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June 30, 2006

Family of rail worker killed on tracks win £160,000 compensation

icSouthLondon: Jun 30 2006

THE family of a rail worker killed by a train near Purley Oaks station have received £160,000 compensation. Nurani Kassim, 36, of Cosedge Crescent, Waddon, was part of a maintenance team checking rails for defects just months after the Hatfield rail disaster in October 2000.

He was struck by an oncoming train while trying to cross the track.

The force of the collision propelled him into the path of another train travelling in the opposite direction.

Left to grieve after his death on July 18 2001 were Mr Kassim's widow, Sade, and the couple's three children aged 12, seven and six.

Mr Kassim, known as Adedoyin to his wife and Larry to his friends, was acting as a lookout for the maintenance crew shortly before the tragedy.

But he was ordered to "stand down" after three out of four rails had been tested for defects, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

Rigorous testing was being carried out as rail operators around the country desperately checked for signs of "cracks" on the line in the wake of the Hatfield tragedy,the court was told.

Had the case gone to trial, Mrs Kassim's lawyers would have alleged negligence by his superiors in imposing too heavy a burden of work on her husband.

By the time of his death, Mr Kassim was said to have worked a 46-day stint - with only one day's respite - due to the pressing need to check the rail network.

Mrs Kassim sought damages from Primat Recruitment Ltd, Amec Rail Ltd and Network Rail Plc.

All three companies denied liability, maintaining they were "not responsible for the decision made by Mr Kassim to cross when he did."

Mr Justice Wilkie has approved the £160,000 settlement, which was agreed without admission of liability.

See also:

Fatigue implicated in track worker's death

USDAW North West Kent: 11/25/03

AMEC Rail has been fined £20,000 and sister companies AMEC Services and Primat Recruitment £2500 and £20,000, respectively, following the death of a track worker in July 2001.

Nurani Kassim had been acting as a lookout on track near Croydon during ultrasonic testing of the rails. "It was a particularly busy stretch of line," an HSE spokesman told SHP. "In the space of two hours, 105 trains passed the work site, where there were four sets of railway lines."

Croydon magistrates heard that Kassim four colleagues saw him standing in a narrow section in the middle of the tracks instead of the wider cess area, where he had been instructed to go after being released from his duties. Although the drivers of both an express and a slow train used their horns to warn Kassim, he was struck when the trains passed each other in opposite directions, and sustained fatal injuries.

AMEC Rail and Primat were charged under s3(1) of HSWA 1974 for not ensuring the safety of their employees, while AMEC Services faced a charge of breaching reg. 4(1) of the Railway (Safety Critical Work) Regs. 1994 for not ensuring its employees worked a safe number of hours. Kassim's timesheets showed he had worked 46 consecutive 10-hour days.

Guilty pleas were entered to all the charges. AMEC Rail was ordered to pay £6849 costs.

In mitigation, AMEC Rail said it deeply regretted the death and that it took safety issues very seriously. It had now put procedures in place to prevent over-working.

"One of the issues arising out of this case is the need for contractors to have proper systems to monitor the hours of work done by safety-critical staff, either their own, or those contracted in from other companies," the HSE spokesman said. "They should pick up on patterns of work that might give rise to fatigue."

Serco-Docklands strike off after company tables improved offer

RMT: June 30 2006

A STRIKE over jobs, pay and conditions by RMT?s 250 members on the Docklands Light Railway scheduled for July 3 and 4 has been suspended after fresh talks produced a new offer which is to be recommended to members in a referendum.

The dispute centres on re-organisation plans which the union believed would impact on jobs, earnings and safety.

"The company has agreed that there will be no compulsory redundancies and no reduction in salaries for current station staff, and that priority for new station jobs will be given to current station staff," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The company has also agreed that experienced station staff transferring under the re-organisation will spend less time on train duties than originally proposed, and that the union will play a full role in safety validation of all news posts.

"The offer also includes built-in earnings protection for staff nearing retirement age.

"The RMT executive has agreed that the revised offer is the best available under the circumstances and will therefore recommend that our members accept it," Bob Crow said.

Fresh hopes for rail link

Liverpool Echo: Jun 28 2006
By Neil Hodgson
RAIL cargoes handled by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company could double after a government promise to consider reopening the Olive Mount Chord track.

The company has lobbied for almost 10 years for the 300-metre stretch of track to be re-established and speed up rail activity to the port.

It was closed in the 1970s resulting in freight trains having to reverse across passenger lines at Edge Hill to enter or leave the docks in a procedure that takes 40 minutes.

Re-establishing the link would remove disruption for the port and could mean extra traffic for Liverpool's main Lime Street station.

Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander yesterday revealed that the Olive Mount Chord was one of several projects to be included in the government's productivity transport innovation fund.

It will now be taken forward for business case development and appraisal.

Rail freight accounts for about 6m tonnes of port traffic each year, comprising containers, steel, coal and scrap.

Mersey Docks spokesman Eric Leatherbarrow said today that reopening the link could lead to a doubling of rail freight into the port.

"It is good news forthe port and the environment and community around the port.

"If this project is allowed to go ahead it will enhance rail access to the port and increase capacity to move cargo by rail rather than road.

"With other rail projects we are considering for the portitis likelyto double the volume of rail traffic."

The link was closed in 1970s when the Port of Liverpool and rail travel were both in sharp decline.

But Mr Leatherbarrow said cargo is increasing and greater access to the port can influence the volume of traffic that it attracts.

USA: Flawed Proposal to Single-man Freight Trains Puts Communities at Risk

Teamsters Rail Conference: Thursday June 29

Teamsters Condemn Rail Corporations' Dangerous Negotiating Stance with United Transportation Union.

WASHINGTON, June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the Teamsters Rail Conference learned that the National Carriers Conference Committee (NCCC), representing the nation's Class 1 railroads, has presented a dangerous contract proposal to the United Transportation Union (UTU) designed to coerce UTU into acquiescing to the carriers' desire to reduce locomotive crew size from two workers to one.

James P. Hoffa, Teamsters General President and Don M. Hahs, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) issued the following joint statement supporting UTU President Paul C. Thompson in his refusal to entertain the carriers' unsafe proposal.

"We will actively support UTU President Paul Thompson and the members of his union. We will not allow the rail corporations to succeed in their dangerous scheme to reduce crew size to one. We will unite rail unions and allied groups to prevent it. We will take this battle to every community in the United States, alerting first responders, elected leaders and citizens. If the carriers have their way, locomotives loaded with highly toxic freight will barrel through their communities staffed by one worker, who, under federal law, can be on duty for 12 hours. They will rise up in indignation at such a proposal. What if that worker is stricken with a heart attack or otherwise incapacitated? Who then will stop trains laden with dangerous cargo? This proposal is outrageous. The public will not allow it; we will work vigorously to get elected officials to condemn it and Congress to pass legislation to prevent it."

"Our members maintain the rail infrastructure," said Fred Simpson, President of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) "The carriers' fool-hardy proposal to save a few pennies, when they are already making more than $1 billion profit a year with the existing two-person crew, puts our members and communities across this great nation in severe peril. We will be vigorous partners with Paul Thompson and his members at UTU, with the BLET and with the Teamsters Rail Conference to prevent the carriers' corporate scheming to slash rail jobs and sacrifice safety for a fatter bottom line. These trains carry dangerous cargo. The carriers' proposal to reduce train crew size from two workers to one is insane."

"The rail carriers are deeply misguided if they believe that the American public will allow them to reduce crew size to one worker on locomotives pulling mile-long trains carrying highly toxic hazardous materials like chlorine and ammonia nitrate," said John F. Murphy, Director of the Rail Conference. "This ill-conceived proposal will put the lives of all rail workers and the communities they serve in grave danger."

The Chlorine Institute has released frightening information that a 90-ton tank car, if targeted by an explosive device, could create a toxic cloud 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. Such a toxic plume, the U.S. Naval Research Lab reported, could kill 100,000 people in 30 minutes in a major metropolitan area.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2002 warning about potential terrorist attacks on the nation's railroads should have made clear that there is no room for error, no plausible reason to cut costs or corners in the effort to protect the nation's railroad system from attack.

The FBI's words were chilling: al Qaeda cells could be targeting trains carrying hazardous materials. The FBI had captured al Qaeda photographs of railroad engines, cars and crossings, and officials said that terrorists could choose a number of strategies, "such as destroying key rail bridges and sections of track to cause derailments or targeting hazardous material containers." The warning appears to have fallen on the rail corporations' deaf ears.

"The rail carriers are tragically mistaken if they believe we will stand by and let them sacrifice American workers so they can fill the pockets of a few rich corporate executives," Hoffa said. "When you cut the jobs of experienced rail workers from both the BLET and UTU, you are not only hurting the families of those men and women, but compromising the overall safety of the rail system nationwide."

"Our nation lives each day under the threat of terrorist attacks, and cutting already overworked crews is not the answer to securing the rail system," Hoffa said. "UTU, BLET, BMWED and the Teamsters' Rail conference are united in this battle and in our intent to let the rail corporations know this is a battle they will not win."

The BLET and the BMWED are divisions of the Teamsters Rail Conference. Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking women and men throughout North America.

The station at the top of the world

China Daily: 2006-06-26

Lhasa Railway Station Unveiled
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A general view shows the nearly finished Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 24, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006. [Reuters]

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Chinese workers install the sign on the roof of Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 20, 2006. The Chinese characters say "Lhasa." It was the largest railway station alongside Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1.[Xinhua]

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A trial train runs on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway beside the Cuona Lake in Anduo County, Tibet, June 20, 2006. Qinghai-Tibet Railway will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006.[Xinhua]

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Some general views of the terminal station of Qinghai-Tibet Railway,Lhasa Station, in Lhasa,Tibet, June 20, 2006.Qinghai-Tibet Railway will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006.[Xinhua]

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Workers rest at the nearly finished Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 24, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006. [Reuters]

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A worker cleans the ground outside the nearly finished Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 24, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006. [Reuters]

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Workers make final touches at the nearly finished Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 24, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006. [Reuters]

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Workers hang a sign with Chinese characters which read "Lhasa station welcomes you" (L) and "please keep the platform neat" at the nearly finished Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 24, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1, 2006. [Reuters]

See also:

World's highest railway - triumph of engineering or death knell for Tibet?

Independent Online: 30 June 2006
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing

The Beijing government hails the world's highest railway as a triumph of Chinese engineering that will open up the Tibetan capital Lhasa to the outside world. Exiled activists from the mountainous enclave fear that the track will sound the death knell for the traditional culture of Tibet. Environmentalists fear irreparable damage to a precious ecosystem on the remote and frozen Qinghai plateau.

Whichever argument prevails, the departure of the first train from Beijing to Lhasa signals a profound change for Tibet.

Ruled for hundreds of years by red-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks, Lhasa is a different place from the time when Chinese troops entered in 1950 and began imposing the dominant Han Chinese culture on the ancient territory.

The railway will run 1,142 kilometres (700 miles) across the roof of the world, reaching heights of over 5,000 metres at some stretches. Some of the pricier carriages will be pressurised in case travellers get altitude sickness. The railway, which took four years to build and cost £2.3 bn, will link Lhasa to Golmud, which is already connected to China's vast rail network.

Most travellers now take long bus journeys or fly into Lhasa. The first train service from Beijing will take 48 hours to reach Lhasa and 120 kilometres (75 miles) of the route runs along elevated bridges in areas where the permafrost was thought to be least stable.

President Hu Jintao will take the train tomorrow from Xining to Lhasa and the inaugural journey has been heralded as a triumph of Chinese engineering. Tickets sold out within 20 minutes of going on sale.

Beijing says the rail link will give the region a boost by improving trade links with the prosperous east. Initially, three services will connect Lhasa to Beijing, as well as Xining and Chengdu, and each train can carry 900 passengers. However, groups demanding more autonomy for the region fear the train will bring even more Han Chinese migrants into Tibet, further diluting the indigenous culture.

Some 80,000 Tibetan exiles have been living in India since 1959, when their leader the Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising.

Beijing says that Tibet has been Chinese for hundreds of years and accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist agitator. This week, Tibetan exiles demonstrated at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, saying the railway was a "death knell" for Tibet. Groups including Students for a Free Tibet have been wearing black armbands in protest and plan to demonstrate outside Chinese embassies around the world this Saturday.

The deputy director of the rail project, Zhu Zhensheng, said the railway would improve the lives of Tibetans and that the government had gone to great lengths to protect the environment.

June 29, 2006

Further talks scheduled in Network Rail pay dispute

RMT: June 29 2006

FURTHER TALKS are to be held between RMT and Network Rail in an attempt to settle a long-running dispute over the pay and conditions of signalling and operational staff.

In a referendum of the 5,000 RMT members involved, the company's revised offer was rejected by 1,496 votes to 1,190.

In order to facilitate further talks the company has agreed to a two-week extension of the validity of the union's strike ballot, and the RMT executive has agreed that talks will take place on July 10 and 11.

RMT Drivers to strike at First Great Western

RMT: June 29 2006

RMT DRIVERS at First Great Western are to stage three 24-hour strikes after voting by five to one for action in a dispute over the harmonisation of terms and conditions.

The dispute centres on the company?s failure to honour an agreement for 104 rest days and its refusal to negotiate harmonisation of the pay conditions of drivers across the three former franchises that now constitute the First Great Western franchise.

Drivers will not book on for shifts that commence between 00:01 and 23:59 on Tuesday July 11, Wednesday July 19, and Thursday, July 27.

?FGW have ratted on an agreement that guaranteed 104 rest days a year and are refusing point-blank to talk about the harmonisation of terms and conditions, yet they expect our members to undertake work across the old franchise boundaries,? RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

?We have told the company that we expect them to release reps from all three former franchises to take part in intensive talks to resolve all the issues involved in time for inclusion in December timetables.

?We have also made it clear that, if the December deadline is missed, cross-over work can still take place if pay is harmonised at the highest rate, together with the implementation of the 104 rest days for all, and that talks could then continue on other conditions.

?We believe our approach provides a reasonable way of settling this dispute,? Bob Crow said.

UPDATE 06/07/2006: RMT Annual General Meeting calls referendum over FGW Drivers' dispute

Secret fares-hike deal 'utterly counter-productive', says RMT

RMT: June 29 2006

THE Secret deal between ministers and the First Group to raise peak-time fares to price people out of overcrowded trains is utterly counter-productive, Britain's biggest rail union says today.

Following news that the First Group was quietly given the nod to impose massive hikes on some afternoon fares in order to ease congestion, RMT General Secretary Bob Crow today said:

"The way to ease congestion is to increase capacity, not to hit already overcharged passengers with increases that price them off trains.

"The government has been talking about the environmental need to get people out of their cars and onto the railways, but this will achieve the exact opposite.

"Far better to heed the advice of the transport select committee, which only last month condemned fares policies aimed simply at maximising profits and urged the government to use the next rail White
Paper to take proper control of fares.

"As it is, after ten years of privatisation open single fares are three times more expensive in Britain than elsewhere in Europe.

"The First Group are having a good laugh at everyone else's expense, because this way they get to line their shareholders' pockets whatever happens.

"If we had a little less secrecy and a little more openness we would have had a chance to head this nonsense off before the damage was done," Bob Crow said.

Docklands Light Railway staff to go on strike

icSouthLondon: Jun 27 2006
By Mandy Little
DOCKLANDS Light Railway (DLR) staff are set to strike on Monday over what a union chief has slammed as dangerous and penny-pinching reorganisation plans.

About 250 members of the RMT - the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers - have voted for industrial action as a result of changes they say will compromise passenger safety, lead to a cut in jobs and reduce pay. But DLR owner Serco Docklands says the proposals are to make passengers more secure by increasing the number of staff at stations.

The company says under the current plans some existing staff would increase their time on trains and 15 fresh recruits would work only on stations. They would be recruited on new pay and terms and conditions.

The company insists there would be no loss of pay and no redundancies for station staff.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the plans "were dangerous nonsense" that would result in experienced, skilled staff spending less time at stations.

He said: "Serco are misleading the travelling public when they say they will have more people on duty because they know they will have fewer people with the skills and experience to deal with an emergency.

"Serco's penny-pinching is so bad they have even withdrawn their sweetener of early retirement and redundancy and for some of our members these plans mean a £5,000 pay cut and a pay freeze until 2010."

Serco managing director Tony Thomas said: "We are astonished to hear the union have rejected this new proposal out of hand and have announced a strike date."

He said he believed many members of staff were happy with the plans."

He added: "We have contingency plans in place and I would like to reassure our passengers that we will minimise the disruption to services should the strike go ahead."

Serco claims DLR services will run to all destinations on Monday but service frequency may be affected.

Rail crash inquest judge named

Welwyn & Hatfield Times: 28 June 2006

A JUDGE has been appointed to preside over the Potters Bar rail crash inquests.

Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas has named Mr Justice Sullivan as his assistant deputy coroner for the cases.

The news was announced by Solicitor General Harriet Harman in a written reply to a question raised in Parliament by MP James Clappison.

She added that a date for the inquests was still to be fixed.

The Potters Bar Edition revealed in February that Mr Thomas was set to appoint a judge as he had questioned his powers to conduct such an inquiry and was too busy with other inquests.

Mr Justice Sullivan is the judge who last month ruled nine Afghan asylum seekers who hijacked a plane and forced it to fly to Stansted in 2000, could stay in this country.

Seven people were killed and 76 were injured when a train derailed at Potters Bar station on May 10, 2002.

South Mimms pensioner Agnes Quinlivan was among the victims. The 80-year-old was struck by falling rubble as she walked under a railway bridge in Darkes Lane.

Row over new penalties on trains

BBC News: 26 June 2006

Staff in dispute with a train operator are refusing to issue penalty fares due to be introduced this weekend. Silverlink want to re-introduce a new penalty fares system.

Union members at Silverlink, which runs trains between London, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Northampton, said an offer to work new systems was not acceptable.

"Members are angry as penalty fares put them at risk and hit commissions on tickets," Rail Maritime and Transport union general secretary Bob Crow said.

Silverlink was not available for comment on Monday.

Thirty-nine out of 70 union members at Silverlink voted for industrial action, Mr Crow said.

Call for negotiation

Silverlink abolished its penalty fares system in 1999 and since then passengers without tickets have just been asked to purchase one when discovered by inspectors.

The train operator now wants to reintroduce a penalty fares system but the union said it is doing this without consulting them on a fair payment for the inspectors asked to implement it.

Mr Crow said: "We want to negotiate on the system to ensure our members do not miss out on ticket commissions if penalty fares are imposed.

"We also want to ensure safety systems are in place to protect them as passengers will not be pleased to have to pay a penalty for not purchasing a ticket.

"If the company really believed it could get away with that without offering a penny piece in return, our members have told them in no uncertain terms that they were wrong.

"Silverlink now have a simple choice: They can either get back round the table and negotiate sensibly or they can issue their penalty fares themselves - because our members certainly won't be doing it."

Train fares double in secret deal by ministers

The Times: June 29, 2006
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

THE Government struck a secret deal with Britain?s biggest train company to double fares on some routes as the cheapest way of reducing overcrowding.

First imposed record increases this month on passengers travelling between London and dozens of stations north of the capital. Cheap day returns are no longer valid between 4.30pm and 7pm, forcing people to buy much more expensive standard returns.

Fares between St Albans and London have increased from £7.90 to £14.50 for people who want to travel home during that 21⁄2-hour period.

Similar increases are being proposed for South West Trains, the largest franchise, which carries 140 million passengers a year on lines between Waterloo and the South Coast.

Ministers remained silent about First?s announcement while London TravelWatch, the official passenger watchdog, accused it of ?blatant profiteering?. But The Times has learnt that the fare increase was the result of a secret agreement last year between the Department for Transport and First.

Alistair Darling, who was the Transport Secretary then, announced that passengers would benefit from a series of improvements but failed to mention the plan to raise fares.

Mr Darling said that his decision to award the Thameslink/Great Northern franchise to First would ?deliver better services to passengers?. He continued: ?There will be increased capacity into London during peak times, enhanced facilities for passengers on board trains and at stations and reliability will improve.? Mr Darling made no mention of fare increases even though First had made clear to the department that the £800 million it was paying over nine years to run the franchise depended on restricting cheap tickets.

A spokesman for the department said: ?We accepted that this was a good commercial solution to the problem of overcrowding.?

He admitted that the department had not been as transparent as it could have been but the decision about when to make the increase had been left to First.

Asked whether similar increases would be imposed at South West Trains, the spokesman said: ?We are open to any innovative solutions which can reduce overcrowding on SWT.?

Brian Cooke, the chairman of London TravelWatch, said: ?It was devious of the Government not to make clear what had been agreed in First?s bid. Ministers wanted First to do their own dirty work. When a franchise is agreed, the Government should immediately publish all of the terms, not just the attractive bits.?

Mr Cooke said that it would have been far better to deal with overcrowding by adding extra carriages to trains rather than pricing people off afternoon and evening services.

Malcolm Ginsberg, a regular rail user between Potters Bar and London, said that First had not only reneged on promises to lengthen trains but also had reduced some services from eight carriages to four. ?It was outrageous of the Government to approve the increase without telling us,? he said.

?Making the railways unaffordable for many people is a very crude way of dealing with overcrowding.?

A spokesman for First, which has rebranded the Thameslink franchise as First Capital Connect, said that it expected to reduce the number of passengers on trains between 4.30pm and 7pm by 13 per cent. First will announce today a partial retreat by reducing the number of stations affected from 37 to 27.

The previous rules on the use of cheap fares will be reintroduced at Cuffley, Bayford, Watton at Stone, Brookmans Park, Welham Green, Radlett, Hatfield, Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City and Potters Bar.

A train company bidding for the new South West Trains franchise said: ?It is highly likely that similar increases will be considered on some routes from Waterloo.?

UK train leasing firms face probe

BBC News: 28 June 2006

The government has taken the first step towards an inquiry into the prices charged by the three companies that own the rolling stock on the UK's railways. The majority of UK rolling stock pre-dates rail privatisation.

The Department for Transport believes the charges are uncompetitive, and has referred the matter to the Office of Rail Regulation.

The department has been holding talks since early 2005 with the rolling stock operating companies (Roscos).

The firms lease trains and carriages to rail operators for about £1bn a year.

The department has asked the Office of Rail Regulation to consider "a further referral to the Competition Commission for a market investigation".

'Excessive charges'

The largest train rolling stock firm - Angel Trains - is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and has some 5,000 assets.

The other two are HSBC Rail, owned by HSBC, and Porterbrook, owned by the Abbey Group.

"Those discussions have progressed but it has become necessary to bring the matter to a firm conclusion," said a statement from the Department for Transport.

"The department argues the excessive leasing charges are the result of a deficiency in the market created by privatisation that should be remedied."

It said that a market investigation reference under the Enterprise Act was the "appropriate mechanism for dealing with such an issue".

However, former rail regulator Tom Winsor, who is now an adviser to Angel, said the department's investigation was based on "out-of-date" data, and that its action was an "unjustified hit" on the rolling stock firms.

There are about 12,500 trains and carriages on lease, with roughly 60% pre-dating the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s.

Train-leasing banks face inquiry amid claims that public is being ripped off

The Guardian: June 29, 2006
David Teather

The companies supplying the trains and carriages that run on Britain's railways are facing the threat of a competition inquiry amid allegations that they are ripping off passengers by charging the rail-operating firms too much.

The Department for Transport (DfT) referred the matter to the Office of Rail Regulation yesterday after talks aimed at lowering the cost of rolling stock ended last month. The ministry said privatisation had failed in its aim of introducing a competitive train-leasing market.

The complaint focuses on the fees charged by rail-leasing firms for the trains and carriages they inherited from the old British Rail.

Train operators lease almost all of their rolling stock from just three companies, each owned by one of the big banks: Angel Trains, a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland; HSBC Rail, owned by HSBC; and Porterbrook, a part of the Abbey Group.

