Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Rail News Blogging #3

by DoDo Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 07:41:10 AM EST

Again after some hiatus, a greater number of news with commentary. This time, on UK to Spain truck transport plans, a cross-border commuter rail line, Britain's antiquated rail infrastructure, metro automation, switch to rail in developing world countries, and spending cuts in the USA.

Railway Gazette: Modalohr piggyback wagons approved for Channel Tunnel

The decision would enable planned Autoroute Ferroviaire Atlantique piggyback services to be extended to the UK, 'potentially bringing significant new traffic'.

Autoroute Ferroviaire Atlantique is proposed to link Irún in Spain with Paris and Lille...

The Modalohr system is a more advanced truck transport system than the standard European RoLa system: the trucks reside in separate 'pallets' which are rotated relative to the underframes at the terminals, thus all cars can be loaded at the same time, and semitrailer trucks don't have to be taken on the train and idle. (There are three more similar new systems, but Modalohr is the only one that proved itself in years of regular service; also see this Salon comment.)


:: :: CROSS-BORDER COMMUTER LINE :: ::

Railway Gazette: CEVA project launched

SWITZERLAND: Work on the SFr1·6bn CEVA cross-border regional express project in Genève was officially launched on November 15.

The 16 km project will link Genève-Cornavin with Annemasse in France, via stations at Lancy-Pont Rouge, Carouge-Bachet, Champel-Hôpital, Genève Eaux-Vives and Chêne-Bourg.

Geneva currently has two unconnected main stations on opposed sides of the city centre (one on a Swiss mainline, another at the end of a branchline from France) and only trams and buses for urban public transport. CEVA is a commuter line that would create a connection, running across and under the city. It is also a project waaaaay behind schedule. It was first conceived in 1880, and is built on the basis of a still valid French-Swiss agreement from 1912(!). The project was to be re-launched back in 2002 (when it was supposed to be built by 2008), but it was held up by disputes over financing.

:: :: ANTIQUATED BRITISH INFRASTRUCTURE :: ::

A pair of news about deadly accidents resulting in lawsuits:

Network Rail 'to blame for Cumbria rail crash death' - Home News - UK - The Independent

The family of a grandmother killed in the Grayrigg train crash blamed Network Rail today for her death.

They said they held the firm responsible for the death of Margaret Masson after a jury at her inquest found a set of badly-maintained points caused the 2007 train derailment in Cumbria.

Her son George Masson described as a "scapegoat" the overworked engineer who admitted forgetting to check the points, but who had warned Network Rail bosses months before the crash about safety concerns.

Network Rail, which is responsible for track maintenance, was also facing calls for a public inquiry into its handling of the rail network and possible criminal charges.

Saving on infrastructure maintenance was the gravest ill of British rail privatisation which started in 1994. A massive repair programme was launched after the Hatfield train crash in 2000, and maintenance was totally reorganised after the Potters Bar accident in 2002, but apparently even that was far from enough.

Network Rail to be prosecuted over level crossing deaths - Home News - UK - The Independent

The ORR said it had started criminal proceedings against NR for breaches of health and safety law which led to the deaths of the girls - Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13 - at Elsenham station crossing in Essex in December 2005.

...A London to Cambridge train passed over the crossing with the red lights and yodel sounding - a warning for foot passengers not to cross the footpath crossing.

After the train passed, the lights remained on and the alarms continued to sound as another train, travelling to Stansted airport in Essex, was going to pass through the station.

The girls opened the wicket gates and walked on to the crossing. They were both struck by the Stansted train and killed.

This case, however, seems to be overblown. The new info the new criminal proceedings are based upon is that it was proposed in 2002 to equip the gates with a system that locks them when trains pass, but weren't. This is really a worthy investment, but for this particular incident, it remains true that the girls didn't wait for the end of the red lights and warning yodel sound to pass – a case of lethally bad safety culture.

