Scottish West Coast main line to allow engineers to examine the line, where minor cracks have been found. The closures came after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ordered the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to conduct an urgent review of Railtrack's work to repair broken rails. (October 25th, thanks John Shell)

Connex Loses Franchise British Connex has lost its London commuter franchise after criticism of its management and performance, the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority has decided. The French-owned company, which is just four years into a seven-year contract, uses old trains and runs them late. Express trains are repeatedly signed as stopping trains, frustrating commuters who see their destinations whiz by outside the window. The franchise for the next 20 years has been granted to Govia, a company owned by the Go-Ahead group, which already runs the Thameslink and Thames Train services. It now makes Go-Ahead the biggest rail player in the commuter belts around London. Govia has promised a £1.5bn investment in the service. See also FT story. (October 25th)

No French Go-Ahead Takeover? British Go-Ahead, the bus and rail group, is expected to defeat a £327m ($475.9m) hostile bid from C3D Transport, the French financial consortium. Speculation grew that C3D would not succeed after the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority awarded the 20-year South Central rail franchise to Go-Via, Go-Ahead's joint venture. Go-Ahead shares fell 21p to 661-1.2p on Tuesday, still above C3D's 650p offer. (October 25th)

Contract Signed for 1410km Oz Rwy About 100 years after the idea was first proposed, three Australian governments have signed an agreement with a private consortium to build the 1410km standard gauge Alice Springs to Darwin railway. The contract between the Commonwealth, South Australian and Northern Territory governments, and the AustralAsia Railway Corporation was signed in Adelaide October 18th. The Commonwealth and NT governments are providing $165 million each and SA $150 million. The remainder of the $1.2 billion will be private capital. The project is still dependant on $700m to be approved by banks funding the Asia-Pacific Transport Consortium, which will build the line. Construction is to commence in December, with the line to be completed in early 2004. See also map, Northern Territory official site and PR , Ghan PR. (October 23rd, thanks David Bromage)

Burkhardt Battles for Wisconsin Central Edward A. Burkhardt, the ousted founder of Wisconsin Central Transportation, is mounting a battle to take over the company and move to sell off its pieces. The looming proxy war, if successful, could mean the sale of Wisconsin's largest railroad and the end of its parent firm. It certainly promises further drama in a company that once was a Wall Street darling, a rail firm that performed almost like a tech company but has since hit hard times. Wisconsin Central's former double-digit revenue growth has turned sluggish, earnings are down and the international operations "are a total disaster," Burkhardt said in an interview Friday after filing documents with securities regulators outlining the takeover bid (see PR). (October 23rd, thanks Bengt Mutén)

Preliminary Hatfield Report

A broken rail was the "substantial" if not only cause of the Hatfield train crash, a preliminary Health and Safety Executive report has found. The HSE says that the most serious damage to the train was caused by carriages smashing into trackside steel poles carrying overhead electric cables. Also, the Conservative Party have conceded that they made errors when they privatised the rail industry. Shadow transport minister Bernard Jenkin said that the UK rail system was "made into too many different companies". (October 20th)

Four people are dead after a high speed passenger train carrying about 200 people derailed north of London today, Oct. 17th. An investigation has been launched and British Transport Police say they cannot rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack or vandalism on the line. Officers revealed they had received a bomb threat relating to the track between King's Cross and Peterborough on Sunday. However they stressed that injuries in the accident were not consistent with an explosion. The 12:10 GNER Intercity 225 service from King's Cross to Leeds skidded off the tracks south of Hatfield at more than 160 km/h. The Intercity 225 runs at 225 km/h and was introduced in 1989. In June 1998, GNER pulled all of its electric Intercity 225 trains out of service after a derailment not far from Hatfield at Sandy in Bedfordshire. Nobody was seriously hurt in the incident but engineeers found that a crack in a carriage wheel caused the derailment. Photos, Danger Ahead story. (October 17th, thanks John Shell)

Oz: Glenbrook Cover-Up The Australian Minister for Transport, Mr Scully, has admitted that he ordered his rail chiefs and their legal teams to remain silent during the final stages of the Glenbrook crash inquiry. He also said he believed it was preferable for the Co-ordinator General of Rail, Mr Ron Christie, to present "an overall rail entity view" to the inquiry. Seven people died December 2nd, 1999 when a commuter train collided with the Indian Pacific at Glenbrook, New South Wales. See also SMH Editorial, Yahoo Full Coverage and pages at Danger Ahead. (October 16th, thanks David Bromage)

US Mergers: More Regulation, Less Investment?