They were separated from British Rail when the railways were privatised in 1996 and sold off as independent entities. They made combined profits of £165m last year. The Guardian disclosed last month that the government had set a deadline for the rolling stock companies to cut their prices or face an inquiry.

In a statement yesterday, the DfT said: "On the information and analysis available, the department is not satisfied the prices charged for the rolling stock are fair and competitive.

"It is the department's contention that there is a lack of effective competition. This decision has been taken to secure good value for both tax- and farepayers."

The rail regulator - a nine-member board chaired by Chris Bolt - will now consider referring the issue to the Competition Commission. It aims to prepare a report on the market by October.

Many train operators have complained of excessive leasing fees, among them Sea Containers, which owns GNER. It recently described the prices charged by rolling stock firms as "grotesque". There are about 12,500 trains and carriages on lease, with roughly 60% predating the privatisation of British Rail. The banks charge the rail operators about £1bn a year. They estimate that the leasing companies are overcharging by £50mto £100m a year.

The government has made its dissatisfaction with the rail-leasing companies clear since the publication of the Future of Rail white paper in July 2004.

But the rail-leasing companies complained that the current, typically seven-year leases negotiated in 2003-04 were supervised and signed-off by the now dismantled Strategic Rail Authority, which was part of the DfT.

The trio of rolling stock companies also argue that they have invested £6bn in new trains over the past decade. Haydn Abbott, Angel Trains' managing director, said: "The UK can now comfortably boast the youngest fleet of trains in Europe."

Angel Trains said it charged rail operators roughly £1,800 a month to lease a 20-year-old two-carriage Pacer train, which is found on many regional lines. It charges roughly a further £3,600 a month for engineering and maintenance.

The former rail regulator Tom Winsor, who has been a consultant to Angel Trains, described the referral as a politically motivated "unjustified assault" on the rail-leasing companies.

"This is part of the tightening of the ratchet by government on the privatised railway as part of a policy of incremental renationalisation," he said. "The rolling stock-leasing companies collectively make £150m annual profit on an investment of £6bn. That's a pretty modest return. There is a danger that investment in new rolling stock will be jeopardised."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said the train-leasing companies had "been making a mint out of leasing public assets back to the public at exorbitant prices".

See also:

Rail regulator to investigate train leasing firms

The Independent: 29 June 2006
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

The Government was accused yesterday of jeopardising future investment in new railway rolling stock after it ordered a monopolies investigation into the UK's three train-leasing companies.

The Department for Transport said it had asked the Office of Rail Regulation to conduct an inquiry into the £1bn-a-year market because of concerns that "excessive" charges are being levied on train operators by the three leasing companies, all of which are now owned by banks.

Although the referral was made under the Enterprise Act, which has criminal law powers to fine and imprison individual executives for collusion, the ORR is not investigating cartel-style activities but market abuse.

If the ORR decides there is market abuse, it can refer the leasing industry to the Competition Commission which could in turn lead to the break-up of the three companies - Angel Trains, Porterbrook and HSBC Rail. Angel is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland and Porterbrook is owned by Abbey, now part of Banco Santander.

DfT officials said the train operators were being overcharged by at least £50m a year because of a lack of effective competition between the three leasing companies. In particular, they claimed train operators were being made to pay excessive prices for leasing ex-British Rail rolling stock, some of which was more than 60 years old.

However, Tom Winsor, the former Rail Regulator who is acting as legal adviser to Angel Trains, accused the Government of "a politically motivated assault on the most successful part of the privatised railways".

Mr Winsor, who works for the law firm White and Case, added: "There is a danger that investment will be delayed or deterred by the uncertainty caused by this competition inquiry. The Department for Transport may have shot a bullet into its own foot."

He said at no time during his tenure as Rail Regulator had he received any complaint about the level of rolling stock leasing charges. Mr Winsor also said the leasing contracts had all been renegotiated as recently as April 2004 under the supervision of the DfT's Strategic Rail Authority and with its approval, and yet within three months the Government had begun making noises about investigating the industry. "What does that say about the sanctity of a contract with the Government?" he asked.

The leasing companies said they had invested £4bn in new trains in the decade since rail privatisation and had leased assets worth a total of £7bn. Annual profits from this amoun-ted to £165m, which could hardly be described as "excessive".

But the department argued it had a duty to ensure best value for taxpayers and passengers, who ultimately paid for the leased trains. It said the returns the leasing companies were achieving on ex-BR stock - which accounts for 60 per cent of the 12,500 units in service - were "contrary to what would be expected if the market was competitive".

The DfT opened negotiations with the three leasing companies in the spring of last year to try to negotiate a reduction in the charges, but said it was now necessary to consider a Competition Commission referral to bring the matter to a conclusion.

The ORR has three months to conduct its market study. After that it can conduct a further investigation lasting six to 12 months, refer the industry to the Competition Commission, or give it a clean bill of health.

The original sale of the three leasing companies was mired in controversy after the BR managers who bought the businesses made fortunes by selling them on. Sandy Anderson of Porterbrook made £33m while Andrew Jukes of Eversholt pocketed £20m and John Prideaux of Angel Trains netted £15m.

Commuters struggle in first day of rail action

New Zealand Herald: June 29, 2006
A lack of trains left crowds of commuters at stations around Wellington Rail during the first morning of industrial action by network operator Ontrack's staff.

Commuters in the Auckland area were not affected to the same extent, but there were reports of heavy traffic on the roads this morning.
Ontrack's maintenance staff implemented a ban on overtime and callouts outside work hours from 4pm yesterday after failing to negotiate a satisfactory wage increase during final talks.
To relieve stress on the track network and reduce the risk of faults occurring early today, Toll Rail reduced the number of trains operating in the greater Wellington area.
The reduction meant large crowds of people gathered at stations north of Wellington waiting for trains to take them into the city.
Trains in areas such as the Hutt Valley were running every half hour as opposed to the usual 14-minutes and despite extra carriages being added, there were reports of severe overcrowding on platforms and in the carriages.
The problem was compounded by the temporary closure of the Melling line to Lower Hutt.
Rail and Maritime Transport Union spokesman Scott Wilson said the action would continue action until a settlement was reached.
Union members are seeking pay increases to bring them into line with other rail operators, who they say are getting up to $2 an hour more for equivalent work.
Ontrack said it had offered a 4.5 per cent increase and was financially unable to offer any more.
Ontrack chief operating officer William Peet said if the union's demands were met the company would have to ask users to pay higher costs or accept a lesser service.

June 28, 2006

End the plunder says RMT, as Stagecoach rail profits leap 16 per cent

RMT: June 28 2006

THE PLUNDER of Britain's rail industry must be ended, Britain's biggest rail union says today as the Stagecoach group announced rail-sector profits up 16 per cent to £58 million.

As Stagecoach revealed group operating profits of £156 million, up from £153m, with bus operating profits up from £87.7 million to £88.6 million and rail profits up from £50 million to £58 million, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:

"Every penny made by the train-operating companies is money taken out the the railway industry, and every penny comes ultimately from the pockets of taxpayers and fare-payers.

"The privatised rail operators are getting three times the public subsidy that British Rail got.

"South West Trains got £38.6 million in public money in 2004-05, while the Virgin West Coast and Cross Country franchises, which Stagecoach has a 49 per cent stake in, got more than £200 million between them.

"If Stagecoach can afford to increase dividend payouts to its shareholders by another 12 pecrent, then our members in both rail and bus subsidiaries should be able to look forward to substantial pay rises in the next pay round.

"The private sector remains a massive drain on the railway industry, and the only way to ensure that the public money going in will not simply be sucked out again as profits is to bring the whole industry back into public ownership," Bob Crow said

Railways Pension Scheme Campaign Meeting - Bristol

Calling all rail workers! Railways Pension Scheme campaign meeting in Bristol:

Tuesday, July 25 (18.30)
GWRSA Railway Club,
Bristol Temple Meads Station,

Hear RMT general secretary Bob Crow report on the latest developments in the Railways Pension Scheme dispute, at six venues across the country throughout July.

Sack rolling-stock profiteers, says RMT

RMT: June 28, 2006

INVESTIGATION into the excessive profits made by rolling-stock leasing companies (Roscos) is long overdue and should trigger the nation's trains being brought back into public ownership, Britain's biggest rail union says today.

"The rolling-stock companies have been making a mint out of leasing public assets back to the public at exorbitant rates," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The banks that own our trains have sweated assets paid for by taxpayers, made hundreds of millions of pounds at rates that would make the mafia blush, and have helped push rail fares to ludicrous levels.

"The notion that there is any sort of healthy competition or functioning market among the Roscos is absolute nonsense, as is the idea that they have been investing their own money in new rolling stock.

"If the hundreds of millions the Roscos have taken out of the industry as alleged profits had been invested in building new stock, the thousands of people who have lost their jobs at Eastleigh, Crewe, Washwood Heath, and Derby might still be building and maintaining trains.

"An investiagtion into their profiteering is overdue and very welcome, but if the government is to regain control of the railway industry and begin encouraging people out of their cars and back onto trains, it must not shrink away from the logical conclusion.

"Last year's Railways Act was supposed to hand back control of the rail industry to ministers, but the government ducked the opportunity even to regulate the Roscos.

"Britain's trains are too valuable an asset to be left to people who see them only as vehicles for profit, and they should be brought back into the public sector where they belong," Bob Crow said.


For further information contact Derek Kotz on 020 7529 8803 or 07939 595 092

Banks are making 'excessive profits' from leasing old trains

The Times: June 28, 2006
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

THE three banks that own nearly all of Britain?s trains are facing a competition inquiry over allegations that they are making excessive profits from leasing carriages that are up to 70 years old.

The Government is to ask Chris Bolt, the Rail Regulator, to investigate whether rolling stock leasing companies, which are owned by the banks, are exploiting their domination of the market.

Ministers believe that they are overcharging by up to £100 million a year for more than 7,000 carriages built by British Rail before the railways were privatised a decade ago.

In many cases, the construction costs have been repaid several times over, but the banks continue to charge more than £1,000 a week per carriage.

The companies are Angel, owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, Porterbrook, owned by Abbey, and HSBC Rail.

They charge the train operators more than £1 billion a year to lease the trains and make a combined profit of at least £165 million.

Several operators, including GNER and First, have complained to the Department for Transport. GNER described the sums demanded by the companies as ?grotesque? and said that they had no choice but to pay because there was no alternative supplier of rolling stock.

At the time of privatisation it was envisaged that there would be a surplus pool of trains that operators could lease cheaply.

But passenger numbers have grown by 42 per cent in the past ten years and operators have required almost every train available to fulfil their timetables. There are fewer than 200 spare carriages stored in sidings, including some 30-year-old former Virgin West Coast trains.

The banks refuse to reveal the costs of individual leases, claiming commercial confidentiality.

But Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways, said that a two-carriage Pacer train, built in the early 1980s and found on many regional lines, typically cost £106,000 a year to lease. A Pacer cost £700,000 to build in today?s money.

South West Trains pays more than £150,000 a year to rent 12 carriages built in 1938 and used on the Island Line on the Isle of Wight.

The high leasing costs are one of the reasons why the eight-mile line is the most heavily subsidised in the country, costing the taxpayer 77p for each mile travelled by every passenger.

A Whitehall source said: ?We believe there isn?t enough transparency or competition in the market. It?s like a car hire company charging you the same for a brand new Lexus as they do for a five-year-old Ford Focus.

?We want to get value for money for taxpayers and a fair deal for train operators and passengers.? The DfT has calculated, with the help of accountants Ernst & Young, that the banks are overcharging by between £35 million and £100 million a year.

The DfT had hoped to negotiate a compromise but has reluctantly decided to ask Mr Bolt, under the provisions of the Enterprise Act, to carry out a market review.

Mr Bolt said that it would take three to six months to complete an initial review, after which he could refer the issue to the Competition Commission, which might take up to two years to reach its conclusion.

?The alternative is to do what Ofcom (the telecoms regulator) did with BT, which is to reach an agreement on what the problem is and get the company to give undertakings to do something different.?

Mr Bolt conducted a previous investigation into the train leasing companies in 1998 and concluded then that there were no serious problems.

But he said yesterday: ?That was fairly soon after privatisation. There has been a lot more experience since 1998 of how the market has worked.?

A senior leasing company figure said that the banks would welcome an inquiry by Mr Bolt as it would end two years of uncertainty over whether the Government would try to claw back some of the leasing costs.

?We would prefer the regulator looked at the business in a more detached way and are confident he will find that making £165 million profit on assets of £7 billion is actually pretty poor.?

See also:

Probe begun into train leasing sector

Reuters: Jun 28, 2006

LONDON - The government took the first step towards investigating the companies that own and lease out trains on Wednesday, saying the charges had become uncompetitive.

"On the information and analysis available, the (transport) department is not satisfied the prices charged for the rolling stock which leasing companies inherited from British Rail (the former state monopoly) are fair and competitive," said a government statement.

"It is the department's contention that there is a lack of effective competition within this market."

The Department of Transport has been holding talks since early 2005 with the rolling stock operating companies (ROSCOs), which lease about 12,500 trains and carriages to rail operators for about 1 billion pounds a year.

"Those discussions have progressed but it has become necessary to bring the matter to a firm conclusion," said the statement.

"The department argues the excessive leasing charges are the result of a deficiency in the market created by privatisation that should be remedied. A market investigation reference under the Enterprise Act is the appropriate mechanism for dealing with such an issue."

Negotiations hoped to avert industrial action by rail staff

Stuff.co.nz: 28 June 2006

Eleventh hour wage negotiations between rail union members and rail network operator Ontrack were being held this morning in a bid to avert industrial action due to begin tonight.

About 600 Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) members employed by Ontrack gave the company notice of planned industrial action two weeks ago to begin tonight at 4pm.

RMTU advocate Scott Wilson said both parties were meeting in Wellington today and it was a final opportunity for Ontrack to up a standing pay offer and avoid a total ban on overtime and callouts by union staff.

Mr Wilson said Ontrack had refused to make a pay offer amounting to any more than the rate of inflation.

Ontrack said the company was not in a position to be able to do so and was disappointed at the union's approach.

It said it hoped negotiations today would lead to the industrial action being averted.

The action would involve staff from Invercargill to Northland.

Bus workers back women's rights

International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF): 21 June 2006

Members of an Iranian bus workers' union were part of a 5000-strong rally demonstrating against Iran's oppression of women in the capital city, Tehran.
Iran_womens_rights_demo (19k image)
Rally for women's rights in Tehran [photo: courtesy of www.kosoof.com more demo pics here]

Workers of ITF affiliate Sandikaye Kargarane Sherkate Vahed, the Tehran bus workers' union, joined demonstrators, which included both men and women, on 12 June, to demand an end to all forms of legal gender-based discrimination. Iran's laws currently protect men at the expense of women: polygamy, divorce, child custody, employment rights, travel restrictions and the definition of adulthood all discriminate against women. In addition, under current law, women are assigned half the value of a man. This means, for example, that four women must appear in court to fulfil the requirement of two witnesses.

During the demonstration Zahra Haiatgheib, the wife of a board member of the bus workers' union Mansour Haiatgheibi was arrested.

The activists are being supported by five Nobel Peace Prize winners:  Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Jody Williams from the US, Betty Williams from Ireland, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala.

The ITF is currently supporting the Tehran bus workers' union in its continuous struggle for the right to organise in the face of unrelenting repression by the authorities. The union's President, Mansoor Osanloo has been held in detention since 22 December last year. Commenting on the plight of the union, Bilal Malkawi, ITF Arab World Offices said: "This is a fight for the fundamental human rights of workers. Workers acting in solidarity will win in the end."

June 27, 2006

TUC Safety reps survey 2006

TUC: 12 June 2006
TUC_2006safetyreps (19k image)
This is the sixth TUC survey of Safety Reps. It is designed to provide the TUC and individual unions with information about who safety reps are, and what their experiences and needs are.

The TUC will publish the results, and use them to campaign for better safety standards at work (including more rights for Safety Reps).

Your response is crucial to ensuring that this survey provides the information we seek. This form can be filled in on-line. Please answer as many questions as you can ? but if they seem irrelevant to your experiences, ignore them. If you have also received a paper form of the paper please only complete it once.

Collating the responses to this survey will be a time-consuming and expensive task, so we cannot enter into correspondence arising from the survey. But we do want to know about any successes you have had in improving health and safety standards. Please send details to the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. Email: healthandsafety@tuc.org.uk

This form should be completed by 1 August 2006

Proceed to survey

Briefing document (400 words) issued 12 Jun 2006

The TOLPUDDLE MARTYRS Festival 14-16 July 2006

TUC: 14-16 July 2006
chainsposter (13k image) On February 24th, 1834, six farm labourers from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were arrested on a charge of taking part in an 'illegal oath' ceremony.

In the eyes of their masters, however, the real offence was that they had dared to form a trade union to defend their livelihood. For this they were sentenced to seven years' transportation to the penal colonies of Australia. The sentences provoked an immense outcry, leading to the first great mass trade union protest.

The campaign won free pardons and the Martyrs' return to England.

A historic episode in the struggle for trade unionists' rights in Great Britain.

We shall never forget what we owe them.

Friday Night in the Martyrs' Marquee

7.00 Get cape, wear cape, fly

Fresh from working on Love Music Hate Racism, Sam Duckworth the laptop-acoustic wunder-kid opens the show.

8.00 The Hightown Crows

The Hightown Crows broken bottleneck blues sound with a country twist, raw rock and roll from a fly-blown chickenshack somewhere in Dorset.

9.45 Three Daft Monkeys

A colourful carnival of sound. This innovative and exciting trio supported the Levellers across Europe. Rousing vocals, frenetic fiddling, rhythmical 12-string guitar, dancing bass and foot drum. Whether it's Celtic, Balkan, Gypsy, Latino, or other World Music you are drawn to, you will hear its influences in their self written music. It's quirky, it's groovy,

Saturday 15 July

For the Kids

Lots going on for all ages over the weekend.

Marquee Stalls until 5pm

If you want to book a stall space call the South West TUC on 0117 947 0521 for information.

Music Free and Easy

Bar Area 1pm onwards

Graham Moore hosts an Open Mic session with traditional and contemporary musicians, singers, poets and stand-ups. All welcome.

Martyrs' Marquee Discussions


Unions and Climate Change, speakers include:

Paul Noon, chair of the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee and Prospect General Secretary;
Phil Pearson, TUC Policy Officer covering energy and climate change;
Martyn Williams, Friends of the Earth


Latin America turns left, speakers include:

Owen Tudor, TUC Head of European Union and International Relations
Representatives from Cuba Solidarity, Justice for Colombia and others

Saturday evening 7.30 to midnight

THE demon barber roadshow with special guests: A high energy music and dance spectacular. 'The show is a dynamic, forward-looking approach to traditional music for the new century' (Mel McLelland, BBC Radio2), 'Just the kind of shot in the arm that folk music needs from time to time' (Nigel Schofield, Free Reed)

Tickets £10

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival Sunday 16 July 2006

Entrance Free

Parking: £5

(£20 for coaches)

Main Stage

11.00 Welcome

Chair of the South West TUC opens the day's celebrations.

11.05 Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts have a bucketful of anger, emotion, great big tunes and a lot to say. They combine big guitars with strong vocals shouted and sung with emotion with some lovely melodic and uplifting energetic fast folk violins all the way through. An excellent festival band that combine an exciting full-on live show with moments of acoustic reflection and an important cultural message which also retains a big element of fun.

11.45 The Yetties

The Yetties are one of England's most popular folk groups. They take their name from the Dorset village of Yetminster and they still live close by. Their obvious love of the West Country, its songs, stories and humour wins them friends wherever they go. Their music and their enthusiasm has taken them all over the world. They have recorded no less than 45 albums and must be about the only performers to have worked on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

12.30 Guest Speakers including

Gloria Mills, TUC President
Gemma Tumelty, President National Union of Students

Oscar Oliveira, Executive Secretary, Federation of Factory Workers of Cochabamba, Bolivia
oscar (3k image)

12.45 Susheela Raman

Susheela is an extraordinary new talent on the world music scene. Her bold and sensuous voice weaves the music of India with sounds from her Western upbringing, celebrating the collision of European, African, and Asian musical cultures. Empowered by her Indian classical training but not limited by it, Susheela maps out a new musical landscape of intense beauty and invention.

1.00 Wreath laying

While the music plays, wreaths are laid on the grave of Martyr James Hammett in St John's Church

1.45 Dedication of the Parade - call to march.

You must have a good cause to march for.

2.00 Grand Procession led by

The Great Western Marching Jazz Band

The Musicians' Union band has been leading Labour Movement events for many years.

3.00 Guest Speakers including

Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty
Brendan Barber TUC General Secretary
Tony Benn

3.30 Freshlyground

Freshlyground have a busy year: a national tour of South Africa, a UK tour in July, including the Tolpuddle Festival, followed by Germany and Belgium.

Freshlyground, formed in 2002, is one of South Africa's most successful young acts. Made up of seven talented and diverse musicians from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. With a strong word of mouth buzz based on the band's live performance reputation - momentum has picked up as the sheer quality of the music begun to shine through. The band weave a musical magic that is highly infectious and undeniably groovy.

4.30 Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg was recently described as a 'national treasure'. In the two decades of his career Bragg has certainly made an indelible mark on the conscience of British music, becoming perhaps the most stalwart guardian of the radical dissenting tradition that stretches back over centuries of the country's political, cultural and social history.

Kids Area
Plenty for children both young and old

PlayPlus will be providing Parachute games, floor activities and mask making craft activity throughout the weekend. Sara Ayling and Fran Marsh are back again this year running a flag making workshop for everyone who wants to join the procession in style. The bouncy castle will be run by volunteers from West Dorset Friends of the Earth, so jump around and help the planet.

Mr. Mojo's Roadshow is a must, a fast, furious and fun filled energy-fest that children love and parents are drawn into as well. Guaranteed to keep kids singing and dancing. Noah Messomo brings storytelling and drumming to Tolpuddle. Originally from Cameroon, Noah has built up a huge reputation for involving everyone in his enthusiastic drum workshops and shouldn't be missed. Pop along and check activity times on the day.

Martyrs' MarqueeCompere Herbie Treehead

Star of stage and screen Herbie Treehead is 'a one man entertainment centre' and 'a very talented, strange little man who has done a lot of unusual things'. Herbie will be keeping the show moving along with ridiculous stories, jokes and a trick or two to keep you entertained.

11.00 Wob

With just one guitar and an extra long pair of vocal chords, Wob opens Sunday's Marquee Stage with his humourous and passionate combination of clever acoustic style and perky stage presence. Definitely worth seeing.

12.00 David Rovics

has been called the musical voice of the progressive movement in the US. He will make you laugh, he will make you cry, and he will make the revolution irresistible.

1.00 The Herbie Treehead Band

(leading onto the procession)

Herbies back on with his band of Glastonbury and Edinburgh Festival regulars, playing songs from their album 'Sleepy songs and not very sleepy songs'. Take time out before the procession to see music for all the family, silliness, dancing, juggling, and anything else that's ridiculous.

3.00 Heron

A rare chance to listen to distinctive English style of pastoral song-driven music that Heron have been producing since the late 60's. Their music is outdoor, light and summery, featuring strong vocal harmonies with a touch of Autumn melancholia, and provides the perfect post procession chill out in the Marquee.

4.30 The Kate Garrett Band

Evocative music that is complex, unsettling and deeply beautiful. A sensual overload of fluid vocals, driving acoustic guitar, textured percussion and cello that flies effortlessly between graceful melodic lines and sonic anarchy. It's great to hear an ostensibly "acoustic" act work up something so strange and dangerous in order to take the listener somewhere new.

Open View

Advanced booking with the South West TUC is strongly advised.

£25 to camp over the weekend with a two-person tent. £35 for camper vans and larger tents. Fee includes parking. Sorry, no cars will be allowed on the camping area. No caravans. Space is very tight, pitches are allocated on arrival so if planning to camp in groups please arrange to arrive together.

Hot showers.

Hot breakfasts available.

