September 2000

The German train-building industry is threatened and needs big new orders from DB AG in order to survive, says Peter Witt, president of the Verbandes der Bahnindustrie in Deutschland, an industry lobby. DB AG has reduced its orders from many companies by 40-80% and this will lead to a 15% reduction in the work force, he says. Adtranz and Bombardier already went through a downsizing in Germany last year and are now merging. Though both Adtranz and Siemens' rail division has shown a profit for the first time in five years, it is not the big but the smaller "Mittelstand" companies which are hurting. (September 23rd)

Alstom is still acquisitive after swallowing half of Fiat Ferroviaria, says Hans-Jürgen Jabs, head of the German division. Alstom will buy the rest of Fiat later and development has started on the new supertrain, the AGV Automotrice à Grande Vitesse. The AGV is a joint project with Siemens, maker of the German ICE. (September 23rd)

Isreali bus operator Egged intends to seek a strategic partnership with Israel Railways. The reaction of the Transportation Ministry was lukewarm. "Egged can certainly bid on the operation of train routes as soon as competition opens," said spokesman Avner Ovadia. "But as far as investment in Israel Railways goes, there are no plans to privatize the company right now." (September 22nd, thanks Les Brown)

Balfour Beatty, the UK construction and engineering company, is buying Adtranz' "fixed installations" division, which brings power to electrified railways. Balfour Beatty will pay 94m ($132.6m) in a deal which will help it expand its rail business into China, Sweden and Spain. The deal gives Balfour Beatty new customers to which it will be able to supply rail services, including construction and upgrades. Shares in Balfour Beatty fell by 11/2p to 1031/2p in early trading. Mike Welton, chief executive of Balfour Beatty, said: "This is another important step towards becoming a world leading supplier and maintainer of fixed rail infrastructure. The combination of our very substantial existing rail capabilities and the fixed equipment operations we are acquiring from Adtranz creates a world-scale rail engineering and electrification business." See also press releases from Balfour Beatty and Adtranz. (September 21st, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

A record 12 companies have met criteria laid down by the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (SSRA), the UK passenger rail regulator, to compete for two new Thameslink and Wales & Borders franchises. The Thameslink franchise, which runs from Bedford north of London to Brighton on the south coast, and is the only mainline rail authority to pass through central London, will be extended. It will take in the route connecting Hertfordshire, Cambridge, Peterborough and Kings Lynn, with parts of Sussex and Kent. The Wales & Borders franchise will take in the border counties, including Hereford, Shrewsbury and Chester. find (September 18th)

More than a year behind its overly ambitious development schedule, the 304-passenger, 150-mph tilting Acela trains should begin to replace the New York-Washington Metroliner in late October with a somewhat faster schedule of about two hours and 44 minutes. For New York-Boston service, the time will be much faster than present schedules--between three hours and 10 minutes and three hours and 20 minutes, depending on the number of stops. find (September 18th)

Montenegro's Minister of Transport Jusuf Kalamperovic has met with collegues from Albania, Croatia and Montenegro to discuss building a new railway connecting the Montenegrin town of Niksic with Capljina, in Bosnia.
Paul Treanor's comment: The project seems 100% political, to bypass Serbia. Capljina is on the Sarajevo-Mostar-Ploce line. Niksic is on a branch of the Serbia-Montenegro main line at the Montenegro capital Podgorica. In fact there was once a narrow-guage connection from Niksic via Trebinje to almost the same point on the same line. So the rail connection is not 'new', although the proposed line may take a different route. See also map. (September 18th, thanks Paul Treanor)

Norwegian authorities are investigating the country's most common automatic train control system as it may suffer similar deficiencies as the simpler system used on Rørosbanen, the scene of a fatal accident in January. The official investigation into the accident is expected in November. See also Aftenposten story. find (September 15th, thanks Martin Steinholt)

NSB Settles Down

SignaturAdtranz and Norwegian NSB have settled on what's going to happen with the new Signatur trains. Broken axles have wreaked havoc on NSB's traffic all summer. The 210 km/h Signatur trains have been restricted to 160 km/h for months because the axles broke and wore out prematurely. They had been coated with rubber to protect them from flying rocks dislodged from the trackbed due to the high speed. But the rubber blocked in humidity which caused the axles to rust quickly. The axles are now protected by ventilated plastic shields instead. Adtranz officials question the need for protecting the axles in this way. The axles will also be replaced with new ones conforming to a new UIC standard.

