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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