Buy On-line

Weekend camping and saturday night tickets are available for purchase. Entrance to the festival is free. The shop also stocks a wide range of books, souvenirs and gifts Visit the online shop at http://www.tuc.org.uk/tolpuddle

How to get to Tolpuddle

Please follow signs from the A35 to the car park to the west of the village.


Sunday parking charges:

£5 per car, £20 for coaches.

Friday & Saturday only: £2 (campers free)


Take the train to Dorchester or park and ride. Coach from Dorchester South on Sunday10.30am and 11.30am returning from Tolpuddle 5.30pm and 6.30pm

(Subject to timetable review in June).

£2 each way.

No penalty fares on Silverlink from Friday as revenue staff take action

RMT: June 26 2006

SILVERLINK REVENUE protection staff will refuse to issue penalty fares from a minute after midnight on June 30 after the company failed to table a suitable offer for the re-introduction of the penalty-fares system, Britain?s biggest rail union announced today.

In a ballot of the 70-plus RMT members involved, 39 voted in favour of action short of strike and not one voted against.

"The extraordinary ballot result returned by our members underlines the anger that they feel at Silverlink's attempts to re-impose a penalty fares system that puts them at risk and hits their earnings," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"If the company really believed it could get away with that without offering a penny piece in return, our members have told them in no uncertain terms that they were wrong.

"Silverlink now have a simple choice: they can either get back round the table and negotiate sensibly, or they can issue their penalty fares themselves - because our members certainly won't be doing it.

"We are happy to talk to the company, but Silverlink have to get real and put a sensible offer on the table and address our safety concerns," Bob Crow said.

June 26, 2006

Railways Pension Scheme Campaign

RMT Circular No. NP072/06: 21st June 2006

Dear Colleague,
Railways Pension Scheme Campaign
Further to my circular No.NP70/06, of 14th June, this matter was considered again by the General Grades Committee yesterday, when I advised that four candidates had been identified as a potential Chair of the Commission.

In addition, two candidates had been identified as the Unions' possible side member. It is hoped to reach agreement on the Commission members by 3rd July.
With regard to the draft timetable for commencing consideration of the issues and the date of reporting back, this has yet to be confirmed. However, subject to leave commitments, it is anticipated the Commission should report back with preliminary recommendations within three months with a view that recommendations could be amended, if need be, to reach a final conclusion as soon as practically possible.
Preliminary work has commenced on RMT?s submission and it is anticipated this will be placed before the GGC for amendment/adoption during week commencing 10th July. It is the intention that the GGC and myself will meet informally with the Unions? Wing Member in order to emphasise our priorities for the Commission. Owing to the technicalities of the issues involved, I have emphasised the necessity for the full GGC to be in attendance at this meeting so that everyone may fully understand the objectives. Following that meeting appropriate arrangements will be made to produce evidence to the Commission..
I am pleased to report that it has also been agreed RMT?s Pensions Officer will be seconded to assist the Commission, which will also give an added advantage of having a presence at the Commission during its duration.
Once RMT's submission has been agreed, a booklet in easy to understand format outlining the key issues will be made available to members.
Insofar as the costs of the Commission are concerned, it is obviously essential to ensure these are kept as reasonable as possible. Nevertheless, I believe it is in our interests to make some financial contribution in order to avoid this being an employer paid exercise. We would wish to avoid a situation where 'he who pays the piper calls the tune.'  Having an RMT employee working with the Commission would be part of the RMTs costs.
Members will recall the GGC instructed me to organise six Rallies and invite the other unions to speak. Replies have been received from TSSA and Confed agreeing to do so, but ASLEF has declined. So far the following meeting dates have been agreed:
* 18th July          Newcastle
* 24th July          Derby
* 25th July          Bristol
* 27th July          Manchester.
Dates for the meetings in London and Glasgow will be agreed in due course and members will be advised accordingly.
After considering my report, the GGC carried the following decision:
           "That we note the position. Further, we reiterate that our four key dispute points remain as the fundamental points of this commission. The GS is instructed to write to Branches and regional councils immediately."
I shall keep you advised of developments.
Yours sincerely,

Bob Crow,
General Secretary

Branch Meeting - Wednesday, 28th June 2006

The next meeting of RMT Bristol Rail Branch will take place on Wednesday 28 June, 2006 at 19.00 hours in the GWRSA Railway Club, Lounge Bar. All members welcome. AGENDA below.

1 Welcome to new members/attendees

2 Minutes of May meeting & matters arising
May_2006_minutes.doc (31k file)

3 Industrial matters:
* Pensions dispute
* Network Rail ? Signallers? dispute
* Virgin Trains ? Sunday working dispute ? Resolution from Plymouth No.1
* FGW Drivers Dispute/ Drivers? Charter
* FGW redundancies and Pay talks

4 Organisational Matters
* Financial Report
* Membership Report
* AGM : i) Supplementary Agenda ii) GS Report & Annual Accounts
* BEMM Conference, 2007/
* National Assembly Against Racism
* Conference Age Limits

5 Political matters
* Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival 16th July
* Durham Miners? Gala 8th July
* Rise Festival 8th July

6 Any other business


* Pay anniversaries
* Education facilities ? union reps
* Union Modernisation fund
* Catering Grades ? pay comparison


* Labour Research June 2006
* LRD Worklplace Report
* Solidarity
* Hands Off Venezuela
* Across the Tracks
* Off The Rails

Demography, race and class: New Labour and the BNP

Searchlight the international anti-fascist Magazine: June 2006
Jon Cruddas MP and Nick Lowles  

The May 2006 local elections in England saw gains for the far-right, British National Party in Barking & Dagenham, including the defeat of one Labour councillor and RMT activist - a hero of the 7 July bombings 11 months earlier, who led his passengers to safety out of Edgeware Road Tube station. In this article from Searchlight magazine an analysis and some wider lessons of the election campaign are considered.

Barking & Dagenham has recently become synonymous with the British National Party. The borough has hardly been out of the news. For two weeks before the local elections the media were crawling over the area writing articles foreboding BNP support. When this became a reality on 4 May the media were back in town, this time reflecting on the political earthquake that was largely of their own making. Jon Cruddas MP and Nick Lowles argue that only a readjustment in public policy can defeat the BNP.

It would be easy to believe that the BNP gains in Barking & Dagenham simply dropped out of the sky: an overnight success that took everyone by surprise. This view is not only factually incorrect but leaves a dangerous gap in understanding why the BNP gained such support.

The BNP polled 4.9% across London in the Assembly elections in 2004, but in Barking & Dagenham it took 14.8%. Adding the UKIP?s 18% pushes the right-wing vote to above 33%. In several wards, including all those where the BNP gained councillors this year, the combined BNP UKIP vote in 2004 was over 40%.

A few months after the London Assembly election, the BNP won a Barking & Dagenham council by-election with over 52% of the vote. The party had averaged 35% in five council by-elections over the previous two years. At the general election the BNP collected 4,916 votes ? 17.0% ? in the Barking constituency; in Dagenham the figure was 2,870 votes ? 9.3%.

This year?s BNP performance is significant not least because over the past few years there has been a sustained campaign against the BNP on the ground. At local level a new popular front politics has been forged through anti-fascist groups and churches, local union branches and voluntary and political groups coming together to combat the BNP.

Indeed election day saw a massive Labour vote mobilised. The Labour Party made seven gains from the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and independents leaving only one Tory hanging on by five votes. Overall the number of Labour councillors fell from 42 to 38, the BNP took 12 (subject to a court correcting an error in the announcement of the results), the Conservatives held one and all other parties were wiped out.

The key was turnout, which rose from some 22% to 38%. In some wards it approached or even exceeded 50%. In short, there was both a massive Labour vote ? the product of mobilising on the ground over a number of years ? and a surge in BNP support in its seven target wards.

Alongside the strong Labour campaign there was a concerted anti-fascist operation co-ordinated by Searchlight. In the immediate pre-election period it included the distribution of 25,000 tabloid newspapers to every household in the borough and up to three letters to the 6,000 households containing black and minority ethnic voters. This was a phenomenal operation that was unrivalled anywhere in the country and built upon two years of systematic organisation at street level. Moreover it dovetailed with a vigorous union trade operation targeting members in the borough and providing troops for the broader anti-fascist mobilisation.

How then are we to understand the BNP vote?

Part of it is accounted for by the ability of the BNP to become the depository for anti-Labour feeling in a number of wards given the limited alternatives available to vote for any other party. Across the borough Labour stood 51 candidates, the Tories 23, the UKIP 17, the BNP 13, Liberal Democrats four and others seven.

However, compared to recent levels of activity and its general profile, until a few weeks before polling day the BNP had appeared weak and dispirited: it had few activists on the streets, limited materials were being distributed and its expectations were low. Indeed activists were being sent away to Loughton, seen as the party?s main electoral priority.

The real trigger for BNP activity, and consequently votes and elected councillors, was the media frenzy following Margaret Hodge?s comments that eight out of ten of her white working-class voters supported the BNP, her view that in some sense the profile of Barking resembled that of Brixton and the statement that other London authorities were actively depositing asylum seekers into the borough. What followed was arguably the most sustained, and indeed often benign, media coverage of the BNP that we have seen.

Many now believe that this coverage of the BNP actually served to reactivate and further build its vote in the borough. The figures for those voting BNP far exceeded all local intelligence-based estimates, as well as all quantitative and qualitative empirical data built up over the past few years on prospective vote and actual levels of support.

Indeed evidence and intelligence from within the BNP itself reinforces the view that this coverage electrified its campaign and support not only in East London but around the country and was directly responsible for many of its electoral successes. The final nine days of press coverage, especially of the Home Office lapses in deporting foreign nationals, reinforced this.

Yet these movements of votes over the last few weeks of the campaign hardly account for the material forces that underpin the BNP presence in the borough. The key forces at work arise from the extraordinary demographic shifts that are occurring against a legacy of poverty and sustained underinvestment in public services and infrastructure.

The key driver of this transformation is the relatively low cost private housing market; yet this consequence of the right to buy has also heightened demand for social housing given sustained house price inflation over the past five years. The borough retains the lowest cost housing across the whole of London and as such it has a magnetic pull for anyone in search of such housing.

The major demographic changes are still off the radar of public policy makers who remain attached to census data that offer diminishing returns in terms of understanding the day-to-day realities of life in the borough. The population changes have largely occurred since the last census. Yet public policy making assumes a stable ? indeed slightly declining ? population of 164,000 for allocating resources with a static ethnic make-up for every year since 2001.

The only data set that begins to uncover the demographic shifts of which every resident is aware is year-on-year data regarding school rolls. This shows up both a rapidly growing head count and dramatic shifts within that total. For example, between 2003 and 2005 the percentage of white children on the school roll fell by some 9.1%. Three quarters of this change is accounted for by black African children.

One of the key factors behind the emergence of the BNP is this rupture between the formal state perception of the borough and the day-to-day dynamics at work within it. The incremental state investment in public services on the basis of out of date population statistics cannot even begin to remove concerns that demographic change is occurring while resources are becoming more scarce. Therefore, it is a short step to perceive that these changes are actually reducing the social wage, be this in terms of growing health inequalities, reduced access to social housing or even declining hourly wage rates as the dynamic of migration triggers a rush to the bottom in terms of conditions at work.

Each issue of resource allocation is seen by many as an issue of race, which becomes the proxy by which, for example, health, housing and wage inequalities are viewed. The most acute politicisation of resources concerns housing. Yet it is considered through the prism of race rather than systematic failure to provide low-rent social housing units.

It is here that the issue of working-class disenfranchisement kicks in. New Labour has quite consciously removed class as an economic or political category; it has specifically calibrated a science of political organisation ? and indeed an ideology ? to camp out in middle England with unarguable electoral successes.

Yet the question remains whether the policy mix developed ever more to dominate a specific part of the electoral architecture of the UK actually compounds problems in other communities with a different history and contemporary economic and social profile.

It is not just about social housing, although this is the most concrete manifestation of the core problem. It is about the ability of the state to anticipate and invest in the poor urban communities that take the strain of rapid demographic change. These communities are the least able to navigate through such change as they retain the legacies of previous periods of political and economic failure.

It is across this seam of class, race, poverty, public service inequalities and the demography of urban Britain that the question of Labour renewal might be considered when cast alongside the rise of the BNP.

The policy remedies are easy to identify ? housing strategy, labour market reform, sustained education investment, the removal of health inequalities, use of brownfield land, a creative approach to demographic change in real time, including a once and for all regularisation of illegal migrants so as properly to quantify population growth etc, etc. In many respects although unfashionable the remedies are often self-evident especially when you have the most brownfield land in London.

It is in reality an exercise in political will. Such remedies would allow us to return to the class disenfranchisement issues contained in current present strategy and the associated triangulations of New Labour especially as regards race. It would also create the positive sum environment to beat the BNP ? at present our organisation takes place within a zero-sum policy framework.

What this would entail is an actual renewal in terms of policy and organisation of an electoral coalition. Yet all we hear from the provisional wing within New Labour is that last week?s electoral failures were solely attributable to not being New Labour enough ? we simply lost those voters we gained in 1997. Empirically this is not the case but these facts cannot get in the way.

Ceteris paribus we must provide more New Labour reform. It is this fundamental distinction between renewal and reform that must resolved over the next months and years and it must be resolved not with recourse to an ever more extreme right-wing route map but by deepening and widening a genuine political coalition.

1st Disc-shaped Railway Station Opens

CRIENGLISH.com/Xinhua: 2006-06-25

The world's first disc-shaped railway station has begun trial operations with its official opening set for July 1 in Shanghai.
Shanghai_South_station (32k image)
A view of the disc-shaped Shanghai South railway station, Sunday, June 25, 2006. Photo: AP

The newly-built Shanghai South Railway Station, started services on five passenger trains between Shanghai and Hangzhou, of neighbouring Zhejiang Province, on Sunday.

Starting next month, the new station will provide around the clock ticket sales, and 41 trains are expected to run from the station.

Shanghai_South_station2 (43k image)
Passengers preparing to board a train heading to Hangzhou at the Shanghai South Railway Station on Sunday, June 25, 2006. Photo: Xinhua

Officials say the opening of the South Railway Station indicates a new phase in the expansion of Shanghai's rail transportation. In particular, it will facilitate the link between Shanghai and other cities in the Yangtze River Delta and South China.

Chen Dongjie, executive deputy director of the construction project, said that with a diameter of around 300 meters, the station?s dome is the largest single roof structure of its kind in the world. It covers the entire departure area of the station, which is capable of holding up to 10,000 people.

Shanghai_South_station1 (51k image)
Passengers pass through the waiting hall of the Shanghai South Railway Station on Sunday, June 25, 2006. Photo: Xinhua

The station's roof design required a high-performance material that offered excellent light transmission and strong weather resistance, Chen said, adding that the key material of the dome is Lexan sheet.

"Lexan sheet provides stunning design elements, allowing light to illuminate the station interior and boarding platform for the enjoyment of travelers," said Frans van de Noort, Asia-Pacific General Manager for the material manufacturer, GE Plastics, Specialty Film and Sheet.

See also:

The railway station with world's largest transparent roof


Peoples Daily Online: June 26, 2006

Shanghai_Station3 (76k image)
The photo shows the waiting hall of the Shanghai South Railway Station which is able to accommodate 16,000 passengers. The Shanghai South Railway Station, with world's largest circular transparent roof, started its trial operation Monday, June 26, 2006. The station will attract 1/3 of passengers from the Shanghai Railway Station once it formally opens on July 1.

Shanghai_Station5 (51k image)
Train N521 from Shanghai South Station to Hangzhou is the first one to leave the Station. A conductor puts on a signboard on the train to leave the Shanghai South Station on Monday.

Shanghai_Station6 (26k image)
A view of illuminated Shanghai South Railway Station.

June 25, 2006

Tesco uses nuclear firm to run 'green trains'

The Independent on Sunday: 25 June 2006
By Severin Carrell

The supermarket giant Tesco is using a rail firm set up to transport highly radioactive nuclear waste as part of its £100m bid to become the "greenest" retailer in Britain.

The chain boasted last month that it was the first major food retailer to shift large amounts of freight from Britain's roads back on to the railways, using specially imported "green" trains and carriages.

But these trains are run by a company set up by Sellafield's owner, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, to move used nuclear fuel around the country. The freight company has even pulled the Royal Train.

Anti-nuclear campaign-ers say the company, Direct Rail Services, has been beset by accidents. Since it was set up in 1995 there have been numerous incidents involving nuclear fuel trains being derailed, waste flasks being dropped and, in May, a collision with a car at a crossing.

Tesco said using rail would save about 4.5 million road miles and 6,000 tons of CO2 a year. "This is a contract with DRS's commercial freight side of their business and completely separate from what they do for BNFL," said a spokesperson.

Tay rail bridge disaster cover-up revealed

The Sunday Times: June 25, 2006
Karin Goodwin

IT was Scotland?s worst structural disaster, a tragedy in which 75 people died when their train careered off a collapsing bridge and plunged into the murky waters of the River Tay.

Now, more than a century after the Tay Bridge disaster, previously unpublished papers have emerged that show the inquiry into the tragedy was a whitewash.

Disaster struck on the evening of December 28, 1879, when a half-mile section of the two-mile crossing collapsed as a train was crossing from Fife to Dundee. All 12 towers supporting the girders on the 88ft single-track structure fell. Twenty-nine bodies were never recovered.

At the inquiry into the disaster Sir Thomas Bouch, who designed the bridge, was singled out for criticism after it concluded that the structure was ?badly designed, badly constructed and badly maintained?.

However, new evidence shows that repeated warnings about a damaged girder were ignored in the months before the tragedy and that others should also have been brought to account.

Charles McKean, professor of Scottish architectural history at Dundee University, discovered four witness statements in the unpublished papers of Thomas Thorton, the Dundee-based lawyer of the North British Railway company, which show that the damaged girder caused trains to jump or bounce on the track for months before the disaster.

The vital testimony was suppressed by the train company?s lawyer and never presented to the inquiry.

One passenger, John Neilson, said in his witness statement that the ?prancing? of the bridge got progressively worse reaching ?an up and down motion of nine inches in my judgement?.

Another, TD Baxter, said that after one particularly harrowing journey he ?never travelled that way again?, while Provost William Robertson, an engineer, claimed the bounding motion reminded him of a suspension bridge.

Despite having already bought a season ticket, he started using the ferry instead.

Construction and maintenance engineers received a barrage of complaints and were aware of potential problems with the girder, but its safety was never investigated.

According to McKean?s theory, the derailed train carriage crashed into a key coverplate, which weakened and brought down the entire structure.

McKean claims that Thorton undermined the subsequent inquiry by presenting evidence selectively and discouraging witnesses who might damage his employer?s case from coming forward.

The professor says that the eye-witness accounts tally with letters held in the Scottish Records office, which show that a metal girder that had blown off in a storm during the construction of the bridge was repaired and reused, despite having suffered extensive damage.

According to the documents, the builders, who were over-budget and under mounting pressure from the North British Railway to complete the project, decided to cut corners to save time and money.

Bouch, the head engineer of the Tay Bridge Company, was found responsible by the inquiry board, sacked and disgraced.

In his book Battle for the North, to be published this August, McKean says that Bouch was a scapegoat and that if all the evidence had been heard, several other officials would have been implicated.

?At the inquiry there was an agenda,? said McKean, who says North British Railway used its influence to sway the inquiry board. ?They wanted to find a simple scapegoat and so the evidence was tailored to suit. It was about finding a publicly acceptable result. I am now extremely suspicious of modern-day public inquiries.?

While admitting that Bouch was ?far from impressive? and should have shouldered some of the blame, McKean believes his superiors should also have been held to account for cutting corners.

Bill Dow, a retired physics teacher and expert on the Tay Bridge who assisted in McKean?s research, agreed that the company was under a lot of pressure to complete the project and even accepted a bribe to get it up and running in time.

But he disputes McKean?s claim that the inquiry was crooked from the outset.

?In my view this started out as a genuine inquiry and was extremely probing,? he said. ?However when you read the inquiry report you can see that Thorton?s treatment of the head contractor was totally different. It was as if he had on kid gloves.?

Even though the inquiry board comprised some of the most qualified men in the rail industry, Dow says they failed to take the reins. ?The lawyer was in the end allowed to take control of the inquiry.?

June 24, 2006

Vulnerability of Europe's Alpine transport routes exposed

Financial Times: June 23 2006
By Haig Simonian in Altdorf, Canton of Uri, Switzerland

Engineers on Friday blew up part of a Swiss hillside in an attempt to stabilise a crumbling mountain rockface that has led to the closure of one of Europe?s main transalpine highways.

Experts from the canton of Uri, at the head of the valley leading to the St Gotthard tunnel, said it would take days to assess whether the explosion would eliminate the danger of severe rockfalls that last month closed the A2 motorway.

The closure of the four lane route, and of the parallel, older road over the pass, has led to traffic chaos. Heavy goods vehicles that ply the Gotthard, one of the most convenient routes between northern and southern Europe, have had to seek alternatives, leading to massive congestion.

The cause of the diversion happened on May 31, when giant boulders crashed down onto the A2 at Gurtnellen, just north of the 16km-long Gotthard tunnel. Two Germans died when boulders hit their Volkswagen Beetle convertible.

Swiss engineers now hope that the motorway and pass road will reopen in time for the July 1 weekend rush, when thousands of northern Europeans head south for their holidays. But none were willing to make a firm prediction on Friday.

As with the closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy after a fire in 1999, the blockage has spotlighted the fragility of Europe?s transalpine routes - and the crucial logistical role they play in a now virtually single market. In the EU's integrated economy, vast quantities of goods travel between member states - the overwhelming majority by road in 40-tonne trucks.

"The Gotthard has been a crossing point for centuries, whether by donkey, coach, train or, nowadays, motor vehicle," says Markus Z?ead of construction for Uri and the man leading the repairs. The narrow crossing accounts for about 1m of the 1.3m heavy trucks that pass through Switzerland every year. In neighbouring Austria, the Brenner pass between south-eastern Germany and northern Italy is even more vital, carrying 4.5m trucks last year.

"The number of heavy trucks was 5 per cent up on 2004. That's a huge burden for us," says Marc Zimmermann of Asfinag, Austria's highways operator.

At peak periods, about 3,500 juggernauts a day rumble up the narrow Reuss valley towards the Gotthard tunnel. After a fire in 2001 that claimed 11 lives, numbers have been regulated, with trucks being detained in up to five holding areas along the route to prevent the bunching deemed to be a safety hazard inside the world's longest road tunnel.

With the Gotthard shut, it is Switzerland's other alpine crossings that are bearing the burden. Most affected has been the San Bernardino, the closest alternative.

Steeper, bendier and narrower than the Gotthard, the route has been seen massive congestion as the number of heavy trucks has quadrupled from the average 500-600 a day. Shorter jams have also occurred along the Simplon pass, where the number of trucks has risen fivefold to about 750 a day, and the Grand St Bernard pass and tunnel, Switzerland?s two other main transalpine arteries. Even heavy goods traffic using the Mont Blanc tunnel has increased by 12-15 per cent. None of the alternatives is adequate. The Gotthard is the easiest and most convenient crossing?, admits Thomas Rohrbach of the Federal Roads Agency in Bern.

But even when the Gotthard reopens, the chances of a significant improvement in cross-border road links will remain slim because of the acute environmental and financial sensitivity of traffic in the Alps.

?We have to transfer more goods to rail in the long term?, says Isidor Baumann, head of the economics administration for Uri.

Ideas for new rail links abound. But few of the mooted projects seem likely to become reality. Plans for a long rail tunnel between Lyon in France and Turin in Italy are advancing. But Austria?s hopes for a rail link beneath the Brenner are no closer to realisation than ever.

The Swiss, ever sensitive to accusations of benefiting from their proximity to the EU without contributing adequately in return, argue they are about the only ones taking action.

Massive tunnel boring machines are inching their way under the Alps for new crossings in western Switzerland and under the Gotthard. The western link should open in December 2007.

