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Rail News Blogging #18

by DoDo Sun Nov 11th, 2012 at 03:21:26 AM EST

This time, I bring stories on the benefits of proper infrastructure investment in Austria, faster freight trains from China to Europe, the high-speed network in China, and before all that: the end to total unbundling in France.

Unbundling is the separation of the former state railways' management of rail infrastructure and train operations (a key element of EU rail liberalisation). Complete unbundling means that infrastructure manager and train operators are completely independent companies. In Rail policy updates, I reported on a landmark legal case which undermined the European Commission's push for complete unbundling. The consequence is not a mere maintenance of the status quo (those member states that kept infrastructure manager and train operators in a holding can continue to do so), but a push-back: some of the member states that adopted complete unbundling think about reversing reforms. The new government of France now plans to re-integrate RFF, an independent company that got a large part of the functions of an infrastructure manager, with French State Railways SNCF, in a holding structure. The transport minister explicitly mentioned greater cohesion as a benefit.

A tangentially related story concerns Veolia Transdev, one of the biggest private train operating companies in the EU. As told in The Dawn Of Open Access (2/2), one of the owners, Veolia, wanted to get rid of its shares upon signs of trouble. Now the other owner, CDC agreed to a partial purchase, shifting shares from an equal 50:50 to a 60:40 majority. CDC is a financial institution 100% owned by the French state, thus the move turns even more of the liberalised rail market into "private" in name only.



Infrastructure investment in Austria

In late October, Austria's government adopted a new detailed long-term strategy for investment into rail infrastructure, and the transport minister reported on the current situation. Austria is a special case: while rail infrastructure suffers from austerity elsewhere, the Alpine country with its population of 8 million is spending over €2 billion a year, and the majority of that on existing infrastructure. The latter is helped by still on-going stimulation programmes.

The spending on the existing infrastructure has two key elements: station renovation and the elimination of speed restrictions. On railways, the standard first reaction to the discovery of track damage is to put a speed restriction on the affected section, which slows further deterioration and prevents dangers to trains. But, speed restrictions also offer the possibility to delay repair indefinitely, which is a widespread way of cost-saving, but also a very short-sighted one: eventual repair will become more costly, the extra braking/acceleration for trains costs energy and causes extra wear, and train delays put off passengers and freight customers. On this front, the minister could boast of radical effects of the Austrian programme: speed restriction-related delays dropped by two-thirds compared to 2009, and all infrastructure-caused delays dropped by more than half!

The minister also emphasized that the construction of new lines frees up capacity on old lines, with the example of the quadruple-tracking between Vienna and St. Pölten (see The Old Westbahn (1)): once the new line opens on 9 December, the already substantial offer of 108 regional passenger trains a day will be boosted to 163. (BTW, the long-term strategy includes the continuation of the Westbahn quadruple-tracking beyond Linz.)

Not all is well, though. While the minister reaffirmed the goal to raise railfreight's already high modal share in Austria to 40% by 2025, Austrian Federal Railways' freight division Rail Cargo Austria just announced the closure of some freight-loading stations and the reduction of intermodal train route variations as cost-cutting measures.


Faster from China to Europe

The overwhelming majority of goods transported between Europe and China travel by ship. Railways cannot compete on price, but they can on speed. Speed, however, is limited by borders, technological incompatibilities and administrative complications. Nevertheless, there is persistent ambition in a number of countries to develop potential transit routes, something I called Another Great Game six years ago. Further development since included routes via Iran, including a route across Afghanistan, the Transsib route (with regular direct trains since a year ago); and the route via Northern Kazakhstan, first tested in March–April 2011. On this last route, after more test runs, regular trains started in March 2012, and now efforts are made to streamline border passages:

Russian Railways Logistics to cut two days from China - Europe timings - Railway Gazette

INTERNATIONAL: The YuXinOu (Chongqing) Logistics joint venture has despatched its first container train from China to Europe using the CIM/SMGS Common Consignment Note.

Using documentation meeting the legal requirements of both OTIF's CIM and OSJD's SMGS rules reduces costs to shippers, as there is no need to issue new notes at national borders.

The first train left Chongqing for Poland and Germany on October 31, carrying 42 containers for customers including Acer and ASUS.

Russian Railways Logistics is working with Kazakhstan's Kaztransservice and Belarus firm Belintertrans on co-ordinating the project. They are also working to expedite traffic through the breaks of gauge at Dostyk in Kazakhstan and Malaszewicze in Poland, with the aim of cutting two days from the current Chongqing - Duisburg journey time of 16 to 20 days for 10 769 km.