Railway Gazette: Northwest Triangle electrification contract awarded

UK: Balfour Beatty Rail announced on November 11 that it had been awarded a contract by Network Rail to undertake electrification and minor signalling works under Phase 1 of the Northwest Triangle scheme to electrify routes around Liverpool and Manchester.

Britain is behind the rest of Europe in rail electrification: there was a belief in a future for diesel in the fifties-sixties, and the slow electrification that still went on came completely to a halt with re-privatisation. Then, in 2009, the turnaround came: the transport minister of Gordon Brown's Labour government, Lord Adonis, saw to it to re-launch electrification (see Britain leads the way...). Then came the government change, and everything was on hold while the new Tory-LibDem government put projects on review. But, for some inexplicable reason, the electrification programme survived, even if scaled down.

:: :: METRO AUTOMATION :: ::

Railway Gazette: Automated trains launched on Paris Line 1

FRANCE: The first automatic trains to operate in revenue service on Paris metro Line 1 were officially launched on November 3 by RATP Chairman & CEO Pierre Mongin, at an event attended by Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport & Housing Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and Jean-Paul Huchon, President of the Ile-de-France Regional Council.

Automated metros are all the rage recently: rail lines with isolated right-of-way, few or no junctions, same-length trains, not too high speeds, and an operating concept focused on frequency of trains rather than fixed schedules makes automation easier and can provide for a higher frequency, while train driver wage costs (and strike risk!) can be saved. The above project in France, however, is particularly important: unlike previous automated metros that were all new lines, it is a retrofit of a century-old line.

:: :: SWITCH TO RAIL IN DEVELOPING WORLD COUNTRIES :: ::

Railway Gazette: Afghan railway ambitions

AFGHANISTAN: Plans for east-west and north-south railways are making progress, with Asian Development Bank approving a US$754m multi-tranche package of transport assistance in September. As well as road rehabilitation this includes around US$300m for the extension of the recently-completed 75 km Hayratan - Mazar-i-Sharif railway 225 km west to Andkhoy.

...Unlike the previous project, work will be tendered rather than awarded directly to Uzbek railway UTY. Turkmenistan is separately developing plans for a cross-border link to Andkhoy, and the lines could eventually be extended to Herat.

Meanwhile, on October 18 the Ministry of Mines announced that studies for a 921 km railway from Kabul to Torkham on the border with Pakistan and north to Mazar-i-Sharif are to be undertaken by China Railway Group, on behalf of Chinese mining firm MCC which holds a concession to exploit copper deposits.

Afghanistan had no working railways at all until that link to Mazar-i-Sharif (reported in the Salon), now these projects are for a whole network, as part of the emerging Trans-Asian network. I called attention to the latter five years ago in Another Great Game. While China–Europe trains across the 'stans are still far away, all these corridors that converge on Iran are now pursued seriously (meaning, already under construction or there have been significant financial commitments).

Railway Gazette: Venezuelan railway extension contract signed

VENEZUELA: Instituto de Ferrocarriles del Estado has signed an €763m deal for the Italian consortium building the Puerto Cabello - La Encrucijada railway to add a further section of line to connect the harbour at Puerto Cabello with the city of Morón.

The consortium of Impregilo, Astaldi and Ghella has almost completed the 110 km La Encrucijada - Puerto Cabello line, which will run via Valencia to provide the city with access to the coast...

The consortium is also building the 201 km Chaguaramas - Cabruta line and rebuilding the 252 km San Juan de Los Morros - San Fernando de Apure route, under plans to support economic growth in central-southern Venezuela.

Prior to the election of President Chávez, Venezuela only had a few far-and-apart rail lines totalling just a few hundred kilometres. Then multiple major projects were launched,eventually linked up in a master plan into a coherent 13,600 km network spanning the country. This is a nation-building project; relative to the country, on the scale of China's or Turkey's rail expansion programmes. However, the Venezuelan rail programme is also marked by sluggish progress, with lots of delays during construction. And then there was the train crash in September on the first-opened of the new lines, which should have been preventable.

