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

Rail News Blogging #6

by DoDo Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 07:25:02 AM EST

In the first instalment after Christmas and New Year, I bring news grouped in the following themes: light-rail successes, electrification in France, export successes, and Chinese high-speed. Let's start with light rail:

Railway Gazette: Caen to switch to light rail

FRANCE: On December 14 Caen transport authority Viacités confirmed its intention to abandon its TVR rubber-tyred guided light transit route and replace it with conventional light rail by 2018.

...Following completion of the network at a cost of €215m, local operator Twisto began TVR operations in November 17 2002 under a 30-year concession. This was two years after a similar TVR service began in Nancy. However, the TVR technology has proved unreliable, and is no longer being actively supported by the manufacturers.

Ideological and road-lobby-funded opponents of the light rail revival in the USA, who found followers in Europe and Australia too, have championed various alternatives using road vehicles, all of which turned out to be unworkable. The TVR system was among the most advanced (along with the Translohr system, see Local Rail Extras II): rather than a propped-up bus, it is a 'propped-down' electric ligh rail vehicle rolling on rubber tyres on asphalt, but with a guiding rail in the middle of its path. One problem is that the vehicles have axleloads higher than normal buses yet always roll on the exact same path, resulting in strong and uneven road wear and bad ride quality. Stuff getting under the wheels and keeping on the guiding rails in curves are problematic, too.

Railway Gazette: FTA backs Houston and Seattle light rail growth

USA: Representatives of the Federal Transit Administration and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County signed full funding grant agreements worth $900m on November 28 which will support two extensions to Houston's light rail network totalling 19 km.

Already under construction, the North and Southeast corridors are scheduled to open in 2015. The North Line will run from the North Line Transit Center to UH Downtown, while the Southeast Line runs from Smith to Palm Center.

Texas is home to some of the loudest and most obnoxious public transport opponents, so the launch of light rail in its largest city in 2004 was a watershed event observed by proponents and opponents alike. Back then, opponents went as far as painting the system too dangerous to operate – due to a series of minor incidents involving drivers ignoring red lights... Since then, however, Houston's first light rail line has been a roaring success, beating ridership projections.


Railway Gazette: Valence - Moirans line to be electrified

FRANCE: Infrastructure manager RFF has awarded a consortium led by Alstom Transport an €80m design-build contract to upgrade and electrify the 80 km line linking Valence on the Paris - Marseille main line with Moirans on the Lyon - Grenoble route.

Studies are now underway, and site work is due to begin in January 2013 for completion within nine months.

Although many parts of France's rail network are modernized, the electrification of mainlines is far from complete. A gap in the centre (Bourges–Saincaize) was plugged just last December but a further gap remains towards Lyon, there is no through connection across the Massif Central, and there are even radial mainlines from Paris that remain dieselised for the most part (the longest is the one towards Troyes and Belfort, there are also those towards Reims, Laon, and southern Normandy). The most significant electrification schemes in recent times were in the West, in Brittany and environs (including the line to Les Sables d'Olonne, which previously was famously reached by TGV trains in the tow of diesel locos).


Railway Gazette: Russian Railways orders eight more Sapsan trains

RUSSIA: Russian Railways signed an order for a further eight Siemens Velaro RUS high speed trainsets on December 19. The contract is worth €600m, including a 30-year maintenance agreement.

The 10-car trainsets will be manufactured at Siemens' Krefeld plant in Germany for delivery from January 2014. They will be used to increase capacity on the Moscow - St Petersburg route, where the first Velaro RUS trains entered service in December 2009 running at up to 250 km/h. A Moscow - Nizhny Novgorod service was launched in July 2010.

...RZD presented a certificate to the five millionth Sapsan passenger on December 17.

Sapsan has been a success for RZD, they even underestimated demand. However, the existing service was already launched at the expense of normal passenger services due to capacity conflicts, necessitated trespassing and road crossing limitations, and there have been deadly incidents (all what comes with 250 km/h on a conventional line), leading to local protests. The service should get its own dedicated line – Russia wants to build just that, unfortunately, they want to follow an EU-style public–private partnership model.

Railway Gazette: Pesa wins German DMU order

GERMANY: Pesa Bydgoszcz signed deal to supply 12 two-car articulated diesel multiple-units to Netinera subsidiary Regentalbahn on December 20, the Polish company's first contract win in Germany.

I wrote about the up-and-coming Polish manufacturer in From byproducts to variable stars: local multiple units. Netinera, an operator of various regional passenger rail franchises, is the re-branding of what was the German subsidiary of British group Arriva: Arriva was sold to German Railways DB, and as an anti-monopolistic measure, its German subsidiary was sold to Italian State Railways FS (also see my recent rail privatisation magnum opus in two parts, The Dawn Of Open Access (1/2) and (2/2)).

Railway Gazette: Ukrainian inter-city train unveiled

UKRAINE: The first of 10 inter-city electric multiple-units being built for Ukrainian Railways by South Korean firm Hyundai Rotem was unveiled in Changwon in the presence of government and railway officials on December 20

...The EMUs have a top speed of 160 km/h, which will enable state railway UZ to offer accelerated journey times from Kyiv of 3½ h to Kharkiv, 4½ h to L'viv and 5½ h to Donetsk.

Asian manufacturers are eyeing Europe, and already set foot in the former Soviet Union and the UK. I still don't expect their expansion to be too fast in the rest of Europe, where there are stronger relationships between local manufacturers and railways, for reasons detailed in Globalisation catches up with rail industry?


China's hyper-ambitious high-speed rail programme was hit hard by the replacement of the rail minister in early 2011 and the deadly collision at Wenzhou, including projects put on review, speed restrictions on all existing lines, and vehicle recalls for quality checks. However, the advances continue.

Railway Gazette: Chinese 500 km/h supertrain on test

CHINA: CSR Qingdao Sifang unveiled an ultra high-speed test train in December. As foreshadowed in the January 2011 edition of Railway Gazette International, the six-car trainset is intended to give engineers the opportunity to research train and track behaviour at speeds up to 500 km/h.

...All vehicles are powered to give a total rating of 22·8 MW. Local reports suggest that the train features very lightweight structures and materials including carbon-fibre composites and a number of nano-components.  

The train was also intended for a prestige reason: an attempt to beat the world rail speed record (presently 574.8 km/h, set by a French TGV in 2007), as mentioned in China's premier line.

Railway Gazette: Guangzhou - Shenzhen high speed line opens

CHINA: The 102 km Guangzhou to Shenzhen Passenger-Dedicated Line opened on December 26. It is the initial phase of the 146 km Guangzhou - Hong Kong high speed route which is scheduled for completion in 2015.

...There is an initial service of 36 return trains a day, operated using CNR CRH3 trainsets running at up to 300 km/h. The fastest journey time is 35 min, about 34 min less than on the 139 km conventional route between Guangzhou East and Shenzhen Luohu stations.

...Projects scheduled to get underway this year will include the 770 km Shangqiu - Fuyang - Hefei - Hangzhou line, which is being designed for 350km/h running. Construction is expected to take five years at a cost of 81·8bn yuan.

This last line wasn't in the plans just a year ago.

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

And here is something completely different: branchline idyll near the village of Acsa in Hungary (photo I made on New Year's Eve).

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

by DoDo on Sun Jan 8th, 2012 at 07:31:03 AM EST
So interesting! And having lived in Houston for 4 years, continuing to work for a company there for another 13 years, I can attest to how fabulous it would have been to have that North line so many years ago. It should relieve lots of the I-45 traffic into downtown that can be so head-bangingly frustrating at any time of day.

'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 Jan 8th, 2012 at 11:20:19 PM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]