Meanwhile, the countries in the Central Asia Regional Economic Co-operation Program held a meeting in Wuhan, China, and agreed on an action plan including almost two dozen rail lines to be constructed anew or upgraded.


High-speed network in China

Last time, I reported on China's slowed-down but (compared to the EU or Japan) still fast high-speed network expansion, on the occasion of the opening of one long line and the start of commissioning of two more. But on 16 October, an additional, shorter (132 km) line opened between Bengbu and Hefei, forming a branch of the Beijing–Shanghai line.

On the map below, I try to summarize the current state of the network:

  • line thickness indicates speed: thick – 300 km/h, medium-thick – 200 km/h, thin – ≤200 km/h (disclaimer: I didn't check the post–Wenzhou-disaster speed restrictions in detail for the slower lines);
  • color indicates construction status: green – upgraded conventional line, blue – new line opened before the Wenzhou disaster, purple – opened since the Wenzhou disaster, pink – in commissioning (opens in early 2013), red – under construction, grey – planned (disclaimer: I didn't check the status of all in-construction or planned lines).

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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.

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The bonus photo below shows MÁV M61 019 (an AA16 of Swedish maker NoHAB, originally exported across the Iron Curtain, funny because the type was a license-produced version of American maker EMD's F-units) with a ballast train at Piliscsév, working on the EU-funded total reconstruction of the Budapest–Esztergom rail line.



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

by DoDo on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 03:13:34 PM EST
So the Chinese are planning a Harbin-Russia line in the far North East ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 06:44:50 PM EST
No, it is to run until Jiamusi only. (All the projects crossing the border of my map were developed or upgraded for higher speeds after I drew the original version of that map in early 2010.) This is still a plan only, but it wasn't scrapped.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 07:42:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot for a minute that the Chinese part of Siberia is about as peopled as France...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Nov 10th, 2012 at 09:23:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"They are also working to expedite traffic through the breaks of gauge at Dostyk in Kazakhstan and Malaszewicze in Poland, with the aim of cutting two days from the current Chongqing - Duisburg journey time of 16 to 20 days for 10 769 km."

It currently takes about 10 days to ship a container by rail from LA to NYC, which is less than 5000 km.

by asdf on Mon Nov 12th, 2012 at 12:40:56 AM EST
And without a gauge break nor international border...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 07:56:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, can you give a source on this?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 02:43:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a belated addition, a good news was reported in September:

Sound financials recharge China's fast trains - MarketWatch

BEIJING (Caixin Online) -- Four of the nation's 14 high-speed rail lines have financially broken even since bullet trains started full-speed, intercity service in China two years ago, giving impetus to a Ministry of Railways expansion.

Passenger ticket revenues have so far matched expenses -- including debt payments -- for the busy Beijing-Tianjin, Shanghai-Nanjing, Beijing-Shanghai and Shanghai-Hangzhou lines, a source at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) told Caixin.

Moreover, the financial health of the Beijing-Shanghai line exceeded expectations during its first operating year, which ended in June, sources told Caixin.

Some notes:

  • While including debt payments, the above "break-even" figures probably still exclude depreciation (the article is a bit confusing).
  • All specific lines discussed in the article are presently operated at 300 km/h, but the figure of "14 high-speed rail lines" includes lower-quality and cheaper 200 km/h lines. It is unclear whether Caixin had information about the performance of these. (I would expect that, for example, the busy and competition-killing Hefei–Wuhan line is profitable.)
  • Three more 300 km/h lines were in service in early September. Of these, the long Wuhan–Guangzhou line (which crushed the airlines, too) has a relatively high ridership that (in spite of the post-Wenzhou slowdown) again grew by more than 25% in the year to date; and the opening of connecting lines to Beijing and Kowloon (Hong Kong) is to give further boost toward profitability. Those same connections should also help the remaining two lines (Guangzhou–Shenzhen, the newest; and Zhenzhou–Xi'an, the one Caixin reports as problem case).

The 'further impetus to railway expansion' Caixin mentions is a reversal of the post-Wenzhou trend of budget reductions:

After getting a green light from the government's chief economic planners at NDRC, the rail ministry said July 30 it would spend 470 billion yuan this year on high-speed railways. That represented a 14% increase in spending from a previous budget plan.

