French union rail workers reject President Macron’s proposed reform

24 May 2018

Rail workers in France have largely rejected President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to reform the country’s state-owned Société nationale des chemins de fer (SNCF) in an internal ballot organised by labour unions.

The ballot, which was presented as a petition, saw almost 95% of voters expressing their disappointment towards the government’s measures and comes shortly before the beginning of a wave of strikes scheduled for two days out of every five during the month of June.

President Macron revealed plans to phase out generous contracts to create a more efficient public railway company open to competition in compliance with EU rules. This would end the SNFC’s monopoly and would abolish job-for-life contracts currently given to most of the workforce.

Rail unions called for a vote on the government measures days after Air France employees forced Air France-KLM’s chief executive to retire. French trade union CGT head Laurent Brun announced the results of the ballot on the eleventh day of rail disruption since April, saying: “This vote totally discredits the SNCF management. It would be a mistake to ignore this warning.”

Another union, SUD Rail, said it was ‘very satisfied’ with the outcome of the vote, as federal secretary Fabien Dumas called for SNCF head Guillaume Pepy to resign. Dumas said: “We are happy for this participation and the results are unequivocal, incontestable. The railwaymen say no to this pact.”

However, with debt worth €46bn to extinguish, the railway company said the vote has no legal value and released figures showing that the level of participation in the strikes has decreased by almost 15% since April. The government also dismissed the ballot as a petition with no legal significance.

Although many more strikes are scheduled in the coming weeks, Macron appears unlikely to back down. The country’s Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne confirmed the government’s position, telling Europe 1 radio: “I don’t think it was very responsible of the unions to have people believe the reform might not happen.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is to meet unions on Friday in a bid to respond to the amendments proposed to the draft bill currently being reviewed by the Senate, which will be voted on at the beginning of June. The government intends to absorb approximately €35bn of SNCF’s total debt.

High-speed rail line in Saudi Arabia to start operations in September

21 May 2018

A high-speed railway line connecting Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia – will become operational in September. The project was originally scheduled to kick-off at the end of 2016 but faced several delays.

According to, the Saudi Government agreed to pay the project’s cost overrun of €210m. Once the project becomes operational, four trains per week will run between the two cities, with government plans to offer daily services set to take place by September 2019.

In 2011, the kingdom granted a €6.7bn-worth contract to a consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms for the project. This is one of the biggest contracts the Spanish firms have ever undertaken overseas.

The government intends to boost the transportation services between the two cities during the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The project will see the laying of 444km of track, providing 35 trains and maintaining the railway line between the two cities for a period of 12 years. Once completed, the project will enable the daily movement of 166,000 passengers.

This project has faced several challenges over the past years, which led to an increase in costs and to disputes among consortium members including Spain’s rail company Renfe, train maker Talgo, and state track operator Adif over who will have to bear the cost overruns.

Another hurdle faced by the consortium is that the line runs through the Arabian Desert, which is frequently hit by sandstorms and has several large dunes.

Spanish daily El Mundo said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Spain last month has helped resolve the ongoing disputes.

TfL begins tender process for safety systems on London trams

18 May 2018

The UK’s Transport for London (TfL) started the tender process for installation of new safety systems on the capital’s tram network.

The new system will automatically apply brakes to bring a running tram to a controlled stop when it is likely to exceed the speed limit at high-risk locations. Additionally, it will also notify the operations control centre.

TfL started evaluating the feasibility of introducing this system following the derailment of a tram at Sandilands in November 2016.

Alongside deploying this new safety system, various other initiatives will be undertaken to ensure a permanent speed reduction across the tram network, which includes speed monitoring and installation of signage at dangerous bends. A driver protection device is also deployed to notify any incidents of fatigue, driver distraction or speeding.

Initially, the new system will be deployed at priority locations according to the suggestions from the Rail Accident Investigations Branch and then it will be configured elsewhere on the tram network.

TfL rail and sponsored services director Jonathan Fox said: “This new braking system is just one of the additional safety measures we have been working continually on for the tram network to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

“We continue to liaise with other tram operators across the country to assist them in addressing the RAIB recommendation for their networks.”

After the completion of the qualification process, a formal invitation to tender will be issued by TfL. Subsequently, the contract will be awarded to the selected company, which is expected to be carried out by the year-end. The system is expected to become operational on the network by the end of next year.

California Transportation Commission grants $703.6m for LA Metro

18 May 2018

California Transportation Commission granted $703.6m in SB-1 funding for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) in the US.

Recently, the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA) also announced its SB-1 grant to fund transit and intercity rail capital improvements, with $1.088bn having been allocated for Metro. California has received a total of $1.8bn for Metro from two awards, with the second from CTC. These awards are the largest under the SB-1 in the state so far.

SB-1 is California’s gas tax and transportation funding programme. Metro has secured around 26% of the state’s total funding. Funds will be distributed to Metro’s projects that cover on highway, freight and transit.

According to Los Angeles mayor and metro board chair Eric Garcetti, SB-1 has allocated billions of dollars to create viable transportation options. Metro will combine SB-1 gas tax funds with its transportation sales tax contributions generated locally to carry out works on LA county’s transportation system.

Transportation projects receiving SB-1 funding include $150m for Airport Metro Connector 96th Street Transit Station Project, $128.6m for America’s Global Freight Gateway: Southern California Rail project.

The CalSTAs transit and intercity rail capital improvements programme aims to boost rail ridership with advanced transportation infrastructure.