The two schemes will cost almost SFr20bn ($16bn, ?13bn, £9bn) ? with the final bill likely to be higher by the time the 54km Gotthard rail tunnel, the second and more ambitious scheme, opens in 2017. Whether more goods will forsake the roads in favour of rail by then is another matter.

Penistone MP seeks rail solution

Look Local: 24 June 2006

BARNSLEY MP Mick Clapham has called for the trans-Pennine railway route to be re-instated.

The Penistone councillor believes the reopening of the route would bring much needed jobs back to the Penistone area.

The proposal would see a link between Sheffied and Manchester, calling off at Penistone.
The suggestion follows the news of the Hi Tech foundry closure and the announcements that Hoyland Fox and Bespoke Precast would be re-locating.

There are also concerns about the future of David Brown Union Pumps, and Mr Clapham wants something done to put the brakes on the industrial decline in the area.

He said: ?We have lost a good number of jobs in Penistone and it is a cause for concern. We had some good engineering industries but all that has gone.

?If we had a railway over the Pennines there is potential for railway engineering to be instigated which in itself would create jobs.

?I see that as stimulus for industry in Penistone and I think in the next 10 years we will see it happen.?

?I think a railway can revive Penistone and at the same time mitigate against the traffic increases on the A628 in the next few years.?

After being built in the 1840?s, the Woodhead line served asa freight and passenger line across the Pennines until its closure in1981.

Manchester firm Translink UK have now submitted a proposal to the Department of Transport to allow trains carrying heavy goods vehicles to use the tunnel.

Deepcar, along with Tinsley and two stops in Manchester would be used to load the lorries.

EWS wins deal to move newsprint for Daily Mail

AFX: 23rd June 2006

LONDON - The UK's biggest rail freight operator, English, Welsh & Scottish (EWS), said it has won a deal from paper manufacturer UPM-Kymmene Corp to move newsprint.

EWS said it has secured a contract of undisclosed value from the Finnish group to run two trains a week of paper between Ayrshire, Scotland and a new freight terminal in Barking, Essex.

The paper is destined for Daily Mail & General Trust PLC division Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Evening Standard and London Metro.

The new service, which started this month, replaces a previous road operation and will remove thousands of lorry movements a year from the road network, EWS said.

EWS, which is part-owned by Canadian National Railways Co, opened the Barking terminal last month in partnership with logistics group Howard Tenens.

ON THIS DAY 1968: Rail go-slow begins

BBC ON THIS DAY: 24 June 1968

The country's rail network has been thrown into disarray by the National Union of Railwaymen's (NUR) work-to-rule.
1968_NUR_go_slow (12k image)
Many overnight services have been cancelled

The union, which rejected a last minute pay and productivity offer by British Rail (BR) on Saturday, began its work to rule and ban on overtime at midnight last night.

Frustrated passengers were left stranded at train stations overnight as services, not due to arrive at their destination until after midnight, were cancelled from 2200BST yesterday.

The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef) is expected to join the dispute today, which will inevitably cause further cancellations and delays.

'Grave consequences'

The chaos is expected to become worse as the week progresses as more than 20 per cent of railway work is carried out on overtime.

Barbara Castle, Secretary for Employment and Productivity, has made it clear the government will not intervene in this latest dispute.

But the government has said that contingency plans have been drawn up to ensure all essential supplies and services are maintained.

In major cities around the country emergency car parks are being opened and in London parking meter charges and time limits are being suspended.

The AA is operating an emergency control centre in Hyde Park.

On Saturday BR put forward a last minute deal which would have seen all but a handful of workers receiving a three per cent pay increase.

But to meet the £8.5m cost of this increase BR required the unions to allow cleaning work and some porters' duties to be contracted out.

The NUR rejected the offer by 20 votes to three and is maintaining its demand of a nine per cent pay increase for all 300,000 of its members.

Leonard Neal, British Rail Board member for industrial relations, warned that the go-slow would bring "grave consequences to the industry, to the travelling public and, not least of all, to the railwaymen."

In Context:

* The rail strike lasted 12 days in total and caused massive disruption to the network.

* On Friday 5 July 1968 the work-to-rule was called off after the NUR accepted a peace offer from British Rail.

* The deal provided pay increases for all the union's members - 10s a week extra for the lowest paid and three per cent extra for all the others.

* Aslef, who had joined the strike, also reached a settlement with BR and train services returned to normal fairly rapidly.

June 23, 2006

Serco-Docklands Light Railway staff to strike over jobs and pay cuts

RMT: June 23 2006

RMT's 250 members on the Docklands Light Railway are to strike for 24 hours from 03:59 on July 3 after franchisee Serco refused to drop "dangerous and penny-pinching" plans to displace experienced safety-critical platform staff and slash pay by up to £5,000.

"However Serco re-packages this plan it still mean fewer safety-critical station staff and the downgrading of the skills and pay of those that remain," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"That is not just bad news for our members, but bad news for everybody who uses the DLR.

"It is scandalous that a rail franchisee should even try to reduce properly trained staff in an industry that needs more and better safety and security - and it is shocking that they are doing it simply to save money because they over-trimmed their bid to retain the franchise.

"Serco are misleading the travelling public when they say they will have more people on duty, because they know they will have fewer people with the skills and experience to deal with an emergency.

 "The company's supposed compromise would put current station staff on trains for 70 per cent of their time - even when they are supposed to be supervising new, inexperienced and less-well-trained people on stations.

"That is dangerous nonsense and our members have made it clear that it is unacceptable.

"Serco's penny-pinching is so bad that they have even withdrawn their sweetener of early retirement and redundancy, and for some of our members these plans mean a £5,000 pay cut and a pay freeze until 2010.

"Our members have delivered a decisive mandate for action to defend these safety-critical jobs and to prevent watering down of safety standards," Bob Crow said.


 Note to editors: RMT members will not book on for shifts scheduled to commence between 03:59 on July 3 and 03:58 on July 4.

Previous press releases on this issue:
June 13 2006:

Tube shambles hits Metronet

London Evening Standard: 22 June 2006
Robert Lea

Delays and the failure to deliver refurbished Underground stations is turning Tube maintenance group Metronet into a financial shambles, latest figures reveal.

The cost of delays in laying track and upgrading ramshackle Tube stations has seen profits for Metronet investors tumble nearly 20% and lead to big losses for its engineering contractors.

The poor financial performance was laid bare in a statement to the Stock Exchange by Metronet investor and main contractor WS Atkins, whose chief executive Keith Clarke is Metronet's chairman.

'The operational performance of the lines for which Metronet is responsible remains inconsistent and behind Metronet's original expectation,' the statement said.

'The stations renewal programme remains challenging. Only 13 stations had been completed by 31 March compared to the 36 contracted. It will take time to evidence any significant recovery.'

Metronet has overseen a string of fiascos on Underground lines - it runs the whole of the London Tube network bar the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. Figures today revealMetronet last year made profits of £54m for its five investors - engineering groups WS Atkins and Balfour Beatty, French-owned energy group EDF, German-owned Thames Water and Bombardier, the Canadian-based train manufacturer - against a profit of £65m the previous year.

Atkins has also revealed its own engineering contracts for station improvement has seen it book losses of £4.2m against a profit the previous year of £4.5m. Atkins' take from Metronet has fallen by 70% in the year, leading it to warn that unless there is 'significant recovery', the value of its investment will come under question.

See also:

Atkins' £4.6m profit from Tube contract

Daily Telegraph: 22/06/2006
By Stephen Seawright

Engineering consultants WS Atkins made £4.6m profit last year from its stake in Metronet, the consortium responsible for modernising two thirds of London Underground that has been heavily criticised for its failures.

Profit from its 20pc Metronet stake slumped from £11.9m to £4.6m for a difficult year that culminated in Tube regulator Chris Bolt threatening to step in to oversee Metronet's contracts. Last month, Metronet was fined £2.5m for track defects and delays in refurbishing stations.

WS Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke, who is also non-executive chairman of Metronet, said: "The Metronet Enterprise... continues to present challenges and this has impacted the group's overall profitability."

Atkins also admitted today that the operational performance of the lines for which Metronet is responsible "remains inconsistent and behind Metronet's original expectations". However, the company said operational performance is improving.

The refurbishment of Tube stations has also hit problems. WS Atkins said: "Only 13 stations had been completed by 31 March 2006 compared to the 36 contracted." The company expects to recover the programme by 2008.

The poor performance of Metronet, which is responsible for upgrading the Circle, District and Central lines amongst others, came as Atkins group pre-tax profit jumped 41pc to £74.8m. Turnover rose 22pc to £1.4bn as a final dividend of 11.5p was recommended bringing the total for the year to 16p, a rise of 33pc.

Atkins' solid trading performance came on the back of successful bids for other public sector contracts, despite the Metronet problems.

It won an order to help design road, bridge and water systems for London's 2012 Olympic Games and had a contract extended to provide security support at Britain's GCHQ electronic eavesdropping center.

Demand from Network Rail, which operates the UK's railways, picked up during the second half, the group added.

Rail union calls off pay strike

BBC News: 22 June 2006

A planned 24-hour strike by thousands of railway signal workers on Sunday has been called off so staff can be consulted over a new pay offer. There could be further strike dates set if the pay offer is rejected.

Network Rail staff who are members of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union were due to walk out on Sunday evening.

After talks between the RMT executive and local representatives, the union is recommending rejection of the deal, which could lead to more strike dates.

A proposed strike for Tuesday this week was also cancelled.

'Best deal'

The dispute began over an original pay offer to take effect over three years.

Union officials said that would have given workers only a rise equal to the rate of inflation in the final two years.

The RMT executive initially recommended acceptance the revised deal, for a rise to take effect over one year and nine months, which general secretary Bob Crow described as "probably the best in the industry this year".

But local union representatives disagreed, saying they wanted to recommend rejecting the deal.

The result of the referendum of union members will be known next Thursday.

Network Rail chief executive John Armitt said: "We are disappointed that the RMT representatives have decided not to support the pay deal which the trade union and Network Rail negotiated last week.

"We are dismayed that they will now encourage members to vote against the deal, continuing the dispute and the threat of strike action.

"We believe that the deal, our fourth compromise offer, is a generous one which includes everything the RMT's executive asked for."

Tuesday's proposed strike would have coincided with England's World Cup match against Sweden and Sunday's action would have been on the same day as the team's second round match against Ecuador, which kicks off at 1600 BST.

As many as 5,000 signal workers and operational staff would have been involved in the strike.

Bolivia Plans to Retake Control of Telecom, Electricity, Rail Companies

VOA News: 22 June 2006

Bolivia's government says it plans to retake majority control of several companies that were semi-privatized in the 1990s.

Bolivian officials say the takeover targets include telecommunications firms, electricity companies and rail operators.

The companies were partially privatized by previous Bolivian governments, which sold 50-stakes to foreign investors. Most of the remaining 50 percent stakes were entrusted to pension funds for Bolivians.

Bolivia's government now wants to take over the 48 to 49 percent stakes in each company currently held by the pension funds. The government would then buy shares from other investors to reach the 51 percent stake needed for ownership.

The plan to restore state control would mean buying out the shares of foreign companies from the United States, Italy and Chile. It is unclear when the plan will be implemented or how much it will cost.

Bolivia nationalized its energy industry last month, saying the move was necessary to cut poverty and boost economic growth.

June 22, 2006

Strike at Transrail - stoppage on the Dakar-Bamako line

Le Soleil: June 16, 2006
Mbaye Ba - (Dakar) Senegal

For 48 hours since Wednesday (14 June), Transrail (Fetrail) workers led by Pierre Ndoye, in coordination with their Malian colleagues have called a collective work stoppage affecting the entire railway line between Dakar and Korofina.

According to the general secretary of the trade union, this decision is the logical outcome of a statement contained in the strike notice given to the Senegalese and Malian authorities denouncing the deteriorating situation in the railway company.

Chief amongst the unions' demands are the sacking of current director, Fran?s Lemieux and their rejection of the current collective bargaining machinery. "We are demanding the reinstatement of 11 unfairly dismissed members of staff", adds Pierre Ndoye.

For him this collective stoppage is the first step in a fight for their dignity. This is why speaking for his colleagues he warns that "if there is no positive decision in the next 48 hours to solve the problems experienced by railwaymen on the Dakar-Korofina line we intend to move up a gear; ie, to call an unlimited work stoppage on both sides of the Fal? bridge [the rail bridge joining Senegal and Mali]".

"Today, we share the same goals as our Malian colleagues, let?s work together in the same company".

"That's why we developed this plan of action together working in a strongly united framework", he explains.

In any case, the massive participation by the workers in the stoppage and their sit-in at the company?s headquarters in front of their management at Thi? says it all about the railworkers? determination to see it through.

Sunday strike suspended as Network Rail offer put to referendum

RMT: June 22 2006

STRIKE ACTION by 5,000 Network Rail signalling and operational staff scheduled for Sunday (June 25) has been suspended as the RMT executive put the company?s latest pay and conditions offer out to a referendum.

The result of the referendum will be known on Thursday June 29, and if the offer is rejected the RMT executive will schedule fresh strike dates.

Referendum on Network Rail Pay Offer

RMT Circular No: IR137/06

Dear Colleague,
Rates of Pay & Conditions of Service 2006 - Network Rail (Operations & Customer Services)

Further to my circular to Branches dated 15 June 2006, following consultation with the Area Council representatives on the company's revised offer, the General Grades Committee has taken the following decision:-

"With reference to our decision of 15th June, after consulting with our operational and signalling representatives, we conduct a referendum to go to all of our members within this bargaining group with a recommendation to reject. The strike due to commence on Sunday 25th June to be suspended.

This referendum to be concluded by lunch time on Thursday 29th June 2006. This will allow the ballot to remain live. Members to be advised that we will call strike action if the deal is rejected."

Voting papers will be despatched on Thursday 22nd June. Would you please do everything possible to encourage members to return their papers at the earliest opportunity.

I shall write to you again once the outcome of the referendum has been considered by the General Grades Committee.

Yours sincerely

Bob Crow,
General Secretary

Conflicting signals over way ahead for Deutsche Bahn

The Guardian: June 20, 2006
David Gow, European business editor

Britain's experience is fuelling Germany's fierce debate over its national rail operator.

Germany's national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, could be listed on the stock exchange in two years, according to Wolfgang Tiefensee, the German transport minister. "We should set the course swiftly and thoroughly this autumn," he told a magazine.

But Mr Tiefensee's comments mask major disagreements over rail privatisation within the ruling coalition that threaten to tear it apart. The fierce debate is heavily influenced by the botched privatisation of British Rail a decade ago.

Hartmut Mehdorn, Deutsche Bahn's chief executive, who has made the rail operator profitable by cutting half the workforce and expanding into lucrative air freight and logistics businesses, is preparing an initial public offering of 20% to 25% of the railway for 2008.

Earlier this year, consultants Booz Allen Hamilton said this could raise between ?8bn (£5.4bn) and ?23bn, depending on the timing and method of the selloff.

But Mr Mehdorn, mindful of the UK experience, wants to keep the train and freight operating business and the network of stations, rail and signalling integrated in any part-privatisation. In Britain, the Major government dismantled BR, creating 28 train operators, three rolling-stock companies and separate freight businesses, and handed the network, Railtrack, to private investors - with financially disastrous and, critics say, fatal results for passengers.

Deutsche Bahn's executive board has found some political backing for its approach from Mr Tiefensee and Peer Steinbr?he finance minister, both social democrats. Mr Steinbr? desperate to bring Germany's budget deficit under control and raise money to finance healthcare and pension reforms. But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has yet to make a public statement. A decision is unlikely before the autumn.

The Mehdorn strategy faces formidable obstacles - not least from Brussels, where EU competition officials favour the separation of passenger and freight operations from the network in any IPO - largely because of fears an integrated part-privatised railway majority-controlled by the state would stifle competition and act as a monopoly.

Deutsche Bahn says this is not the case; German railways law was amended last year specifically to meet EU anti-trust rules. Moreover, Mr Mehdorn says, there are more private operators using the Deutsche Bahn network (340, more than half of the EU's 640) than in any other country. Recent figures show that Deutsche Bahn's rivals in freight have a 15% market share, and in regional transport, 13%.

But a clear majority of MPs in the Bundestag favours splitting up Deutsche Bahn. In May, an expert hearing at the transport committee was told that Deutsche Bahn continued to rely on state subsidies (?2.5bn a year) and, if the network required substantial investment, this could impose an intolerable financial burden on public finances. The MPs heard that long-distance travel, profitable last year for the first time since 2002, would require increased subsidies - and between 60,000 and 80,000 jobs could be lost if Deutsche Bahn was put on the market too soon. But other experts warned that, if the network remained in state hands, "no trains will run after 5pm", according to Die Zeit, the Hamburg-based weekly.

There are siren voices urging ministers to sell off the most profitable parts of Deutsche Bahn instead - the Schenker and Stinnes logistics operations, bought in 2002 for ?2.5bn and accounting for 60% of group pre-tax profits of ?1.35bn in 2005. This division, now worth at least twice as much, includes the Bax Global air freight company of the US, bought this year for $1.1bn.

This is anathema to Mr Mehdorn and his executive team. Their entire strategy, which has made Deutsche Bahn the global number two in logistics, centres on expansion beyond the railway. Last year, when sales topped ?25bn for the first time, Deutsche Bahn's operating earnings rose 12% more than its target to ?448m and Mr Mehdorn plans to boost revenues this year to ?28bn and earnings before interest and tax by 15% to 20%. The group invested ?6.4bn, including more than ?1bn on the network, and the trend continued in the first quarter of this year - with turnover up 20% to ?7bn.

But Diethelm Sack, chief financial officer, has conceded the results are not yet good enough to warrant a sell-off - despite growing passenger numbers. Quietly, ministers and Mr Mehdorn are considering an alternative option - selling a chunk of the entire railway to a minority investor in the manner of Deutsche Telekom, which is now partially owned by US private equity house Blackstone. Asian and American venture capitalists are said to be enticed - and probably Brits too.

Jarvis sees continuity with Network Rail

Financial Times: June 20 2006
By Roger Blitz

Jarvis should be able to maintain the bulk of its contracts with Network Rail in spite of concerns that the national rail infrastructure operator might start to move track renewals work in-house, the company's outgoing chief executive said yesterday.

Chile tiptoes around Bolivia's proposed rail nationalisation

The Santiago Times: June 22, 2006

Chilean Businesses Threatened By Bolivian President, Evo Morales? Nationalisation Plan.
evo_morales (72k image)
PHOTO SOURCE: Presidencia de Bolivia

Chile?s government said Tuesday it will ?closely monitor? the business nationalizations recently ordered by Bolivian President Evo Morales, but that it would not publicly comment.

?In principle, Chile?s government should not involve itself in the dealings of every business,? said Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley. ?Unless there is a violation of international law, in principle, we should not be influencing any of these decisions.?

Bolivia recently announced it would soon take control of the energy, railroad, and telecommunication companies which are currently not under state control.

The proposed nationalizations would impact several important Chilean businesses which have invested in Bolivia, including railroad lines owned by the Luksic family, one of Chile?s most important economic groups.

?The state will buy the necessary amount of company shares so that it owns more than 50 percent of the companies,? said Bolivian Planning Minister Carlos Villegas. ?Therefore, the state will administer them.?

Jos?inelo, Bolivia?s consul in Chile, explained the measures as a relatively benign way to give his country more control over the natural resources within its borders. ?This represents the strengthening of the national government. What I can say is that it will not be hostile.?

The ?National Development Plan for 2006-2010? published last week by Bolivia?s government said the first businesses to be nationalized would be the electricity companies Corani, Guaracachi y Valle Hermoso, which have large investments from the United States; the telephone company Entel, an offshoot of the Italian giant Telecom Italia; and the Oriental y Andino railroad companies, which are primarily owned by Chilean investors.

Chilean investments in Bolivia?s automobile, publicity, and soft drink industries are estimated at more than US$360 million.

?We have been in Bolivia for years, and we would definitely like to stay there,? said a source within the Del Rio group, which currently owns some 30 percent of the Bolivian automobile sales industry.

Still, the most high profile investment in Bolivia belongs to the influential Luksic family, which owns 100 percent of the Antofogasta-Bolivia train line FCAB and 50 percent of Ferrocarril Andino, the most important railroad company in Bolivia which was state owned until 1995. Some 4.34 million tons of mostly mineral shipments were transported by both train lines in 2005 (ST, May 5).

The Luksic group announced its ambition recently to operate the train line between the northern Chilean city of Arica and La Paz. This railroad is currently administrated by the Chilean government, but with Bolivian oversight (ST, May 5).

The Ferrocarril Andino line is of particular importance to the business conglomerate. The family paid US$13 million for a 50 percent interest in the mid 1990?s and, since then, has invested an additional US$27 million. Cargo is mostly raw minerals, soy beans, and wheat destined for international export.

The announcement about the imminent round of nationalizations comes after Morales? landmark decision to nationalize Bolivia?s natural gas reserves early last month. Morales ordered the military to occupy his nation?s energy fields on May 1 as he placed Bolivia?s oil and gas reserves under state control. Morales ordered foreign producers to relinquish control of all fields and to channel future sales through a state-owned energy company. He also gave foreign companies 180 days to renegotiate existing contracts with the government, or leave the country (ST, May 3).

Bolivia sits on the second-biggest gas reserves in Latin America after Venezuela.

Chile?s low-key response to Bolivia?s nationalizations may in part be attributed to Chile?s desire to import Bolivian natural gas, a need that is hampered by Bolivia?s insistence on a return of its Pacific Coast territory lost in the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific. Another factor may well be Chile?s own history with the state-owned Codelco copper company. Chile?s copper was nationalized in the early 1970s under the administration of Socialist Party President Salvador Allende. The Pinochet regime dared not fully rescind the nationalization, but rather opened the door wide for new private investment in the mining sector with special laws guaranteeing the security of foreign investments. Codelco will earn Chile an estimated US$11 billion in 2006 as a result of sky-high copper prices.

Energy-dependent Chile currently imports more than 97 percent of the 22 million cubic meters of the natural gas it consumes daily, at a cost of US$822 million in 2005. During the past two years the natural gas shortfall in central Chile has been replaced by more expensive petroleum fuels, of which Chile also imports 98 percent (ST, April 19).

By Matt Malinowski (editor@santiagotimes.cl)

French Revolution

International Railway Journal: June 2006
Andrew Roden, Associate Editor

A new wave of public-private partnerships is set to transform the way France funds its infrastructure projects - but it's a high-risk strategy that could have implications across Europe.

REVOLUTION is in the air in France - not as immediately dramatic as events a couple of hundred years ago, but for the country's track authority, French Rail Network (RFF), just as profound. Private investment is being sought for some of the most important rail projects in the country.

This decision, encouraged by the European Union (EU) and enforced by the French government is a radical departure from the norm for France's rail network, which is more used to extensive pump-prime funding from central and regional government. The message being sent out is clear: the funding stream is running dry, and with RFF having debts of Euros 27 billion, who can blame the government for that view?

The first project that concessioning in the form of a public-private partnership will be used on is the ambitious plan to link Tours and Bordeaux with a new high-speed line, known as TGV South Europe Atlantic (TGVsea). For this key strategic route, tenders will shortly be issued for companies to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the line. It is expected to open in 2013.

While the process for TGVsea is a relatively straightforward concessioning, another process will be used for the 60km mixed-use line between Nîmes and Montpellier, which will see private sector involvement limited to financing and building the line.

But there's a massive potential problem. If the Paris-Strasbourg TGV Est high-speed line is a reliable indicator, there may not be enough traffic to encourage private sector companies to take on the revenue risk of a new line. This means that, inevitably, construction and finance costs will rise, to the detriment of all. If that happens, then a whole raft of grand projets could be placed at risk: something that surely the French would never tolerate.

One of the key men charged with ensuring the success of this process is RFF's new deputy director general, Mr Herve de Tréglodé, one of the most experienced and highly-regarded rail managers in Europe. In his first interview in his new role, he appears sanguine about prospects for the future: "In the near future, the market will be open to new undertakings - the first new companies are already running in France - so we see clear benefits there."

