Sun May 12th, 2013 at 06:27:34 AM EST
This time, I'll bring a string of rapid transit news, another bunch of short updates on open access and rail privatisation, and a third string of news on line construction.
It is a frequently seen (and frequently lampooned) sign of neo-liberalism when public services get private sponsorship. Now here is a blatant example from the Madrid Metro, which is under an austerity regime:
MADRID Metro announced on April 23 it will rename one of its lines Line 2 Vodafone and the city's most central station Vodafone-Sol after reaching a three-year 3m agreement with the mobile telephone company.
For a company the size of the Madrid Metro, 1 million a year is not even a lot. (The article says this boosts advertisement income by 10%.)
Singapore to offer free metro travel to reduce overcrowding - Railway Gazette
SINGAPORE: Passengers exiting 16 central metro stations before 07.45 will get the rail section of their journey free of charge under a one-year trial which Land Transport Authority is to launch on June 24.
...The government-funded trial aims to encourage commuters to travel before the busiest times, helping to reduce overcrowding. It is a widening of an existing SMRT Early Travel Discount scheme which offers discounts for travel to 14 stations before 07.45...
All railways would prefer if passengers would please travel in the same numbers in each hour of the day, so that no trains will waste away parked on a siding half a day or run empty. But those damn passengers prefer to crowd our trains in short periods of time and be at work or enjoy themselves over the same lengthy periods of the day. What to do? Convince businesses to spread working hours? Nah; let's corral the sheeple by giving incentives to the passengers themselves! Well I submit it's not as stupid an idea as I made it so far: if you can just fill off-peak trains better with passengers who would not ride trains at normal prices it can pay off. Still, flexible pricing can actually run counter to flexible travel: you can't just decide to depart two hours later with a rush-hour ticket or a reservation. Specifically on rapid transit, what about the majority of passengers who travel with cards?
The Gulf states with their cheap domestic petrol and luxury-obsessed population seem like the least promising market for rapid transit, yet, in the last few years, there is a real boom in the region. The first system to open was Dubai Metro in September 2009. At the two-year anniversary, I noted that in spite of the popping of the real estate bubble, the system was successful in attracting ridership fit for a metro. Growth continued in 2012: last year the first line carried an average of 196,486 passengers a day (+19.5% vs. 2011), the second 102,667, for a total of just under 300,000. For December, average daily ridership was already 364,000. Still, there is a lot of room for further growth: the last number is just a bit above 30% of system capacity (1.2 million a day), and even in rush hour, only 40% of capacity is reached. But even this success was enough for the emirate to endorse adding four further lines.
Electric traction is made more energy-efficient by regenerative braking: the traction motors of a rail vehicle are used as generators, and the electricity is fed back into the railway grid while the vehicle slows down. An added benefit is less heat around the train: non-regenerative braking always turns kinetic energy into heat radiating from some train component, which is especially a problem in metro tunnels in summer.
However, to fully utilise regenerative braking, you need the capacity to always send that power somewhere. This can be implemented with relative ease on systems connected to the public or a railway-only AC grid. However, the DC systems used on most rapid transit networks weren't built for that.
Now different manufacturers are experimenting with energy recovery installations that can be used to retrofit rapid rail DC systems. Alstom developed the HESOP system, which is already installed on a Paris tram line, and now gets to install one on the Victoria Line in London. Meanwhile, rival ABB developed its own system, the Enviline ERS, and installed the first on the tram network of Łódź, Poland, which is to enter service this week.
Open access and privatisation
- The Czech Republic's second open-access passenger carrier, which started competing with the first (RegioJet) and the state railway (CD) on the country's busiest line in November, reported a 70% seat occupation and 25% month-on-month growth in March. The fight is on. (To repeat myself, while Prague–Ostrava passengers have it good for now, I expect a competitor to go broke and CD's services on less busy lines to suffer.)
- In Austria, open-access passenger operator WESTbahn covered its operating losses with a capital increase, which was reportedly motivated by SNCF's intent to divest its co-ownership (now reduced from 35% to 28%).
- However, the French State Railways is still eyeing other markets. In July, the rail liberalisation Spain introduced with the excuse of austerity comes into force, and SNCF is thinking of running domestic trains on high-speed lines – an unfriendly move that could further hamper its ambitions to run cross-border TGVs.
- SNCF is definitely entering the Spanish freight market, having bought a 25% stake in open-access carrier COMSA.
- Largely disregarding EU experience, the open access experiment is steadily gaining students outside the EU... The latest is Turkey, which will introduce open-access as well as public–private partnerships (PPP) in infrastructure projects (another 'success'...). At least the state railway isn't to be sold off.
- Back in the EU, the sell-off continues: there are three bidders for the freight branch of Romania's CFR. One is a US company, another includes Austrian capital alongside a domestic logistics company, the third is all-domestic. Earlier privatisations in the region tended to have foreign rail companies as bidders.
- Similar moves in Bulgaria earlier hit a snag because of anti-austerity protests discouraging potential bidders (see RNB22) and banks taking action to freeze the funds of the company due to non-payment. But the government didn't give up on the idea so far, and extended the bidding deadline by three months.
- In the midst of the state railway crisis, Bulgaria opened a rebuilt mainline section at the Turkish border. This is part of a long-running upgrade programme from Sofia to the Turkish border, one closing a gap in electrification on the transit route between Turkey and Central Europe.
- In Scotland, after a decade of disputes and delays, construction started on the Borders Railway, the reinstatement of 48 km of a line south from Edinburgh which was disused in 1969 and will now serve commuters from 2015.
- A connection between Germany and the Czech Republic is to be rebuilt after an even longer hiatus: the mere 1 km between Sebnitz and Dolní Poustevna was capped in 1945 and no post-1990 local initiative found financing until now. The new connection, along with a connected line in Germany, will be integrated into a Czech regional service network from 2014.
- Meanwhile, German Railways DB is showing more post-Stuttgart-21 flexibility and brought forward alternatives to the so-called Y line, which was to connect Hamburg, Bremen and Hanover. The Y was meant for both high-speed and freight traffic, but its alignment was ideal for neither and cut across natural reserves (see Corridors for freight). The new alternatives seem tailored for freight traffic. And DB still can't get its communication right: the alternatives were first leaked to and published by a CDU member of parliament, angering Lower Saxony's new SPD-Greens government.
- The main fact about rail construction in Germany is severe under-investment in international comparison. Now another northern EU champion of austerity is following suit: the Netherlands is cutting infrastructure investment for 2014–2028 by 6.4 billion, including 2.03 billion taken from railway infrastructure manager ProRail. One of the victims is a plan to increase permissible axle loads for freight trains.
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