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Old and new in Austria

by DoDo Sun Jan 26th, 2014 at 05:15:09 AM EST

On my way to and from the Gotthard railway last summer, I went through Austria. I got to see a lot of recent developments up-close: new lines with semi-high-speed traffic, open-access competition, the fruits of stimulus spending, and a recently refurbished narrow-gauge mountain railway.

100-year-old narrow-gauge electric locomotive 1099.14 with its train of heritage cars stands ready in Mariazell for the return journey to St. Pölten

Read more... (2 comments, 2256 words in story)

Lincoln's team of rivals

by DoDo Wed Jan 22nd, 2014 at 03:23:48 AM EST

Ever since I read a glowing review of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (which I still haven't seen), I longed to read its main basis: Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. This biography used the novel approach to put the personal histories of the main contestants in the 1860 Republican Party presidential nomination race side by side, to show how and why Lincoln rose above all of his rivals.

I finally got to read the book during the holidays. It is a difficult read, with over 750 pages even without footnotes (it takes 250 pages just to get to Lincoln's nomination on the Republican ticket), and the author's style is at times annoying (frequent reproductions of insubstantial praise for personal qualities, descriptions of the vanity festival that was Washington social life, the first-person plural focus on an American-only audience and the need to 'excuse' Lincoln's weak religiosity), but I highly recommend it for the broad and detailed view of the age and its issues. There is also some modern relevance in relation to centrist politics. I thought I share some of the insights I came away with.

Read more... (45 comments, 4509 words in story)

Rack railways above the Gotthard tunnels

by DoDo Sat Sep 14th, 2013 at 05:06:17 AM EST

In the middle of the central Alps in Switzerland, high above the Gotthard tunnel and even higher above the Gotthard Base Tunnel, there is an east–west geological fissure which is drained by the upper Rhône, Reuss and Rhine rivers. Along these valleys run the electrified metre-gauge tracks of the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB). During my tour of the Gotthard railway, I also rode MGB trains for a day tour in the high mountains. I wasn't as fortunate with the Sun as along the Gotthard line (clouds repeatedly arrived just minutes before a train), but I shot quite some photos in spectacular landscape.

MGB (ex FO) HGe 4/4II 108 "Channel Tunnel" with an eastbound Glacier Express (to St. Moritz) crosses the Bugnei Viaduct

Read more... (5 comments, 1615 words in story)

The Gotthard railway (2/2)

by DoDo Sat Aug 31st, 2013 at 05:04:20 PM EST

In three years, Switzerland will open the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT). In this second part of my documentation of the old mountain line while it still carries all traffic, I cover the southern ramp, from the exit of the old Gotthard Tunnel to the exit of the GBT, along the Ticino river in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

After five full minutes, German Railways (DB) 185 107 and a sister (both factory type: Bombardier TRAXX F140AC1) reached the bottom of the double spiral next to Biaschina Gorge with an intermodal freight train, while Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) class 430 No. 355 (old designation: Re 4/4III 11355) follows on the middle level with a ballast train

Read more... (19 comments, 1869 words in story)

The Gotthard railway (1/2)

by DoDo Sat Aug 24th, 2013 at 07:26:53 AM EST

The transit routes in Switzerland bear a significant part of the massive trans-Alpine traffic between Germany and Italy. In a 1992 referendum, voters approved the multi-billion-franks NEAT plan to redirect that traffic onto railways that provide a near-level route with giant tunnels crossing mountains at their base. The centrepiece of the plan, the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), is now being fitted with tracks and is scheduled to enter service in three years.

The opening of the GBT will also mean that most traffic will be withdrawn from the spectacular old Gotthard railway. As I did for Austria's Old Westbahn last year, I used my railway employee free tickets for a photo tour to document the line while all the express and freight trains still use it. In this first of two diaries showing a selection of my photos, I cover the northern ramp.

A Swiss State Railways (SBB) class Re 420 (old designation: Re 4/4II) with a late southbound EuroCity (EC) train to Milan (apparent replacement for a defect tilting train) at Wassen. The traffic jam on the parallel highway lasted all day. You can make out traces of the railway at two higher levels: the station building on the right edge and a gallery near the top edge

Read more... (7 comments, 1648 words in story)

China updates

by DoDo Tue Jul 9th, 2013 at 10:12:41 AM EST

This week, two more passenger-dedicated lines entered service in China, while the Beijing–Shanghai high-speed line celebrated its second anniversary with a 40% traffic boost. Such growth and the resulting achievement of profitability on a number of high-speed lines first resulted in a recovery of rail infrastructure spending (which was throttled by the reviews in the wake of corruption scandals [bringing a suspended death sentence for the former minister, see comments] and the 2011 Wenzhou disaster), and now there are some interesting new projects. I also used the occasion to update my map of the high(er)-speed network.

