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Rail News Blogging #23

by DoDo 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.

There is a sustained light rail boom in Europe because almost every project is a roaring success, therefore it is the more noteworthy when one is not. An example of that is the failed light rail line in Jaén in southern Spain, which ran for a year but was stopped due to low traffic two years ago. Now the city wants to sell it. This is the result of an audit showing amazingly bad potential economics:

FGC's audit found that the line would incur operating costs €3·3m a year, plus €1·7m in lease payments for the five vehicles; the annual cost would rise to €6·3m by 2021. Assuming an average fare of €1, annual revenue would only be around €1·3m.

This translates to 3,500 passengers a day: very low indeed for a light rail line (for which tens of thousands a day is the norm), but also very low for a city of 117,000. I guess it didn't help that buses were competing against it rather than feeding it.

In Innovation and modal shift in Baden-Württemberg, I explained that the German state famous for having the first Greens-led government and, in rail circles, for the money pit Stuttgart–21 project, is nevertheless home to several model-worthy commuter rail systems. The least of those was Stuttgart's S-Bahn (rapid rail) system, which absorbed passenger services on two more branchlines at the end of last year, both of them exurban orbital connections between existing radial lines. First results are nothing short of encouraging:

  • One of the lines was previously already served by regional trains. Still, daily ridersip tripled to 2,000.
  • The other line was long used as a diversion route for freight trains only, until passenger service re-started at one end in 2010, drawing 2,000 passengers a day by last year. This rose to 5,000 with the completion of the link, in spite of traffic delays due to problems with the coupling of multiple units.

Low-consumption and durable LED lights already made an appearance on railways, especially as on-board lighting and headlights for vehicles. Now Paris is getting serious and is pioneering complete replacement at stations:

RATP stops planting bulbs underground - Railway Gazette

FRANCE: Paris transport operator RATP has awarded Soitec and a Philips/Step consortium contracts totalling €11m for the replacement of 250 000 lamps and strip lights at its 302 metro and 66 RER stations with LEDs in 2013-17.

RATP says it will be the first existing transport network to convert completely to LED lighting, and it is expecting the change to reduce its lighting power consumption by more than 50%.

In Italy, for almost a year now, new entrant NTV is competing former state monopolist Trenitalia on its high-speed lines, and accusations are flying. The latest row concerns the relation between Milan and the Adriatic coast (using conventional lines from Bologna), where Trenitalia only ran classic express trains. NTV (which got the last of its 25 AGV trains from French maker Alstom in March) sensed a market gap. However, while NTV was still squabbling over details with infrastructure manager RFI (also part of the Italian State Railways [FS] holding), Trenitalia rushed to announce their own high-speed services on the relation starting even earlier. This prompted a short propaganda war:

NTV and RFI in dispute over new Adriatic service | International Railway Journal

...Trenitalia's announcement prompted NTV managing director Mr Giuseppe Sciarrone to go public on March 5 regarding his dissatisfaction with RFI. Sciarrone claimed that RFI had failed to respond to NTV's request for paths, space at Rimini station for an NTV Casa Italo lounge, and platform height adjustments at Pesaro and Rimini stations.

This provoked an angry response on March 6 from RFI which categorically denied the statements made by Sciarrone in some Italian media about "alleged obstacles" by RFI to NTV's requests. RFI said it sent NTV proposals for the track in question on March 5, which is one month in advance of the two-month deadline by which it must respond to such requests. RFI says this "reflects the maximum cooperation offered by RFI to NTV."

When I wrote about China's ambitions to employ its rail construction industry abroad, chiefly in the developing world, I always emphasized that this is a risky business (see RNB7, RNB8 and last time in RNB22). The latest example is the stalling of a project in Venezuela: the Chinese contractor suspended work on a 468 km east–west railway, in construction since 2009, due to unpaid bills of between $400 and $500 million.

As for Venezuela, the Bolivarian Republic has an ambitious programme to create a complete national network of state-of-the-art railways (it only had a few isolated lines before) but basically all projects begun so far fell years behind schedule. My view of Venezuela and the late President Hugo Chávez was that the key to positive socio-economic developments wasn't the person of Chávez but his total post-coup dependence on poor voters to stay in power. Chávez was more a firebrand than a good manager, and what can bring down the Venezuelan experiment is mismanagement and corruption. I wonder if the new President can address that.

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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.

A great roundup.

Here in the UK the Govt is pressing ahead with plans to re-privatise the East coast main line despite recent reports showing that it is cheaper and more profitable than any of private franchises.

Given the chaos in the Department of Transport which led to the catastrophic mess that was the last franchising round for the West Coast line, you have to view these new attempts to sell the railways off as being a pig headed perversity driven by an ideology entirely blind to real world consequences

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Apr 18th, 2013 at 05:08:02 PM EST
And now for something completely different: steam locomotive MÁV No. 204 is being prepared at the depot for a nostalgic train run.

