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.
Let's move on to Spain. In early February, Migeru alerted me to a series of three articles (in Spanish) on the state of Spanish high-speed rail. They concluded that it is generally in a good shape even at these austerity times, but it could do even better would Spanish national operator RENFE not undercut itself by being a laggard on flexible fare policy. That is, RENFE didn't offer much in terms of fare reductions for off-peak trains, tickets sold ahead of time, and return trips. However, even this part of the series ended on a positive note, as fare policy was about to change. Now there are a first few weeks to see the result:
Market pricing boosts high speed sales by 38% - Railway Gazette
SPAIN: Ticket sales for RENFE high speed services have increased by 38% year-on-year following the introduction of a new market-based fares structure, according to Development Minister Ana Pastor. A total of 824 188 tickets had been sold since the new fares were introduced, she told the lower house of the Spanish parliament on February 27.
The new fares had come into force on February 8, when RENFE says it set a new daily record with 110 030 high speed and long-distance tickets sold by 19.00, 80% up on the year before.
Staying in Spain, 8 January 2013 saw the opening of the line between Barcelona and Figueres, which is south of the French border. This section, which was delayed for several years by disputes over the routing and financing of its tunnels under the urban areas of Barcelona and Girona, finally links up Spain's standard-gauge high-speed network with the standard-gauge network of the rest of the EU. As for the link-up with France's high-speed rail network, there is no concrete timetable for the missing c. 130 km between Montpellier and Perpignan along the French Mediterranean coast...
Direct high-speed trains to France will only start on 1 April 2013. The first test run of an SNCF double-deck TGV into Barcelona was on 12 February, these trains will operate six-hour-long Paris–Barcelona services. RENFE's S-100 trains (which are modified TGVs) will run to Toulouse and later Marseille and Lyon.
While austerity hit Spain's high-speed rail programme only in the form of a slowdown and attempts at deregulation and involvement of private capital, another major programme was put on the back-burner: the plan to re-gauge the entire conventional network from Iberian broad gauge to standard gauge. However, somewhat startlingly, one project from this programme is now moving on: the re-gauging of the Mediterranean Corridor between Barcelona and Valencia. This line was already prepared for re-gauging (with adjustable sleepers and overhead lines) when almost all of it was upgraded for 220 km/h in the nineties and noughties (as a cheaper alternative to building a parallel high-speed line). Last year the government had new studies prepared, and in December they announced that work on the first 97 km from Barcelona will be let this year for completion in 2015, and the rest of the project will be divided in two. One track of the final Castellón–Valencia section is to be dual-gauge.
In neighbouring Portugal, austerity hit railways much harder, although the abandonment of the high-speed programme was a political decision (the centre-right governing since 2011 opposed high-speed rail in an earlier campaign). This included the outright cancellation of the on-going Lisbon–Spanish border project, justified with irregularities in the awarding of the public–private partnership (PPP) construction contracts. (To assuage its miffed partner in Spain, the Portuguese government is peddling the idea of a new trans-Iberian standard-gauge freight corridor.) The political battle over the cancellation is still on-going, the one-time Socialist minister hit back in February:
Why was Portugal's TGV train project scrapped?
The abandonment of the TGV project was a 'colossal mistake' and Portugal has lost "hundreds of millions of euros." The former Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communications, António Mendonça, considers that withdrawal from the TGV project has had a significant impact on the economic development of the country.
He was commenting at the parliamentary committee of inquiry into Public Private Partnerships in Portugal's road and rail systems.
According to former socialist minister, "stopping the project prevented the injection of significant EU funds into the economy which could have boosted the country's development and helped alleviate the high unemployment rate."
Where high-speed lines meet upon a major city, there are two main options: one is to continue the tracks into the city (which usually means the construction of long tunnels and/or viaducts and major station reconstruction), the other is to connect to conventional lines on the edge of the city. This latter option is of course cheaper, but such co-use sections become a significant part of travel time and a main cause of delays due to conflicts with other trains. Unlike in other European countries, in Italy, there is a consistent programme to give high-speed trains their own tracks across and state-of-the-art stations in major cities, in separate projects called urban nodes.
The project for Turin was completed in practice with the re-opening of Turin Porta Susa station on 14 January 2013. This is a completely rebuilt through station not far from the old terminal, with a lower level including a new station on Turin's seven-year-young metro line (see "M" symbols above escalators on the photo below from IRJ), saving passengers from Milan the torturous 180-degree circle into the old station.
Of the urban nodes along the completed high-speed lines (which now link up all cities from Turin to Salerno, south of Naples), only those for Naples (2014) and Florence (2016) and a smaller part of that for Bologna (2014) remain to be finished.
Italy is (in)famous for excessively expensive construction projects, but none of the above urban nodes have a cost tag anywhere near that of Stuttgart 21, the project to replace the surface terminus of the German city with an underground through station and tunnel connections. As reported by epochepoque in December, the price tag of the project
(including the connected high-speed line to Ulm) jumped again, from 4.5 billion to 6.8 billion. About half of this was justified with extra costs from delays caused by the disputes of the last few years and the project modifications adopted as a consequence, the rest is a new financial buffer for further project risks. Neither of this was unpredictable, but none of this was told voters when the financing of Stuttgart 21 was put on referendum in Baden-Württemberg state (and got approval).
While the cost increase moved the forecast profitability of the project into negative territory, that forecast loss is allegedly still less than the money already spent or to be spent either way, so German Rail DB doesn't want to cancel it. So, since then, the question was financing, with neither the city of Stuttgart, nor the state of Baden-Württemberg, nor the federal government willing to pay extra. DB didn't help the situation by repeatedly calling off talks. Even if Stuttgart 21 escapes cancellation, this heads-in-the-sand attitude will cost DB (and the construction industry) dearly in future projects.
Still in Europe, some "boring" news. In France, on the second phase of the LGV Est Européenne line from Paris to Strasbourg, the second tube of the 4,020 m Saverne Tunnel (which takes the line across the summit of the Vosges Mountains) was holed through on 25 February, leaving no major risk factor ahead of the planned spring 2016 opening of the line. Meanwhile, in Austria, in the centrepiece of the new Koralmbahn line, the 32.8 km Koralm Tunnel (see The EU's emerging high-speed networkS), the first of two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) was launched on 29 January 2013, the other will follow in March. They will excavate the central part of the tunnel, the two ends have already been excavated with the drill-and-blast method.
Beyond Europe, in China, the last of the new lines promised for 2012 (see RNB16, RNB17 and [with map] RNB18), the 663 km from Beijing to Zhengzhou, was opened on 26 December 2012. With this section, there are now 2,400 km of continuous high-speed tracks between Beijing and Shenzhen (on the border of Hong Kong), and a pair of trains running the whole distance in 10h 16m resp. 10h 25m are the longest high-speed services in the world.
Overall, the recovery of the Chinese high-speed programme from the double shock of the replacement of the railway minister due to corruption and the Wenzhou disaster (which led to measures including speed reductions, safety checks, and a review of construction contracts) is continuing apace. Investment levels (throttled by the reviews) jumped back to original levels. This trend was helped by the increase in passenger numbers, with total high-speed ridership growing to 1.33 million a day by last November. For example, look at the figures for the most important (and expensive) line, Beijing–Shanghai (from the print version of the above article):
The short-term goal for this line was 80 million passengers a year, that's 20 million per quarter, and Q3/2012 was already about 19 million. The long-term goal is 120 million per year, that's 30 million per quarter.
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In RNB21, which shall come within a week, I will focus more on cross-border links (the sorry state of cross-border links).
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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.