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Rail News Blogging #17

by DoDo Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 09:11:10 AM EST

With the rail policy and InnoTrans specials, it's been almost two months since my last regular rail news blogging, so this selection covers a period reaching back to August. I'll first report on the parallel development of freight locos in China and France, then continue below the fold on public transport on 'foreign' tracks in France (regional trains on TGV lines and Lyon tram-trains), high-speed competition in Italy, and high-speed lines in Sweden and China.

CNR Datong unveils 10 MW locomotive designed to cross China - Railway Gazette

Rolled out on August 27, HXD21001 has a maximum speed of 120 km/h. It is rated at 10 MW, an increase from CNR Datong's previous 6·4 MW design...

The manufacturer says the domestically produced traction and control systems represent the results of a decade of development work. Components are protected against rain, sand and dust to cope with the differing environments encountered on very long-haul routes across China, while the cabs have a newly designed ergonomic console and improved air conditioning to provide better working conditions for the crew.

Another example of parallel developments by the original manufacturer and the Chinese manufacturer which was the beneficiary of technology transfer (see earlier examples here). This new CNR type was developed from an earlier type that was part of French maker Alstom's PRIMA locomotive platform. Meanwhile, Alstom is in the process of getting approvals across Europe for the 6.4 MW, four-axle PRIMA II. As reported earlier, this type is to be the first to haul through trains across the Channel Tunnel non-stop (eliminating the need for a change of locomotives), because Alstom and customer Europorte (subsidiary of Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel) pursue approvals for all three networks traversed. The trials for the Channel Tunnel itself were held on 29–30 September.


Regional trains to use high speed lines - Railway Gazette

FRANCE: Pays de La Loire region is funding a €15·8m programme to modify eight SNCF TER electric multiple-units to operate regional services on the high speed line now under construction between Le Mans and Rennes. Modifications will raise the maximum speed of the EMUs to 200 km/h.

...Due for completion in autumn 2016, the LGV Bretagne - Pay de la Loire between Le Mans and Rennes includes a 3·6 km west-to-south chord near Sablé-sur-Sarthe that will enable TER regional services from Rennes and Laval to reach Angers and Nantes.

This makes some sense because a c. 35 km section of the high-speed line between Laval and the chord at Sablé-sur-Sarthe (grey on the map below adapted from Thorsten Büker's rail map site) provides for a cut-off between two conventional lines (blue on map).

This will be a first in France, but not in Europe: there are 200 km/h limited-stop regional trains on the Nuremberg–Ingolstadt(–Munich) high-speed line, which is another case of a cut-off at a gap in the conventional network. (This service will get new vehicles.)

For the trains running regional services on high-speed lines, the higher top speed is less important than being equipped with a different train control system and being made pressure-resistant for high-speed train meetings in tunnels.

Lyon tram-train service launched - Railway Gazette

FRANCE: SNCF began operating tram-train services from Lyon Saint-Paul to Sain-Bel on September 24, following an official opening ceremony two days before.

On weekdays there is now a service every 30 min, increasing to every 15 min between Lyon and L'Arbresle during the peaks. It is hoped that ridership will double from present levels to 13 200 passengers a day by the end of 2012.

It is the first of three routes from Lyon Saint-Paul serving the city's western suburbs that are to be converted to tram-train operation...

Infrastructure work has comprised doubling some sections of single line, lengthening passing loops, track renewals, electrification and resignalling. Platforms have been rebuilt to provide level boarding, while a €35m station modernisation programme has included the installation of a real-time passenger information system and improved facilities for cyclists. A new station has been built at Lentilly-Charpenay, and Dommartin-Lissieu relocated; both now provide park and ride facilities.

I'm conflicted about this. Tram-train is a great idea, but not when it is used as a cheap alternative in a conurbation big enough for a higher-capacity and faster heavy-rail solution. In this case, 13,200 passengers a day is not too high for light rail. However, I observe that the conflicting needs of tram-trains and freight trains might prevent the integration of further lines into Lyon's suburban network, meaning lines to the west of those converted now (purple resp. dashed purple/green on map below again adapted from Thorsten Büker's rail map site).


