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Rail News Blogging #26

by DoDo Sun Jun 30th, 2013 at 11:54:57 AM EST

The themes are: privatisation, international/intermodal freight, low-cost innovation in urban rail, and new high-speed infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Romania wanted to privatise CFR Marfă, the freight branch of its state railway, but on 15 May, the transport ministry rejected all three bids. I commented that "They still think this doesn't have to be a fire-sale." Indeed two weeks later, they resumed the process with the same bidders. Why? Because sale by June was a promise to the IMF and the IMF stuck to the deadline.

Things continued like a comedy: in the week before the IMF deadline, the two bidders with foreign capital withdrew for various reasons, and the sole bidder left standing was named winnerpending EU approval due to the winner's then 70% market share...

Here is a CFR Marfă loco and train far from home, on the way from Budapest to Slovakia:

Read more... (35 comments, 1433 words in story)

Tuesday Open Thread

by DoDo Tue Jun 11th, 2013 at 03:13:03 PM EST

What's real and what's going on?

Comments >> (26 comments)

Record flood on the Danube

by DoDo Sun Jun 9th, 2013 at 05:02:51 AM EST

After sustained rains throughout May, rivers are flooding across Central Europe, reaching record levels. On the Danube near me, the maximum is expected for Sunday morning, about 35 centimetres above the previous all-time record (set in spring 2006), beating the Saturday prediction by ten centimetres.

Most of my city is on relatively high ground, so I could watch the rising waters safely. Here are some photos I made between Wednesday and Saturday (the water level already passed the record by the time of my Saturday photo tour). On the first photo, below a passing storm cloud and with the background of a flooded supermarket (left) and a cemetery (right), the statue-adorned old bridge across a creek. The shore of this creek, along which floodwaters pushed back, is the one part of town in danger.

Below the fold, the photos will be organised in short time series. Warning: altogether 33 photos!

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No Desertec for Europe

by DoDo Thu Jun 6th, 2013 at 04:12:34 AM EST

Desertec started ten years ago as a Club of Rome initiative to involve major energy companies in a project to build solar thermal power plants in North Africa to supply Europe with electricity. With the establishment of the Desertec Industry Intitiative (Dii) in 2009, it seemed closer to reality. At first glance, as a project relying on capital-strong companies to construct where the resource (sunlight) is the most plentiful, this seems to be a great contribution to the de-carbonisation of the EU electricity supply, while also providing development aid. I have long argued, however, that it can be none of that, more a distraction.

Clouds did begin to gather over the project in the past 12 months, with the exit of major technology project partners Siemens and Bosch, scaled-back export prospects due to grid issues, and increasing local opposition. And now Dii gave up on exports to Europe:

In a telephone interview with EurActiv, Dii CEO Paul van Son admitted that the project's initial export-focus represented "one-dimensional thinking".

Although the industrial alliance was set up to develop renewable energy supplies in the Maghreb to feed up to 20% of European electricity demand by 2050, Dii now concedes that Europe can provide for most of its needs indigenously.

Read more... (73 comments, 1262 words in story)

The metro revolution

by DoDo Tue Jun 4th, 2013 at 09:43:09 AM EST

For inhabitants of most major cities of the developed world, metros are familiar legacy systems which expand slowly at great cost. The resurgence of light rail is more visible and popular. Metros and light rail also have an unholy link: in the second half of the previous century, a new subway line was often an excuse to create more lanes for cars by tearing up the tracks of a tram on the road above; and more recently, a lot of politicians treated light rail as a cheaper alternative for metros, ignoring that they aren't for the same use (metros have much higher capacity).

In the rest of the world, however, largely ignored by Western observers, there has been a metro-building frenzy in the last few years, with capital spending that outstrips high-speed rail. This boom can be partly understood as a natural consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation, but positive examples and trends play a role, too. The systems being built are changing the commuting habits of tens if not hundreds of millions of people.

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Rail News Blogging #25

by DoDo Sun May 26th, 2013 at 11:30:53 AM EST

The main focus of this diary is on measures for the better integration of various parts of rail systems: gauge enhancement in Switzerland, temporary broad gauge in Spain, the semi-abolition of unbundling in Britain, and reliability improvements to the RER in Paris. Further themes will be scandals and lawsuits, progress in trans-Asian projects, and a new Euro-American locomotive.

Let's start in Switzerland. The centrepiece of the Alpine country's ambitions to move transit freight from road to rail, the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel, will open in 2016, and the 15.4 km Ceneri Base Tunnel will follow three years later. Unlike legacy lines in Switzerland with their relatively narrow loading gauge (cross section), these will be suited for standard piggyback wagons carrying trucks with an also standard 4.0 m corner height. (For a solution with non-standard wagons see InnoTrans 2012.)