:: :: SPENDING CUTS IN THE USA :: ::

Railway Gazette: Congress axes inter-city project funding for 2012

USA: The Appropriations Bill setting 2012 funding levels for several government agencies including the Department of Transportation was ratified by both houses of Congress on November 17...

Amtrak faces a tighter operating budget next year, reduced from $561m to $466m, but it will be allowed to increase capital spending to compensate within an overall framework of $1·4bn...

However, President Obama's hopes for fresh funding to launch new inter-city and high speed rail projects have been dashed. Obama had submitted a bill to Congress in February to inject up to $8bn into passenger rail services next year as part of an investment programme worth $53bn by 2018, but the budget agreement includes no money at all in 2012.

The road and airline lobbies had their tools among the Republicans fight President Barack Obama's (or, to be more precise: Vice President Joe Biden's) inter-city passenger rail plans tooth and nail over the past three years, and this is their ultimate success.

:: :: :: :: ::

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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I'll use a couple of more stories for a longer diary I am writing about open access.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 07:44:14 AM EST
Looking at the rail connections around Geneva I find it hard to see what is gained by this connection under the city. From what I see there isn't an obvious through connection begging to be made for 1.6 billion euros that can't be accommodated by a good tram connection costing a fraction of that.

The connection from Gare des Eaux Vives (SNCF branch) goes either to Evian on the south shore of L Geneva, Switzerland (Martigny) or loops around the south of Geneva connecting up with the main line from Geneva Cornavin through Bellegarde.

It may be heretical here, but I can't help but think this is Geneva's attempt at emulating the expensive daftness of Stuttgart

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 09:03:26 AM EST
No, this is not a central station replacement, and certainly no real estate deal in disguise, but the addition of a new central artery (Stuttgart's rapid rail system has that, too, a 9.4 km mostly tunnel line completed in 1985). In addition, this project got public support in referendums, and non-xenophobic and non-road-lobby criticisms I could find focused on the routing, not the idea of a heavy rail line.

The Geneva agglomeration is nearly a million people, but only 190,000 in the city proper, with 550,000 people crossing the cantonal border each day. Just in the region where something higher-capacity and faster than trams can serve as backbone, thereby connecting now disparate commuter rail services.

The price is CHF1.567 billion, or €1.27 billion. Capacity-wise, maybe an extra tram/light metro connection would be an option, though I don't see it done at a cost under CHF0.5 billion (calculated at CHF30 million/km), and would be slower and involve more transfers for passengers.

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

by DoDo on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 03:11:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree entirely with your view about the deaths of the two girls at the pedestrian level crossing. At some point people have to be responsible for their own safety.

There are several pedestrian crossings near me that I have been using since I was very young. At all times it has been drilled into me to watch out for trains and to keep watching as I'm crossing as they approach quickly. This is especially true at one crossing where the sight lines in both directions are blocked by curving tracks and bridges.

but as we've seen with the regular showing of CCTV of people driving through level crossings when the barriers are down, some people really don't seem to understand personal responsibility. I really don't see how railways and people can possibly co-exist unless the law takes into account that people sometimes have to be held responsible for their own stupidity.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 09:09:26 AM EST
My experience with AmTrak in the USA convinces me that there's a deliberate attempt being made to drive it into the ground and chase away all passenger business except for that in certain busy corridors.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun Nov 27th, 2011 at 11:58:14 PM EST
If your experience was on right of way owned by Union Pacific, that would be less a deliberate effort to run it into the ground as a deliberate effort to discriminate against it (in defiance of the law) in favor of UP's freight. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) have a company culture of running trains on time, and of giving the best service they can, so despite the very small revenues from Amtrak services using BNSF tracks, they tend to run closer to their timetable because of less deliberate shunting to sidings to let long, slow freights run through.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Nov 29th, 2011 at 06:51:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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