La Repubblica reported Italian State Railways' (FS) first half-year results on 25 September, which I am only going to paraphrase. Net profit doubled year-on-year to €182 million. FS emphasized that the passenger transport division increased profit by €40 million in spite of the appearance of a competitor on the high-speed market (NTV). We'll see if that holds in the rest of the year, now that NTV significantly expanded its services. A much stronger improvement however was the €133 million rise in the net profit for the infrastructure manager daughter company. They don't say but probably a good chunk of that is the track access charges of NTV. Meanwhile, the tussle between FS and NTV involved a bizarre spat over a fence between NTV's passenger lounge and track in Rome.

(For a summary of the FS vs. NTV competition, see The Dawn Of Open Access (2/2). I also reported FS's concerns over the negative side effects of competition and NTV's meagre initial results.)


Swedish high speed lines to go ahead - Railway Gazette

SWEDEN: The government announced on August 29 that the 150 km Ostlänken high speed line is to be constructed as part of a SKr55bn railway investment package intended to create jobs and economic growth.

Given parliamentary approval the construction of the double-track line between Järna and Linköping could begin in 2017 for completion no later than 2028. The SKr30bn project would see journey times between Stockholm and Norrköping reduced by 20 min and Stockholm - Linköping by 30 min. Infrastructure manager Trafikverket is to start detailed planning for the railway imminently.

2017 to 2028? That's a pretty drawn-out plan, and makes sure that annual costs are low while total costs rise. Meanwhile, up in the north, where Sweden's first new mainline in decades was opened two years ago, some connected upgrades are progressing slowly:

Rebuilt Adalsbanan officially reopened - Railway Gazette

SWEDEN: Minister for Infrastructure Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd officially opened the upgraded Adalsbanan between Sundsvall and the southern end of the Botniabanan on September 14...

During the course of the SKr6·6bn project, infrastructure manager Trafikverket has upgraded 100 km and built 30 km of new railway since construction started in 2003. Scheduled for completion in 2010, the project has been delayed by funding issues and problems with the ETCS Level 2 signalling equipment.

...Although the upgraded railway has just reopened, Trafikverket is already studying proposals for a new alignment for the section between Sundsvall and Härnösand, because only low speeds are possible on the current sinuous route. While the new sections have been built for 200 km/h and the rest of the line has been upgraded for 150 km/h, the Sundsvall - Hänösand section is limited to a maximum of 100 km/h...

A map, from Trafikverket, showing the new cut-offs (blue) and the upgraded section still rich in curves (red). Originally, the whole of this section was to be bypassed inland by a southern extension of the Botniabanan.


A few months ago, China's Ministry of Railways promised the finishing of two more high-speed lines this year. Half of the first, the 536 km between Zhengzhou and Wuhan, entered service on 28 September. Trains running at 300 km/h more than halved travel time from 4h 28m to 1h 56m. The commissioning of the remainder, about 600 km from Beijing to Zhengzhou, started, but opening was pushed to early 2013. However, after that, only the short Hong Kong section of the 2,247 km Beijing–Hong Kong line will remain to be finished.

The other long high-speed line promised for this year was the 921 km Harbin–Dalian line in the north-east, which could also be delayed to early 2013, as commissioning tests started on 8 October only.

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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

A minor news in connection to my The Old Westbahn diaries. In mid-August, German Rail's (DB) high-speed test train ICE-S achieved a new national rail speed record for Austria, 336.4 km/h, during the commissioning of the new Vienna–St. Pölten line. It seems they want to know whether the line, which is meant for 230 km/h only, is suitable for 300 km/h. (The ICE-S broke its own record of 305 km/h from August 2004, achieved on another section of the Vienna–Linz quadruple-tracking project.)

