Austria’s ÖBB signs deal for 700 passenger coaches

20 August 2018

Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has signed a framework agreement to procure up to 700 passenger coaches from Siemens Mobility over the next five years.

The initial order from ÖBB comprises eight nine-car trains for day service and 13 seven-car trains for night service.

If all the service options are executed, the overall contract agreement will value more than €1.5bn.

Under the first order, Siemens will supply Viaggio coaches, which will be operated with ÖBB’s Siemens Taurus locomotive fleet.

To be manufactured at Siemens’ facility in Vienna, the trains are expected to enter service from 2022.

ÖBB-Holding CEO Andreas Matthä said: “With the new trainsets for day and night service, ÖBB is systematically continuing its campaign to further enhance passenger comfort. With the additional trains for the Nightjet, we’ll be underpinning our leading role in overnight travel in Europe.”

The framework agreement includes the delivery of multiple types of passenger coaches such as cab cars, multi-purpose cars, sleeping and couchette cars, as well as first-class and second-class cars. The agreement can also be extended by ÖBB beyond 2023.

They will be used in operations across various European countries, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

The coaches can also be equipped for operations in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland.

With seating capacity for 520 people, the daytime trains will be low-floored with extra wide doors to facilitate the swift movement of passengers. The night trains will have 100 seats and 160 couchettes.

All the trains will feature LED interior lighting and climate control with cooling and heating modes.

Siemens Mobility CEO Sabrina Soussan said: “Viaggio passenger trains offer great flexibility across borders, as well as state-of-the-art passenger comfort, combined with low maintenance costs and high operational availability.”

South Korea proposes rail route to North Korea by year-end

17 August 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has announced plans to develop railroad links to North Korea by the end of this year.

Speaking at the Liberation Day commemoration celebrations in Seoul, President Jae-in proposed creating a North-East Asian railroad community that would include the Korean peninsula, China, Mongolia, Russia, Japan and the US.

In his speech, President Jae-in said that the community will help to facilitate multilateral peace and a security system in North-East Asia, media sources reported.

The announcement comes at a time when both Korean countries have initiated a process of reconciliation following a meeting of President Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April.

Both leaders are scheduled to meet in Pyongyang next month to advance peace talks and economic cooperation.

Since April, North and South Korea have exchanged views and conducted studies to connect the railway systems.

Once developed, the new railway connectivity will enable South Korea to support its exports to China, Russia and Europe through North Korea. It will also facilitate the import of Russian petroleum to South Korea.

The South Korean Government intends to link the railroads and highways by the end of this year.

However, the date of commencement of services on the route is still unclear, primarily due to international sanctions on North Korea, The New York Times reported.

President Jae-in added that cross-border economic cooperation between North and South Korea could total more than $149bn over the next 30 years.

China’s NDRC gives consent to urban railway project in Suzhou

16 August 2018

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has given its approval to the second significant urban railway project this year, which comes as the world’s second-largest economy aims to improve slowing growth.

The state planning authority has approved the $14bn plan to expand its Suzhou Rail Transit network in eastern China.

The project comprises four lines with a total estimated length of 137km, Reuters reported.

This decision comes after the approval of a CNY78.7bn ($11.3bn) urban rail project in Changchun.

This is the first approval for city spending in a year after the authorities suspended a number of major infrastructure projects as government debt has risen.

China is now boosting domestic demand after the recent trade conflict with the US has put more pressure on its slowing economy.

According to data, the country’s growth of fixed asset investment had seen a record drop in the first half of this year. Growth in infrastructure spending also slowed to 5.7% in the first seven months, from 7.3% in the first six months.

According to Suzhou Rail Transit, construction is slated to begin this year and will be completed in 2023.

In addition to offering jobs, the expansion of metro lines will increase demand for steel and other base metals such as aluminium, zinc and copper, which are used to make wires, rails and cars.

