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

Rail News Blogging #11

by DoDo Tue Mar 27th, 2012 at 04:24:55 AM EST

This time, I report on the start of another cross-border TGV service, on a station renovation in Paris, on problems with privatisation models in Europe, and on damping vibration and noise emanating from tunnels.

DB Konzern - Eröffnung Direktverbindung Frankfurt - Marseille DB Group - Opening of the Frankfurt - Marseille direct connection
Die Deutsche Bahn und die SNCF haben heute die Direktverbindung zwischen Frankfurt (Main) und Marseille in Betrieb genommen. Über die neue Schnellfahrstrecke ,,Rhein-Rhône" verkürzen sich die Reisezeiten zwischen Südwestdeutschland und Südfrankreich damit um bis zu 90 Minuten. Die Direktverbindung zwischen Frankfurt und Marseille führt über Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, Straßburg, Mülhausen, Lyon, Avignon und Aix-en-Provence. Zum Einsatz kommt der neue Doppelstockzug TGV Euroduplex. Er erreicht auf der täglichen Hin- und Rückfahrt Spitzengeschwindigkeiten von bis zu 320 km/h.German Railways DB and [French State Railways] SNCF have put the direct link between Frankfurt (Main) and Marseille in service today. Travel times between south-west Germany and south France shorten by up to 90 minutes along the new "Rhin-Rhône" high-speed line. The direct connection between Frankfurt and Marseille is via Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Lyon, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. The new double-deck train TGV Euroduplex is used. It reaches top speeds of up to 320 km/h on the daily round-trip.

A week earlier:

EBA: TGV 2N2 jetzt mit Deutschland-Zulassung- Nachrichten bei EurailpressEBA: TGV 2N2 now has approval for Germany - News at Eurailpress
Das Eisenbahn-Bundesamt (EBA) hat dem ersten von 30 französischen Hochgeschwindigkeitszügen der Bauart ,,TGV-2N2-Euroduplex" die Zulassung für Deutschland erteilt.The Federal Railway Authority (EBA) certified the first of 30 French high-speed trains of the type "TGV 2N2 Euroduplex" for Germany.

This is in contrast to the delays in the certification of the DB train intended for the same cross-border traffic (and those delays are still growing, also pushing the start of London–Frankfurt services with the same train to 2016).


Railway Gazette: Paris Saint-Lazare station reborn

FRANCE: A day of celebrations including dancers, horseriders and art activities for children on March 21 marked the completion of a 10-year programme to refurbish Saint-Lazare station in Paris.

...Property company Klépierre has invested €160m to build a three-storey shopping centre beneath the historic terminus, its 10 000 m2 of letting space now home to a Carrefour City supermarket and Virgin Megastore as well as 80 retail and catering outlets.

Used by 450 000 passengers a day, Saint-Lazare is the second-busiest station in Europe after Paris Nord, according to SNCF.

Of Paris's six big terminal stations, four (Gare de Lyon, Gare Montparnasse, Gare du Nord, Gare l'Est) were renovated upon the introduction of TGV services, while that of the two remaining (Gare Saint-Lazare and Gare d'Austerlitz) got underway more recently. Renovation is great, but I can't befriend the trend that main stations are turning into just another shopping centre – at least the shops at Saint-Lazare are underground. The atmosphere of the surface part was portrayed several times by impressionist painter Claude Monet (below from Wikipedia):


NTV is Italy's and the EU's biggest long-distance passenger venture out to compete a former state railway (under the EU-mandated principle of open access to rail infrastructure). As I reported and analysed, the launch of NTV's ".Italo" high-speed services was delayed by squabbles and financial uncertainties, and is presently promised for after Easter. Now the March issue of the International Railway Journal reports on how the arrival of a strong competitor and the new 'expert' government affect the incumbent Italian State Railways (FS).