Photo of test train on a run from Nanjing to Ningbo from Yuyao municipal government

Read more... (14 comments, 886 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #26

by DoDo Sun Jun 30th, 2013 at 11:54:57 AM EST

The themes are: privatisation, international/intermodal freight, low-cost innovation in urban rail, and new high-speed infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Romania wanted to privatise CFR Marfă, the freight branch of its state railway, but on 15 May, the transport ministry rejected all three bids. I commented that "They still think this doesn't have to be a fire-sale." Indeed two weeks later, they resumed the process with the same bidders. Why? Because sale by June was a promise to the IMF and the IMF stuck to the deadline.

Things continued like a comedy: in the week before the IMF deadline, the two bidders with foreign capital withdrew for various reasons, and the sole bidder left standing was named winnerpending EU approval due to the winner's then 70% market share...

Here is a CFR Marfă loco and train far from home, on the way from Budapest to Slovakia:

Read more... (35 comments, 1433 words in story)

Tuesday Open Thread

by DoDo Tue Jun 11th, 2013 at 03:13:03 PM EST

What's real and what's going on?

Comments >> (26 comments)

Record flood on the Danube

by DoDo Sun Jun 9th, 2013 at 05:02:51 AM EST

After sustained rains throughout May, rivers are flooding across Central Europe, reaching record levels. On the Danube near me, the maximum is expected for Sunday morning, about 35 centimetres above the previous all-time record (set in spring 2006), beating the Saturday prediction by ten centimetres.

Most of my city is on relatively high ground, so I could watch the rising waters safely. Here are some photos I made between Wednesday and Saturday (the water level already passed the record by the time of my Saturday photo tour). On the first photo, below a passing storm cloud and with the background of a flooded supermarket (left) and a cemetery (right), the statue-adorned old bridge across a creek. The shore of this creek, along which floodwaters pushed back, is the one part of town in danger.

Below the fold, the photos will be organised in short time series. Warning: altogether 33 photos!

Read more... (22 comments, 1039 words in story)

No Desertec for Europe

by DoDo Thu Jun 6th, 2013 at 04:12:34 AM EST

Desertec started ten years ago as a Club of Rome initiative to involve major energy companies in a project to build solar thermal power plants in North Africa to supply Europe with electricity. With the establishment of the Desertec Industry Intitiative (Dii) in 2009, it seemed closer to reality. At first glance, as a project relying on capital-strong companies to construct where the resource (sunlight) is the most plentiful, this seems to be a great contribution to the de-carbonisation of the EU electricity supply, while also providing development aid. I have long argued, however, that it can be none of that, more a distraction.

Clouds did begin to gather over the project in the past 12 months, with the exit of major technology project partners Siemens and Bosch, scaled-back export prospects due to grid issues, and increasing local opposition. And now Dii gave up on exports to Europe:

In a telephone interview with EurActiv, Dii CEO Paul van Son admitted that the project's initial export-focus represented "one-dimensional thinking".

Although the industrial alliance was set up to develop renewable energy supplies in the Maghreb to feed up to 20% of European electricity demand by 2050, Dii now concedes that Europe can provide for most of its needs indigenously.

Read more... (73 comments, 1262 words in story)

The metro revolution

by DoDo Tue Jun 4th, 2013 at 09:43:09 AM EST

For inhabitants of most major cities of the developed world, metros are familiar legacy systems which expand slowly at great cost. The resurgence of light rail is more visible and popular. Metros and light rail also have an unholy link: in the second half of the previous century, a new subway line was often an excuse to create more lanes for cars by tearing up the tracks of a tram on the road above; and more recently, a lot of politicians treated light rail as a cheaper alternative for metros, ignoring that they aren't for the same use (metros have much higher capacity).

In the rest of the world, however, largely ignored by Western observers, there has been a metro-building frenzy in the last few years, with capital spending that outstrips high-speed rail. This boom can be partly understood as a natural consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, but positive examples and trends play a role, too. The systems being built are changing the commuting habits of tens if not hundreds of millions of people.