In honour of the event, here is one of the trains that shall run on the new tracks at 230 km/h from December, an Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) railjet (photographed at Unter Oberndorf on the old line):

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Oct 13th, 2012 at 05:23:46 AM EST
I should note that perhaps the most important news of the last two weeks has been the scandal around the cancellation of the West Coast intercity franchise awarding in the UK. However, on one hand, this has been covered extensively in earlier comments in the [2 October] Tuesday Open Thread, the October 3rd Salon, the 4 October Salon, the [4 October] Thursday Open Thread, the 5 October Salon and the last Weekend Open Thread. On the other hand, this would deserve a diary bringing all the threads together – would anyone from ET's UK contingent like to write it?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Oct 13th, 2012 at 05:34:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is a primarily political decision rather than anything to do with railways.

If ceebs can't put it together (he seems better connected than me) I'll have a stab later in the week

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Oct 15th, 2012 at 03:17:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DfT plans interim West Coast franchise - Railway Gazette

UK: The Department for Transport announced on October 15 that it intended to launch a competition for an interim franchise to operate the Inter-City West Coast franchise, following Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin's decision on October 3 to cancel the previous refranchising round due to `significant technical flaws'.

Open to `all bidders', the interim franchise would provide more time for the government to reconsider its franchising strategy before another competition is held for a `new long term West Coast franchise'.

In the meantime, DfT confirmed that it would negotiate with Virgin Rail Group for it to continue operating ICWC for `between nine and 13 months', until the interim franchise could be awarded. The government believed that retaining Virgin was `the best way to ensure services are maintained and that there is no impact on passengers.'

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 03:42:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just realised I drove past the tram-train system this morning, near Tassin!

(I was driving to work from my former neighbours' place. 50km. Two hours. Engorgement? Tell me about it.)

Yes I drove through that mess for 20 years. The only railway line that would have helped, the Saint-Symphorien sur Coise line, no longer exists and only actually operated between world wars 1 and 2 (Chemin de fer de Rhône et Loire - 6 avril 1914 - 30 juin 1933), in pretty hair-raising conditions, and never made a profit. (though I sometimes used to drive down to the St Etienne-Lyon line).

The long-term advantage, as I see it, of the tram-train format in that particular region would be feeder tram lines from the various villages. This could happen fairly fast at limited cost, as far as I can see, if coexistence of trams and cars on existing roadways can be accepted. That will not be an obstacle if the mobility crisis gets bad enough, I am guessing.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Oct 15th, 2012 at 10:02:07 AM EST
Also, the official Public Debate on the western section of Lyon's ring road is about to begin (November 2012 to Feb 2013).

15km of 2x2 highway, of which 13km in covered trench or tunnel. This road will never be built, but hey, it's a fun topic. 2.5 billion euros minimum, 2025 earliest possible completion.

Think what we could do for public transport with that budget and time scale.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Oct 15th, 2012 at 10:26:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In The Netherlands the "Hanzelijn" a new line between Lelystad en Zwolle was finished recently. Official opening is planned for the 6th of december. It should shorten travel from Amsterdam to the north.
by Wilfred on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 09:29:46 AM EST
Yes, there was a news about the commissioning of the line in RNB#14 in June.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 05:23:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The politics of Ostlänken is a bit interesting. After the election in 2010 the governments position was a clear no. Moderaterna did not want it, Centern did.

So my interpretation now is that this is a gift to Centern, possibly to keep them in parliament. They have been very close or below 4% in the polls, despite (or because of) a change in party leadership. Centern had little to bargain with, so I guess Moderaterna has started looking at 2014. Wonder if the socially conservative Kristdemokraterna will get any gift.

And since this is in the budget and the budget is passed that gets most votes (majority not needed), it will pass with active or passive support from Sverigedemokraterna (ugly party).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 02:40:46 PM EST
Idea for a rail blog: Obviously there are lots of advantages of trains. No need to list.

But there are problems, also, right?