The article first points out that the new transport minister led a bank which is one of the main shareholders of NTV, but then goes on to note that paradoxically, the new government brought an increase of transport infrastructure spending. Then the article quotes from an interview with FS CEO Mario Moretti in L'Espresso. After some obligatory three cheers for competition and liberalisation, Moretti continues with something I never read articulated this explicitly from someone in the higher echelons of power:

IRJ: Italy speeds into an uncertain future

"Every day, Trenitalia, at its own risk, runs about 400 long-distance trains, including the high-speed services. Of these, around 100 operate at a loss because they run on routes with low population density. Moreover, we lost about €200m in 2011 for running universal passenger and freight services in the south. Today these losses are compensated by profits from the high-speed services: if new competitors only operate on the profitable routes, they reduce our ability to make up for these losses. The consequence for Trenitalia could either be a new gradual indebtedness until its collapse, or to abandon loss-making routes."

However you look at this, the problem Moretti points out is a fundamental issue with open access (one I mentioned in both The Dawn Of Open Access (2/2) and Open Access: privatise profits, socialise losses). Then again, this will be dismissed as sore loser excuse from an incumbent by those who can't think outside the box for two seconds, a demographic that apparently includes 98% of EU politicians with actual power.

Railway Gazette: DSB seeks to exit Göteborg contract

SWEDEN: Danish state passenger operator DSB is seeking early termination of its contract to operate commuter and regional services around Göteborg on behalf of transport authority Västtrafik.

Jacob Kjær, Acting Chief Executive of DSB and Chairman of its Swedish subsidiary DSB Väst, said that the services were reliable and punctual, but the operation was suffering from 'major economic problems'. Attempts have been made to grow revenue and cut costs, but the monthly deficit equivalent to SKr100m a year is commercially and politically unsustainable.

Sweden is the European pioneer of rail privatisation by the franchising model. (The franchising model, best known as applied in Britain, is different from open access; but it is the preferred way to 'reform' local passenger transport across the EU.) In recent years, DSB, the former state monopolist of Denmark, went for franchises in Sweden aggressively, until corrupt practices at the subsidiary led to the dismissal of the CEO. IMHO DSB's Göteborg troubles demonstrate the main problem with the franchising model: competitors who take on too much risk to win franchises undermine the stability of services.


Fachartikel aus EI - Der Eisenbahningenieur 03/2012: Feste Fahrbahn mit Erschütterungs- und Körperschallschutz- Nachrichten bei EurailpressTechnical article from EI - Der Eisenbahningenieur 03/2012: Slab track with protection against vibration and structure-borne noise - News at Eurailpress
Beim Bau der Durchmesserlinie in Zürich stellt der Schutz der vom Weinbergtunnel unterquerten Quartiere vor Erschütterung und Körperschall eine Herausforderung dar.During construction of the diagonal line in Zurich, the protection of the quarters passed by the Weinberg tunnel from below against vibration and structure-borne noise is a challenge.

Said diagonal line is the second main artery for the busy suburban rail network of Zurich (see Local Rail - An Overview). The linked EI article details the use of the so-called mass-spring system.

The advantage of slab track over conventional ballasted track is that it is much less maintenance-intensive, a particular benefit in tunnels. Its disadvantage is that it is more rigid, and thus a conduit for all kinds of vibrations. This can be changed (though not without significant costs) by placing the rail-carrying slabs themselves on springs. The idea is to lower the eigenfrequency of the track to a bandwidth in which the ground conducts vibrations weakly. For this, you first need to model and measure the vibration behaviour of the ground around the tunnel, in detail. At Zurich, the mass-spring system will be applied at three points, all with different eigenfrequencies.

:: :: :: :: ::

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

I briefly visited Gare Saint-Lazare last year when changing between metros. Renovation was on-going; but the two impressions below are more of a homage to Monet, with the trains of more recent eras:

(What you may not guess from the photos is that it was raining outside.)

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

by DoDo on Sat Mar 24th, 2012 at 12:10:37 PM EST
Good images. I can smell that place

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Mar 24th, 2012 at 12:40:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, the roofs visible on those photos aren't the ones on Monet's paintings but newer roof extensions, the originals are further back. They are visible on the photo below, along with litter on the tracks (which contrast the swept platforms):

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

by DoDo on Sat Mar 24th, 2012 at 12:51:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is one more story:

Railway Gazette: High speed programme axed

PORTUGAL: The Ministry of Economy & Employment announced on March 21 that the country's high speed programme had been 'definitively abandoned'.

This followed a ruling by the Court of Auditors that the concession awarded to the ELOS consortium to build the eastern section of the Lisboa - Madrid route between Poceirão and Caia should be rescinded.