No. 204, built in 1900 by MÁVAG (the Hungarian Royal State Railways' own locomotive factory) based on the design of an Austrian locomotive, is the only surviving member of the MÁV class Ia. express locomotive type, which has a 2'B ( = 4-4-0 "American") wheel arrangement, and a top speed of 90 km/h.

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

by DoDo on Thu Apr 18th, 2013 at 05:12:53 PM EST
Did China steal Japan's high-speed train? - Fortune Tech

"Don't worry too much about Chinese companies imitating you, they are creating value for you down the road," said Li Daokui, a leading Chinese economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking's conference. Such "bandit innovators," he expanded, would eventually grow the market, leading to benefits for everybody.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI), maker of Japan's legendary Shinkansen bullet trains, bitterly disagrees. After signing technology transfers with CSR Sifang, the builder of China's impressive, new high-speed rail, KHI says it deeply regrets its now-dissolved partnership. It planned to sue its previously junior partner for patent infringement, but it backed down recently.

(...) What could drive the normally unlitigious Japanese into such a frenzy? Not only did China copy their technology, say the Japanese, after patenting remarkably similar high-speed-rail (HSR) tech, CSR now wants to sell it to the rest of the world -- as Chinese made. Both Japanese and European rail firms now find themselves frozen out and competing with their former Chinese collaborators for new contracts, inside and outside China.

With a diminishing domestic market, Japan's train industry is hoping to pick up orders abroad for its HSR. Before China stepped in, undercutting Japanese offers by about half, Japan looked very attractive to foreign buyers with its record for fast, reliable train systems.

This has probably been discussed before, but the INET conference in Hong Kong is recent.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 21st, 2013 at 04:30:11 AM EST
Yes, the competition against own technology transferred to China theme has been touched upon in a number of diaries and discussions since Globalisation catches up with rail industry?, also technology ownership rows (for example here), but 'the story is developing'.

Li Daokui has a point, in more than one way.

  • China will sell its cheap knock-off products to customers who couldn't afford to buy the more expensive original. That's an expansion of the market. (A recent example: the CNR Datong locos for Belarus which are knock-offs of Alstom's PRIMA electric loco.)
  • The original producers, however, can still aim for customers valuing reliability, quality and efficiency, especially given the fact that what they sold to China is not their latest technology. (This includes KHI, as I argued in China's premier line.)
  • Customers who first bought Chinese products on the cheap may switch to Western producers later. Here an interesting example is Kazakhstan. In 2004 and 2010, CSR Zhuzhou supplied 27 express locomotives which were based on a Siemens type (this cooperation was more benign though: Siemens still got to supply parts rather than see them reverse-engineered). Then Alstom established a joint venture and built a factory in Kazakhstan (opened last December), which is delivering 95 express and 190 freight locomotives. In fact last year Alstom got to maintain and modernise the Chinese locos, too.

Specifically on the high-speed market, it's too early to bury Shinkansen export chances: neither CSR nor CNR sold any of its high-speed trains abroad. (As for Japan, the article quotes Hitachi's recent success in the UK to finally sign the contract for the Intercity Express Programme, although omitting to mention that these are just 200 km/h trains.)

Still, in the case of Shinkansen technology, the original developers' problem is not just the reverse-engineering of technology not covered by the transfer agreement, but the patenting of that technology. Japanese companies and even the government of Japan is bothered by this at least since June 2011.

A report in the China Daily last week suggests Chinese manufacturers are filing patent applications for high-speed rail products in various countries including the United States, Brazil, Russia, and Japan.

JR Central chairman Mr Yoshiomi Yamada has recently called on the Japanese government to take action if there is a violation of Japanese intellectual property rights.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Apr 21st, 2013 at 02:37:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perpignan - Figueres ready for piggyback - Railway Gazette

EUROPE: A second series of trials conducted on April 14 has confirmed the technical feasibility of operating piggyback services between Perpignan and Figueres, according to TP Ferro which holds the concession to build and operate the 1 435 mm gauge route between France and Spain.

Fret SNCF and the French national operator's piggyback subsidiary VIIA participated in the trials, which involved a pair of SNCF BB 27000 electric locomotives hauling loaded Modalohr swing-tray wagons on two return trips between Perpignan and Llers, northwest of Figueres. After a first non-stop run, the train was then twice brought to a stand and successfully restarted on gradients as step as 18%.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Apr 22nd, 2013 at 04:38:48 AM EST
As for the TGVs to Spain:

Technical issues delay Paris - Barcelona TGVs | International Railway Journal

Spanish infrastructure manager Adif has now confirmed that validation of TGV Dasye sets is taking longer than anticipated and while one of the main problems - electromagnetic interference between trains and track circuits - has now been resolved, some sources suggest there are ERTMS compatibility issues which will require the adjustment of onboard equipment.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Apr 28th, 2013 at 02:04:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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