An action plan for maintenance of France's regional network is due to be submitted by RFF and SNCF to the government shortly.

De Tréglodé acknowledges, though, that there are significant enough challenges in the present to occupy RFF. I put it to him that maintenance of many secondary and regional routes has suffered in recent years, with attention being focussed on high-speed lines to the detriment of others. The result is a swathe of temporary speed restrictions that are proving hugely disruptive. It is, says de Tréglodé a lack of funding that is to blame, but also a lack of productivity in infrastructure maintenance. That central government has demanded (rather than the usual request) a joint action plan from RFF and its track maintainer, French National Railways (SNCF), surely tells its own story.

The plan is due to be submitted soon, but clearly, there are no sure-fire quick solutions to deep-seated problems on France's peripheral network, and some well-placed observers are even now comparing the situation in France with that in Britain some years ago, when the track authority had no direct control over what maintenance work was done on its network.

Despite this, de Tréglodé asserts that RFF's relationship with SNCF is extremely positive: "We have the same priorities, and the same objectives: after all, if there was no SNCF, there would be no trains!"

France has used the TVM-430 cab signalling system on its high-speed lines for many years with a high degree of success, and while anecdotal evidence suggests that SNCF is naturally not keen on installing European Train Control System (ETCS) in its fleet when it has a perfectly good alternative, de Tréglodé is extremely positive about the opportunities offered by European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

"Our first action in the future is ERTMS," he says enthusiastically. "We are preparing dual control [ETCS and TVM-430] on TGV Est, which is due to open in 2007, and will be the first use of ERTMS in France.

"Beyond that, we are studying how we can roll it out across the network, because clearly, international traffic is extremely important to us. We strongly believe that ERTMS will be of huge benefit for the open market that is starting to develop across Europe."

Key corridors are Belgium--France--Switzerland, to Lyon and southeast France, and also to Spain, which is set to be an enthusiastic adopter of the new signalling standard.

The full article can be read in the June issue of IRJ

June 21, 2006

Italy's Di Pietro sees Turin/Lyon high speed rail link being built

AFX: 06/21/06

MILAN - Italy's infrastructure minister Antonio Di Pietro said he sees the planned Turin/Lyon high speed rail link being built, subject to agreement with local authorities in the area.

The link, including a lengthy tunnel through the Alps, has provoked strong local opposition in Italy as well as reportedly dividing the newly-appointed centre-left government of Romano Prodi.

"The route can be discussed, but not the project itself," said Di Pietro after meeting Loyola de Palacio, the EU's coordinator for the project.

The Italian government believes the Turin/Lyon link, which is part of an European rail network project, is a priority for the country. It will do the maximum to complete the project, in agreement with local communities, Di Pietro said.

The minister said he was speaking on behalf of the government, while Radiocor news agency noted that, contrary to expectations, transport minister Alessandro Bianchi was not present at the meeting.

See also:

Contested rail link to go ahead - But minister implies Alpine route could be changed

ANSA: June 21

Rome - The new government will go ahead with plans to build a high-speed rail link from northern Italy to France but its contested route could be modified, Infrastructure Minister Antonio Di Pietro said on Wednesday.

"We are committed to moving ahead with this project. The route can be discussed but not the project itself," he said.

Di Pietro stressed that the government would listen to local residents and environmentalists who are fighting a part of the project which involves building a 53-kilometre tunnel through the Susa Valley in the Western Italian Alps. "We cannot stop an infrastructure work which is essential to the country but neither can we ignore the legitimate concerns of local residents. "The two things are not impossible to reconcile, common ground can be found," said Di Pietro, who heads the small Italy of Values party. The minister made his comments after talks here with Loyola de Palacio, the European Commission's coordinator for the project to build a link from the northern Italian city of Turin to the French city of Lyon.

De Palacio told reporters that "this was an important meeting which clarified things. We wanted to know whether the project was a priority for the new government. Now there are no doubts - the will to proceed is there".

"The change of government does not mean a change of strategy," added the former European transport commissioner, who is due to meet Premier Romano Prodi later on Wednesday.

Repeated protests have been held against the Susa Valley tunnel plan, some of which turned violent last December with clashes between demonstrators and the police.

The protesters, who are mainly Susa Valley residents, say the link will create an environmental disaster and destroy the area's natural beauty.

They argue that the tunnel will take at least ten years to complete and that the money would be better spent on boosting existing transport infrastructure in the region.

They also say they fear for their health given that the mountains to be drilled through are suspected to contain both uranium and asbestos.

Supporters of the project, including the EC, say the line will actually reduce pollution by cutting the amount of goods transported by road.

They highlight the economic benefits of the link, which will form part of a pan-European transport system connecting Western and Eastern Europe with a super-modern freight line stretching from Kiev in Ukraine to Barcelona in Spain.

Politicians on both sides of the political divide say it is vital that Italy remain part of this rail system.

Champions of the project also say that new technology will be able to deal safely and effectively with any health risks caused by the possible presence of asbestos or uranium.

The EC recently produced a report compiled by five experts who spent several months researching the environmental and health implications of the tunnel plan.

The experts concluded that it would not have a damaging impact on the health of residents or the local environment.

However, the project does not have the backing of all the political groups in Prodi's nine-party centre-left coalition.

The Communist Refoundation Party, the alliance's third-biggest party, and the small Green party in particular are opposed to the tunnel and have joined the protests.

Given his weak parliamentary majority, Prodi would require the full support of his coalition to get the project approved .

Blood on the tracks

Big Issue: 11/5/2006
tebay (198k image)
"If we don?t get something done, there will be another similar incident that will see other rail workers die like my friends" was the first thing that Ronnie, not his real name, said when he was asked about events at Tebay in Cumbria in February 2004.

Genuine concern, fear and sadness were etched on his face. "I'd like to give you my name, but I'd probably get the sack" which immediately begs the question whether this Governments Whistleblowers Charter, that is supposed to protect public servants who speak out, has as yet got round to covering railway workers.

Ronnie is lucky to be alive; he could easily have been killed like four others on Sunday February 15th 2004 when a runaway road rail trailer ploughed down the hill from Scout Green South in Cumbria during maintenance work on the West Coast Main Line [WCML] Railway and brought death and destruction amongst a gang of 13 workers at Tebay three miles down the line.

Both sites were the responsibility of Carillion, who are contracted by Network Rail to maintain the WCML.

Chris Walters, Colin Buckley, Gary Tindall and Darren Burgess were killed; others suffered horrific injuries and were off work for months. "Our injuries may have cleared up, but the memory of that night never goes away" said Ronnie. Those who died were employees of Carillion who quickly accepted its civil liability for the deaths and the injuries under the Employer's Liability [Defective Equipment] Act [1969] that introduced a presumption where an employee is injured by defective equipment his employer is liable.

Mark Connolly from Anglesey, North Wales and his employee Roy Kennett from Kent, were found guilty of the manslaughter of the four men at Newcastle Crown Court in March this year and sentenced to nine and two years in jail respectively.

The Court heard how Connolly's firm MAC Machinery Services [MCMS] had been sub-contracted by rail maintenance company Carillion to work alongside employees from another 7 separate firms at Scout Green. Such high numbers of different contracting companies working on site has been roundly condemned by the rail workers union the RMT, but is not particularly unusual at this current time.

On February 15th the two men were offloading 20 foot rails that had been transported to the Scout Green site by a road rail vehicle, [RRV] to which a road rail trailer [RRT] was attached.

The use of an off rail road crane to load old track on to the RRT made it necessary to detach the RRT from the RRV so as not to interfere with the Overhead Lines. Connolly was later found to have disconnected the trailer's brakes due to the fact that the hydraulic systems would not work properly in conjunction with the crane. The two were relying on placing some wooden chocks under the trailers wheels to prevent it running away, which it did during the operation to load a second piece of track and promptly hurtled down towards the Tebay gang.

Records show that MCMS had only been given approved supplier status with Carillion Rail less than two months earlier on December 19th 2003 and it was only after the company had received an "unsolicited approach" a month later that MCMS had been become a second tier supplier to "fill in" when "Carillion's two principal plant hire suppliers in the Preston area" couldn't "accommodate the requirements for road, rail vehicles and associated equipment".

MCMS had first come to Carillion's attention in April 2003 when they discovered that another plant hiring company were cross-hiring plant from them. Procedures were adopted to ensure that MCMS became Link-Up Qualified and Carillion Rail approved. In July 2003 the management at MCMS claimed to be Link-Up Qualified, when in fact they were not. This should perhaps have alerted Carillion to the type of company they were happy to hire plant from.

Carillion had notified MCMS that it intended to negotiate a working framework agreement; this was not in place at the time of Tebay. MCMS had also failed to supply a risk assessment for the tasks they were to undertake. MCMS were also expected to undertake inspections of machinery including "to check all brake systems".

Connolly had employed two fitters to do this, one had no formal qualifications, and the other had previously done work on similar vehicles to RRV's. No record of safety checks appears to have been requested by either Carillion or Network Rail.

Neither had Carillion itself carried out a "Civil Method Statement" or as it is better known a Risk Assessment for the maintenance work at Tebay. This was in spite of the fact that following the formal investigation into events at Culgaith near Carlisle in January 2003 the company had announced in its rail safety brief of April 2003 that "it has been recorded that our method statements should be improved in the area of working on gradients with plant and equipment."

It had been found that a trailer had runaway for over one and three quarter miles, joining a list that Network Rail stated may have been underestimated as they had discovered "that more runaway trailer incidents had taken place than had been reported" due to "a perception amongst the workforce that if incidents and accidents are reported then blame may be laid against them."

RMT members who asked for copies of the method statement for the job at Tebay were later given one dated April 4th 2004, two months after the tragedy. "I must be honest when we were given the report none of us looked at its date. It wasn't until a few weeks later that someone noticed it was dated for April, it angered a few people I can tell you" said Ronnie.

Some of the workers believe that if the trailer had been equipped with flashing lights and hooters then those who were killed might be alive today. "All we wanted was a couple of seconds notice" said Ronnie.

Phil Dee the health and safety officer for the RMT is not convinced, stressing that "what we as a union wants is to stop runaways, we need to ensure that every vehicle is braked and there are no problems with them."

The RMT General Secretary Bob Crow also remains concerned that "two years after Tebay, we still have a confusion of contractors, subcontractors, one man and-a-dog owner operator plant-hire operators" on the railways and he urged Network Rail to bring "renewals work back in-house" as it did with "rail maintenance for safety and efficiency reasons" in July 2004.

Crow has been adamant that Tebay was no accident and was the "result of privatisation" echoing the union's constant demands for the railways to be re-nationalised.

A few years ago the RMT would not have needed to have concerned themselves with RRV or trailers as back in British Rail days the Scout Green job would have involved rail based cranes and wagons that were attached to a locomotive being manned by a qualified train driver. This, of course, would cost more money and mean jobs take longer than is the case with the use of Road Rail Vehicles.

What would have certainly prevented the deaths, and save the lives of others in the future would have been the placement of a 9" by 9" sleeper chained to the track. The runaway trailer would have been de-railed before it got anywhere near the 13 workers at Tebay. Such actions are apparently considered unsafe due to the fact that if the sleeper was to be forgotten then the following morning a passenger train may well be de-railed with obvious fatal consequences.

As might be expected the injured have required time off work. Sympathy from their employers, Carillion PLC, did not extend to ensuring they were paid their Average Earnings rather than their basic wages, a sum of money equivalent to around £120 a week per worker and a maximum of £70,000 for a year. The company only backed down after strong representations from the RMT General Secretary Bob Crow to both Carillion and Network Rail. In 2004 and 2005 Carillion made nearly 120 million pounds profit.

The Carillion Rail web-site states that "Our Vision is to be a company renowned for working in a spirit of openness". Yet when asked a series of questions relating to Tebay a company spokesperson replied "the issues raised [in them] are subject to a formal investigation by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate" and "therefore we cannot comment" which Andy Buyack from the RMT office in Liverpool said "is news to members of the RMT as we know of no other enquiry taking place" pointing out that the union has "vigorously pushed for a full public enquiry from the start."

A Network Rail spokesperson said that since Tebay the company had "worked closely with the [rail] industry to implement a number of improvements in the control, maintenance and operation of the type of rail equipment involved at Tebay" and that by bringing 15,000 staff in-house this now meant there is "absolute clarity over roles and regulations" such that it "allows easier control of work practice" on sites.

Ronnie and his fellow rail workers are not so sure saying "it's? true that there does appear to be a reduced number of reports of runaways, but let's not forget that late last year a locomotive even ran away and hurtled at 60mph down the track at night between Birmingham and Lichfield. I don't want what happened at Tebay to ever be repeated."

Hungary to take HUF 80 bn railway debt off budget

Portfolio.hu: 19, June 2006

Hungary's State Privatisation Agency (V) will acquire the freight business, M Cargo, of loss-making state railway firm M for HUF 80 billion, national daily N?zabads?has reported on Monday.

M expects to incur a loss of HUF 80-90 billion this year and has already used up its HUF 55.5 billion equity capital by June. Without capital addition M would have HUF 36 billion loss on this line by end-December, the paper said. According to the Business Act, no company can operate permanently with negative equity.

The state is virtually putting money from one pocket to another, the paper said. By financing some of this year's losses through V, the state puts HUF 80 billion off the budget, which would otherwise increase this year's accruals-based budget deficit.

Selling M Cargo would ease the burdens of the state-owned railway company only until the end of the year, as the HUF 80 billion would be enough just to avoid having its equity in the negative zone. The expected HUF 44 billion of equity at M at end-2006 is expected to drop further from 2007 onward, as the company will not cease to make losses at once. Therefore, only further capital injection of tens of billions of forints and a drastic revamping of M could provide a long-term solution.

The paper speculates that M's subscribed capital would need to be reduced further. It was already cut to HUF 80 billion from HUF 210.2 billion last year and N?zabads?estimated another HUF 15-20 billion reduction (to HUF 60-65 bn) would be necessary.

Hungary expects the public sector deficit to reach 8% of GDP in 2006, the biggest in the European Union relative to the size of its economy, after tightening measures worth HUF 350 billion.

Hungary has already attempted a similar accounting method to put some of the motorway construction costs off budget to stymie a further rise in the budget deficit, but that approach was rejected by Eurostat, the statistics agency of the European Union.

June 20, 2006

'No need' to re-route rail line

BBC News: 20 June 2006

The South West's main rail line will not be re-routed in the immediate future despite concerns over sea wall defences, the rail minister has said.
dawlish_rail (8k image)
Weather has caused problems on the line in recent years

20 June 2006, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Derek Twigg was responding to a Commons debate on Tuesday about the long-term viability of the line at Dawlish, which is just a few feet from the sea.

Sea defences were not due to fail in the "foreseeable future", he said.

Fears about global warming causing rising sea levels have prompted calls for the line in Devon to be re-routed.

In the past three years, bad storm surges caused serious damage to the line, part of the main route to Plymouth and Cornwall.

'Increased car use'

Campaigners, including climatologists and politicians, have urged ministers to consider alternatives.

Totnes Conservative MP Anthony Steen has called for a new, inland, route built around Dawlish.

The Commons debate was opened by Richard Younger-Ross, Liberal Democrat MP for Teignbridge, who said a re-routing would close four stations in his constituency and lead to 750,000 extra car journeys.

The rail minister told MPs he was aware of widespread concerns about the line but the government "did not see a significant problem" in the immediate future.

Network Rail had commissioned research into the likely longer-term effects but did not believe it was necessary to re-route the line, he said.

Mr Twigg said the government was "mindful" about the vulnerability of the line and would work closely with Network Rail on mitigating risks.

New York Subway Stabbings - What the media left out

Transport Workers Union (TWU - Local 100): June 20, 2006

Conductors Save Lives, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) plans risk lives.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The first day the headlines screamed about the savage stabbing on the C train. The second day, the big news was they got the guy.

End of story, right? Not so fast.

Once again, the press left out the most important part of any transit story, the transit worker. Here?s what really happened.

There was an unprovoked stabbing in the last car of a downtown C-train. A passenger alerted the Conductor.

The Conductor checked it out, saw how serious it was and acted. She (many Conductors are women) called Transit Control and told them to send EMS to the next station, 103 Street. The Conductor stayed with the victim. EMS got there and saved the victim?s life. That?s the real story.

But if the MTA had its way, the story would have likely ended differently.

They want Conductors off the trains.

The passenger would have had to run to the first car to summon help.

Seconds would have been lost. When there is a knife wound in your heart, every second counts.

There are over 3000 Conductors in the subways. Every one is there to keep riders safe every day, and especially in an emergency. The simple fact is Conductors Save Lives.

It shouldn?t take a tragedy to get the MTA to back off their reckless plan to take Conductors off trains.

In Solidarity

High speed cross border rail link unveiled

Press Association: 19/06/2006

Plans for a high speed rail service which would slash the journey time between Belfast and Dublin to 90 minutes are being drawn up by rail companies on both sides of the border, it has been revealed.

Keith Moffatt, chief executive of Northern Ireland`s transport company, Translink, said they were working with Irish Rail on an outline "vision 20-20" which would provide a non-stop 90-minute service departing at hourly intervals.

The cost of such a service using 125mph trains and upgrading the track would be around £500 million, he said.

Journey times could be cut to 60 minutes with the use of 140mph tilting trains, he said, but expressed doubt that the £1.5 billion cost would be acceptable to the politicians holding the purse strings.

Launching Translink`s vision for the future, he said Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail were working on a scheme to improve the main cross-border service and a preliminary report delivered recently confirmed that a high speed, high frequency service could be economically viable.

But he said it was all down to a question of money and how much the politicians would provide.
"We look at what we can do and develop ideas and put them into the political process and then it`s up to the politicians," he said.

He said Translink was also looking at pressing ahead with Northern Ireland`s first "rapid transit system" - the E-Way which would run into Belfast city centre from North Down.

Tram-type coaches using parts of the abandoned Belfast and Co Down Railway track bed and a combination of public and separated highways could be developed over five years at a cost of around £70 million, said Mr Moffat.

A political decision on funding would determine whether the scheme went ahead, as would the future of rail services to the north-west beyond Ballymena where in the long-term 60 miles of new track at a cost of £1 million per mile was needed.

On the bus front he said plans had been agreed with the Department of Social Development for an extension of bus lanes in Belfast with a roll-out of 14 `Quality Bus Corridors` on main routes into the city centre over the next four years starting later this year.

The plan was to increase average bus speeds to 20kph from the current 10-15kph. Mr Moffatt told an audience of politicians and business people at Stormont: "Research shows that our Metro corridors` buses carry 32% of people travelling but accounts for only 2% of total vehicles on the road.

"More priority for buses is clearly justified to give bus passengers a fair deal in the use of road space. We only make buses attractive if they beat the traffic."

He insisted: "We are not anti-car, it is about using the roads more effectively."

Regeneration of public transport in Northern Ireland was well underway but continuing re-investment was needed to deliver a network for the future, he said.

A massive spending programme on new trains and buses had resulted in the Metro system in Belfast carrying 10% more passengers by the end of its first year in February, and a further 5% since, Goldline Express services attracting 20% more passengers and trains 16% more.

Translink passengers were enjoying better reliability, comfort and accessibility, he said, with customer satisfaction levels at a 10-year high.

"Going forward, there is still much to be done to deliver the rail and bus services that Northern Ireland needs and deserves.

"The programme of change must continue and by being clear about what needs to be done, and with a solid track record of successful delivery, Translink is well placed to make a sound case to Government for implementing policies which will help us deliver the public transport future for Northern Ireland," he said.

Washington would dearly love to offload Amtrak

The Guardian: June 20, 2006
David Teather

The ups and downs of rail privatisation around the world.

After Britain, the country that has gone furthest down the rail privatisation route in Europe is Sweden. The Swedish railway is widely praised as being more efficient and better run than that in Britain but the experience has not been free of wrinkles. In the immediate aftermath of privatisation in the mid-1990s, at least one operator went bankrupt. Others were stripped of their licences, which were handed back to the national rail operator.

Sweden has not gone as far as Britain. Only the more popular routes were opened to private operators, leaving the unprofitable rump in the hands of the taxpayer. The network was split from the train operators in 1988 - appearing to disprove the theory that the separation of network and train operators is behind Britain's woes. The difference is that the rail network business, Banverket, was left in public hands and not motivated by profit.

Elsewhere, there has been limited privatisation in eastern Europe, while the Netherlands has been moving slowly toward selling off its network for much of the past decade.

Competition has been more widely introduced in the freight market. Both the Netherlands and Denmark have privatised their freight operations, which were both swiftly acquired by the German operator Railion. There are also private freight operators in Russia and some of the other former Soviet republics; the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and Germany. The most open freight markets are in Britain and Estonia.

Japan, where the passenger network has a reputation for efficiency and reliability, is said to run the only profitable rail network in the world.

Tokyo split the national rail network into seven companies in 1987. Two have been completely privatised and the government has indicated that it will finish disposing of its remaining stake in a third, JP Central, by March 2008. It was one of the privatised firms, West Japan Railway, that suffered a terrible derailment last year that left more than 70 people dead and more than 400 hurt.

A difference from Britain is that there are no train-operating franchises in Japan, which kept track and trains under the control of single companies. The government still owns 100% of the other four companies.

Other countries with privatised or partially privatised networks include Australia and parts of South America, including Argentina and Brazil.

Washington would dearly love to privatise its national rail network, Amtrak. The railroad was supposed to have built the US, but these days it is eating up billions of dollars. "If they could get it to make a profit, they would sell if off immediately," said Ben Jones, of Rail Magazine. Congress has repeatedly tried to privatise it, as it struggles to compete with cheap air fares. This year, the Bush administration threatened to cut off its funding. In the end its subsidy was cut by about $200m to $1.1bn.

Europe: fast track to high-speed rail

BusinessWeek Online: June 19, 2006

Continental railroads have problems, but still leave Amtrak in the dust.

It's no secret that Europe's passenger train system is far superior to America's. The trains run on time, they're comfortable, they're affordable, and they have well-stocked dining cars. Most important, however, they're fast.

Starting with the birth of France's TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse, or High-Speed Train) in 1981, the European train industry (led by Alstom in France and Siemens in Germany) has been on the forefront of high-speed innovation. Streamlined design, underfloor traction systems, and tilting technology have brought the European high-speed train up to speeds of 186 mph (300 km/hr). The limiting factor now is no longer the trains themselves, but the tracks on which they run.

Although the TGV, Germany's ICE, Spain's AVE, and Italy's TAV (see our slide show to learn what all these abbreviations stand for) all maintain respectably high speeds within their own countries, the moment a train crosses a border, things tend to get a little complicated.

Although each of these countries has its own system of high-speed tracks, their neighbors often don't share it. For exactly this reason, both the Eurostar (which connects London to Paris and Brussels) and the Thalys (which runs between Paris and Amsterdam and Cologne, stopping in Brussels on the way) have had difficulties maintaining the high speeds promised by their TGV designs.

Off the tracks

Neither Britain nor The Netherlands has kept pace with the aggressive advances in rail technology made by France, Belgium, and Germany. The current travel time for the Eurostar's route between London and Paris is 2 hours and 35 minutes -- 20 minutes slower than it should be, given the train's technical specifications. The Thalys' situation is even worse, taking 4 hours and 11 minutes to go from Paris to Amsterdam, when it should be closer to three hours.

A similar problem inhibits high-speed trains in the U.S. Amtrak's Acela Express, which connects Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., is technically capable of speeds upwards of 150 mph hour -- it runs on an Alstom-designed TGV engine -- but the tracks aren't up to par, and there's little support for initiatives to improve them.

And the Acela is the fortunate one: A number of proposals for other high-speed train routes ? most notably the Texas TGV and California Senator Diane Feinstein's proposed Los Angeles-San Francisco connection ? have never moved beyond the drawing board.