Read more... (18 comments, 1784 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #25

by DoDo Sun May 26th, 2013 at 11:30:53 AM EST

The main focus of this diary is on measures for the better integration of various parts of rail systems: gauge enhancement in Switzerland, temporary broad gauge in Spain, the semi-abolition of unbundling in Britain, and reliability improvements to the RER in Paris. Further themes will be scandals and lawsuits, progress in trans-Asian projects, and a new Euro-American locomotive.

Let's start in Switzerland. The centrepiece of the Alpine country's ambitions to move transit freight from road to rail, the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel, will open in 2016, and the 15.4 km Ceneri Base Tunnel will follow three years later. Unlike legacy lines in Switzerland with their relatively narrow loading gauge (cross section), these will be suited for standard piggyback wagons carrying trucks with an also standard 4.0 m corner height. (For a solution with non-standard wagons see InnoTrans 2012.)

Rail companies have complained, however, that the large loading gauge of the new tunnels will be of no use if connecting lines won't be adapted, too. Now the Swiss Federal Council finally moved and approved a gauge enhancement programme that will run until 2020 with a budget of CHF940 million (€755 million). The single largest project is the doubling of the 2,526 m Bözbergtunnel (on the crossing of the Jura mountains between Basel and Zurich). Some experts are rather critical of this, however, arguing that this will bring neither a capacity nor a speed increase, unlike a shelved project for a new tunnel a bit further to the east.

Read more... (31 comments, 1546 words in story)

Pentecost steam

by DoDo Thu May 23rd, 2013 at 03:13:09 AM EST

I visited the Kismaros–Királyrét narrow-gauge railway again today [Monday 20 May]. I showed a diesel railcar in mid-April and a solar-powered railcar in early May, but today, the spectacle was steam traction.

Read more... (46 comments, 343 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #24

by DoDo Sun May 12th, 2013 at 06:27:34 AM EST

This time, I'll bring a string of rapid transit news, another bunch of short updates on open access and rail privatisation, and a third string of news on line construction.

It is a frequently seen (and frequently lampooned) sign of neo-liberalism when public services get private sponsorship. Now here is a blatant example from the Madrid Metro, which is under an austerity regime:

MADRID Metro announced on April 23 it will rename one of its lines Line 2 Vodafone and the city's most central station Vodafone-Sol after reaching a three-year €3m agreement with the mobile telephone company.

For a company the size of the Madrid Metro, €1 million a year is not even a lot. (The article says this boosts advertisement income by 10%.)

Read more... (11 comments, 1431 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #23

by DoDo Fri Apr 19th, 2013 at 02:29:37 PM EST

The stories I bring this time: a Spanish TGV in France (below), Jaén tram woes, Stuttgart S-Bahn extension success, LEDs light the Paris Metro, propaganda war in Italy, and a project suspension in Venezuela.

In RNB20, I reported on plans to finally launch direct connections between Barcelona and French cities using French and Spanish high-speed trains on 1 April. There was scepticism in the comments about the start date, which proved entirely justified, but at least tests have now been conducted with a Spanish train, too:

FRANCE: A RENFE Series 100 high speed trainset undertook trial running at 300 km/h on LGV Est between Paris and Lorraine-TGV station during the week of March 18.

That's a beautiful line-up of trains from three countries which probably never met before (click for large version): the RENFE S-100 train (an export version of the second-generation TGV) is on the left, in the middle a German Railways (DB) ICE3, and a French State Railways (SNCF) TGV POS (fourth-generation TGV) is on the right.

Read more... (6 comments, 1085 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #22

by DoDo Tue Mar 26th, 2013 at 09:54:09 AM EST

Concluding the round-up of news since December, this time, the themes are financing, new rolling stock with technological novelties, the use of renewables, and various conflicts and problems.

Let's start with financing. London is currently building Crossrail, a new rapid transit system with an east–west tunnelled central artery which shall create a faster connection between suburban networks into various terminus stations and relieve parallel Underground lines (comparable to Paris's RER but integrated with existing services with less consequence). Crossrail services are to be operated with new trains, altogether 600 cars. The sizeable price tag of £1 billion was seen as an opportunity to launch another experiment into the involvement of private capital: last year the UK government initiated a procurement scheme in which train manufacturers were to finance the trains themselves and then let operator Transport for London lease them. But, as was often the case with PPP infrastructure projects, private investors faced risk premiums and had greater difficulty gathering capital on financial markets, leading to delays. Then on 1 March, amazingly, the government pulled the plug on the idea and reverted to procurement from public sources only, openly admitting that this method ensures speedier delivery (my emphasis):

The Government, the Mayor of London and Transport for London have today announced a move to a fully publicly funded procurement for the delivery of the new fleet of trains and maintenance facilities for Crossrail thereby helping to ensure that passenger services can open as scheduled in late 2018. This change was proposed by the Mayor of London and agreed by the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin.