The US Surface Transportation Board has proposed new rules that would make mergers between freight rail companies much more difficult. The new rules state that new mergers are "likely to result in a number of anti-competitive effects", meaning the STB would probably lean against any future mergers. If implemented, the rules would amount to a reversal of a two-decade policy promoting railroad consolidation. Among other things, a railroad that serves a customer exclusively would no longer be able to jack up rates on a portion of a route in an effort to block competition. In these "bottleneck" cases, a railroad may offer a low rate for freight that moves only on its tracks but impose a much higher rate if the customer wants to move freight part of the way over a rival railroad. See also STB press release.

BNSF, which broke off its merger with CN due to the STB's merger moratorium, has seen its stock fall as Wall Street looks for quicker profits. BNSF has now bought back 20% of its stock, as this represents a better investment than putting more money in the railway. If railway lines continue to be opened up to competitors, investment will continue to fall, says Robert Krebs, boss of BNSF, to the Washington Post. STB Chairman Linda Morgan says to the WP, "It certainly concerns us that the perception is that further capital investment is not in the interest of the rail sector," but adds, "Whether or not the BN-CN combination would have helped BN's bottom line, it is clear that the proposal was ill-timed and, if entertained, would have further destabilized what was an already destabilized industry." (October 16th)

Downsizing Down Under

New Zealand Tranz Rail plans to reduce staff numbers from 4000 to 600 over the next two years in a massive restructuring aimed at focusing the business on freight, distribution and its interisland services. But the company expects few redundancies as 3400 jobs will "move outside the company" to operators who will take over non-core activities such as engineering, track maintenance and communications. Although the company also plans to sell its long-distance Tranz Scenic passenger business (see pr), it will retain the interisland ferries to link its North and South Island rail networks. Tranz Rail is also selling its refrigerated freight business.

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union disapproves, saying that "Rail workers will see this as yet another insult for their long-term commitment and loyalty to rail." Union secretary Mr Wayne Butson said splintering off the assets of rail would see the demise of railways as a regional development option. New Zealand would join the ranks of overseas railways with multiple operators sharing the same corridors, which had been cited as a problem in the rail accidents at Paddington, London, and Glenbrook, Sydney. Editor's comment: this is ridiculous. Neither open access nor franchising cause accidents, or hamper regional development efforts. Instead of bluster, the union should work to ensure good terms for employees at the new companies, and a smooth transition. (October 11th)

Norwegian Minister Fires NSB Board The Transport Minister has fired Norwegian NSB's board of directors three months after the same board fired managing director/CEO Osmond Ueland. NSB is having problems with cancellations because they don't have enough drivers, and the ones they have won't work overtime. There were also cancellations over the summer, as the drivers' vacations hadn't been co-ordinated properly. See also the press release and an editorial, as well as stories on the driver shortage, 1 and 2. Lastly, window heaters are causing distorted views and headaches for drivers of Oslo's aiport trains. The heaters are supposed to melt snow and ice. (October 7th)

EMD's Class 66 to Sweden Swedish TGOJ has taken delivery of two EWS type Class 66 diesels, manufactured by General Motors. They are the same as the locos ordered by British freight operator English, Welsh & Southern Railway, but known as T66 in Sweden. The locos are lower and thinner than Swedish trains; 20m long, 2,7m wide, and 4m tall. They weigh 126 tonnes and reach 120 km/h. (October 5th)

Malawi and Mozambique have reopened a rail link that connects landlocked Malawi to an Indian Ocean port with a short and cheap route that civil war once made impassable. Mozambique's 16-year civil war brought traffic along the 800km route to a near halt. Before the war, about one-third of Malawi's trade traveled along the route. Since 1984, movement along the corridor had slowed to a trickle and forced Malawi to use South African ports for 80% of its traffic. The nearest South African port, Durban, is some 2 300km away. The governments now hope the corridor will attract $900m in investments. See also map. This article, by the Daily Mail & Guardian, has been taken off their website but can be read here. (October 5th, thanks Alan Reekie)

Oz: Victoria Fast Trains Threatened Plans for rural 180 km/h trains in Victoria, Australia are threatened by track owner and operator Freight Victoria's threat to derail the scheme. Freight Australia chief executive Marinus van Onselen said the proposed regulations, which aim to give third parties access to the rail system, did not recognise the $200 million investment his company had already made. See also another story. (October 5th, thanks David Bromage)

Jerusalem Light Rail Plans to build a light-rail system in Jerusalem were approved Tuesday October 3rd by the National Planning Commission, paving the way for the capital to benefit from the first such system in the country. The plan proposes eight different lines crisscrossing the city, with a total rail length of 54 kms. Planners say the first line, from Pisgat Ze'ev past the Old City and down Jaffa Road to Mount Herzl, will begin operating in 2005. The rail line will cut travel time on this route from today's one hour and ten minutes to a mere 24 minutes. (October 5th, thanks Les Brown)