Rail companies have complained, however, that the large loading gauge of the new tunnels will be of no use if connecting lines won't be adapted, too. Now the Swiss Federal Council finally moved and approved a gauge enhancement programme that will run until 2020 with a budget of CHF940 million (€755 million). The single largest project is the doubling of the 2,526 m Bözbergtunnel (on the crossing of the Jura mountains between Basel and Zurich). Some experts are rather critical of this, however, arguing that this will bring neither a capacity nor a speed increase, unlike a shelved project for a new tunnel a bit further to the east.

Read more... (31 comments, 1546 words in story)

Pentecost steam

by DoDo Thu May 23rd, 2013 at 03:13:09 AM EST

I visited the Kismaros–Királyrét narrow-gauge railway again today [Monday 20 May]. I showed a diesel railcar in mid-April and a solar-powered railcar in early May, but today, the spectacle was steam traction.

Read more... (46 comments, 343 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #24

by DoDo 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%.)

Read more... (11 comments, 1431 words in story)

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.

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Rail News Blogging #22

by DoDo Tue Mar 26th, 2013 at 09:54:09 AM EST

Concluding the round-up of news since December, this time, the themes are financing, new rolling stock with technological novelties, the use of renewables, and various conflicts and problems.

Let's start with financing. London is currently building Crossrail, a new rapid transit system with an east–west tunnelled central artery which shall create a faster connection between suburban networks into various terminus stations and relieve parallel Underground lines (comparable to Paris's RER but integrated with existing services with less consequence). Crossrail services are to be operated with new trains, altogether 600 cars. The sizeable price tag of £1 billion was seen as an opportunity to launch another experiment into the involvement of private capital: last year the UK government initiated a procurement scheme in which train manufacturers were to finance the trains themselves and then let operator Transport for London lease them. But, as was often the case with PPP infrastructure projects, private investors faced risk premiums and had greater difficulty gathering capital on financial markets, leading to delays. Then on 1 March, amazingly, the government pulled the plug on the idea and reverted to procurement from public sources only, openly admitting that this method ensures speedier delivery (my emphasis):

The Government, the Mayor of London and Transport for London have today announced a move to a fully publicly funded procurement for the delivery of the new fleet of trains and maintenance facilities for Crossrail thereby helping to ensure that passenger services can open as scheduled in late 2018. This change was proposed by the Mayor of London and agreed by the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin.

Sometimes Boris Johnson makes sense.

Read more... (48 comments, 2999 words in story)

An ill wind in Budapest

by DoDo Wed Mar 20th, 2013 at 05:37:28 AM EST

15 March is the day of the 1848 Revolution in Hungary, and (along with 23 October, day of the 1956 Revolution) a day of political rallies in recent years. On 15 March this year, however, a brutal cold spell with strong winds led to the cancellation of all protests. Only the main opposition event was then held two days later (yesterday on Sunday), with at most 20% of the attendance in October.

The topic du jour was the latest modification of the constitution, which made even Barroso's European Commission and fellow EPP national governments (whose only true bother a year ago was the threat to central bank independence) realise that Hungary's right-populist government's aim is to eliminate all checks & balances (now done) and cement its power permanently. The situation aint' rosy on other fronts, either: austerity measures spread misery while recession is deepening, and the democratic opposition is a mess. But I wonder how long it will take for government propaganda to produce blowback, especially considering the latest gaffes in connection with the cold spell.

[editor's note, by Migeru] Bumped ahead of Cyprus 3

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Rail News Blogging #21

by DoDo Wed Mar 13th, 2013 at 02:51:22 AM EST

I continue the catch up with the news of the last three months on the subject of cross-border connections, which is a litany of what can go wrong. Let's start with the worst, the Balkans, where the last two and a half decades saw the near-elimination of international passenger trains:

  • First there were the Croatian and Bosnian Wars and sanctions in the first half of the nineties.
  • Then there was the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War in 1999.
  • Then austerity-hit Greece cancelled all international trains in early 2011.
  • Then at the end of the same year, night trains to Italy were cancelled because national train operator Trenitalia left the partnership.
  • The latest and biggest cull came at the end of last year, when also austerity-hit Croatia cancelled most international services.
  • Worse: the track access charges set by Croatia's infrastructure manager were so high that Serbian State Railways also cancelled its connection to Sarajevo, which used Croatian tracks in transit (hat tip to Migeru per email).

Read more... (19 comments, 1959 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #20

by DoDo 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.

Read more... (51 comments, 1818 words in story)

Old Stories

by DoDo Sat Dec 29th, 2012 at 07:25:24 PM EST

I always took an interest in collecting the stories of my ancestors and relatives which survived in the family. This year, as Christmas present for family members on one side, I decided to condense all my hand-written records and memorised info on that side into block-diagram family trees (drawn with a spreadsheet), and do some new research in the process.