  • Crowded conditions during rush hour, where you have to deal with close contact with other smelly, ugly, and noisy human beings.
  • Lack of control of schedule. You live somewhere and gradually adjust your living arrangements to optimize transportation--move apartments, change jobs, find the best grocery store, etc.--but if you want to go to another grocery store, or the dentist, or the concert that's a km off your optimal trolley line, it quickly turns into a hassle.
  • Pricing variability. Fuel prices are high and irritating. But train ticket prices can jump up due to political or economic reasons, disrupting your commuting budget for no apparent reason.
  • Line availability. New lines are being built, but not until 2028 or whatever. Other lines are being shut down, and you can't prevent it.
  • Etc.

Not advocating cars (right now at least!)...but...
by asdf on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 04:43:11 PM EST
I can refer you to Human Transit for a general discussion on transit networks, the grid, frequency, freedom and tradeoffs, 'fun' vs 'utility' transit.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 06:45:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lack of control of schedule. You live somewhere and gradually adjust your living arrangements to optimize transportation--move apartments, change jobs, find the best grocery store, etc.--but if you want to go to another grocery store, or the dentist, or the concert that's a km off your optimal trolley line, it quickly turns into a hassle.

In its prime (50ies or so in Sweden) train/bike integration appears to have worked well so that you always should be able to bring your bike. From what I have read that appears to have made slight variations less of a hassle.


Pricing variability. Fuel prices are high and irritating. But train ticket prices can jump up due to political or economic reasons, disrupting your commuting budget for no apparent reason.

In my experience large groups of commuters are vocal and politicians that does not explain price hikes are in dangerous territory. Small groups on the other hand can get in trouble.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 17th, 2012 at 07:12:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But there are problems, also, right?

I generally prefer to write about problems in the context of possible solutions to them. On cars vs. trains, again generally, the intro of my latest diary Innovation and modal shift in Baden-Württenberg gives an implicit answer :-)

Crowded conditions during rush hour

As bad as that can be, the alternative may be crowded conditions on the road (a traffic jam including crappy old cars with smelly exhaust and other drivers in road rage).

close contact with other smelly, ugly, and noisy human beings.

Not limited to trains, this has been the subject of two diaries focused in inconvenient aspects of using pulic transport: The Buses of London or Why I'd Rather Walk

by Barbara and Fellow passengers by me.

Lack of control of schedule

From experience I this is an issue if that schedule is infrequent or not well-adjusted with connected services. Like what I was faced with when travelling in Western France. My lesson from this is that generally, frequent services are desirable even if they mean shorter and thus less weight-efficient vehicles.

the concert that's a km off your optimal trolley line

Is this more about schedule or coverage ("line availability")? I face this kind of problem when I want to go to relatively nearby places which I can only reach via Budapest, due to a lack of proper orbital connections. This can only be addressed by network expansion (or close coordination with other modes of transport that can provide extra connections).

Pricing variability.

You must think of something specific; what? I'm familiar with three kinds of price variability in public transport: (1) general fare changes (almost always relatively minor increases at about annual frequency), (2) fare system changes (like the introduction of some zone ticketing or variability according to demand peaks) and (3) changes in fare reduction schemes (elimination in times of austerity and introduction in good times). For road traffic, these are paralleled by (1) (more volatile) fuel price changes, (2) the introduction of and changes in road toll, congestion charge and parking charge systems, (3) changes in fuel and car tax policies. All in all, I don't see how pricing variability in public transport is worse than for road transport, hence my curiosity regarding what you were thinking of.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Oct 27th, 2012 at 10:37:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Left or right?" he asked me as we watched the commuter train approach. A group of people nearby moved into position to line up with the door, all likely thinking the same thing: How do I get a seat? "Left," I said. "These people are going to go right." He looked at me for a minute and then nodded. We followed the initial surge in and turned to the left where the smaller seating section of the train is located--sure enough, the bulk of the crowd flowed to the right.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/2012/10/17/the-story-of-grand-central-s tation-and-the-taming-of-crowd/

by njh on Sat Oct 20th, 2012 at 07:54:33 AM EST
Rail built America in the 19th century and now it may be poised for a massive resurgence in the 21st century as high fuel prices make it competitive again.


by njh on Mon Oct 22nd, 2012 at 12:58:03 PM EST

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