US TSA and LA Metro collaborate to deploy new screening system

16 August 2018

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has partnered with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to roll out a new advanced portable passenger screening across the transit system.

The new Thruvision TAC-TS4 portable terahertz millimetre wave passenger screening technology can detect the presence of person-borne, improvised explosive devices and other security threats.

Following the completion of a series of testing at the stations, Metro purchased several of the devices, which will now be placed across various locations.

TSA administrator David Pekoske said: “TSA applauds the leadership of LA Metro for its proactive efforts to evaluate, procure and use state-of-the-art technology designed to detect potential threats to the transit system.

“TSA is pleased to have been a partner during the evaluation and testing process, which ultimately led to the purchase of a recommended system to help detect and deter potential acts of terrorism while keeping the travelling public safe.”

Thruvision is equipped with software that screens passengers without disrupting normal foot traffic movement.

The device identifies any concealed object by detecting any disruption or blockage in the flow of natural waves produced by the human body.

It subsequently generates generic avatars and creates a black spot on the particular area of the body or marks it with a colour indicator.

Accordingly, Thruvision enables security personnel to track the concerned person and take future action when such suspicious events occur.

TSA noted that the device, which is capable of detecting metallic and non-metallic objects, does not emit radiation.

LA County supervisor and Metro Board chair Sheila Kuehl said: “This new technology will augment our already aggressive safety and security measures and help us proactively deter potential attacks to our system.”

Network Rail receives East Coast Main Line improvement plan approval

15 August 2018

Network Rail’s East Coast Main Line improvement plan has been approved by the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

Part of the Railway Upgrade Plan, the improvement works involve the construction of a new railway section beneath the East Coast Main Line to connect the Stamford lines and the Great Northern Great Eastern lines at Werrington Junction near Peterborough.

The new line will eliminate the need of the freight trains to run through three lines of the East Coast Main Line, which subsequently delays high-speed passenger train operations approaching the Werrington Junction.

Coupled with other upgrades on the route, the project is also expected to increase the frequency of passenger rail services on the line.

Network Rail submitted a Transport and Works Act Order for the project in 2016 and after working with the public and other important stakeholders the current underneath rail line was selected as the preferred option for the scheme.

Network Rail route managing director Rob McIntosh said: “This is a significant investment into the railway in this area which, when coupled with other upgrades on this route, will have widespread benefits for those travelling between London and the North through an increased capacity of 33%.

“This vital upgrade will ensure we can provide an improved service for passengers and will create a more modern, reliable and resilient railway suitable to meet the needs of the communities and economies our railway serves.”

Construction works are expected to begin later this year and scheduled to be completed by early 2021.

Kenyan government officials charged with fraud over $3bn railway

14 August 2018

A Kenyan court has charged two senior government officials with fraud over land allocation for a new rail line worth $3bn linking Nairobi with Mombasa, East Africa’s biggest port.

Funded by the Chinese Government, the railway is one of the biggest infrastructure projects launched by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and was planned to ultimately connect South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean.

The railway forms part of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ scheme, which features a series of infrastructure projects to improve land and maritime routes between China and Europe, Asia and Africa.

President Kenyatta officially inaugurated the railway in May 2017, praising it for representing a new chapter in the state’s history.

However, despite being completed 18 months early, the project has been struggling to find success after being marred by corruption allegations and registering a loss of $100m in its first year of operation.

The project was also criticised by economists, who claim it only contributed to increasing Kenya’s debt, which is estimated to be at 54%-55% of economic output. Wildlife groups also hit out at the railway as it runs through the Nairobi National Park and Tsavo National Park in south-eastern Kenya.

An investigation into the project launched earlier this year further fuelled the fraud allegations and revealed that officials have paid over $2m in compensation to private firms that falsely claimed to have owned part of the land crossed by the railway line.