It was a lot more work than I expected, it took up most of my free time over the past three weeks. The delivered (but not final :-) ) result took the form of eight sheets, each with up to 8 contiguous generations and up to 25 siblings/cousins up to 4th grade in the same generation, altogether some five hundred separate individuals, with key personal data and (for the better-known) one-liner summaries of what they are remembered for.

Below the fold, I pick out some random stories of interest, which provide reflections of general history in family history.

Read more... (11 comments, 1878 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #19

by DoDo Sun Dec 9th, 2012 at 11:09:26 AM EST

Today, on 9 December, European railways switched to the 2013 timetable. The changes include the start of regular service on new lines, including:

  • The 50 km Hanzelijn (Hanze Line) across Eastern Flevoland polder in The Netherlands was inaugurated on 6 December. The on-time, within-budget €1.128 billion project finished a new link that cuts 13 minutes from travel times to the north-east of the country, and is expected to be travelled by 32,000 passengers/day.
  • The Katzenbergtunnel, a 9,385 m bi-tube tunnel on a 250 km/h bypass of a curved section along the Rhine in Germany was inaugurated on 4 December. This €610 million project is part of the quadruple-tracking of the Karlsruhe–Basel line, an extremely busy transit corridor.
  • The new Vienna–St. Pölten line was inaugurated on 23 November, and went into service today along with the first two platforms of the new Vienna Main Station. Switching to the new line and with top speed raised to 230 km/h, the locomotive-pulled railjet trains cut 15 minutes from Vienna–St. Pölten travel times and shorten the entire Vienna–Salzburg trip by 23 minutes to 2h 22m. The total number of daily trains on the old and new lines rose from 325 to 450. Most of the new trains are regional passenger trains, including new limited-stop services with a top speed of 200 km/h (I described two similar services in RNB #17). Vienna's new main station now opened only for regional and commuter services (which were newly connected across the city), long-distance trains will follow only in 2015, so the second half of the tunnel at the Vienna end of the new line is now being used by freight trains only.

Below the fold, I bring further stories on delays caused by rolling stock certification difficulties, ERTMS in Norway, and a new high-speed line in Manchuria.

Read more... (30 comments, 968 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #18

by DoDo Sun Nov 11th, 2012 at 03:21:26 AM EST

This time, I bring stories on the benefits of proper infrastructure investment in Austria, faster freight trains from China to Europe, the high-speed network in China, and before all that: the end to total unbundling in France.

Unbundling is the separation of the former state railways' management of rail infrastructure and train operations (a key element of EU rail liberalisation). Complete unbundling means that infrastructure manager and train operators are completely independent companies. In Rail policy updates, I reported on a landmark legal case which undermined the European Commission's push for complete unbundling. The consequence is not a mere maintenance of the status quo (those member states that kept infrastructure manager and train operators in a holding can continue to do so), but a push-back: some of the member states that adopted complete unbundling think about reversing reforms. The new government of France now plans to re-integrate RFF, an independent company that got a large part of the functions of an infrastructure manager, with French State Railways SNCF, in a holding structure. The transport minister explicitly mentioned greater cohesion as a benefit.

A tangentially related story concerns Veolia Transdev, one of the biggest private train operating companies in the EU. As told in The Dawn Of Open Access (2/2), one of the owners, Veolia, wanted to get rid of its shares upon signs of trouble. Now the other owner, CDC agreed to a partial purchase, shifting shares from an equal 50:50 to a 60:40 majority. CDC is a financial institution 100% owned by the French state, thus the move turns even more of the liberalised rail market into "private" in name only.

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Innovation and modal shift in Baden-Württemberg

by DoDo Sun Oct 28th, 2012 at 03:53:28 AM EST

At the end of August, Eurailpress reported:

Stuttgart: Junge Leute besitzen immer seltener AutosStuttgart: Fewer and fewer young people own cars
In Großstädten hat das Auto als Statussymbol bei jungen Leuten stark verloren - entsprechend besitzen auch weniger junge Leute ein Auto.The car has lost much as a status symbol among young people in major cities - accordingly fewer and fewer young people own a car.
Wie das Statistische Landesamt [Baden-Württemberg] jetzt beispielhaft für Stuttgart ermittelt hat, hatten 2011 noch 4800 Menschen zwischen 18 und 25 einen Pkw - 2000 waren es noch fast 13.000 (- 64 %). Im gleichen Zeitraum ist die Zahl der Jungen Leute dieser Altersklasse um 9 % gestiegen. Sogar der Gesamtbestand an privat zugelassenen Wagen ist in Stuttgart zwischen 2000 und 2011 um 8,1 % auf 219.000 gesunken. Parallel ergab eine Bürgerumfrage 2005 und 2011, dass in dieser Altersklasse der Anteil der VVS-Nahverkehrskunden sich von 59 auf 72 % erhöht hat.Exemplary numbers compiled for Stuttgart by the State Statistical Office [of Baden-Württemberg] show that 4,800 people aged 18 to 25 still had a car - in 2000, they still numbered almost 13,000 (-64%). During the same period, the number of young people in this age group has increased by 9%. Between 2000 and 2011, even the total number of private cars registered in Stuttgart dropped by 8.1% to 219,000. A parallel opinion poll showed that between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of the customers of VVS [Stuttgart Traffic and Fare Association] in this age group rose from 59 to 72%.