Floating along

Due to legal opposition from Southwest Airlines, the Texas TGV, which proposed to connect Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio in 1991, was discarded in 1994. The California line, on the other hand, is still an official possibility, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger conspicuously omitted any funding for the California High-Speed Rail Project in his recent 10-year, $222 billion Public Works Bond.

In comparison, therefore, the Eurostar and the Thalys don't have it so bad. Britain has already completed the first half of its Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and the other half is slated to finish by 2007, which will shave 20 minutes off the ride. Plans for a new high-speed track for the Thalys in Amsterdam are also in place, but the anticipated completion date isn't until 2008.

Even as these updates are under way, a new technology could soon render them obsolete. Engineering companies are working to perfect magnetic levitation, or maglev for short, which uses electromagnetic energy to let trains literally levitate a few millimeters above the track. Because there's absolutely no friction between the train and the rails, maglev has the potential to push trains up to near jet speed.

Upgrade expense

Currently, Shanghai has the only high-speed maglev railway in operation -- running from the airport to the city center -- but its record-breaking high speed of 311 mph (501 km/hr) has attracted the world's interest, and now there are small-scale high-speed maglev projects in development in Munich, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and several other cities across the globe.

Once again, however, the track is the limiting factor. Much like conventional high-speed trains, maglev trains require their own specialized tracks -- and, although construction costs are comparable to those of standard high-speed tracks, the price is sufficiently high (about $53 million per mile) to make potential investors think twice.

So for the time being, high-speed maglev projects probably will remain small, serving primarily as commuter rails. But don't be surprised if you end up riding a train without wheels several years down the line.

June 18, 2006

Railway catering workers on the warpath demanding job security

The Hindu: 17/06/2006
Kerala - Kochi, John L. Paul

KOCHI: A section of workers employed by a catering contractor held a hunger strike before the office of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation here on Friday, demanding job security.

They were rendered jobless after the Corporation re-tendered the contract and awarded catering work to a new contractor.

Addressing the workers, K. Chandran Pillai, MP, said that the workers had nowhere to go, after the new contractor took over. "We have made two suggestions: either the new contractor has to absorb workers employed by the previous contractor, or incorporate a new clause in the rules which give job security to workers. The matter has been taken up with V. Sreeram, the Group GM of the corporation," he said.

Workers employed by the previous contractor had attacked those employed by the new one a week back, when they were serving food in the Ernakulam-Nizamuddin Mangla Express. The situation took an unruly turn in Ernakulam Junction and Shoranur railway stations.

Ernakulam Regional Manager of the corporation J. Vinayan said the tender was awarded to a new person through due process of law. "Now the previous workers are demanding that the new contractor employ them. There are no rules which say that this should be done. On our part, we arranged a meeting between a representative of the new licencee and workers of the previous licencee. The new contractor was willing to absorb a section of the workers." Workers insist that each one of them be accommodated by the new contractor.

A top-ranking official of the corporation said the contractor concerned is responsible for taking care of the workers. "It is not the corporation's job. Our endeavour is to provide quality, hygienic food to train passengers and we do it by inviting tenders from qualified caterers," he said. The corporation had brought about revolutionary changes in railway catering ever since its inception a few years back.

Railway sources said some contractors who had monopoly hold over catering for decades were behind the agitation.

Addressing a press conference, T.K. Achuthan, general secretary of Railway Contract Catering Workers Union, threatened an indefinite strike if no steps were taken to reinstate the workers immediately.

Plans to cut rail fares in bid to beat congestion

The Sunday Times: June 18, 2006
Jason Allardyce

MINISTERS are to launch a review of rail fares across Scotland with the aim of cutting rail costs and reducing road congestion.

Tavish Scott, the transport minister, is concerned that ticket prices have risen steadily while the cost of motoring has fallen in real terms.

The Scottish executive may underwrite the scheme by increasing the £5m-a-week subsidy it gives First ScotRail.

Scott, however, believes this may prove unnecessary as lower ticket prices on the railway would increase demand and thus go a long way to raising extra revenue.

?We want to identify the best mechanism to get more people out of their cars and on to public transport, in this case on to rail, and at the same time make it affordable and therefore grow the routes,? he said.

?I recognise that affordability is an issue in terms of how people use railways.

?We have a rising number of people using rail, but are we losing some who are not taking the train because of price? The evidence seems to show that pricing is choking off demand.?

While Scott said he accepted that available capacity on the rail network was limited, he said more carriages could be added to increase capacity.

?For Glasgow to Edinburgh, for example, we need to look at putting two extra carriages on at peak times and therefore create many more seats,? he said. ?We also have to look at station platform lengths and car parking at stations to accommodate this. It?s all interlinked.?

According to a survey by Passenger Focus, a rail watchdog, 55% of Scots travellers believe trains offer poor value for money.

Though the executive has the power to regulate rail fares on commuter trains around Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife, it cannot force First ScotRail to lower prices on other routes between Scotland?s cities.

However, if the company refuses to make services more affordable ministers have the ultimate sanction of not renewing its franchise in 2011.

Scott intends to hold talks with the industry and rail user groups in the coming months to identify ways to make train travel more attractive and affordable.

The move follows the announcement last week of fare increases of up to 28% on seven busy First ScotRail routes. An early morning rail journey from Glasgow to Dundee now costs £36.

Sources close to the minister have said he was dismayed by First ScotRail?s decision to increase long-distance fares to encourage off-peak travel. ?Tavish is severely hacked off with it and with some of the fare structures. It?s hardly an incentive to use the train,? a source said.

Fergus Ewing, the SNP shadow transport minister, said the nationalists backed cheaper fares and longer trains.

?It is quite clear that on some of the busier routes extra carriages would be full or nearly full, leading to more revenue,? he said.

A spokesman for First ScotRail defended its pricing strategy and said the company was ?as keen as anyone to encourage more people to travel by train?.

June 17, 2006

National Workers' Union of Mali supports railway strikers

L'Essor: n°15724 - 2006-06-16

"At Transrail, activity ground to a halt the day before yesterday and yesterday (14/15 June, 2006) because of the joint strike begun by Malian and Senegalese railway trade unions."

Following privatisation of the Dakar-Niger Railway by the governments of Mali and Senegal in October 2003 and its sale to French/Canadian company, Transrail, the railworkers have suffered large-scale job losses, wage reductions, an attitude of contempt towards health and safety by management and the closure of about a third of the rail network.

In Mali sacked Malian railway engineer Ti?ura Traor?a>, founded a mass popular campaign for rail renationalisation in Mali - COCIDIRAIL (Collectif Citoyen pour la Restitution et le D?loppement Int??u Rail Malien - The Citizens Collective for Taking Back and Developing the Mailian Rail Network).

In Senegal, railworkers took strike action in September 2005 to defend their working conditions. Now the railworkers of Mali and Senegal, who have a famous history of launching the struggle for national independence against French colonialism with their illegal national strike in 1947, immortalised by Senegalese writer Ousmane Semb? in his 1960 novel 'God's Bits of Wood' (Les Bouts de bois de Dieu), have launched a jointly-organised rail strike on 14 June against the foreign-owned Transrail corporation. The following report is from the Malian daily newspaper, 'L'Essor' edition of Friday 16 June, 2006.


L'Essor: n°15724 - 2006-06-16

At Transrail, activity ground to a halt the day before yesterday and yesterday (14/15 June, 2006) because of the joint strike begun by Malian and Senegalese railway trade unions.

The work stoppage prevented new talks taking place between management and the strikers who showed their determination to use all legal means to make their voices heard and to press their demands. In its strike notice, the trade-union executive led by Abdoulaye Sago reaffirms their rejection of the current wage scales and demands the correct implementation of the company-wide agreement signed on December 17, 2004.

Moreover the strikers condemned Transrail director Fran?s Lemieux for stamping on the principle of trade-union freedom by continuing to recognise the former trade union leadership led by Abdoulaye Berth?They contend that Berth?as voted out by the extraordinary union congress held last 28 and 29 April. For his part, Berth?isputes the legitimacy of Sago?s team accusing him of not respecting proper procedures and of not having the training to lead the union.

At the central union offices of the National Workers' Union of Mali (UNTM - Union Nationale des Travailleurs du Mali) they take sides and support Abdoulaye Sago?s new leadership. Yaya Mall?Education adviser to the executive committee of the UNTM, argues that the new executive coming out of the extraordinary congress is legitimate and legal. He explains: "the former officers want payments and the cost of maintaining them in office comes with the blessing of management. This extraordinary congress was organised by workers themselves who funded it from their own subscriptions because they believe that the former officers led by Berth?as too many shortcomings in managing the unions? problems".

Yaya Mall?oes not hide his surprise by contrast at the contempt Transrail?s management has shown towards the strikers. "They did not open any negotiations. Following the conciliation meeting last Monday June 12, the national representative of Transrail management demanded the signing of a memorandum of non agreement, asserting that he had not received any negotiating mandate from his overseas directors in Canada", he says regretfully. There is radio silence from Transrail management. The few responsible managers we found on the spot at midday yesterday, refused to make any comment. Bilali Sanogo in charge of press relations could not join us either.

Mr. NR. TRAOR?http://www.essor.gov.ml/

-- Notes on Transrail --

Report Date: 07/03/2003
Expires: 12/01/2003

This report describes a planned railroad project in Senegal.







Change here for cheaper rail fares

The Guardian: June 17, 2006

The tangled web that is this country's train ticket system can be exploited to bring about serious savings. Miles Brignall explains how to go about it.

Rail passengers fed up with paying Europe's highest fares are increasingly adopting underhand but legal booking tactics to slash the cost of travelling around the UK.

Facing peak fares in excess of £200 for a three-hour journey, a small but growing band of rail users have discovered that the UK's complex fares structure can be turned to their advantage.

Why pay the full peak-time fare to Newcastle when you can, perfectly legitimately, buy two tickets and make exactly the same journey saving £80? Travelling from Cornwall to the Midlands? Again, buy two tickets and you save yourself 25%. Can't find a promised low-fare on a certain journey? Then try buying four single tickets instead, and save yourself a packet.

The fact that it is now possible to look up all fares on the internet means that you can work out the anomalies in the system and use them to your advantage.

Since privatisation, rail companies have set a bewildering range of fares. It is often now cheaper to travel on the same train from London to Glasgow than Carlisle, even though the former is a much longer journey. There are similar stories all over the network.

This week Guardian Money has been closely scrutinising the National Rail website (nationalrail.co.uk), and the findings are remarkable.

We found that "walk up" peak fares can be slashed on a number of routes, and off-peak fares that quickly sell out can be matched (and in some cases undercut) if you split the journey and buy a ticket for each part. In each case, you get on the same trains as you would had you bought one ticket at the full fare - and it's all perfectly legal. Just look at the examples in our graphic.

One regular discount fare searcher is Sandra Semple. She lives in Seaton, Devon, but regularly travels from Exeter to Derby to see family. By buying two sets of tickets - one between Exeter and Birmingham, and another from Birmingham to Derby - she was able to halve the cost of a recent journey. She had originally been quoted the straight-through fare of £70, but ended up paying £37.50.

"Rail fares in this country are absurd," she says. "I realised that I could do this a few months ago and now I always spend time mixing and matching the fares on the web to get the best price. I sit on exactly the same trains as if I had paid the higher headline fare. It's absurd that you have to do this, but you do."

London-based IT consultant Michael Douglas, who regularly travels at peak time to Newcastle, always buys two tickets - one to Peterborough, and a second from Peterborough to Newcastle.

"When I go to the ticket office and do this, I am greeted by knowing winks from the staff. The standard fare is now £215 but I pay around £135 to sit on exactly the same trains as the next person in the queue who, because they don't know the ruse, is charged full fare."

Barry Doe, a rail fares expert and regular contributor to Rail magazine, says the way some fares are charged is "tantamount to legalised theft".

"The rail companies are quick to charge their customers when they catch them on the wrong train, but are equally happy to overcharge passengers simply because they don't know how the fares structure works."

He says ticket vendors at stations and call centres are legally obliged to sell passengers the tickets they request. However, he also says they are not allowed to suggest buying two tickets to save the passenger money.

"We have got ourselves in an absurd situation in this country with fares, but there is a simple solution. All fares should be set centrally and it should be part of the franchise agreement that the train operator agrees to. This is what happens in the bus industry. Reform is long overdue," he says.

Gwyneth Dunwoody, chair of the Commons transport select committee that recently produced a damming report on fares, says rail companies need to wake up to the fact that passengers have a choice of how to travel. "Unless they stop cheating passengers by continuing to drop the cheaper fares that have traditionally been available, they [passengers] will quite reasonably find other ways to travel. The ticketing practices are, frankly, bizarre."

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies pointed out that the anomalies are in no way new.

"In any big fares structure, such things will always happen and we are aware of them. However, you cannot expect ticketing staff to take customers through the various options, not least because they would not necessarily have access to the information, but also because huge queues would build up in ticket offices."


Trick one
Peak time split journey

This offers smart ticket buyers, who travel at peak times, the greatest savings. Don't buy a standard open return from London to Newcastle (leaving at 8am). Instead, ask for a standard return to Peterborough, and a saver return from Peterborough to Newcastle.

Those in the know already do this. You have to make sure the train you intend to take actually stops at your "switchover" station. You board exactly the same train and don't have to get off.

You may have to swap seats but this is a small price to pay for saving around £100.

The same is true of plenty of other routes, for example, Penzance to Birmingham. Go into the ticket office and ask for a standard saver ticket between the two and you will be charged £101. However, if you ask for two saver fares - one from Penzance to Cheltenham, and another from Cheltenham to Birmingham - you will be charged a total of £75. You get on exactly the same train, don't get off at Cheltenham, but save 25% on the fare.

Trick two
Split journey with several tickets

Although this takes a bit of time to find, it can be very financially rewarding, particularly if you travel cross-country or on routes that require several changes.

Try buying advanced booking and cheaper fares on many such routes, and you will find it very difficult to get the lowest advertised fares. This may be because the tickets are not available.

However, if you split the journey into segments, you will find that you can buy the cheap tickets, but only as singles.

This week we tried to book an off-peak return trip from Exeter to Sheffield in July, leaving on a Tuesday and returning at the weekend. If you book it in one go, the cheapest fare is £94. But by booking four singles - Exeter to Birmingham and Birmingham to Sheffield and back - we got the total down to £63.

Had we booked a few weeks earlier, we could have got the total down to around half the original £94 - and this, remember, is for taking the exactly the same trains. You just need to make sure your chosen trains stop at the station at which you "swap" tickets.

Trick three
Find the lowest advertised prices

Nothing upsets travellers more than being offered super-low fares that are impossible to find. Barry Doe says the rail companies will often not offer the lowest advertised fares on "popular" off-peak times, such as weekends, because they know they can start selling them at higher prices.

The key is to buy exactly 12 weeks before your journey. The rail companies are required by law to start offering tickets 12 weeks before the train runs. Those in the know work back, then log on, or head to their local ticket office, on the first day the cheapest fares are available.

Mr Doe warns that planned engineering works - usually at weekends - can hold up the release of tickets, but in normal circumstances, all tickets for each train will be offered.

According to our research, nationalrail.co.uk is the best website to use for searching for the cheapest fares, although you can't book the tickets using the site. Trainline.com (owned by Virgin Trains) is rather unwieldy and charges those paying by credit card an extra £1.50, despite that fact that it makes a 9% commission on ticket sales.

Mr Doe says passengers armed with the best information are better off picking up their chosen tickets from their local station.

The cheapest fares may not offer discounts for railcard holders. If you have a railcard, it may be cheaper to buy a higher price ticket which allows the discount.

And the trick you are not allowed to do ...

One of the more bizarre aspects of long-distance train travel in the UK is that it can often be cheaper to go further.

Those travelling at peak time from London to places such as Newcastle and Carlisle pay eye-watering fares that are viable only if you are travelling on company expenses. However, if you book a seat on exactly the same train but go further up the line, the fare comes down dramatically.

Someone hoping to travel on the 8.46am daily train from London to Carlisle has no option but to pay £222 - the standard open return fare. The train carries on to Glasgow after it leaves Carlisle, but those booking a saver return to Glasgow on exactly the same train pay just £94, because the trip to Glasgow is not considered a peak-fare price, while it is deemed to be so for Carlisle. An Apex fare on offer the day before departure was £64. Fares booked up to 12 weeks in advance may be even cheaper.

So what is stopping you buying the cheaper fare and getting off at Carlisle? Unfortunately, it is not allowed under the ticket's terms and conditions.

There would be no problem with the inspector on the train as your ticket would be valid. But if you are stopped after leaving the train, an inspector can legally demand the difference up to the higher £222 fare.

Although the rules forbid it, many rail users buy such tickets knowing that they may pocket a big saving. They argue that they are sitting on exactly the same train, in exactly the same seat, but the fares are in no way comparable.

June 16, 2006

Rail link cables stolen by gangs

BBC News: 16 June 2006

Organised gangs are thought to be behind the theft of copper cable from the construction site of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) in Kent. The rail link operator said anyone cutting live cables could be killed.

Cable worth tens of thousands of pounds has been stolen by gangs breaking in to the site at Ebbsfleet.

"It is of relatively high value and is being disposed of outside our area through scrap metal dealers," said Sgt Rod Chapman of Kent Police.

British Transport Police said the thefts were part of a national trend.

"If you cut through a copper cable carrying 25,000 volts that will be the last bit of copper you cut through" - Ben Ruse

The second stage of the link from north Kent to St Pancras is due to open next year.

The copper cable, which is used to power trains, stations and signals, is now being tested and CTRL operator London and Continental Railways said thieves could be killed.

"We do testing day and night and the copper on site could well be live," said spokesman Ben Ruse.

"If you cut through a copper cable carrying 25,000 volts that will be the last bit of copper you cut through."

Hundreds of contractors enter the site every day and it is thought some thieves may be getting in using forged passes.

Others cut through the wire fence surrounding the site.

Thefts have increased as the price of copper has risen. Two years ago the official price of scrap copper was £1,700 per tonne - now it is £4,500.

London and Continental said site security had been increased and the cable was now being stored at a secret location before installation.

Colombo court issues injunction against seven railway trade unions

Colombo Page: June 8, 2006

Colombo: The Colombo District Court today issued an injunction order against seven trade unions for disrupting railway services by engaging the workers in a strike.

The court issued the injunction after hearing an appeal by the General Manager of the Sri Lanka Railway Authority.

Accordingly, trade union actions will be barred until June 22.

The General Manager of the Sri Lanka Railway Authority pointed out that 75 trains were not operating due to the strike and 300,000 commuters are stranded. Two million litres of oil have also not been transported.

The Railway United Trade Union Front led the running shed workers of the Sri Lanka Railway Department to walk out yesterday, demanding disciplinary action against the chief foreman of the Dematagoda Railway running division.

Boats, planes and trains return to fashion

Financial Times: June 16 2006
By Robert Wright, Transport Correspondent

When shareholders in Eurotunnel lost nearly half the company to creditors in a restructuring eight years ago, it would have taken a bold person to predict that investors would one daybe fighting over transport infrastructure.

The project to build the Channel tunnel was one of the world's first privately funded large transport infrastructure projects. It threw up most of the problems associated with owning structures for people to drive on, run trains on, dock ships in or land planes on.

Its revenues were unpredictable and fixed costs were high. Building costs had overrun. The project was vulnerable to the vagaries of government decision-making and, after an initial bedding-in, growth was slow.

Yet, the past few months have highlighted a transformation in that gloomy view of transport infrastructure investment.

Last week saw the endof an acrimonious battle between Spain's Ferrovial and Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, for BAA, the British airports operator.

In Australia, the year has seen a prolonged bidding campaign by Toll Holdings, the logistics company, for Patrick, one of the country's container port operators.

In February, it emerged that a Goldman-led consortium had tried to buy London & Continental Railways, builder of the high-speed Channel tunnel rail link.

This week, the latest bidding battle in the sector was joined when consortia led by Goldman and Australia's Macquarie announced competing bids for Associated British Ports, now the third British port operator in a year to face a contested bid.

Yesterday, Montauban of Belgium bid £95.3m for Simon Group, owner of the Humber Sea Terminal and Port Sutton bridge on the Wash.

Perhaps most emblematically, investors have grown interested again in Eurotunnel, with both Goldman and Macquarie intending to finance part of the Franco-British company's latest restructuring in a deal that could leave them with a large stake.

Analysts question whether the new vogue is justified by real changes in the investment climate or the opportunities available. There are questions about whether the level of interest is driving investors to overpay.

Goldman's ABP offer represents a 55 per cent premium to the average share price over the 12 months before ABP went into play and an enterprise value equivalent to 14 times prospective earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. (ebitda).

DP World bought P&O for a 70 per cent premium, or a enterprise value equivalent to 13 times prospective ebitda.

Arthur Rakowski, Macquarie's executive director in charge of raising its European infrastructure funds, says both the supply and demand sides of investment in the sector have seen changes in recent years.

The supply side - the number of projects available to private investors - has been boosted by the constraints on many countries' public budgets.

"There is a clear requirement for governments atall levels to provide an improved level of services, whereas the ability to finance those new servicesis increasingly limited by various fiscal and other budgetary constraints," Mr Rakowski says.

Investment demand from investors for infrastructure investments has been driven by institutional and sometimes retail investors' desire to diversify from equities and bonds into an area providing decent but stable returns. For bidders, such predictable, asset-backed returns help deals to be funded with large amounts of debt.

"Infrastructure does have a very positive profile in terms of its risk-return profile," Mr Rakowski says. "It has a long duration. It makes a lot of sense for a pension fund that has a 60-year liability profile to have an asset that has a long duration as well."

The predictability of investments in not only transport but other forms of infrastructure, such as electricity and gas distribution systems, may have improved, according to Jonathan Sellar, chief financial officer for Babcock & Brown Infrastructure, an Australian fund.

BBI won the bidding battle last year for Britain's PD Ports, owner of the ports of Teesport and Hartlepool.

Mr Sellar says regulatory regimes have grown more sophisticated and more reliable in recent years. The UK's strong legal and regulatory protection have made itparticularly attractive.

Meanwhile, Bent Flyvberg, professor of planning atDenmark's Aalborg University, says private investors' involvement has meant traffic forecasts and construction cost estimates have improved. In the past, governments were often misled by planners who overstated benefits and understated costs in the hope of getting pet projects built.

"Investors and banks do not trust the [public sector] promoters' projections on costs and revenues," he says. "They hire their own independent consultants."

Investors' attitudes also depend on whether the infrastructure is being built - and consequently carries large construction cost and revenue risks - or has an established record and is being refinanced or privatised.

The attractions of buying built transport infrastructure, together with the financial terms they are proposing, explain Goldman and Macquarie's interest in Eurotunnel, despite its disappointing record with its existing owners.

Yet, history suggests some caution is advisable.

"Where there is increasing competition, I have no doubt that there will be cases where people will overpay," says Mr Rakowski. "All I can say is hopefully everyone is disciplined about it."

Communities breathe new life into old rail buildings

Daily Telegraph: 14/06/2006
By David Millward, Transport Correspondent

Unused railway station buildings are being turned over to local community groups for a peppercorn rent in a new scheme to fill empty buildings and make platforms more welcoming.

The initiative, supported by Network Rail and Central Trains, is likely to be extended throughout the country as other train operators follow suit.

A dozen stations in the east and west Midlands have already been identified and some projects to bring life to hitherto desolate and forbidding buildings could be running within weeks.

The move, which is the brainchild of Peter Bradley, the former Labour MP for The Wrekin, will produce some startling new uses.

For example a former urinal at Worcester Foregate Street station is to be turned into a contemporary art gallery.

An empty ground-floor room of Melton Mowbray station in Leicestershire is to become a centre promoting local produce and three unused first-floor rooms are being converted into rehearsal space for young musicians.

The move comes a few months after the all-party transport select committee condemned the appalling state of many stations across the country. The MPs said many were sub-standard and bereft of even basic facilities such as lavatories.

Mr Bradley shared this view, describing many stations and forbidding and unfriendly, but he believed something could be done.

