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Flop of the Fyra

by Nomad Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 06:58:19 AM EST

[The Hoist: featuring an item or items from today's Newsroom]

‘Flop train’: EU’s high-speed rail ambitions hit a setback | EurActiv

The EU’s top transport official says the troubled launch of a now-suspended high-speed rail service between Brussels and Amsterdam - christened the ‘flop train’ by angry passengers - is “not our problem” despite years of efforts to encourage such premium transnational rail service.

Dutch and Belgian lawmakers were due to hold a hearing today (28 January) in Brussels on technical problems with the Italian-built train sets, some of which broke down because of snow and ice on the busy 175-kilometre corridor.

Siim Kallas, the European Commission vice president in charge of transport, told journalists that the suspension of the service was not an issue for the Commission since it involves technical issues between the two rail companies and their equipment supplier.

“It’s not our problem,” Kallas said on Thursday (24 January), a week after the Fyra rail service was suspended.

“On this high-speed network, we have solved very many problems of interoperability already,” Kallas said. “But this happens. As the railway manufacturers say, and the airplane manufacturers say, equipment has become so complicated so that until you really run a machine that is free of all difficulties, it sometimes takes time.”

Libor Lochman, executive director of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, also said the problems with Fyra were technical matters outside the Commission's mandate.

Still, the Commission has encouraged transnational, high-speed corridors such as the Fyra and the opening of rail services to competition through a series of railway packages dating to 2001.

The Commission is expected to present its Fourth Railway Package this week aimed at improving the interoperability of passenger and cargo services across the EU.

The Fyra, the would-be high-speed train connection from Amsterdam to Brussels, was originally scheduled to be ready by April 2007. Problems began from the start. By 2007 the railway (HSL-Zuid) wasn't ready for ERTMS and opening got postponed year after year - a rather hopeless story all by itself.

But while the Thalys has seen little to no problems zipping from Paris to Amsterdam at nearly 300 km/hr, the Dutch operator HSA remains plagued with problems. Today it's the trains causing all the drama. Delivery of the trains, built by Italian train maker AnsaldoBreda, has been delayed for years. The Dutch operator opened the line in 2009 nonetheless - though there was very little high-speed about the Bombardier TRAXX locomotives pulling painted-over coaches, and a far cry from the slick design of AnsaldoBreda's V250s.

The first V250 was launched tentatively past summer and went officially in commercial operation only December 2012 - 5 and half years behind the official launch date.

Yet the problems have never stopped since. Despite having undergone years of heavy testing, the V250 trains were immediately beset with delays and fallout. The Dutch winter weather broke the camel's back - Belgian operator NMBS forbade the trains entering Belgian territory and the lines have been suspended since. Dutch train operator NS has been pointing fingers at AnsaldoBreda, AnsaldoBreda has been scoffing back that NS should've wiped the snow from the trains during the night. And so forth.

So while it may be a fit between companies and supplier, and it might not be the Commissioner's 'problem', one would hardly chalk the story of Fyra as a positive example for European high-speed rail.


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The Guardian on HS2:

HS2 high-speed rail route announcement - reaction: Politics live blog | Politics | guardian.co.uk

This morning, at 7am, the government published its proposed route for the second stage of HS2, the new high-speed rail line. We already knew the HS2 route from London to Birmingham and now we know it will extend to Manchester and Leeds.

Lawyers on the line: high-speed rail plan faces 10-year delay - Home News - UK - The Independent

Britain's HS2 high-speed rail line could be delayed for a decade as a unified coalition of Conservative councils, MPs and environmental groups threaten disruptive legal action.

The new £33bn line is intended to kickstart the country's economic recovery, but Department for Transport officials now fear work may not begin until 2022, amid a flood of court cases and judicial reviews, The Independent can disclose.

David Cameron today promised that HS2 would "spread the UK's wealth" and give a "better balance to the UK economy" as the route of its Y-shaped second phase from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds was unveiled.

But the Government is now facing a concerted revolt as northern local authorities and backbench MPs affected by the proposed line unite with campaigners opposed to its first phase from London to Birmingham.

Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield and Tory deputy chairman, warned that Chancellor George Osborne, will now "see the strength of public opinion for himself", with the line due to pass through his Tatton constituency in Cheshire. He added: "Every MP along the route will have people lobbying him. The people of Cheshire, like the people of Staffordshire, don't hesitate to make their views known - and quite right too."


by Nomad on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 07:09:02 AM EST
Lichfield and Tatton are two rich areas on the Birmingham to Manchester branch of the line.

I am sure there will be opposition from those close to the predicted route (compulsory purchase prices have not been generous in recent years) but given that both Lichfield and Tatton are full of the demographic that people say HS2 will be full of (rich commuters) there may not be the volume of opposition predicted.