That's some modal shift. And it didn't happen for social reasons only.

Stuttgart (which just elected its first Green mayor) is the capital of Baden-Württemberg (the state of Germany with the first Greens-led government). The south-western state is noteworthy for not one but several model-worthy systems and developments in the commuter rail sector, from rapid transit through tram-train to electrification. Some of these became the victims of their own success in a good sense, meaning the triggering of further investment for further enhancements.

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Another day of protests in Budapest

by DoDo Wed Oct 24th, 2012 at 04:03:53 AM EST

TodayYesterday (23 October) is the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary. This year, it was the occasion for political demonstrations – a déjà vu-inducing re-run of what happened on 15 March (the day of Hungary's most revered 1848 Revolution). That is: there was again a large civil sphere-organised protest and several barely-attended protests of the democratic opposition parties against the right-populist government of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, there was an even more massive pro-government rally (mobilising mostly old and rural supporters to keep the faith), an event by far-right party Jobbik with racist and faux-revolutionary overtones, and a provocative counter-protest on the edge of the opposition mass rally by the right-of-Jobbik fascists.

It wasn't all déjà vu, though. The main theme of the main opposition rally (which I attended, photo above) was cooperation between opposition forces, correcting the divisions of the spring which wasn't looked at kindly by own supporters. As foreshadowed by car05, from a leftist viewpoint, this cooperation is ominous: it includes the 'NGO' (in practice: think-tank) of previous PM Gordon Bajnai, a non-partisan yuppie from the finance industry who was tasked in 2009-10 with an IMF-inspired austerity programme. The protest was the first occasion for Bajnai to hold a public speech since handing power to his successor Orbán, a speech widely seen as the start of his campaign for being a united opposition candidate in the 2014 elections. Still, at least the clearly most crowd-firing speech was held by a hard-leftist.

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Rail News Blogging #17

by DoDo Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 09:11:10 AM EST

With the rail policy and InnoTrans specials, it's been almost two months since my last regular rail news blogging, so this selection covers a period reaching back to August. I'll first report on the parallel development of freight locos in China and France, then continue below the fold on public transport on 'foreign' tracks in France (regional trains on TGV lines and Lyon tram-trains), high-speed competition in Italy, and high-speed lines in Sweden and China.

CNR Datong unveils 10 MW locomotive designed to cross China - Railway Gazette

Rolled out on August 27, HXD21001 has a maximum speed of 120 km/h. It is rated at 10 MW, an increase from CNR Datong's previous 6·4 MW design...

The manufacturer says the domestically produced traction and control systems represent the results of a decade of development work. Components are protected against rain, sand and dust to cope with the differing environments encountered on very long-haul routes across China, while the cabs have a newly designed ergonomic console and improved air conditioning to provide better working conditions for the crew.

Another example of parallel developments by the original manufacturer and the Chinese manufacturer which was the beneficiary of technology transfer (see earlier examples here). This new CNR type was developed from an earlier type that was part of French maker Alstom's PRIMA locomotive platform. Meanwhile, Alstom is in the process of getting approvals across Europe for the 6.4 MW, four-axle PRIMA II. As reported earlier, this type is to be the first to haul through trains across the Channel Tunnel non-stop (eliminating the need for a change of locomotives), because Alstom and customer Europorte (subsidiary of Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel) pursue approvals for all three networks traversed. The trials for the Channel Tunnel itself were held on 29–30 September.

Read more... (15 comments, 1479 words in story)

Berlin, Dresden

by DoDo Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:55:54 AM EST

During my visit of the InnoTrans 2012, I had some time for sightseeing in Berlin and (on the way home) Dresden. Here I show a selection of photos which I saw as symbolic for some current or historical developments in the politics, economy and (of course) transport policy of the areas involved.

View over Berlin's centre from the viewing platform of the radio tower inside Messe Berlin, 125 m above ground. Right to left: the Berlin Cathedral, the 368 m high TV tower on the Alexanderplatz, the Victory Column in the middle of the Tiergarten park, the Reichstag, the modern Paul-Löbe-Haus (housing the offices of members of parliament) and the Federal Chancellors' Office (with the arch)

(Warning: 24+1 images.)

Read more... (25 comments, 2258 words in story)
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