Sometimes Boris Johnson makes sense.

Read more... (48 comments, 2999 words in story)

An ill wind in Budapest

by DoDo Wed Mar 20th, 2013 at 05:37:28 AM EST

15 March is the day of the 1848 Revolution in Hungary, and (along with 23 October, day of the 1956 Revolution) a day of political rallies in recent years. On 15 March this year, however, a brutal cold spell with strong winds led to the cancellation of all protests. Only the main opposition event was then held two days later (yesterday on Sunday), with at most 20% of the attendance in October.

The topic du jour was the latest modification of the constitution, which made even Barroso's European Commission and fellow EPP national governments (whose only true bother a year ago was the threat to central bank independence) realise that Hungary's right-populist government's aim is to eliminate all checks & balances (now done) and cement its power permanently. The situation aint' rosy on other fronts, either: austerity measures spread misery while recession is deepening, and the democratic opposition is a mess. But I wonder how long it will take for government propaganda to produce blowback, especially considering the latest gaffes in connection with the cold spell.

[editor's note, by Migeru] Bumped ahead of Cyprus 3

Read more... (18 comments, 2571 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #21

by DoDo Wed Mar 13th, 2013 at 02:51:22 AM EST

I continue the catch up with the news of the last three months on the subject of cross-border connections, which is a litany of what can go wrong. Let's start with the worst, the Balkans, where the last two and a half decades saw the near-elimination of international passenger trains:

  • First there were the Croatian and Bosnian Wars and sanctions in the first half of the nineties.
  • Then there was the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War in 1999.
  • Then austerity-hit Greece cancelled all international trains in early 2011.
  • Then at the end of the same year, night trains to Italy were cancelled because national train operator Trenitalia left the partnership.
  • The latest and biggest cull came at the end of last year, when also austerity-hit Croatia cancelled most international services.
  • Worse: the track access charges set by Croatia's infrastructure manager were so high that Serbian State Railways also cancelled its connection to Sarajevo, which used Croatian tracks in transit (hat tip to Migeru per email).

Read more... (19 comments, 1959 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #20

by DoDo Tue Mar 5th, 2013 at 02:40:07 AM EST

I haven't done a rail news blogging for almost four months, so quite a few stories accumulated. In this issue, I bring stories about new high-speed lines and urban nodes, and before that, fare policy.

SNCF unveils Ouigo low-cost TGV service - Railway Gazette

FRANCE: SNCF President Guillaume Pepy and Director of the long-distance passenger business Barbara Dalibard unveiled details of the national operator's 'Ouigo' branded low-cost TGV service on February 19.

From April 2 Ouigo services will run from Marne-la-Vallée Chessy station on the eastern outskirts of Paris to Marseille and Montpellier. There will be three return services a day and four on Sundays.

...Four double-deck TGV Duplex sets have been refurbished at SNCF's Bischheim workshops to operate Ouigo services, operating in pairs to offer a total of 1 268 seats or 20% more than a standard formation. No catering facilities are provided and the bar area has been replaced with additional luggage space. Each Ouigo passenger is entitled to take one piece of baggage free of charge, up to two extra items being charged at €5 or €10 each.

SNCF is applying the budget airline model on the rails.

Read more... (51 comments, 1818 words in story)

Old Stories

by DoDo Sat Dec 29th, 2012 at 07:25:24 PM EST

I always took an interest in collecting the stories of my ancestors and relatives which survived in the family. This year, as Christmas present for family members on one side, I decided to condense all my hand-written records and memorised info on that side into block-diagram family trees (drawn with a spreadsheet), and do some new research in the process.

It was a lot more work than I expected, it took up most of my free time over the past three weeks. The delivered (but not final :-) ) result took the form of eight sheets, each with up to 8 contiguous generations and up to 25 siblings/cousins up to 4th grade in the same generation, altogether some five hundred separate individuals, with key personal data and (for the better-known) one-liner summaries of what they are remembered for.

Below the fold, I pick out some random stories of interest, which provide reflections of general history in family history.

Read more... (11 comments, 1878 words in story)
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