Sun Apr 6th, 2014 at 03:06:52 PM EST
Today (on 6 April), Hungary is holding the first parliamentary elections since PM Viktor Orbán's right-populist Fidesz took over all levers of power, replaced the Constitution and re-wrote all key laws using its two-thirds parliamentary majority. The modified election system is still an uncompensated mixed unicameral system (with people voting for both single-member election districts and party lists), but the single-member part is now without a second round of run-off votes.
There is nothing positive to report. Fidesz is likely to sweep almost all single-member districts and get nearly half of the list votes, the only question is whether they again gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority (which would allow them to continue their rule without any real checks & balances and implement the part of their reactionary legislative agenda they couldn't in the past four years). An alliance of (mostly unattractive post-reformed-communist or neoliberal) democratic opposition parties is predicted to finish barely ahead of far-right Jobbik, which is to boost its vote above 20%.
Update [2014-4-7 4:1:47 by DoDo]: At 99% counted, turnout is an abysmal 61%, Fidesz barely defended its two-thirds parliamentary majority even though it dropped to 44.5%, the opposition alliance got 26%, the fascists 20.5%, and the LMP (greens) also made it at 5.2%.
Thu Mar 27th, 2014 at 11:43:14 AM EST
In this train blogging diary, I portray three main stations in Switzerland, with photos from my two holidays last year, and my usual side stories and observations. The three are: Zurich main station, which is Europe's busiest by the number of trains; Arth-Goldau, a junction station along the Gotthard railway; and Lucerne, which is my favourite among main stations I visited for its special atmosphere.
Looking along the middle one of the five naves of Lucerne station
Tue Mar 18th, 2014 at 06:17:58 AM EST
For a change, there is a more measured article in Der Spiegel on the situation in southern Ukraine, based on interviews with two pro-Russians and one Svoboda member, with a conclusion including this revelation (for the reporter I assume):
Saving Lenin: There Are Few Heroes Ukrainians Agree On - SPIEGEL ONLINE
This is about more than one bronze statue. People in Illichivsk don't have much money, their houses are gray and their streets full of potholes. But they also have a beach and the Black Sea, they have friendship and love, they have the Russian language and an identity of their own, and until now they also had the certainty that when they woke up each morning, they would be allowed to live the way they chose. That certainty ceased to exist when the old regime did.
When it comes down to it, everyone in Ukraine, east or west, wants the same thing: To be allowed to live the way they see as right. In other words, they want freedom.
Mon Mar 10th, 2014 at 06:36:14 AM EST
I haven't done a rail news blog in half a year, now here is a diary focusing on news on investment into rail infrastructure: in Germany (a European comparison), in France (new policy focus), in Belgium (no PPP) and in China (rail & metro network expansion, 4G mobiles).
Wed Feb 5th, 2014 at 02:54:56 AM EST
The westernmost state of Vorarlberg is separated from the rest of Austria by the water divide between the Rhine and the Inn (and thus Danube) rivers. Since 1884, a single railway provides connection across the mountains, with steep approaches to a summit tunnel over 10 km in length under the Arlberg Pass. On my two holidays in Switzerland in the summer and autumn of last year, I also stopped here. Beyond steep climbs with spectacular bridges in spectacular landscape and an eventful history, the line is notable for an arrested development: a modern double-track mainline in some parts and a single-track line with sharp curves in other parts.
The end of an eastbound (descending) railjet atop the Trisanna viaduct below castle Wiesberg (the tip is visible on the left) and above a 110-year-old hydroelectric power plant restored after massive floods damaged it in 2005
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 winner – pending 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:
Tue Jun 11th, 2013 at 03:13:03 PM EST
What's real and what's going on?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.)
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.