"The idea started at a Labour Party conference," said Mr Bradley. "I fell into discussion with someone from Central Trains about a station in my constituency.

"He said if I could come up with proper schemes he would make buildings available at a peppercorn rent."

The company has been as good as its word, Mr Bradley said, not only making buildings available but also making its staff available to help put together the schemes.

"I think they realised that many stations are unstaffed and this can make them a cold and hostile environment, especially for women," he said. "In the past many train operators seemed to run services just for themselves, this gives them a chance to have a role with their local communities."

Central Trains is just one of the players in the scheme. Others involved in the project include the Countryside Agency the Association of Community Rail Partnerships.

Susan Miles, the project officer with the Central Stations initiative, believes the presence of community groups will reinvigorate buildings that have been allowed to remain dormant for years.

Today those involved in the initiative take their case to the House of Commons, hoping to persuade other train operators to follow suit. A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "If we can find a use for these buildings, and there must be hundreds across the network, then it would bring life back to stations."

See also:

All aboard for station regeneration

Guardian Online: June 13, 2006
James Meikle, rural affairs correspondent

Railway stations were once the pride of small towns across England. Now they can be a dowdy embarrassment, their platforms patchily peopled apart from commuters and school pupils, and their often imposing buildings standing empty and neglected.

The train operating companies do not need the accommodation, and commercial companies think they are too far off the beaten track, despite the transport link. But a scheme that offers empty station buildings to charities and community groups at a peppercorn rent provided that they smarten them up, is about to go nationwide.

Take-up for the idea has been so encouraging in the Midlands, where about 12 stations will soon house new tenants, that Network Rail and its partners are extending the scheme.

First to move in will be Studentforce, which will take the former stationmaster's house and another part of the complex at Oakham station, Rutland. The charity advises and train graduates and other young people in economic, social and environmental self-sufficiency and encourages them to change their lifestyles in the face of global warming.

The Victorian buildings at the station, model for the classic Hornby Dublo train sets, have also featured as a backdrop for screen versions of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot whodunnits.

Adam Cade, the chief executive of Studentforce, which has 15 staff and about 100 volunteers, said: "The initial restoration costs are far outweighed by benefits of in-kind contributions of long-term premises at a peppercorn rent.

"Moving to the station is really good. It practices what we preach. Not many young people have cars. Staff can come to their place of work by train and young people can come in for training by train."

The community arts partnership Yoke and Zoom will turn disused urinals at Foregate Street station, Worcester, into a contemporary art gallery, while Welland Enterprise agency, which encourages small busineses in rural areas, will have new shop windows at Stamford station, Lincolnshire, and Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. It will share a platform at the latter station with Riffs Big Band, which will provide music lessons, practice and rehearsal space.

The orginal idea came from Peter Bradley, the chair of Labour rural MPs until he lost his seat at The Wrekin, Shropshire, last year. He pointed out that there were probably hundreds of small stations that were "pretty inhospitable" and prone to hooliganism and vandalism.

"Some of the accommodation is quite big. There is a huge range of shapes and sizes. If you take the long view, this could make stations much more a feature of community life. If you can't persuade people into stations, you are not going to get them on the train."

The scheme has so far centred on stations leased by Central Trains from Network Rail. Charities have a share in a lease of up to 25 years on the properties they occupy.

Mike Haigh, the business development director of Central Trains, said: "Although we are letting property for nominal rents, the benefits to the railway operator arise from improved safety, a reduction in vandalism and greater local involvement and awareness, particularly at our unstaffed stations. I hope other train operators will be encouraged to follow."

New Rail Route Brings New Hope

Mmegi/The Reporter: June 14, 2006
(Gaborone) EDITORIAL

The recent re-launch of the train service between Francistown and Bulawayo has brought hope for the improvement of interaction and trade relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe.

This route will only serve its purpose well, once measures to sustain it are well packaged for the interests of both parties.

Since 1999, relations between Botswana and Zimbabwe in the rail sector in particular have not been stable. The relations were soured after Zimbabwe unilaterally diverted transit traffic to the new Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Railway (BBR) line, which financially crippled the Botswana Railways. This decision robbed BR of transit traffic estimated at over 90,000 tonnes. This was reduced to an average of 10,000 tonnes. The revenue implications of such a drop led to BR retrenching staff as it was no longer cost effective to keep them.

Questions are already abounding as to whether the new route will help stabilise things and set the stage for future business deals. It will only serve its purpose if Zimbabwe and Botswana continue talking and inventing new schemes that could resuscitate the ailing railway industry between the two countries and across the SADC region. Rail transport is generally believed to be a safe mode of transport and it is generally considered to be cheap. The new route will therefore provide choice to travellers. Botswana's Works and Transport Minister, Lesego Motsumi praise for the re-launch of the mixed train service last Friday in both Bulawayo and Francistown was not unfounded. The service will promote bilateral trade, tourism and cultural interaction between the two countries.

Her Zimbabwean counterpart, Christopher Mushohwe also reiterated that the train service is pivotal to the growth and sustenance of the two countries' economies. Zimbabwe Railways which has been concerned by the slump in performance for the past years, has high hopes of reaping immensely from the decision to re-introduce the route. The resumption of this route, which is part of a turn-around programme, is expected to revive the lost glory and fortunes of Zimbabwe Railways. The Francistown-Bulawayo mixed train route is expected to provide an affordable service and contribute towards the improvement of economies of both Botswana and Zimbabwe. At P15 (Francistown-B ulawayo) single journey, it goes without saying that the train will be affordable.

Zimbabwe Railways will have to come out clean on its long-term projects and say why it cannot permit the resumption of high volume transit traffic through the Francistown-Bulawayo route for the benefit of the ailing BR as well. Already some people speculate that BR has been used in this deal as they say it serves the interest of Zimbabwe Railways more than those of the BR.

Bombardier gets $91 million Docklands rail order

Reuters: Jun 14, 2006

MONTREAL - Canada's Bombardier Inc said on Wednesday it has received an additional $91 million order from London's Docklands Light Railway for 31 rail cars.

The vehicles are scheduled to be delivered from July 2008 to October 2009. The order follows a $94 million contract awarded to Bombardier, the world's No. 1 train maker and third-largest civil aircraft manufacturer, by Docklands Light Railway in May for 24 automatically guided light rail cars.

The rail cars will be manufactured at Bombardier's plant in Bautzen, Germany, with electrical equipment supplied by the company's facility in Mannheim. The bogies will be produced at Bombardier's site in Siegen.

US railways show no sign of slowing down

Financial Times: June 15, 2006
By Andrew Ward in Atlanta

US railway companies have seen no sign of a slowdown in the economy and expect continued increases in volume and prices after four years of explosive growth.

Rob Knight, chief financial officer of Union Pacific, the biggest US rail operator, acknowledged a slowdown in lumber shipments as the housing market cooled but said all other commodities remained strong. "Although the news is filled with speculation about an economic slowdown, we really haven't seen it," he told a transportation conference in New York. "We continue to see strong demand and record volume across the system."

Michael Ward, chief executive of CSX, another large rail operator, told the same conference that his company expected rail prices to rise by 5-6 per cent this year and next because of the strength in freight volumes.

The rail industry is viewed as an important economic bellwether because of its role in transporting goods ranging from cars and steel to grain and coal. Rail volumes have increased by about 25 per cent since 2002 as the US economy rebounded from recession, propelling rail companies to record profits and inflating their share prices.

Mr Ward forecast that CSX would enjoy annual earnings growth of 12-14 per cent for the next five years as a range of factors pushed more freight on to the rails.

Rail companies have also benefited from surging energy prices because freight trains are three times more fuel-efficient than trucks. A nationwide shortage of truck drivers and worsening road congestion have also spurred the shift in freight from road to rail.

Mr Knight cited research showing that serious road congestion had spread from 29 per cent of US urban areas in 1990 to 60 per cent today, causing annual economic losses of $63bn.

The resurgence of coal as a source of electricity in the US, thanks to a combination of rising natural gas prices and cleaner coal-burning technology, have made the fossil fuel more attractive ? and lucrative for the rail industry.

Union Pacific carried a record amount of coal last month, and Mr Knight forecast 10 per cent volume growth over the full year.

Mr Knight predicted rail volumes would remain strong even were an economic slowdown to occur.

"The view of railroads as a cyclical industry is no longer valid," he said.

Surging freight volumes have caused serious congestion across the US rail network over recent years, but Mr Knight said service was now improving following two years of heavy investment in capacity and infrastructure.

See also:

FreightCar America gets orders for 1,600 coal cars

Reuters: Jun 15, 2006

FreightCar America Inc on Thursday said Norfolk Southern Railway Co. has committed to purchase 1,600 coal cars from it.

The company did not disclose the financial terms.

The Chicago-based railcar maker said it will begin delivery of the new order in the first quarter of 2007 from its Roanoke, Virginia railcar production facility, and will complete the order in calendar 2007.

London Mayor set to join rail tickets row

Herts Advertiser: 15 June 2006

Ken Livingstone LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone looks set to step into the row over First Capital Connect's decision to restrict travel out of London during the evening peak for those with cheap day return rail tickets.

From Monday passengers have been unable to travel from inner London stations to St Albans, Harpenden and Radlett using cheap day tickets between 4.30pm and 7pm.

Transport for London bosses are now considering the best way to handle the controversial decision by the company which took over the Thameslink franchise on April 1. That could involve asking Ken Livingstone to raise the matter with Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander.

Mr Livingstone, who is said to be "furious" about the decision, could ask Mr Alexander to withdraw the franchise from the company.

Ian Brown, managing director of London Rail for Transport for London, has written to First Capital Connect (FCC) pointing out that the purpose of railways in the capital is to benefit Londoners and the London economy.

In his letter to FCC managing director Elaine Holt, Mr Brown said: "The management of overcrowding is not achieved by massive fare increases."

He warned that he would not be prepared to support FCC holding the franchise unless the company changed its position.

FCC said the move was being introduced to reduce overcrowding on its services but it has been condemned at "blatant profiteering" by Brian Cooke, chairman of the passenger watchdog London TravelWatch.

Representatives of London TravelWatch met FCC management last week for what they described as "constructive discussions" on overcrowding but a spokesperson said it still hoped FCC would review its position on the cheap day tickets.

Association of Public Transport Users committee chairman Adrian Jackson- Robbins said the majority of the members of his organisation who had contacted him were opposed to the move.

He said: "Although some season-ticket holders have welcomed the decision, there are a great many people who have to travel to London on business two or three times a week or outside the morning peak and they will see their travel costs soar."

June 15, 2006

Rail signal workers call off strike

Press Association: June 15, 2006

A planned strike by thousands of railway signal workers during England's World Cup game with Sweden next week, which would have caused travel chaos for soccer fans, has been called off.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union took the decision after receiving a new pay offer from Network Rail.

Plans by up to 5,000 signal workers and operational staff to walk out on June 20, when England play Sweden in the final group stage of the soccer tournament, were called off.

A second strike on June 25, when England are likely to be playing another game in the tournament, remains in place while members consider details of the offer.

But the RMT executive recommended acceptance of the new deal on Thursday so the second walk-out is also expected to be cancelled.

Network Rail strike suspended as new offer considered

RMT: June 15 2006

STRIKE ACTION by 5,000 Network Rail signalling and operational staff scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday (June 20/21) has been suspended to allow consultation with members on an improved pay and conditions offer from the company.

Next Sunday's action (25 and 26 June) remains on pending the outcome of that consultation.

"Network Rail's new offer would mean a combined increase in basic rates totalling eleven per cent between April this year and April 2007," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Implementation of the 35-hour week would also mean an extra six days' annual leave for signalling members, with no strings now attached.

"The recommendation from the RMT executive is to accept the revised offer, which is now probably the best in the industry this year, and has been achieved by a magnificent display of soilidarity and unity by our members.

"However, next Sunday's action will remain on while the RMT negotiating team meets with local reps over the next week to consult over what is now on the table," Bob Crow said.

See also:

RMT Circular No: IR135/06

Dear Colleague,

Company table improved offer - First 24 hour strike suspended

Further to my circular to Branches dated 13th June 2006, a meeting took place yesterday with the company and the following revised offer has been tabled:-

April 2006
* 3.2% increase on base salaries
* Increase in travel subsidy from 25% to 40%

1st October 2006:
Introduction of the 35 hour divisor. Rostered employees will continue to work their current 36 hour roster with the additional hour being paid as overtime at basic rate.

Non-rostered employees i.e. office based will start working the 35 hour week from this date.

31st December 2006:
Full implementation of the 35 hour week with revised rosters and rest days

April 2007:
* RPI+0.75% (based on February RPI published in March) with a review date of 1st January 2008
* Increase in the travel subsidy to 45 %
* Increase in Inner London Allowance to £2250
* Increase in Outer London Allowance to £1240
* Increase in South East Allowance to £805
* Annual Leave - Role Clarity bands 5-8

The company's proposal to revise the role clarity flexibility to buy annual leave remains. The amount of leave to be taken by an individual in any year to be capped at 30 days in total

This has been considered by the General Grades Committee who have taken the following decision:-

"That having read and noted the offer, we instruct the General Secretary to invite second stage representatives to Unity House on Wednesday 21st June and to suspend the first strike day, Tuesday 20th June 2006."

The matter will be considered once more following the meeting of the second stage representatives. I shall, of course, continue to keep you advised of all developments.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Crow,
General Secretary

June 14, 2006

Progress made in Network Rail signallers' dispute tallks

RMT: June 14 2006

PROGRESS HAS been made in this afternoon's talks aimed at averting strike action by 5,000 Network Rail signalling and operational staff, Britian?s biggest rail union can reveal.

"During the strike talks this afternoon the company made a new and improved offer verbally, and we are now waiting to receive it in writing," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

"Once we have received the offer in writing the RMT executive will tomorrow consider it and decide on the next step. 

"If what was offered to us verbally today is what we receive in writing tomorrow, there is a good chance that next Tuesday's strike action can be suspended, as England progress towards winning the World Cup," Bob Crow said.

Offer in rail signallers dispute

BBC News: 14 June 2006

National rail strikes planned for later this month could be averted after a new pay offer was made to signal workers. If the pay deal is resolved no train services will face disruption.

The offer came during talks between Network Rail and the Rail Maritime & Transport Union (RMT).

Planned 24-hour strikes by up to 5,000 signallers on June 20 and 25 now look likely to be called off.

If the pay offer were confirmed in writing at fresh talks on Thursday, the strikes would probably be suspended, RMT General secretary Bob Crow said.

Signallers and operational staff had planned two one-day strikes in a dispute over pay.

"If what was offered to us verbally today is what we receive in writing there is a good chance that the strikes can be suspended" - Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary

Earlier this week the RMT said the workers had voted by 2,104 to 970 to take industrial action to reject a pay deal which they said would have amounted to a two-year pay freeze.

The first strike was planned on June 20, when England play Sweden in their final World Cup group game, potentially inconveniencing tens of thousands of fans on their way home to watch the match.

Five Rail Workers Injured in Freight Train Collision in California

KCBS/AP: 14 June 2006

MADERA, Calif. Five rail employees have been hurt after two freight trains, one en route to Richmond the other from the Contra Costa County city, collided in Madera County this morning, disrputing commuter rail service on a Central Valley Amtrak line, officials said.

At least eight cars and four locomotives derailed following the crash near the city of Madera at around 6:15 a.m, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway officials.

"One train that had originated in Richmond with a destination of Barstow collided with a train that had originated in San Bernadino and was heading up toward the Richmond area," railway spokeswoman Lena Kent told KCBS.

The injured rail workers were hospitalized.   One is in critical condition, another in serious condition, and three others suffered minor injuries. There were reports that the workers jumped from the freight cars moments before the collision. 

The trains were going in opposite directions on the same track.  Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway officials, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection representatives, among other local agencies, are investigating the collision and assessing the damage.

One train was carrying cement, and the other was carrying a flammable liquid that officials believe did not leak into nearby water-ways.   Environmental and health officials are trying to determine if any of the chemicals leaked into the soil.  Several orchards and canals are adjacent to the area where the crash took place near the town of Berenda north of the city of Madera.

"There is some diesel fuel leaking from the locomotive and it is unclear if there is any hazardous material leaking from the cars," Kent said.

It's unclear if both of the trains were moving at the time of the crash. 

The San Joaquins Amtrak service, which uses the same track as the freight trains, has suspended its train service in the area and is using a bus bridge for its passengers.

June 12, 2006

Anniversary of Armagh rail disaster

The Armagh rail disaster happened on 12 June 1889 near Armagh, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland. A train stalled on an incline and was divided; the rear section ran backwards down the gradient and collided with a following train. At the time it was the worst rail disaster in Europe, and it remains the fourth-worst in the United Kingdom. 88 people were killed, most of them children, and 170 injured.

Circumstances of the accident

Armagh Sunday school had organized a day trip to the seaside resort of Warrenpoint. A special train was arranged for this occasion, carrying almost 600 passengers. To sell more tickets, two extra carriages had been added at the last minute - the extra weight from these meant that the locomotive had barely enough power to pull the train out of the station.

The train set off at 10.20 am. As the train left Armagh, it was faced with a long uphill gradient of 1 in 75. The underpowered train almost reached the top, but the engine stalled 200 yards from the summit. The train's braking system was continuous non-automatic vacuum, meaning that all the carriages had brakes, but it was not automatic or fail-safe. In the 'non-automatic' brake system a vacuum had to be created in the system to apply the brake and allowing air to enter the system released the brake. In contrast, in the 'automatic' system the creation of a vacuum in the system releases the brake. When air is allowed to enter the system, for example when brake pipes are disconnected, the brakes are applied.

To get the train over the summit, the driver decided to split the train in two. As the rear section of the train would be left without brakes, the train crew placed stones behind the wheels of this section, as well as applying a handbrake in the guard's van. Unfortunately, the engine had stalled with its pistons in the "dead centre" position, meaning that when it was restarted to take the front section of the train over the summit, it moved back slightly, crushing the stones. The handbrake alone was not sufficient to hold the rear section, which rolled away down the hill. The occupants were unable to escape as the doors were locked to stop entry by fare-dodgers.

Meanwhile, the 10.35 train had left Armagh. Its crew saw ten carriages careering backwards towards them with people jumping off the running boards and children being thrown from the windows of the locked carriages. The 10.35 braked and had slowed to 5 mph before being hit by the runaway carriages travelling at 40 mph. The final three carriages and occupants were totally destroyed.

Lessons learned
The disaster, though horrific, brought important benefits. For years the Railway Inspectorate of the Board of Trade had been advocating three vital safety measures to often reluctant railway managements:
* continuous automatic brakes, which would stay on even if a train was broken in two;
* the space-interval or absolute block system of signalling, where one train was not allowed into a physical section until the preceding one had left it;
* interlocking, where points and signals are mechanically linked so that they cannot be conflicting.

The disaster vindicated the wisdom and foresight of the Inspectors. If the train had been equipped with continuous brakes, or if the space-interval system had been in operation, the collision would not have occurred. Public opinion was shocked, and as a result, the UK Parliament passed the Regulation of Railways Act 1889, which made continuous automatic brakes mandatory on British passenger railways, along with the block system of signalling and the interlocking of all points and signals. This is often taken as the beginning of the "modern era" in UK rail safety (Rolt 1956, Nock 1980).

Nock, O.S. (1980). Historic Railway Disasters, 2nd ed., Ian Allan.

Rolt, L.T.C. (1956 (and later editions)). Red for Danger. Bodley Head / David and Charles / Pan Books.

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armagh_rail_disaster"

Two strike dates set for national Network Rail pay strike

RMT: June 12 2006

TWO 24-HOUR strikes have been called by Britain's biggest rail union, the RMT, after a massive vote for action over pay and conditions by 5,000 Network Rail signallers and operational staff.

RMT members will not book on for shifts due to start between 13:00 on Tuesday June 20 and 12:59 on Wednesday June 21, and between 21:00 on Sunday June 25 and 20:59 on Monday June 26.

In a 65 per cent turnout, members voted overwhelmingly to strike after the company failed to budge from a three-year pay offer that would deliver an effective two-year pay freeze and delay for another year a 35-hour week that should have been in place three months ago.

"Our members have seen through a disgraceful campaign of disinformation by the company and returned what can only be called a massive vote for action," RMT General secretary Bob Crow said today.

"We warned the company that our members would not accept this penny-pinching offer from executives who have pocketed a million in bonuses between them.

"NR's offer would see our members' pay stand still in real terms for two years and would stall the implementation of the 35-hour week they were promised by March for another year.

"Whichever way you look at it ,that is unacceptable, but it is even more galling coming from bosses with massive bonuses on top of telephone-number salaries.

"Network Rail made a single-year pay deal available for maintenance staff, and there is no sensible reason why they should not do the same for signallers and operational staff too.

"Our negotiation team remains available for talks, but our members have made it clear that they are fed up with the double standards and are determined to win justice on pay," Bob Crow said.


Note to editors: The Network Rail pay offer for signallers and operational staff is for a 3.2 per cent increase plus a non-consolidated taxable lump sum of £250 this year, RPI-only increases in 2007 and 2008, with further non-consolidated lump sums of £300 and £350 respectively. The ballot closes on June 12.

The vote for action was 2,104 (68.4 per cent) in favour to 970 (31.6 per cent) against.

Co-op criticises First Group

The Guardian: June 12, 2006
Terry Macalister

An institutional shareholder has thrown its weight behind an unusual resolution calling on the bus and train company First Group to adopt a workplace human rights policy to counter growing concerns about the way it treats its staff.

The Co-operative Insurance Society is supporting a move by bus workers who own shares in their employer to raise the issue at next month's annual general meeting in Aberdeen.

The resolution calls for a policy designed to "minimise the risks to shareholder value that could arise from unsatisfactory labour relations outcomes such as workplace stoppages, reputational harm, poor employee morale, high employee turnover, or high levels of internal or external conflict." A supporting statement to the resolution cites two examples, which it claims show how reputational issues have affected the company. The resolution has been rejected by the firm, which runs the First Great Western and other rail franchises.

Earlier this year, education authorities in Riverside, California, decided that First Group's American school bus subsidiary's reputation and employment standards were so deficient that they chose a more expensive bidder to run their school buses. And last November, South Yorkshire Passenger Transit Authority passed a vote of "no confidence" in First Group after fare rises and cuts in services.

First Group said it was urging shareholders to reject the motion, arguing that it already had systems in place that made a new human rights policy unnecessary.

Welsh rail travellers think service is declining

Western Mail: Jun 12 2006
Claire Hill

DAILY train travel is still a bugbear for Welsh passengers who are unhappy with value for money, cleanliness and delays.

A survey by Passenger Focus found that while people were satisfied with the overall journey, there are still key points some train companies are getting wrong.

Welsh companies like Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western were criticised after both scored badly for value for money in the survey.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus said, "Value for money is becoming the Achilles' heel of the rail industry and if overall satisfaction with services in Wales is on the decline, it's not surprising that Welsh rail passengers don't think they're getting a good deal."

One of the main issues affecting customers was the myriad of tickets available, but there was some good news today as First Great Western announced it would be streamlining its tickets.

Some rail companies, including Virgin West Coast service into North Wales, were praised by the passenger survey as satisfaction about the service shot up.

However, the survey was highly damning about the rest of Welsh travel.

Smith said, "Well done to Virgin for getting the basics right - but that's where the good news ends for passengers in Wales.

"Not only are value for money ratings scraping along the bottom but passengers on services provided by the two main operators in Wales, Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western, have delivered a pretty damning verdict.

"At a time when overall satisfaction is rising elsewhere on the rail network, Wales' services seem to be going backwards. We will be pushing the train companies to demonstrate immediate action to tackle some of these problems."

Arriva Trains Wales got one of the lowest ratings for satisfaction with the way the company dealt with delays, as just 28% of passengers were satisfied.

The company also saw a 13% decline in satisfaction for the cleanliness of the trains.

Welsh passengers are also not satisfied with the level of facilities and services at stations and just over one third think current provision is satisfactory.

