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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