October 99

A 1410 km railway is planned to run from the remote central Australian town of Alice Springs to Darwin in the north, finally completing the long-planned transport corridor from Adelaide, on the Southern Ocean, to the Timor Sea. Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday the 28th that public funds would now total A$480 million (US$309 million), up from previous commitments of A$300 million (US$193 million), after final negotiations with the preferred tenderer for the rail link, the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium. (October 28th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Foto Kai Otto Ødegård, www.adressa.noNovember 1st is the starting date for services with Norwegian NSBs new tilting "Signature" trains, which are almost identical to the airport trains on the Gardermo railway. Services will start on the Oslo - Kristiansand, and will expand later to Trondheim and Stavanger starting January 9th, and Bergen will follow as a destination in June. The top speed is 210 km/h. NSB is investing 1,5bn NOK in sixteen trains and 1,6bn NOK on track improvements. The trains to Kistiansand will take four hours, 40 minutes faster than now. Also see article at Aftenposten. Manufacturer Adtranz has datailed data on the trains. (October 28th)

A strike among Swedish drivers resulted in cancelled trains in Stockholm commuter serives but also in national services on Wednesday and Thursday (the 28th). Drivers are worried since the new private operator of the Stockholm commuter trains, Citypendeln, has not yet agreed to wages and related issues -- time is running out since services are supposed to start in January 2000. Citypendeln will probably agree to similar terms as Sydvästen, the new private operator of the west coast mainline trains, namely higher wages, shorter holidays and retirement at 65 rather than 60 (compared to SJ). Anxiety is aggravated by uncertainty over how many drivers Citypendeln will hire; Citypendeln estimates it needs 400 drivers, while SJ currently has 600 for the Stockholm commuter services. But a flyer distributed by drivers says half of them may be out of a job. Read more (October 28th)

The Capitol Corridor Trains, which provide inter-city service in the San Francisco region, are seeing their highest ridership ever, and according to the latest survey of passengers, are also receiving high marks for quality of service by the riders. Generally, ridership on the Capitol Corridor has been 18 per cent higher this year than last. See also www.amtrakcapitols.com. (October 28th)

The downtown Caltrain station initiative, would give San Francisco a glittering regional transit hub akin to New York's Grand Central Terminal or the train stations of Europe's great cities -- or saddle taxpayers with a boondoggle that robs Muni and other transit agencies of the money they need just to keep their buses running. It depends on how you look at it. (October 28th)

Much Ado About Safety

Railtrack bosses have asked the British Government to renationalise part of the company in an attempt to free more cash and improve the safety and quality of Britain's antiquated rail network. In a sign of Railtrack's desperation over its inability to fund the safety and track improvements required during the next decade, the company has suggested the Government take a 15 per cent shareholding. In return, Railtrack would be given a stake in the London Underground, or the franchise to run trains on the East Coast main line. But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he was "not aware" of any plans to buy 15 percent of the company's shares. (October 26th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

A confidential hotline for rail staff and a review of driver training are among a package of improved safety measures announced following a meeting of rail executives and union leaders with Mr Prescott on Monday the 25th. The rail companies also said they would deliver alternative options for both the Automatic Train Protection and Train Protection Warning System schemes to an inquiry set up by the government in the aftermath of the Paddington disaster. (October 26th)

Editor's remark: I'm surprised at the lack of emphasis on signalling as a remedy to the problem with British crashes. Automatic train control systems, such as those already installed all over continental Europe, would increase efficiency and safety far more than any amount of supplementary driver training or gimmicky hotlines. Read more about singalling here.

The horrific consequences of challenging a moving train at a railroad crossing will be demonstrated on Wed., Oct. 27 when a van carrying crash test dummies will collide with a freight train locomotive in a dramatic staged crash coordinated by a Hollywood stunt team. (October 26th)

Seatbelts will be tested in Finnish InterCity trains. Lap-belts will be fitted to 3 carriages which will circulate on all IC routes. The trials last for 1 year during which time their use is voluntary. Seatbelts' necessity came to the fore after last year's fatal crash at Jyväskylä. (October 26th)

Norwegian NSB has seen a fivefold increase in volume and a ninefold increase in revenue since 1997, for its Scandinavian Rail Express freight shuttle trains, which run five days a week between Olso and Germany and Italy. The trains skip stopping in Göteborg in Sweden along the way since last summer. This increases punctuality and speed. Göteborg is now serviced with other freight trains to Norway. NSB's freight division is also enjoying an increase in customer satisfaction over last year. (October 26th, thanks Martin Steinholt)

Germany's Transrapid maglev is looking shakier than ever after a key member of the consortium, Adtranz, said it "doesn't have any future under current circumstances." Thyssen is still keen, which is understandable given that Adtranz will probably build the conventional trains which may replace the Transrapid project, whereas Thyssen's job was to build the high-tech magnetic levitation track. DB AG, which was supposed to run the trains, had earlier said that a budget version of the project with a single rather than double track would not be feasible. Read more Transrapid stories in German and in English. (October 21st, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

British Railtrack has admitted that two fleets of new trains for use in southern England are too wide to fit through the stations. It is now having to spend £2m to trim platform edges by a few millimetres to allow the trains through. (October 21st)

A half-mile maglev in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would be payed for in part by parking fees. The proposal to build the maglev was first made in 1996. There now is growing skepticism about whether the project will be built at all. (October 20th)