Tattone in particular is only just touched on the edge by HS2. Lichfield may be a bigger issue...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 07:36:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Repeating my comment from the Newsroom:

The framing of the article is a hilarious Eurosceptic spin, trying to pull the EU into this debacle by its hair. It's not the cross-border high-speed line, nor cross-border services on that line in general that are in crisis, and the problems have nothing to do with crossing a border (in fact, until recently, Fyra ran in the Netherlands only) or interoperability. Amsterdam to Paris Thalys services are unaffected.

The only EU connection would be indirect: the rail 'liberalisation' push can lead to more foolish train orders (where purchasers choose the cheapest offer). However, on this subject, the Netherlands is a pioneer and advocate rather than a laggard follower pushed on by rules the EU adopted at the behest of others.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 07:36:11 AM EST
Cross-border international traffic is affected since the Fyra runs from Amsterdam and Rotterdam in The Netherlands to Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium.
by Wilfred on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 09:36:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Duh. The point is that, contrary the impression the article tries to create, the Fyra failure has nothing to do with the EU's promotion of cross-border traffic, nor does it mean a failure of the cross-border line, or a total failure of cross-border services.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 09:46:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
one would hardly chalk the story of Fyra as a positive example for European high-speed rail

It's mostly a negative example of using the model of price-based purchases of off-the-shelf products in the rail sector (be it high-speed or conventional). In that category, it is still second to the Danish IC4 debacle (which also involves AnsaldoBreda). I find it interesting that in addition to matters of construction quality and trust, the issue of operational practices comes up, too:

Dutch train operator NS has been pointing fingers at AnsaldoBreda, AnsaldoBreda has been scoffing back that NS should've wiped the snow from the trains during the night.

It may be that both sides are right: it may not have appeared to AnsaldoBreda that their trains will be maintained in winter differently in the Netherlands than in Italy.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 07:50:10 AM EST
Maintenance : it may seem bleedin' obvious in Italy that you can spend time de-icing your trains on a relatively limited number of nights per year; likewise, it is surely bleedin' obvious in the Netherlands that you can't mobilise staff every night there's snow for such a job, you have to have rolling stock that can cope with the conditions.

i.e. the problem is either that somebody didn't read the specifications, or, perhaps worse, that nobody wrote the specifications. I can't see any excuse for that, but of course it won't be anyone's fault.

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

by eurogreen on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 07:58:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the busy transit lines in the Alpine parts of Italy (and some pass lines in the Appennines) get plenty of snow, probably more than Atlantic Netherlands.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 08:49:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i.e. the problem is either that somebody didn't read the specifications, or, perhaps worse, that nobody wrote the specifications.

But you can have a situation where it would never appear to one side that usual procedures need to be mentioned in the specifications, while it would never appear to the other side to look for procedures different from usual. Before the spread of the off-the-shelf model in the rail sector, rolling stock (especially high-end rolling stock) was developed in close cooperation between producers and operators, thus they knew each other and each other's practices intimately.

I admit that this all might have been avoided, however, had they used the (now also popular) model that the manufacturer is also contracted to do the maintenance.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 08:57:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Writing good specifications is an extremely difficult task, and it's easy to point out things that were overlooked--AFTER they have been exposed.
by asdf on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 08:56:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who could have predicted snow in January? Who could have predicted the need for a maintenance and  operational manual covering snowy conditions? Who knew the Dutch spoke Dutch rather than Italian? Managerial/design/operational incompetence is just that; incompetence; and to try to depict it as an example of EU failure is a sign of journalistic incompetence or ideological bias which in practice often amounts to the same thing.

Is anyone talking a lead role in sorting out the problems?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 10:34:59 AM EST
It appears AnsaldoBreda sensed the image problem and sent a team of 40 engineers. Compare the tone of their 19 December and 19 January press releases:

Press

The technical problems which occurred in the early days, - after careful technical analysis  carried out by AB staff as well as by experts of the company that manage the network - were not imputable to the train, but to issues related to the infrastructure system. The V250, during the above-mentioned failures, immediately responded by deploying the security and control systems that are on board.

(From other sources, these problems they don't name by name were failure of communication between on-board and track-side train control equipment. They are spinning in blaming the track only if the Thalys weren't affected. On the other hand, this may have been the fault of a parts supplier.)

Press

The problems, occurred in the last days on trains V250, were caused by unexpected problems that, after the first technical tests, seem to be related to an undue accumulation, under the vehicles, of a big quantity of snow, that, turning into ice and detaching during the train running, damaged some parts of the underframe.

...