During a court hearing on Monday, National Land Commission chairman Mohammed Abdalla Swazuri, Kenya Railways Corporation managing director Atanas Kariuki Maina and 16 other businesspeople and companies pledged not guilty to the charges. The prosecutor’s office said that no Chinese companies have been involved in the case.

According to local media outlet Citizen Kenya, the prosecutor said: “The acts of accused persons put together was done in a systematic way. We are opposed to their release on bail.”

China approves $11.45bn investment in Changchun rail projects

14 August 2018

The Chinese Government has approved a CNY78.7bn ($11.45bn) investment in urban railway projects in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province.

The investment, approved by the state’s planning board National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), will be used to develop eight subway lines with a combined length of 135.4km in Changchun, the National Business Daily (NBD) reported.

According to the media outlet, the funding was announced by the Jilin Development and Reform Commission on its website but was soon withdrawn as official confirmation is yet to be issued.

However, a local Jilin official confirmed the approval to Reuters, stating that the projects have received ‘in general’ approval following a meeting with the NDRC last month.

The projects will nearly double the urban rail lines in the city, which now has one operational underground metro and two light rail lines.

The approval indicates the Chinese Government’s resumption of investments in infrastructure projects, as part of a scheme that was put on hold to reduce local government debt.

In 2017, a number of railway projects were also cancelled by local governments due to lack of financing.

Last month, Chinese decision-making body Politburo confirmed that it is planning to reduce the current borrowing restrictions on local bodies to accelerate the growth of the economy.

The construction works of the approved rail projects are expected to begin this year and be completed by 2023.

According to the NBD report, nearly 60% of the overall financing will be received from banks.

Rail passengers to face 3.5% rise in rail fares from January

13 August 2018

Rail fares in the UK are predicted to rise by 3.5% from January 2019 as a consequence of growing inflation over the past few months.

The precise extent of the increase, which is to be announced on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics, will be decided based on the Retail Prices Index, a measure of inflation used by the Department for Transport (DfT). Fares saw their biggest increase of the last five years in January 2018 when they rose by 3.6%.

The threat of a further rise has triggered unhappiness among commuters and campaigners, who have urged the UK Government to freeze rail fares and use the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) – an alternative measure of inflation – to determine the increase. The CPI tends to be lower than the Retail Prices Index, as it does not consider the cost of mortgage payments.

A spokesperson for the DfT said: “Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more than those who do.”

The expected rise in fares is likely to affect both ‘anytime’ and ‘off-peak’ tickets, as well as season ticket prices in both England and Wales. If the fares increase goes ahead, an annual season ticket from Cambridge to London stations, for example, could jump by £173 to £5,125.

Rail fares in the UK have been at the centre of public and government debate ever since May this year, when an overhaul of timetables led to hundreds of train cancellations every day and disruption across the country.

While some franchises managed to introduce reduced services across their networks, this weekend operator Northern faced criticism for cancelling 80 services from Liverpool, Lancashire and Great Manchester, from a total of 15,000.

Prime Minister Theresa May was recently asked to freeze rail fares on the routes that have been worst affected by disruption, namely those operated by Govia Thameslink, Arriva Rail North and First TransPennine Express.

A similar request was issued by the Campaign for Better Transport, which asked the government to freeze fares. A spokesperson said: “Given the mess surrounding the new timetable, the lack of improvements and the failure to deliver compensation, the government cannot go on telling passengers that fare increases are justified.” Commuters have expressed further anger after consumer group Which? found that rail fares have seen a 40% increase since 2008, over one-and-a-half times higher than the rise in CPI inflation over the same period.

A survey by the watchdog also found that the rail industry is the UK’s second least-trusted consumer industry, with customer satisfaction registered to have dropped from 72% to 62% in the space of 10 years. Confidence in train companies has also fallen, with only 23% of passengers surveyed claiming to trust rail operations.

Which? has now called for automatic compensation for delays to be introduced across the entire network, saying that customers often complain about excessively complex procedures to make claims.