Alstom JV inaugurates rail factory in South Africa

21 October 2019

EU launches call worth €1.4bn to fund sustainable transport projects

18 October 2019

The European Union (EU) has launched a €1.4bn call to support sustainable transport projects under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

The funding will be for building missing connections across Europe between 2021 and 2027.

The fund is divided into two parts, the Cohesion envelope worth €650m and the General envelope worth €750.

The Cohesion Envelope is available to member states, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The fund covers pre-identified projects such as railways, inland waterways, roads and maritime and inland ports worth €610m.

The remaining €40m is reserved for secure and safe infrastructure.

All the EU states can apply for the General Fund. The fund covers pre-identified projects such as railways, inland waterways, roads, maritime and inland ports which is worth €500m.

Out of that, €50m is reserved for deploying European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and €20m for secure and safe infrastructure.

The remaining funds include €20m for Intelligent Transport Services for road (ITS), €20m for Single European Sky – SESAR, €30m for the sea motorways and €110m for transport infrastructure for different areas of the Core Network.

Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said: “To accelerate decarbonisation and contribute to the completion of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), we are making full use of the resources available through the Connecting Europe Facility.

“These investments will support smart and sustainable mobility and better connect our citizens across Europe.”

The eligible projects can apply for the funding before 26 February next year.

Atento develops self-service system for Spanish operator RENFE

18 October 2019

Customer relationship management services provider Atento has developed a self-service automation system for Spanish railway operator RENFE.

The automated customer service telephone platform has been designed to help RENFE enhance its customer experience.

This self-service solution is expected to address over 1.8 million of the Spanish railway operator’s inquiries.

RENFE aims to resolve 15% of its customer service interactions through the automated system.

The self-service automation system employs an open question-based call routing solution. This removes traditional options menus and allows customers to respond naturally.

The system also features an automatic speech recognition application (ASR) and natural language understanding technology (NLU). According to Atento, 94% of the call can be automatically routed with these capabilities. The remaining 6% routing is handled by a virtual agent function. The virtual operator assists the system and helps train and improve effectiveness.

Atento’s automated system is designed to handle 180 calls at the same time and process 10,000 calls an hour.

Since 2017, the company has been delivering customer experience solutions to RENFE. The contract was recently extended until 2022.

Over 300 contact centre agents are responsible for providing information services, ticket sales by phone, Atendo services, Adif infrastructure information and direct sales management for RENFE.

Through the Special Employment Center of its subsidiary Atento Impulsa, 65 agents have been allocated to deliver services.

Atento also provides business process outsourcing services in Latin America.

Bangladesh approves two additional metro-rail projects worth $11bn

17 October 2019

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) of Bangladesh has approved two large mass rapid transit (MRT) projects worth BDT940bn ($10.8bn).

The approval has been granted for MRT Line 1 and MRT Line 5 (Northern Route), which will overhaul Dhaka’s transport system.

Around BDT690.4bn will be financed by external organisations, such as Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The government will contribute BDT304.6bn, while the transport agency will fund the remaining BDT5.16bn.

The two projects will receive BDT685.67bn from the JICA, of which BDT394.5bn is allotted to the Line 1 project and BDT291.17bn for Line 5 project.

The 31.24km Line 1 will connect Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Kamalapur Railway Station. It will be the first underground metro line in the country.

The line will also feature an elevated branch between Notun Bazar to Purbachal Depot. The project is estimated to complete by 2026.

The Line 5 will span from Hemayetpur to Bhatara via Gabtoli, Banani and Gulshan. The 20km line, featuring underground and elevated sections, is estimated to complete by 2028.

An additional eight projects were also approved which included four revised projects. The total cost of the 10 projects approved by the ECNEC is BDT1tn ($11.58bn).

In September last year, India and Bangladesh started construction on the Agartala-Akhaura rail project to help increase railway connectivity between the two countries.

In June, the Bangladesh Government signed a new agreement with two companies to carry out a feasibility study and detailed design works to build a high-speed railway between the capital Dhaka and seaport city of Chittagong.

Typhoon Hagibis disrupts rail services in Japan

15 October 2019

Typhoon Hagibis has caused widespread destruction in Japan and led to disruption to train services.

One-third of the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet trains owned by East Japan Railway Company (JR East) were damaged due to flooding.

The company said that the rainwater entered Hokuriku Shinkansen depot in Nagano when the Chikuma River overflowed. The facility is used to store and repair bullet trains.

The water caused damage to ten trains (120 carriages). According to The Japan Times, the total damage to the trains is estimated to be JPY32.8bn ($302.8m).

The Hokuriku Shinkansen fleet is operated by both West Japan Railway Company (JR West) and JR East.

Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) had to cancel the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen train services from 12 to 13 October.

Both JR East and JR West have started an hourly service from Tokyo to Nagano.

For access to the Hokuriku area and Kanazawa, JR East has directed passengers to use JR Central’s Tokaido Shinkansen to Maibara station and take the Shirasagi Express operated by JR West.

The Tokyo Metro service was suspended on 12 October. It resumed normal operations from 13 October.

Japanese newspaper NHK reported that the Yamagata Shinkansen services were cancelled on 13 October. The services on the Tohoku and Akita Shinkansen services were delayed due to dirt and rocks on the tracks.

The Sanyo Shinkansen and Tokaido services also commenced on 13 October.

The Japanese railway operators will resume services after completing necessary safety checks.

Airlines were also cancelled due to the typhoon. Around 800 domestic flights were suspended on 13 October. Passengers are advised to check the updated schedules and updates on the company websites.