Further problems with the trains include the unreliable tilting mechanism. Stays fastened in the bogies meant to tilt the wagons are bending and breaking the ball bearings they are attached to. The Signatur's tilt mechanism builds on that of the X 2000 which has worked fine for ten years, but the Signatur train has distributed power while the X 2000 has one power unit at the end of the train. The motors in the bogies mean that there is not enough room there for the same tilting mechanism as in the X 2000. The Signatur's tilt is thus more advanced and kinks still need ironing out. NSB had threatened to cancel the contract with Adtranz on Monday the 11th unless they were happy with Adtranz' planned modifications. The Signatur trains are very similar to the Gardermoen airport trains, but they tilt. See also story in English. find (September 11th)

The boss of a British rail company has quit as allegations emerged that he claims to have been an officer in the Navy, though the Navy doesn't have him in their records. It is also alleged that he has even claimed to have a medal, the Reserve Decoration, normally only awarded after long service in the reserve forces, together with membership of professional institutions which deny any knowledge of him. Stephen McColl, who once ran the Royal Train, stood down last month as managing director of Merlin Rail, an outfit that has been planning to run special and heritage trains on the main network. Merlin has already held talks with Railtrack and was planning to start the charter service within two months. (September 10th, thanks Iain Dobson)

The US Federal Railroad Administration has granted "grandfather rights" to Amtrak's tilting Talgo trains in the Northwest. They do not conform to current safety standards but were ordered before the new rules were issued. The US has stricter rules than European countries on how strong an impact a train must be able to withstand. Amtrak's trains are made in the USA from a Spanish design. See also extensive documentation in PDF. (September 10th, thanks Richard Mlynarik)

Olympic organizers said they are $60 million short on ticket sales and that Sydney's rail system remains their biggest concern less than two weeks before the start of the games. Michael Knight, Olympics minister and organizing committee head, said a surge in ticket sales in recent days had convinced him the target would be met. (September 10th)

A new passenger-and-freight train covers the Amsterdam-Milan route in under 14 hours. The overnight train is run by Railion, Deutsche Bahn's Benelux freight operator, and NS Reizigers. The train only runs at 160 km/h but is nonstop. It was concieved together with European Food & Flower Overland Road and Rail Transport, an association of transport buyers. Freight clients may send less-than-carload shipments, which is unusual in Europe. Since the train relies on both passenger and freight revenue, it should be easier to make a profit. The idea can be said to be "stolen" from Amtrak, which is hailing mail to improve its bottom line. Also relating to Railion, five German locomotives are being used in Holland and five Dutch locos are being put into service in Germany. See also PR about the locos. (September 10th)

Austrian ÖBB ordered a further 225 Taurus electric locomotives from Siemens in June, bringing the total number ordered to 400. Siemens Verkehrstechnik, the electronics giant's trains division, will show a profit for 1999/2000, for the first time in five years. Siemens is also hoping that DB AG will exercise its option for a further 50 ICE3 fast trains. DB AG has recieved DM2bn from the government's UMTS auction windfall. UMTS is a next-generation mobile phone/wireless broadband technology and the government auctioned off permits to build networks using the new technology. See also story on Siemens VT. find (September 10th)

Siemens plans to build a high-speed train with Alstom, but added there are no plans to develop the partnership further. At a press event in Berlin, the Siemens unit's managing director Herbert Steffen said the companies plan to present the first two concepts for a successor to Germany's high-speed ICE train and France's TGV. This gives the two companies a head-start on the next generation of fast trains over Adtranz and Bombardier, which are merging. Adtranz has collaborated with Siemens in building the ICE, but has not built very fast trains on its own. Bombardier has collaborated with Alstom in building the tilting 250 km/h Acela train for Amtrak. (September 7th)

Rail commuters into London may travel in double-deck underground trains using a new tunnel through the heart of the capital. In one of the most ambitious proposals in the new round of rail franchising, FirstGroup, the rail and bus operator, said it would embark on the major scheme if it won the new South West Trains contract. FirstGroup has teamed up with Dutch rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen to bid for the franchise, and also promised improvements to services valued at 2bn. (September 7th)

Swiss SBB, which boasts 99% customer satisfaction in Switzerland, on Friday the 1st pledged it would provide "a quality of rail service that has never previously existed in the UK" for two rail franchises: Thames Trains and Wessex Rail. Benedikt Weibel, Swiss Rail chief executive, said the company would join forces with Laing Investments, majority owners of the Chiltern Railways franchise, to bid for the networks in central and southern England. (September 7th)

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