RailAmerica will acquire RailTex, creating the world's largest short line/regional freight railroad operator, with expected first year revenues of approximately $450 million. Upon completion of the acquisition, Florida-based RailAmerica will own or have equity interests in 51 railroads operating over 12 500 total track miles in key regions of the United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Australia. RailAmerica is a five-year-old company which is much more indebted than Texas-based RailTex or Wisconsin Central, two other companies involved in the same sort of shortline and recently privatised railways as RailAmerica, and this makes RailAmerica a risky investment, writes the US business magazine Forbes. RailTex has a new chief executive since two years, and a San Antonio newspaper writes that the new boss's big-company style clashes with the more tightly knit, familylike culture fostered by the previous owner and director, Bruce Flohr, who ran the company for 20 years. Turnover in the RailTex offices has been high during the last two years, the San Antonio Express-News writes. (October 16th/17th)

A Chinese "high-speed" train, designed and produced entirely in China has made its service debut, shuttling passengers between the eastern cities of Shanghai and Nanjing, official media reported Monday. The train has reached 199 km/h in tests but is limited to 140 in revenue service due to track restrictions. (October 16th)

FT.comMärklinMärklin is implementing organisational changes to match production to demand and cut product development times of up to two years. McKinsey has been employed as consultant. The plan is to strike 450 products (some from ranges dating back to 1914) from its list of 3000. The pressure for change is not the result of a lack of orders - quite the opposite. Märklin cannot meet the demand for its products, the most intricate of which can have as many as 300 parts. Last year, it fulfilled only 86.5 per cent of orders. (October 16th)

Railtrack - Modern Dinosaur?

FT.comRailtrack will be given more incentive to improve its network, says Tom Winsor, the rail regulator. Mr Winsor said the financial regime established when the railway was privatised had failed to encourage improvements, so Railtrack must be given new incentives. Because some 90 per cent of Railtrack's revenues from train operators are fixed, it does not really share in the benefits of traffic growth. (October 16th)

Ed BurkhardtRailroad tycoon Ed Burkhardt delivered a scathing attack on Railtrack and vertically disintegrated railways in general at the Nordic Rail conference/trade fair last week. "In the UK, operators, both freight and passenger, must deal with an inefficient and unfocused infrastructure owner and manager, Railtrack, who has an entirely different set of priorities from that of its customers. Access fees in the UK are three times the North American or Australian all-in cost per thousand gtk, and cooperation with the operators' business is non-existant. Efforts to increase the productivity of rail freight by increasing axle weights, improving the lad guage, increasing train length, and fostering the construction of freight facilities are met with resistance and disinterest," he said. Mr Burkhardt was involved in setting up the English, Welsh & Scottish Railway freight operator in Britain. (October 15th, thanks Bengt Mutén)

FT.comRailtrack will acquire London Underground's sub-surface lines, if it can find £2.5bn for upgrading the Circle, District and Metropolitan lines over the coming 10 years. (October 16th)

Gerald Corbett, Railtrack's chief executive, has gone on an interview spree to detail his version of the company's role in the crash. Bulletins about the Paddington crash have been moved to a special page. (October 16th)

Most British rail services will be badly hit by an unofficial 24-hour strike by guards to be held on October 29, transport union RMT says. The changes to the industry's rule book, brought in at the start of the month, put train drivers in charge of trains rather than the guard. Guards from the two companies whose trains were involved in the Paddington disaster on 5 October both voted heavily in favour of the action. (October 16th)

EU Freight Compromise Reached

FT.comThe European Union's transport ministers have agreed to work for a harmonisation of track access charges, and to open national rail networks to competition. While the deal fell well short of full competition, a French official said it would "create the conditions for liberalisation; not today, not tomorrow, but in the long term." In their final communiqué, ministers asked officials to define a Trans-European Rail Freight Network on which "access will be extended" for railway undertakings. Britain, Finland and Sweden wanted private operators to be included in the new rules, but France succeeded in having the wording being changed to "licensed railway undertakings" which may well mean government-owned companies. One diplomat said the text was deliberately designed to "be all things to all men," leaving it open to widely differing interpretations. For reference, here is a chart of track access charges in the nordic countries. (October 9th)

The discussions concerned, among other things, the European Commission's proposals for the independent status of the infrastructure administrator, the separation between infrastructure manager and operator, mutual recognition of exploitation licences, and rules for payment of use. (October 12th)

Dublin Commuter Train Plans

Dublin may get a city-centre underground as well as the planned Luas light rail system following the outcome of a strategic review of suburban rail services in the capital. Luas info and map; official site. (October 5th)

Plans to extend the proposed Luas light rail line from Tallaght to Middle Abbey Street as far as Connolly Station have been submitted by CIÉ to the Minister for Public Enterprise. The 800-metre extension would take 20 months to build. (October 5th)

CIÉ is now seriously examining proposals for a £500 million underground rail line in Dublin city centre, catering for DART-type trains. (October 5th, thanks Alan Reekie)

The New South Wales Government has backed down on a series of cost-cutting workplace reforms and admitted to a series of embarrassing blunders during this week's crippling rail strike. More rail and bus strikes, scheduled for the next two weeks, were called off on Friday the 1st. The government's stance has softened markedly in just one week. (October 4th)

Seattle should scrap light rail in favour of a monorail, says City Council candidate Curt Firestone. The community group Save Our Valley worries that people might be run over by the trains, and businesses would have to be torn down to make room for the tracks. None of that would happen with a monorail, said George Curtis, head of Save Our Valley. (October 4th)

French SNCF will be stopping all its trains between 23:55 and 00:15 on New Year's Eve, just in case the year 2000 bug strikes. Timetables will be adjusted to ensure trains are in stations during the stop. Press release. (October 4th)

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