Stadler signs €600m contract with NAH.SH

15 October 2019

Boris Johnson reveals plans to scrap UK rail franchising model

14 October 2019

Plans to scrap the UK’s existing rail franchise system and replace it with a new model based on performance and reliability will be announced as part of the Queen’s Speech today.

Held to mark the start of the parliamentary year the Queen’s Speech outlined 22 bills including some measures to allow the UK to “seize the opportunities that Brexit presents”.

The speech comes weeks before the publication of a whitepaper that uses recommendations from an ongoing review by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams, also known as the Williams Rail Review.

Reforms will focus on getting trains to run on time, a simplified fares system, a new commercial model and industry structure, as well as new proposals for a skilled, diverse and engaged workforce.

At the speech, the UK Government said it is clear the current system, which sees private companies handed localised monopolies over rail lines under long-term contracts, is no longer effective.

The current system – which was introduced when the railways were privatised in the 1990s – will be replaced in a bid to improve struggling services, and will feature stronger involvement of local authorities.

The UK’s first franchises were awarded in late 1995, while the first franchised train to run was operated by South West Trains in February 1996.

Since then, however, franchises have witnessed mixed fortunes. Most recently, Virgin Trains East Coast collapsed and its operations were handed over to state-owned LNER in June 2018.

This has raised concerns over the model itself across the whole sector.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph ahead of the announcement, Transport secretary Grant Shapps said passengers deserve a “punctual, modern and reliable” railway.

“Our priority is ensuring we have reliable trains which run on time, delivering the outstanding services communities across the country rely on,” he added.

Chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), Darren Caplan said: “For these businesses, many of whom are RIA members, it is paramount that changes to the structure of the rail sector do not lead to a pause in work on our railways or a hiatus in longer-term investment, which is so essential in keeping passengers and freight moving and our economy growing – both now and in the future.

“It is encouraging to see the government’s commitment to a National Infrastructure Strategy – RIA has been calling for a 30-year plan for the railways for some time. As far as our members are concerned, the rail supply sector requires a long term strategy for UK rail, which stops ‘boom and bust’ rail funding for infrastructure and rolling stock once and for all, and which provides consistency and visibility of upcoming enhancements work.

“Getting this right will allow rail business to deliver much more effectively the improvements expected by passengers and freight, whilst also creating and sustaining high value jobs and growing exports in these uncertain times,” Caplan added.

Although the government claims the new bill will largely improve the British rail industry, campaigners are far from convinced and recently dismissed Boris Johnson’s new plan.

General secretary for rail union, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Mick Cash said the new plan is “nothing new and the old Tory principle that profits and privatisation come first remains locked in.”

He added: “From what we’ve seen trailed by the government on rail franchising, […] nobody will be fooled by this “same meat, different gravy” spin that’s coming out of Downing Street.

“Private operation of our railways in incompatible with reliable and high quality services, lower fares and investment in infrastructure as train companies will always suck the lifeblood out of the system in profits and dividends. That is a cold hard fact.

“Trying to repackage the racket of franchising for political purposes will fail. Ruling out the public sector option exposes the whole policy for the sham that it is. We need a nationalised railway where quality, investment, planning and safety come first.”

Leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Lead, Judith Blake said: “We need to ensure any reform puts the interests of passengers first and does not introduce further fragmentation into the network.

“Reform of management processes alone will not fix the failings of the North’s rail network which requires major investment to address the capacity crisis we continue to face.”

Similar dissent came from general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) Manuel Cortes, who emphasised that the industry needs a model that “puts passengers before profit”.

“Anything that falls short of full public ownership of our railways amounts to tinkering at the edges. The British travelling public have had enough of franchising – full stop,” he added.

“Frankly, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the system by which our railways are run is broken well beyond repair. I would urge Johnson to fully engage with the problem.

“As I have told Keith Williams, only public ownership of our railways will ensure the public interest is served rather continuing with a system designed for the benefit of greedy shareholders.

“Surely even out of touch posh Tories know nothing else will do!”

DB to introduce more international train services

14 October 2019

German railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB) has unveiled plans to introduce international services with the introduction of its new timetable on 15 December.

The company added that it will focus on better connections and traffic growth between major parts of Germany with the addition of new ICE 4 trains.

These will replace the ICE 1 trains that operate on the Hamburg, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Basle, Zurich and Chur route.

Additionally, DB has placed an order for 137 ICE 4 trainsets. These trainsets offer better seating capacity and space for bicycles.

From June next year, these trains will also operate on the Berlin, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Basel, Bern and Interlaken route.

The company has collaborated with Czech Railways (CD) and Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) to announce the Railjet service that will operate on the Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Graz line from May next year.

The company will expand its night services from 15 December. New InterCity night services will run on the Zurich to Hamburg and Zurich to Berlin routes.

Along with the recently announced Rostock-Berlin-Dresden service, DB will also introduce ICE trains on the Berlin, Braunschweig and Frankfurt route, as well as the Berlin, Erfurt and Munich route.

More Sprinter trains will be used on the busy Hamburg-Rhine Ruhr route to increase the service by 15%.

DB Passenger Transport director Berthold Huber said: “Roadmap 2020 is another milestone in strengthening railways and is the next step in the direction of the German cycle.

“On 15 December, we are opening a new long-distance transport line for our customers, consolidating supply on important routes in the German long-distance network and integrate new, attractive travel destinations in our neighbouring countries.”