On the negative side, China Railways is still following a policy of high ticket prices on new lines, leading to public debate.

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

by DoDo on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 05:40:34 AM EST
But then out of the four lines, three are on the short side, less than 300 km long...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 08:00:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that five of the eight lines are like that and two of the rest are super-long, that's not at all surprising. (BTW, I take you compare distances to typical TGV travels from Paris, but typical distances are less than 300 km in Italy or Germany.) The noteworthy thing is that Beijing–Shanghai is among the four: a €28 billion line on which the busiest relation competes one of the busiest air routes in the world with a travel time of 5 hours is uncharted territory. It is also noteworthy that two of the shorter lines that also made break-even (Beijing–Tianjin and Shanghai–Nanjing) are parallel to it: that's some demand.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 02:41:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But then linking two 20 million megalopolises is quite unprecedented too... Looking at the schedule, there's already 5 trains an hour scheduled !

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 06:48:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I just looked at the schedule, too. There are altogether 112 trains per day per direction. Of the southbound trains,
  • 41 run the full distance,
  • 25 start in Beijing but don't reach Shanghai,
  • 42 start somewhere south of Beijing but reach Shanghai, and
  • 4 use some section in the middle only.

The busiest section is the south end, Nanjing–Shanghai, which also carries the east-west traffic of the corridor along the Yangze River (83 southbound trains). The least busy section is directly to the north, Bengbu–Nanjing (58 southbound trains). That's still significantly less than the busiest section in France and I guess Europe (the LGV Sud-Est between the junction outside Paris and the junction for Dijon; about 125 trains per day per direction), but trains are higher-capacity.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 10:24:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth to stress three things about the Zhengzhou-Xi'an line, the one Caixin reports as underperforming.

First, all other 300 km/h lines connect to (or are inside) one of China's three big economic centres: the Beijing area, the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai etc.) and the Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou etc.). Through connections to these areas should represent demand of the same magnitude as connections within the Zhengzhou-Xi'an corridor. Hence, I expect a major boost for the line from the other lines to Zhengzhou. It is instructive to look at the current situation:

  • There is no high-speed train from Xi'an that continues towards the east, and just one single train that continues to Beijing (along the conventional line) – this one covers a mere 1,194 km distance in 8h 48m.
  • Since the 28 September opening of the Zhengzhou–Wuhan line, seven (mostly new) daily train services from Xi'an (out of 18) continue south along it, five of them reaching Guangzhou, one of them even Shenzhen. (The last one must be the longest scheduled service in the world that runs along successive high-speed lines: 2,221 km in 9h 15m.)

The second point is that at the time the line was opened, none of the major cities along it (Zhengzhou, Luoyang, Xi'an) had a mass transit system worth its name (unlike most of the major cities along the four other lines). But Xi'an's first metro line opened last September (ending at the high-speed station), Zhengzhou's first will open next year, and Luoyang is planning a metro, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Nov 14th, 2012 at 07:10:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been reading your rail blog for some time now and it always have been interesting. Infrastructures are so important and get so little focus. In rail for example, everybody focus on the highest train on tracks but never or so little to those electrical networks and steel and concrete paved railways designed to last at least a hundred years.

This website needs a DoDo to cover other major infrastructure news: electrical networks, marine, automobile, power generation, engines in general which are having tremendous efficiency progresses, for example. It will save me a lot of time to track these subjects when I have some time to catch up.

A little off your usual topic, rail in EU, but there are some fascinating insights in the rail business in the US especially infrastructure which is in a dire state. The ASCE made a great report on it (a part of a full roundup on every major infrastructure in America) : <a href="http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/sites/default/files/RC2009_rail.pdf">http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/sites/default/files/RC2009_rail.pdf</a>

Thanks for your work, please continue!

by Rouget on Tue Nov 20th, 2012 at 07:53:53 AM EST
Thanks, and welcome to ET!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 20th, 2012 at 09:22:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome, Rouget!

Rail stuff on ET is collected in the Train Blogging series.

For power generation (and to some extent electricity networks), the Wind Power series contains a lot of material.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Nov 20th, 2012 at 10:34:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the welcome.

It looks like though that the RSS feed is broken or outated: I've tried to add it but the new messages weren't there. Any possible fix?

by Rouget on Fri Nov 23rd, 2012 at 04:06:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's broken and a fix looks unlikely. Sorry.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 23rd, 2012 at 04:23:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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