Brightline railroad and Virgin Group form partnership

19 November 2018

US-based intercity passenger railroad Brightline has unveiled a strategic partnership and trademark licensing agreement with the Virgin Group to further support its growth.

As part of the partnership, Brightline will leverage the Virgin brand and marketing expertise for its current and upcoming developments. Brightline will also rename itself as Virgin Trains USA this month and is expected to carry out the transition to new branding next year.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said: “Tens of millions of Americans travel on the railways every day, and we have tried for over a decade to find an opportunity to provide them with that same excellent service experience. Brightline is at the forefront of innovation in this market and the ideal partner for Virgin to work with to alter perceptions and travelling habits across the US.”

Under the partnership, an affiliate of Virgin Group has agreed to make a minority investment in Brightline. The agreement is subject to certain closing conditions.

Following the completion of the deal, funds managed by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group will retain majority stake in Brightline.

Brightline’s existing management team will supervise the day-to-day operations, engineering, business development and strategy of the company.

Brightline president Patrick Goddard said: “This partnership further validates the incredible accomplishments of our team as we challenge conventional wisdom to reinvent train travel in America.

“Given our shared values and Virgin’s track record, this partnership will help amplify our efforts and growth potential as we seek to expand to new markets.”

In May, Brightline launched a passenger rail service in Florida, US, between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The company unveiled its plans to develop an intercity passenger rail system between Las Vegas and Southern California in the US.

Morocco inaugurates Tangier-Casablanca high-speed rail line

16 November 2018

Morocco has opened the Tangier-Casablanca high-speed rail line, which will connect industrial and commercial hubs. The line was inaugurated by the King of Morocco Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The construction of the line began in 2011 and was completed at the cost of nearly $2.4bn, according to state news agency MAP.

To launch this service, Morocco’s national railway operator Office National des Chemins de Fer Marocain (ONCF) has procured 12 high-speed trains from French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom.

Designed to suit the climate and environment conditions of Morocco, these Avelia Euroduplex trainsets are capable of carrying 533 passengers. All trains are equipped with the latest features to ensure passenger comfort. They also feature bilingual digital passenger information systems, offering information in both Arabic and French.

The high-speed trains will run at a speed of 320 km/h on the 180km section from Tangier to Kenitra and will operate at 160km/h on the 200km section between Kenitra and Casablanca.

The new high-speed rail service is expected to reduce journey time from four hours and 45 minutes to two hours and ten minutes.

Alstom chairman and CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said: “This inauguration is a significant milestone for this prestigious project, which will allow Moroccan people to benefit from an incredible passenger experience thanks to our reliable, safe and comfortable Avelia very high-speed trains.”

Reuters quoted Moroccan officials as saying that the project will support growth in Tangier, as well as boost investment in northern Morocco where most ports are located.

Data shows majority of rail complainants unhappy with response

15 November 2018

A survey has found that UK rail companies are failing to resolve customer complaints, with more than half of passengers found to be dissatisfied with the response.

The survey was conducted by consumer group Which? and assessed Office of Rail and Road (ORR) data on satisfaction with complaint-handling between April 2017 and March 2018. During the period, more than 500,000 complaints were registered against rail services. More than half of the complainants were unhappy with how the rail companies dealt with their grievances.

The performance of rail operators Northern, Govia Thameslink and Great Western Railway were found to be the worst among all.. The analysis was carried out on the overall process from the ease of making the complaint to their settlement.

Around 71% of passengers were negative about the way complaints were handled by the rail companies. Nearly half opined that their complaints were not taken seriously by operating companies.

The Which? report says that a significant number of rail companies were rated poorly by the passengers on the scale of politeness in dealing with the complaints.

Northern has the lowest satisfaction rate with 46% of the passengers rating the company favourably, while Chiltern Railways was found to top the list with 76%.

Which? managing director of public markets Alex Hayman said: “Clearly there are serious underlying problems in the current rail complaints system, which need to be addressed.

“Train companies have to step up and start delivering good customer service when things go wrong, informing passengers about their rights and dealing properly with any complaints that arise.”

The analysis corroborates the appointment of an ombudsman by the rail industry where the passengers can escalate their unresolved complaints. The independent ombudsman is expected to be appointed by the end of this year.

US FTA approves $2bn Southwest Light Rail Transit Project

15 November 2018

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in the US has granted Letter of No Prejudice (LONP) to the $2bn Southwest Light Rail Transit Project (SWLRT) in the state of Minnesota.

The LONP will enable the regional government agency Metropolitan Council to award the construction contract for the SWLRT project.

FTA support will also make early construction work eligible for federal reimbursement after signing of the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA). The FFGA is expected to be signed next year and will provide $929m towards the project.

As one of the largest infrastructure projects in the state, the SWLRT involves the construction of a 14.5mile line serving the regions of Minneapolis, St Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. The line will have 16 stations. The project is estimated to create 7,500 construction jobs.

Governor of Minnesota Mark Dayton said: “The Southwest Light Rail Transit project is a critical economic development project for the people of Minnesota.

“When complete, it will improve many thousands of lives from Eden Prairie to North Minneapolis. It will create new jobs, reduce highway congestion, and better connect Minnesotans to one another.”