The Fyra trains have been properly and duly tested and verified. They performed tests in the climatic chamber at the internationally Arsenal Institute of Vienna, as well as development and verification races on the test circuit in Velim in the Czech Republic and also on the Fyra line.

...

AnsaldoBreda has immediately and adequately organized with his technicians in the Netherlands and in Italy a team of 40 people, which is conducting in-depth investigations to find the right solution to this problem, all that in close collaboration with the customer's technicians.

AnsaldoBreda apologizes for any inconvenience caused to the customer and to the passengers and ensures that is doing its best to resolve the problem.

(Arsenal Vienna does the cold tests, they can generate artifical snow and simulate speeds of 160 km/h. If snow accumulation was contrary to expectations, then the simulations at Arsenal didn't cover the special conditions in the Netherlands two weeks ago. But maybe it's not so much that there was no snow accumulation in the Arsenal tests but that there weren't pieces of snow and ice breaking off at 250 km/h and damaging the underframe.)

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 12:25:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When you sell €millions of equipment to a customer, and hope to get more business, it is generally not a good idea to blame the customer when something goes wrong - especially when the customer already has a PR disaster on their hands.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 03:20:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand, if you made a stupid choice and can't handle what you bought, it is hypocritical to blame the producer.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 06:32:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot:

Who could have predicted snow in January? Who could have predicted the need for a maintenance and  operational manual covering snowy conditions?

You make that way too simple.

  • First, there are different forms of snow which can cause problems in different ways (depending on how densely it falls, how wet they are, and how fast the train runs), not all of which may be foreseen. (I should note that speeds are significantly restricted on French high-speed lines during cold spells, which was something learnt in operation, too.)
  • Second, regarding operational manuals, one thing I alluded to is that you won't put something into a manual which you assume to be 'obvious', something you don't think would be done differently, because that's how it is done around you.
  • Third, specifically in the European rail sector today, producers have a big difficulty with operational manuals: they often don't have direct access to operational experience with their own products, as that data is guarded astidiously by operators responsible for maintenance. This is a serious, widespread problem, I heard several representatives of manufacturers complain about it. But this comes to the surface only if there is some serious problem and the blame game reaches either national media and/or the courts. (In the current case, this could be a factor if AnsaldoBreda got the info on snow cleaning only after the problems in the Netherlands.)

Of course, we are speculating on the basis of a short paraphrase by the diarist. Nomad, can you find an original quote?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 06:55:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
*First, there are different forms of snow which can cause problems in different ways (depending on how densely it falls, how wet they are, and how fast the train runs), not all of which may be foreseen. (I should note that speeds are significantly restricted on French high-speed lines during cold spells, which was something learnt in operation, too.)

VR had huge problems in two previous winters because the temperature stayed below zero constantly many months which meant that snow stayed in powdered form.

by Jute on Thu Jan 31st, 2013 at 05:38:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a story connected to Fyra where the problem is truyl endemic across Europe and connected to high-speed rail. (This is over a month old; I planned to include it in the next issue of Rail News Blogging, but I keep being delayed with that so I better post it now.)

Belgien/Niederlande: Zuschlagfreie Benelux-Verbindungen entfallenBelgium /Netherlands: Surcharge-free Benelux connections discontinued
Am 08.12.2012 verkehrte letztmalig eine zuschlags- und reservierungspflichtfreie Fernverkehrsverbindung zwischen Amsterdam und Brüssel.The last long-distance connection between Amsterdam and Brussels without a surcharge and mandatory reservation ran on 8 December 2012.
Seitdem müssen Passagiere gegen Aufpreis Züge der Produkte Fyra oder Thalys nutzen, was zu starken Protesten seitens der Fahrgäste führte. Bis zum Start der Fyra-Verbindung zwischen Antwerpen und Breda im April 2013 sind somit Den Haag, Dordrecht und Roosendaal ohne Fernverkehrsanbindung an Antwerpen und Brüssel...Since then, passengers have pay extra to use the products Fyra or Thalys, which led to strong protests by the passengers. Thus, until the start of the Fyra connection between Antwerp and Breda in April 2013, the Hague, Dordrecht and Roosendaal are without long-distance connections to Antwerp and Brussels...

There is this persistent delusion on managerial boards that passengers can be herded from cheaper to more expensive train services by denying them the former, and then they are surprised if people instead switch to private car, buses, hitch-hiking, or just stay home. This is done most often in connection with new high-speed rail (although it is done for the sake of conventional higher-quality services, too, see the demise of DB's InterRegio).

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 29th, 2013 at 12:43:15 PM EST
sounds vaguely amusing to me.

"Former Yugoslav republic of... Amsterdam"?

(No offense to former Yugoslavs)

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

by eurogreen on Wed Jan 30th, 2013 at 11:06:27 AM EST


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