Paris Orders Trams The Paris Transport Authority (RATP) has ordered 13 Citadis trams from Alstom, for existing or projected tramway lines in Paris and its suburbs. The tramset, which has a full low floor, is 31m long, 2.40 m wide and has a total capacity of 216 passengers (of which 52 seated). The air conditioned vehicles are designed to be able to operate as a multi-unit, meaning that several trams can be connected and have a single driver. To date, approximately 300 Citadis tramsets have been ordered by cities including Montpellier, Orl?ans, Lyons, Valenciennes and Bordeaux in France, and by Dublin (Ireland) and Rotterdam (Netherlands). (October 5th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

SNCF Orders TGVs French SNCF awarded ALSTOM an order for 22 TGV Duplexdouble-deck high speed trainsets for a total amount of nearly €420m (FFr2,8bn). They will be used on the Paris-Lyons line, to complement the 30 TGV Duplex trains currently in intense service on this line and the 12 TGV Duplex trains currently being built. The Lyons line, opened in 1981, was Europe's first high-speed line and has capacity problems, which is why double-deckers are being used. The delivery of the new trains is scheduled to start in October 2002. ANF Industries (Bombardier) is part of the consortium and will participate in the manufacture of these 22 trains. Bombardier will be manufacturing the two first-class vehicles, one second-class vehicle and six carrying bogies for each trainset, for €74m. SNCF also has an option for a further 60 trainsets. See also Bombardier press release, and TGV Duplex page at Mercurio. (October 5th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Austrian ÖBB have ordered 51 electric Talent trains from Bombardier. The trains, with electric equipment by Elin EBG Traction, will be the first electric version of the Talent, which is already in service in various Diesel versions in Germany and Norway. Eleven three-car trains are intended for the region of Salzburg, and forty four-car trains will replace the EMUs of class 4030 and 4020 in the region of Wien. Further trains might be ordered depending on the financial participation of the regions. The new trains will be built by Bombardier Wien and the ÖBB works of Wien-Floridsdorf. The three-car train with 126 seats, 25 folding seats and four doors on each side will cost €2.9m; the four-car train with 174 seats, 25 folding seats and six doors on each side will cost €3.27m. Except for raised areas above the powered bogies in the end cars, the floor height will be 600 mm. The top speed in regular service will be 130 km/h. Source: Eisenbahn-Revue International 10/2000. (October 5th, thanks Tobias Köhler)

Finnish Line Closures The Finnish government is considering closing 12 low-volume lines which may be too expensive to bring up to scratch. All lines are expected to be able to keep open until 2008 with normal maintenance, and rail administration RHK will look at ways to lower costs in the meantime. (October 5th)

The British government is bailing out Railtrack with a massive £4bn handout of taxpayers' money to renew the flagship London-to-Glasgow line. Soaring costs of the scheme to upgrade the west-coast route mean the company will receive an extra £2.6bn from the Treasury - three times more than the original figure. (October 1st)

Railtrack may be banned from making tens of millions of £through the sale of its land to supermarkets and other businesses anxious to buy prime sites near lines. The rail regulator, Tom Winsor, has revealed a plan to make sure the infrastructure company cannot dispose of assets that might be needed to improve the rail system. (October 1st)

British Connex says it will go it alone on a project to revamp south-east London commuter stations after Railtrack, its partner in the scheme, said it was unable to provide funding. Richard Talbot, Connex commercial manager for Chatham and Medway, told dismayed local council members that the £5m plan, announced last year, had been "indefinitely suspended" because Connex had failed to agree on financing with Railtrack. Work on the project should have begun by the autumn of 1999. (October 1st)

German rail administration DB Netz should be transferred from the DB AG holding company to the government, a government-appointed commission says. This is to avoid DB Netz giving unfair advantages to other companies in the DB AG family. So far, Britain and Sweden have "vertically de-integrated" their railways. This facilitates competition but can hamper co-ordination between traffic and maintenance and renewal work. DB AG is a wholly government-owned limited company slated for eventual privatisation. Also, the German competition authority is investigating whether DB Netz' volume discounts favour big DB companies over small private operators, writes Eisenbahn Magazin issue 10-2000 p6. Lastly, Swedish SJ at the last minute found a new partner for its Malmö-Berlin overnight trains: Georg Verkerhsgesellschaft GmbH. DB AG wanted to kill the trains. (October 1st)

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