Early construction works on the project, which will include equipment mobilisation, site clearance, demolition and other utility work, are expected to begin soon. Major construction works for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project are scheduled in 2019-22. It is expected to begin commercial services in 2023 as an extension of the METRO Green Line.

Alstom delivers first metro trainset to Dubai

13 November 2018

Alstom has delivered the first of the 50 Metropolis trainsets to the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai (RTA).

In 2016, an Alstom-led ExpoLink consortium entered into a contract with RTA to design and build the extension of Dubai’s Red metro line, as well as upgrade the existing line.

The project, called Route 2020, is valued at €2.6bn. Alstom is responsible for the delivery of 50 Metropolis trainsets, power supply, communication and security, track works, driverless signalling systems, platform screen doors and automatic fare control.

It is also required to upgrade the existing metro line by modernising its power supply, signalling systems, communication and tracks.

Manufactured in Alstom’s Polish facility at Katowice, the first Metropolis trainset arrived in Dubai from Bremerhaven Port in Germany. It will now undergo initial static and dynamic tests over the following few months.

Alstom Middle East & Africa senior vice-president Didier Pfleger said: “We are extremely proud to hand over, on time, the first Metropolis trainset to RTA. This is a significant milestone in a prestigious project that will provide Dubai residents and visitors with a reliable, comfortable and environmentally-friendly metro system ahead of the World Expo.”

All the Metropolis trainsets to be delivered to Dubai will be 85.5m long and feature five cars. The trains are equipped with a full electrical braking system, LED lighting, wide gangways, as well as large doors and windows. Featuring Silver, Family and Gold Classes, each train is capable to carry up to 700 passengers.

Indian Railways to invest $8.9bn in Mumbai suburban rail network

12 November 2018

Indian Railways is set to invest Rs650bn ($8.9bn) in the Mumbai suburban rail network in the state of Maharashtra. The investment has been approved by the government following its proposal in this years union budget. Funding will be used to modernise existing facilities in order to enhance services and passenger amenities.

Union Railway Minister Goyal said: “Given the pace at which the infrastructure and public amenity works are being executed by the Railways, I believe that in the next four to four-and-a-half years, the suburban rail network of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai or Mahamumbai will see a complete metamorphosis.” Goyal was in Maharashtra to inaugurate the Nerul- Seawoods Darave-Belapur-Kharkopar suburban rail corridor in Navi Mumbai.

The 12km section is the first phase of the 27km-long Nerul-Belapur-Uran corridor, connecting Ulwe node in Navi Mumbai with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Panvel on the Harbour route. The second phase of the project, which will run from Kharkopar to Uran, is currently under development.

Various passenger amenities will also be implemented across several suburban stations, including the deployment of CCTV cameras at six stations, 41 escalators at 23 stations, ten lifts at six stations and 318 automatic ticket vending machines at 77 suburban stations.

Ukraine receives $150m loan to acquire railcars

12 November 2018

Ukrainian Railways (UZ) has received a $150m senior loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to acquire up to 6,500 general purpose open freight gondola-type wagons.

The acquisition of rolling stock will help the state-owned rail company to improve its efficiency and overall services. Induction of railcars into regular services is expected to help the company reduce greenhouse gas emissions. UZ will acquire the wagons through an open international tender process. EBRD will also support UZ in streamlining procurement processes and implement an energy management information system to improve operational efficiency.

Besides purchasing the railcars, the EBRD financing will be utilised to introduce corporate governance reforms at UZ and its subsidiaries.

The company will devise and implement a Corporate Governance Action Plan and an Anti-Corruption Action Plan to hire independent directors, establish an audit committee and introduce various other anti-corruption measures.

Possessing more than 23,000km of combined total track length, UZ is said to be the sixth largest rail passenger transporter and the seventh largest freight transporter in the world.

Since 1993, EBRD has invested around €12.1bn in nearly 400 projects in Ukraine, making it one of the largest international financial investors in the country.

Last month, EBRD awarded a €22m loan to support the modernisation works of Serbia’s state railways. The fund will be used to introduce a new ticketing system, as well as modernise various rail infrastructure in the country.

Chinese automaker Geely and CASIC to develop supersonic trains

7 November 2018

Chinese automotive manufacturing company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (Geely) has signed an agreement with state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry (CASIC) to develop supersonic trains.

The agreement was signed at an aerospace industry show in Zhuhai, China. Both firms agreed to combine their technical expertise and capabilities to develop next-generation bullet trains. However, the companies did not reveal investment details or timeframes involved with this project.

CASIC announced it was working on a project to enable trains to travel at a speed of 1,000 kph (620 mph), reported Reuters. Geely and CASIC aim to utilise magnetic levitation to remove ground friction, as well as deploy vacuum tubes in order to minimise air resistance to enable hypersonic transportation.

In a statement, Geely said that the technologies developed under the joint effort will also help the company in the development of energy vehicles and materials science.

Various companies including the Boring Company, Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies have supported the idea of hypersonic trains as a next-generation mode of transport.

The proposals included enabling passenger and freight transportation using pods or specially-developed vehicles through low-pressure tubes. Virgin Hyperloop One has already started building a fully operational hyperloop system, which is currently under testing phase. One of its tests carried out in the US state of Nevada recorded a speed of 387km/h.