According to the ministry, the court had found the contract to contain 'illegal clauses', citing 'irregularities' in both the concession and the process by which it had been awarded by the previous administration...

Here I wonder about the backstory. This isn't a simple matter of austerity: on one hand, the line was to be built as a PPP of the build-operate-transfer type, on the other hand, the current government party was adamantly anti-HSR in the before-last elections and seemingly carried this over. So, are these "irregularities" serious and potentially corrupt moves the previous Socialist government, or insignificant and mere excuses for a decision already made?

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

by DoDo on Sat Mar 24th, 2012 at 02:54:55 PM EST
In the current issue of a German rail magazine I am reading, there is an article analysing the 1923 hyperinflation from the viewpoint of railways. The conclusions are rather different from the current standard reading:

  • Money-printing in Germany started in preparation for WWI, and was done under the assumption that debt incurred will be repaid from the spoils of war.
  • The article says that the money-printing policy in the post-war era was actually a success until 1922: Germany even made it across the post-war global downturn with growth and reduced joblessness.
  • The post-war policies included Keynesian policies before Keynes formulated them [the article doesn't mention Keynes, this is my description]. The national railway in particular, which was the biggest public company, was used to kick-start the economy and create jobs by handing out orders, in particular for locomotives.
  • Although the proto-Keynesian policies secured jobs and economic growth, even in the inflation before hyperinflation, the real wage of workers in the locomotive factories fell because locomotives were paid at the price at the time of order and wages were held back to compensate for it.
  • The author praises the expertise of two of the fathers of these policies, Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau, both of whom were murdered by far-right assassins in 1921 resp. 1922.
  • According to the article, trouble started in May 1921 when the WWI victors switched the denomination of debt and didn't accept payments in German money. The situation became critical after France occupied the Ruhr Area in January 1921, because the occupation was fought with strikes while the German government kept paying public employees.
  • The proto-Keynesian policies collapsed during and after the hyperinflation period. Locomotive production fell from a peak of 2,340 in 1921 to 750 in 1924 and just 80 in 1926.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 25th, 2012 at 04:34:53 AM EST
Deviating further from the rail subject, the article also lists the losers and winners of the currency reform of 1923. The losers were the holders of savings, the holders of wartime bonds (this includes citizens who sold their golden rings and such), and workers whose wages 'stabilised' at a low level and lost jobs where the economy-boosting orders stopped. The winners were pensioners (only pensions were protected) and company owners (ownership of the means of production remained even if nominal value fell, while company debt evaporated due to inflation).

The article ends with parallels to 1948 and an explicit reference to the Euro crisis, denying the relevance, on the basis that the money printed in wartime was spent on weapons that remained useless after the war, unlike money spent in the Eurozone.

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

by DoDo on Sun Mar 25th, 2012 at 05:29:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The article ends with parallels to 1948 and an explicit reference to the Euro crisis, denying the relevance, on the basis that the money printed in wartime was spent on weapons that remained useless after the war, unlike money spent in the Eurozone.

this is a really important point. if keynesianism can work when it's for making deathware, how much better could it work when making necessary infrastructure instead?

sorry for sounding stupid, but has keynesianism ever been used in this way? poor guy was way ahead of his time...

will europe come around once austerity has thrown enough virgins into the crater? once everything else has been revealed to be BS? once there's no other choice, iow? will america? always focussing on exports seems less important than developing home markets in your own currency, and that's what a keynesianist event would do.

monti's blathering on about growth being the most important thing after austerity has kicked in. seems to me the options are dwindling fast. what growth does he have in mind? more freaking cars? seems like that's the first industry anyone thinks of...

look! globalism's great because chinese screwdrivers cost a dime! the consumer wins, woop de doo! meanwhile people can't pay enormous electricity bills.

and the sun's energy beams benevolently down, while humans torment themselves with endless debates about gas and frackzones in clouds of toxic pollution, downwind from wobbly nukes. more or less gas pipelines? burn our seed corn for happy motoring? drone peasants for drug lords?

Must. Do. Something... off to lower blood pressure with spud planting, pet the dog.

l-o-n-g exhale...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Mar 25th, 2012 at 07:44:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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