This programme will include projects on Vermont transit corridor, East San Fernando Valley transit corridor, West Santa Ana Branch light rail transit corridor, and Gold Line Foothill light rail extension to Montclair. It also covers Orange/Red Line to Gold Line BRT transit corridor, and Green Line light rail extension to Torrance.

Smiths Detection to secure Ethiopia-Djibouti railway route

18 May 2018

Smiths Detection technology was selected by the Ethiopian Railways to secure the infrastructure on a key rail link connecting Ethiopia and the port at Djibouti.

Under the contract, Smiths Detection will install a range of 39 scanners to prevent possible threats at 16 major stations along the route. Scanner models being deployed include 18 HI-SCAN 6040i, 12 HI-SCAN 9075HR, and nine HI-SCAN 145180-2is devices.

These scanners will be used to carry out high-speed, accurate screening for hand baggage, larger items of luggage and cargo.

Smiths Detection EMEA vice-president Tony Tielen said: “This train link is expected to be hugely beneficial to the development of industry in Ethiopia and we are privileged to have the opportunity to help protect such a strategically significant route.

“Ensuring that threats do not infiltrate mass transport networks is essential to keep people safe, maintain public confidence and keep economies going. It is our most significant railway security contract to date and demonstrates how we are continuing to strengthen our position in the urban security sector.”

The 750km-long rail line connects the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with the sea in nearly ten hours, serving as a key trade link for this landlocked country.

Earlier, trucks were used to transport cargo to the Djibouti port, a process that took nearly two to three days. Smiths Detection secured this contract through a competitive tender process, which was based on technical evaluation, reliability and reputation.

Deliveries of the scanners and their deployment will be carried out in June and July.

Canada to invest $1.2bn in Calgary light rail transit project

17 May 2018

The Government of Canada decided to invest up to C$1.53bn ($1.2bn) in the Green Line Light Rail Transit project in Calgary, Alberta. The initiative forms a part of the government’s plan to invest in public transit infrastructure to reduce journey time, cut emissions and create new jobs.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Across the country, we are investing in major infrastructure projects that will transform the way Canadians move, work and live, while creating good, well-paying middle class jobs today and for years to come.

“Today’s historic investment in Calgary’s public transit system will make it easier for people to get around and connect to the services they need, make our air cleaner and create thousands of jobs for Canadians.”

The scope of the first stage of the Green Line project includes designing and construction works of 20km of track, building 14 stations, a rolling stock maintenance and storage facility, eight bridges and four tunnels, as well as three park-and-ride facilities. It will also include the delivery of 70 low-floor light rail vehicles.

Due to start in 2020, construction work is expected to be completed by late 2026. During the construction period, nearly 20,000 jobs will be created while the maintenance and operations of the line will require 400 additional long-term employees.

After completion, Calgary’s Green Line will provide direct connectivity from the city’s north and south-east region to the downtown core. Furthermore, the line is expected to facilitate connectivity to various public services such as hospitals and employment centres, as well as cultural and community facilities.

UK re-nationalises East Coast Mainline services

17 May 2018

The UK Government decided to re-nationalise the East Coast Mainline service after terminating the contract with the current franchise. The decision was announced by the UK Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling in parliament.

This will be the third time since 2007 that the 632km route, which connects London King’s Cross with Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, will be nationalised. London North Eastern Railway (LNER) will take over the franchise from 24 June this year.

In 2015, the current operator Virgin Trains East Coast, a joint venture between Stagecoach and Virgin, signed a £3.3bn contract to operate the line to 2023.

In February this year, Grayling informed parliament that Virgin Trains East Coast may lack the funds to operate the service within months. He noted that Stagecoach and Virgin Trains have lost around £200m to fulfil their contracted commitments.

However, he also said that the route is not failing, but that it is the operator that is incurring losses. Recent figures show that passenger satisfaction on the route is nearly 92%.

Grayling said the Department for Transport (DfT) team has been working since last year to form an operator of last resort that will assume control of passenger services on the East Coast Mainline. A new board with an independent chair will soon be created to supervise the operations of the new LNER route. The board will also work with DfT to develop the new partnership.

The partnership will comprise members of the train operating team, Network Rail and independent members. The government assured that the train services on the line will remain unaffected and the current tickets and timetables will continue to remain valid even though LNER will be in charge of the line.

Alstom to introduce hydrogen trains to UK

16 May 2018

French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom announced plans to introduce hydrogen-powered trains to the UK to support the government’s plan to withdraw diesel locomotives by 2040.

The company is currently working on a project with Eversholt Rail to equip a fleet of Class 321 electric trains with hydrogen tanks and fuel cells to enable hydrogen-powered operations.

Hydrogen will be produced through sustainable electricity and electrolysis, where the fuel cells will produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, creating water as a waste product. Subsequently, the electrical energy is stored in batteries and the train will run on electrical traction drive.

Under this process, only steam and condensed water are given off by the systems.

Alstom UK & Ireland managing director Nick Crossfield said: “Not only are hydrogen trains zero carbon, they are near-silent and emit no particulates, which means they offer substantial air quality and noise pollution benefits too.

"On cost, hydrogen trains can help to avoid the necessity for line electrification, which represents a significant investment for customers."

The company has already designed a hydrogen train, the Coradia iLint, which is currently being tested in Germany.

“Less than 50% of the UK network is electrified, and much that isn’t electrified is unlikely ever to be so,” Crossfield added. “Starting with this conversion, we think hydrogen could offer the right zero-carbon solution for many parts of the network.”

Around one-third of all trains in UK are diesel units. They are required to be overhauled or replaced to fulfil the government plan to remove all diesel rail vehicles by 2040.