June 11, 2006

Bidders emerge in $3bn rail link

The Business: 11 June 2006
By Rupert Steiner

Saudi deal attracts huge interest
BOMBARDIER, Siemens and Sumitomo have emerged as the first technology providers forming separate consortia to bid for a $3bn (£1.62bn, E2.3bn) rail contract in Saudi Arabia.

The specialists in high-speed passenger transport are understood to be the first to take the lead after a meeting in Jeddah last week for the Mecca-Medina Rail Link (MMRL).

The MMRL involves 444km of high-speed electrified railway line to transport pilgrims travelling to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina via Jeddah for the Umrah and Hajj. It will also carry commuters between the three cities.

The project is the third significant rail contract being offered to international firms for tender by the Saudis.

While the choice of technology for the MMRL will be left largely in the hands of the bidders to stimulate innovative solutions, there are only a handful of specialist firms capable of leading the separate consortia.

The Canadian, German and Japanese firms are the first of about nine expected to form groups. They will put forward their proposals after the Saudis issue a request for pre-qualification on 30 September.

There will then be three to four months to submit proposals and a shortlist drawn up early next year.

The Business has seen a list of companies expressing interest which also include Alstom, Hitachi, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, Talgo and Ansaldo.

Consortia have already begun to form for the route which will have an expected journey time of two hours. The MMRL will be implemented on a design, build, operate, transfer basis where the Saudi Rail Organisation (SRO) will select a concessionaire to design, finance, build and operate the project for 30 years before transferring it to the Saudi government.

The SRO has indicated the bidding consortia should include among its members a high-speed technology provider as a leader, an experienced passenger service operator and civil and electro--mechanical contractor.

The tender is separate from the Land Bridge project, another big rail contract primarily for freight transport. Four consortia have been shortlisted to build and operate that $5bn link between the Gulf and the Red Sea.

It involves building 1,065km of rail lines across the desert. Saudi Arabia, the world?s largest oil exporter, has embarked on a number of initiatives to attract foreign investment to develop its infrastructure and expand its industrial base to create jobs for its rapidly expanding population, which is forecast to double to 30m by 2020.

The kingdom has hired a leading group of international advisers for the MMRL including investment bank UBS, France?s SNCF International and law firm Linklaters.

The rail contracts are part of more than £624bn worth of contracts for consortia interested in defence, transport and infrastructure work.

Last month the Saudi government announced plans to construct a $6.7bn financial district in Riyadh, promising the same regulation and services offered by western rivals.

While the market is currently closed to foreign investors, other than through a handful of funds, the Saudi Capital Markets Authority also announced plans to partially privatise the Tadawul All-Shares Exchange, which is government owned.

Labour/Lib Dem Coalition clash on cost of rail link

The Scotsman:11 Jun 2006

SCOTLAND'S coalition partners are engaged in a bitter dispute over claims Labour MSPs are trying to "wreck" plans for a £150m Waverley rail link.

The proposal for the Edinburgh-to-Tweedbank link goes before the Scottish Parliament this week, with Labour and the Liberals split over costs.

Several Labour MSPs claim the line does not represent good value for money, and fear its cost could rocket to £300m.

A series of amendments have been placed by Labour MSP Bristow Muldoon to try to rein in the cost and prevent one of the stations on the line being built.

The move has prompted a furious backlash from the Liberals, with sources close to LibDem leader Nicol Stephen describing Muldoon's plans as "daft nonsense".

Labour ministers are expected to nod through the plans next week, although several are known to have reservations about the scheme.

Borders MSP Jeremy Purvis led the attacks against Muldoon last night, describing his attempts to halt the line as a "wrecking amendment".

Three hurt, rail tracks, oil pipeline blown up

The Hindu: June. 11 (PTI)

Continuing with their violence, ULFA militants today lobbed a hand grenade on a security forces' vehicle injuring three people, blew up an electrical transformer and a railway track minutes after the Rajdhani Express had passed in different incidents in Assam.

Official sources said a group of ULFA militants lobbed a hand grenade on a CRPF vehicle near a petrol pump in Makum in Tinsukia district, injuring two securitymen and a civilian.

At Chabbua in the same district the militants destroyed an electrical transformer by exploding a bomb.

The railway track was blown off near Sibsagar minutes after the Rajdhani express passed through the area this morning while an oil pipeline in Dibrugarh district was damaged last night.

Police said here that the remote-controlled bomb exploded between Bhojo and Sibsagar stations after the Dibrugarh-Howrah Kamrup Express and Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express passed through the area.

There was no casualty though railway tracks have been extensively damaged and rail traffic has come to a halt with several trains controlled at various places.

An oil pipeline was also blown up last midnight at Kothaloni under Tengakhat police station in Dibrugarh district.

Meanwhile, ULFA commander in chief Paresh Baruah in an e-mail to the loca media has denied involvement in the Machkhowa blast on Friday which injured five people but owned responsibility for the attack on OIL pipelines in Upper Assam.

Explosion severs Assam rail link

BBC News: 11 June 2006

Suspected separatist rebels in the Indian state of Assam have blown up more railway tracks, police say.

The blast near the town of Tinsukia cut rail services from northern Assam to the rest of India. There has been a spate of explosions since Thursday.

On Saturday, one person was killed and another 20 hurt in bomb attacks in the state capital, Guwahati, police said.

Several oil and gas pipelines have also been hit. The violence comes ahead of more peace talks due later in June.

Public Services Not Private Profit

As part of the joint union campaign against privatisation, a Mass Rally and Lobby of Parliament will take place on

Tuesday 27th June

12pm - 5pm

Central Hall, Westminster

Make your voice heard!

Since 1977, New Labour has continued the Tories' privatisation of our public services. The justice system, education, health, Royal Mail, rail and tube, youth services, council housing, fire safety, broadcasting, MoD, Job centres, civil service are all threatened with private sector take-overs, in various forms.

On Tuesday 27th June, public sector workers from all these areas are joining together in solidarity, to call on the Government to halt its privatisation agenda.

The rally starts at 12 noon, at Westminster Central Hall. Contact your MP in advance and ask to meet him/her to discuss your concerns.

For more information call 020 7219 1626

The Road to Guantanamo

The Road to Guantanamo, a film by Michael Winterbottom, will be shown on

Wednesday 21st June, 7.45pm

Easton Community Centre, Kilburn St, Bristol

Organised by Bristol Stop the War Coalition

The film tells the story of the Tipton Three, three young men who were kidnapped in Afghanistan after the 9/11 bombings, then imprisoned, beaten, tortured and placed in solitary confinement in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.

The screening is introduced by Moazzam Begg, himself a former detainee, and author of Enemy Combatant

Further details: Ring 07917 676 068

June 10, 2006

Isabel on track to see rail history reversed

Selkirk Today: 09 June 2006

YARROW school dinner lady Isabel Brown has bitter memories of the last parliamentary debate she witnessed.

It was 1963 and she was a civil servant working on secondment at the War Office in London.

At the invitation of her West Lothian MP, Tam Dalyell, she went to the Commons to hear MPs debate the infamous Beeching report which led to the closure of the Waverley rail line.

But she was more concerned about the threat to the line through her home town of Bathgate it, too, came under the Beeching axe.

She confessed: "I was appalled at what was proposed and felt like shouting out when Ernest Marbles, transport minister in the Tory government of the day, spoke in favour of the report."

Bathgate reopened during the 1980s and on Wednesday Isabel will be at Holyrood when the Scottish Parliament will decide if the Waverley line should be restored from the capital to Tweedbank.

She told The Wee Paper: "I have waited 43 years to see the devastating effects of Beeching reversed and I am sure my day will come next week.

"To those opposed to restoring the line, I say think about others who need jobs and houses, and consider the investment the railway could bring for our young people. It's not about us, it's about them and the future."

Isabel and husband Henry a miner at the doomed Polkennet pit moved to Cappercleuch when Henry was offered a water bailiff job at St Mary's Loch. Isabel worked at the Gordon Arms Hotel before becoming school dinner lady. Henry took an extra job driving the school bus.

New rail boss admits that the Aberystwyth line is 'a difficult route'

Western Mail: Jun 10 2006
Rhodri Clark

RAIL passengers in Mid Wales may have to wait two or three years for a reliable service, the new boss of Arriva Trains Wales has warned.

In his first major media interview since becoming ATW's chief executive last month, Bob Holland admitted the Cambrian Line, linking Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury and Birmingham, was "a difficult route".

Trains delayed by railway congestion in the Birmingham area were disrupting timetables in Wales - where there is just one track for both directions.

But Mr Holland said he was pleased with ATW's improving overall punctuality since it introduced a new standard pattern timetable in December, giving most routes an easy-to-remember pattern of services every hour, two hours or half-hour.

From tomorrow, seven or eight minutes will be added to journey times between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth in an attempt to reduce delays.

Mr Holland said Aberystwyth trains were being delayed in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and later holding up eastbound trains on the single line, which has limited passing places, through Welshpool and Machynlleth.

"It's a difficult route. The long-term solution is working with Network Rail over the next two to three years," he said.

"In the meantime it's always going to be difficult to maintain the reliability that we want."

A Network Rail spokesperson said a £15m scheme to replace 1920s signals in the Telford area would be finished in October, improving reliability.

Network Rail would spend £350m over 10 years on new signals for the West Midlands.

"That's going to make a huge difference in the long term," she added.

Mr Holland also pledged to retain SuperSaver tickets for journeys where ATW controls fares. First Great Western is scrapping its SuperSavers tomorrow, encouraging people to use cheap pre-booked tickets instead.

Many passengers are angry that the cheapest turn-up-and-go ticket from Swansea to Paddington will now be a £59 Saver, 16% more than the SuperSaver.

ATW's commitment to the SuperSaver means passengers travelling off-peak from Wrexham to Cardiff, for example, have a turn-up-and-go fare of £42.40 instead of a Saver at £49.20.

June 09, 2006

Minister promises extra rail services

Birmingham Post: Jun 9 2006
By Jonathan Walker, Political Editor

An extra 40 train services a day will run in the West Midlands when new franchises are awarded, Ministers have promised.

Transport Minister Derek Twigg invited passengers to tell the Government what they want from the region's rail service, at the launch of a public consultation yesterday.

The consultation will help determine which services train operators are expected to run, when bidding for franchises begins later this year.

A major shake up of the Midlands rail network is under way, with the merger of the long-distance Silverlink County services and the local services currently provided by Central Trains, to create a new West Midlands franchise.

Mr Twigg said there would be more trains, running more o ften, thanks partly to improvements to the West Coast Main Line which has cost £7.6 billion.

But he confirmed the Government was pressing ahead with plans to scrap the "poorly used" Wolverhampton to Walsall service.

There had been concern the Cross City line, from Lichfield to Redditch via Birmingham New Street, would also be axed but Mr Twigg said the service was safe.

Proposed improvements include an additional hourly service between Manchester and Birmingham, calling at Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stone and Stoke-on-Trent.

Services between Birmingham and Northampton will be increased to give a half-hourly service all day long.

The consultation also proposes that the future operator of the franchise should consider introducing more flexible tickets, instead of the current system which forces visitors to travel at specific times of day.

They should also ensure improved security at the busiest stations.

Mr Twigg said: "This is an important franchise and it is entirely right that we consult on the services it provides.

"If these proposals go ahead, passengers will further benefit from the investment we have made in the West Coast Main Line.

"Bidders for the franchise will have to demonstrate how they will deliver extra services on busy routes, build on recent performance improvements and meet the growing demand for rail travel across the franchise area."

A spokesman for CentroPTA said: "We will be making representations about the decision to end the Wolverhampton to Walsall service.

"However it appears other commuter services will not be cut, which is good news.

"The Government has acknowledged that bidders must prepare bids on the basis that passenger numbers are going to grow."

Wolverhampton MP Rob Marris (Lab Wolverhampton South West) said he was disappointed that services to Walsall were being axed.

He said: "My initial reaction is that this is a mistake because I don't believe the service has ever been marketed properly so there may be more potential passengers out there.

"What the Department should be doing is looking at the West Midlands network as a whole, to see if it is profitable and socially worthwhile, rather then focusing on individual lines."

Rail operators are expected to submit bids before February 2007 and the winner will be announced next summer.

Rail Corridor to Be Built on Belgian Coast

Associated Press News: June 09, 2006

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Transport ministers from France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland signed a deal Friday to build a high-speed freight railway connection linking the Belgium coastal city of Antwerp with Lyon in France and Basel in Switzerland.

No cost estimates were given.

See also:

Agreement on the setting-up of a high-speed rail freight corridor

Europa - European Commission Press Releases:
Brussels, 9 June 2006

Ministers from France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, meeting in the presence of Mr Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission with special responsibility for transport, today signed a letter of intent concerning the setting-up of an interoperable rail freight corridor between Antwerp, Basel and Lyon based on the European rail signalling system ERTMS.

Mr Barrot took the opportunity to point out that the ERTMS was bringing rail signalling into the digital age and would considerably improve the fluidity and performance of the freight transport system. He went on to stress that the ERTMS project was a major industrial project in an area of high technology in which European industry was a world leader.

Against the background of the work carried out by Mr Karel Vinck, European coordinator for the deployment of the interoperable signalling system ERTMS, the transport ministers of the countries traversed by the Antwerp-Basel-Lyon corridor have drawn up a timetable for the implementation of the project between 2008 and 2018, with provision for the main part of the corridor to be equipped with the ERTMS system in 2015.

The signing of the letter of intent for the Antwerp-Basel-Lyon corridor follows a similar initiative in March 2006 involving the Rotterdam-Genoa corridor. The deployment of the ERTMS system will enable 20 different, incompatible national signalling systems, the majority of which are fast becoming obsolete, to be replaced with a modern interoperable system.

Call to exempt economic watchdogs from new legislation

Financial Times: June 9 2006
By Jean Eaglesham, Chief Political Correspondent

Companies operating in some regulated sectors will face damaging uncertainty unless the government changes a proposed law giving ministers greater powers over watchdogs, the rail regulator has warned.

Chris Bolt, chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation, is urging the government to exempt economic regulators, such as himself, from the legislative and regulatory reform bill that is going through parliament. The bill, designed to make it easier to cut red tape, has been broadly backed by business.

But Mr Bolt said he was "very concerned" about the "potential uncertainty for private sector funders and their funders" the bill would create, by allowing ministers to change regulatory regimes without full parliamentary scrutiny.

The government has already agreed to introduce extra safeguards into the bill after a furore over the wide-ranging powers it would have given ministers to axe or introduce new laws. But Mr Bolt said these changes were not sufficient to guarantee the independence of the economic regulators who police privatised sectors such as rail, water, telecoms and electricity.

In a letter this week to Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office minister, Mr Bolt said: "I urge you to think again about the effect of the bill on economic regulation and on the private sector."

The regulator's intervention marks his second spat with the government in less than three months. In April, the Department for Transport attacked Mr Bolt for allocating spare track capacity on the east coast main line to two open-access train operators rather than to GNER, the franchised train operator.

The decision, thwarting plans agreed by the department and GNER, will deprive the department of more than £130m. But Mr Bolt insisted he had to take other factors, including competition, into account when taking decisions. He told the Financial Times the independence of the economic regulators was very important and could be compromised by the red tape law.

"The bill would allow functions to be transferred from one regulatory body to another or different bodies to be merged, without involving the full parliamentary process," he said.

Mr Bolt accepted that ministers did not necessarily intend to use the legislation in this way. But he said: "It's the uncertainty about what could be done that creates the problem."

The bill also came under fire from peers yesterday. In a scathing report, the House of Lords select committee on the constitution condemned government failures over the bill as an "indictment of the processes of policy-making and legislation".

Responding to Mr Bolt's concerns, the Cabinet Office said: "It's not our intention to erode the independence from government of those regulators set up by statute."

See also:

Reform bill climbdown fails to satisfy critics

The Guardian: June 9, 2006
Tania Branigan, political correspondent

Critics of a new law giving ministers greater powers have renewed their attack despite a major climbdown, warning that the government got its proposals "badly wrong".

The Cabinet Office was forced to drastically prune the legislation - dubbed the "parliamentary scrutiny (abolition) bill" - last month, after whips warned that the Lords would throw it out.

Opponents said it would allow ministers to change laws almost at will, even introducing new criminal offences or amending the constitution.

But Tories and Liberal Democrats have warned the government to expect further amendments, after a damning report from peers published yesterday morning said more safeguards were needed to the regulatory and legislative reform bill.

It comes as a government body launches an open row with the Cabinet Office over the legislation.

Chris Bolt, the chairman of the office of rail regulation, has published an open letter urging ministers to exclude economic regulators such as the Office of Fair Trading and Postcomm from the bill.

He warned: "We remain very concerned ... There is still considerable scope for ministers to make fundamental changes to the functions of an independent economic regulator or to the structure of regulation generally. The potential uncertainty for private sector companies and their funders would therefore remain."

The amended bill makes it clearer that the purpose of the bill is reducing the burden of regulation and gives parliamentary committees a statutory veto within 40 days of ministers laying a draft order to make changes to other legislation.

But the report by the Lords constitution committee warns that constitutional changes could still be introduced without proper scrutiny.

It dismisses the government's initial consultation period as "lamentable" and adds: "Although the bill now strikes a somewhat better balance... the powers contained in the bill remain over-broad and vaguely drawn.

"Constitutional safeguards cannot depend on ministerial assurances...[which] may not be regarded as binding by future governments and are liable to be eroded by exceptions."

Lord Holme of Cheltenham, the committee's chair, said: "While simplifying the amendment and repeal of regulations is a fine aspiration, the government got it badly wrong this time.

"They wanted to give themselves power to change any law with the minimum of parliamentary involvement, thus gold-plating their powers. They should have known that was constitutionally questionable.

"The simple fact that ministers failed to recognise the profound constitutional importance of the legislative and regulatory reform bill does not inspire confidence that they would not use delegated powers to introduce constitutional change in the future, without even realising what they are doing."

The Cabinet Office stressed that the intention of the bill has always been to cut unnecessary red tape. It has been welcomed by the CBI and other business organisations.

A spokeswoman said: "We will carefully consider all the recommendations in the report. The bill, passed by the Commons, puts it beyond doubt that its powers will be used for the better regulation agenda that is so important for businesses, public services and voluntary organisations.

"Previous legislation did not go far enough in its attempts to have an impact on regulation. We think we have the right bill, but obviously there are still some concerns. We have consulted across government but will have a look at the ORR's letter."

Fury at 'railway robbery'

Evening Standard: 7 June 2006
Jack Lefley

PASSENGERS have hit out at plans by train bosses to axe all cheap day return tickets. Shoppers and families are set to suffer after First Capital Connect admitted that many travellers will now be forced to buy full-fare tickets instead.

UNFAIR FARES: Housewife Kikumi Wilson travelled to London from Cambridge for the day, she says axing cheap fares will just earn rail firms more money

The firm, whose parent company First Group made £176m profit last year, will bring the rules in on Monday and other rail companies could follow suit.

Passengers going north from London on the old Thameslink and Great Northern routes from King's Cross, Moorgate and St Pancras stations will no longer be able to use the return part of cheap tickets between 4.30pm and 7pm.

They will also be barred from using stations along the route including City Thameslink, Blackfriars, Farringdon and Barbican for those journeys. The current system allows people to buy cheap day return tickets for use after 9.30am.

Passengers get between 33 and 50% off the full fare and can make the return part of their journey at any time of the day. First Capital Connect said it is trying to ease 'chronic' overcrowding by deterring passengers with cheap tickets from travelling during the evening peak.

But the move angered many passengers at King's Cross station and its Thameslink terminal. Sales assistant Philip Bish, 23, of Bedfordshire, commutes into London every day but said cheap day returns should remain. He said: 'I know they are trying to clear the trains, but this is the wrong way to do it. They should put on more trains and change the timetables.

'I'm very angry about it and think it should be stopped, but these train companies do what they like.'

Housewife Kikumi Wilson, 37, had travelled into London from Cambridge using a cheap day return to go shopping at Harrods. The mother of three said: 'I'm furious about this because it's going to cost me more and I can't see any good reason for it. It won't stop me visiting, but maybe I'll just do it a bit less often.The trains are crowded, but they're not so bad. I can't see any justification for this.'

Cleo Conway, 30, of Finsbury Park, feared that all cheap day return tickets will be scrapped. The graphic designer said: 'I use the off-peak fares for shopping trips in town and I think this is ridiculous - prices have risen already.

EASY TARGETS: Cleo Conway questioned how raising fares will help encourage public transport

'They are trying to get us off the roads, but at the same time we are being charged more and more for trains. It's like most things, one firm will do it and the rest will follow. Do they want us to use trains or not? It seems crazy.'

Jacqueline Howe, 41, brings her 12-year-old son William into London from Cambridge to audition for parts in films and TV ads. The teaching assistant said: 'I would not call them cheap day returns anyway, so I can't believe they're going up. 'They save money and make a real difference to me, but I guess the rail companies are just after the money. It won't stop us coming in, but I suppose it will just make me a bit more miserable.'

Sid Charlton, the company manger at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, fears the change could hit London businesses if potential visitors stay away.

Mr Charlton, from Huntingdon, said: 'I think it's dreadful because they are pushing people off the trains, which is not what they're supposed to be doing. Some people will just not come in and that will have a knock-on effect on businesses and could affect tourism too.'

David Smith, 57, had travelled into central London to take his eight-year-old son, Luke, to a hospital appointment. Mr Smith, of Barnes, said: 'This is certainly not for ease of travel, because it will only make the system more complicated.

'If all the cheap day returns go then I will have no choice but to pay it if I want to come in. I still have to come into town. These fares save a lot of money for a family and I am definitely against getting rid of them.'

Rail bosses 'rush hour profiteering'

Herts Advertiser: 08 June 2006
EDITORIAL - herts.advertiser@archant.co.uk

TRAIN operators First Capital Connect (FCC) have been accused of "blatant profiteering" by a watchdog.

London TravelWatch, which covers the line from London to Bedford, has reacted angrily to plans to impose restrictions on the use of cheap day return tickets between 4.30pm and 7pm.

The group's chairman, Brian Cooke, said: "While we accept that some 'Thameslink' services are very crowded, this restriction certainly does not address the issue adequately or offer a long-term solution.
"Most trains have more than adequate capacity and a blanket ban for two-and-a-half hours on the use of these tickets smacks of blatant profiteering."

Mr Cooke describes the company's plan, which comes into effect from Monday, as a "real dog's dinner" with many loopholes.

He points out that, for example, a passenger travelling from Radlett and returning in the restricted period will now have to pay £12.30 a day return, while the price from Elstree, just one station down the line, will be £5.20 because it is in a different zone and an unrestricted ticket between the two stations is only £3.90.

And Passenger Focus, the nationwide passenger watchdog, is due to meet FCC today for talks on the changes.

But FCC managing director Elaine Holt is standing firm on the decision. She says that by giving priority to season ticket holders and customers with full fare standard day and open tickets, FCC expects a reduction in passenger numbers which will result in more comfortable journeys.

And she points out that reduced price tickets are designed to stimulate demand for travel on trains that would otherwise have a large number of empty seats.

l The company has refuted allegations that it is refusing to compensate holders of season ticket bought from former line operator Thameslink for the complete failure of services on April 21.

But Ms Holt has apologised for the way in which applications for refunds were handled and she has confirmed that any season ticket holder who applies for a refund for that day will be entitled to receive it in cash.

The company is not offering a cash refund for an incident on April 27 when trains were delayed following a breakdown in the Kings Cross Tunnel. Instead, passengers will get a discount when they buy their next season ticket.

Shares of Rail Companies Fall

The Associated Press: June 8, 2006

NEW YORK - Shares of rail companies were down Thursday afternoon as investors expressed worries over an economic slowdown and took profits.

Shares of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., the nation's No. 2 railroad, fell 97 cents to $73.24 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock is off 17 percent since reaching a 52-week high of $87.99 on April 19.

Shares of the nation's largest rail company, Union Pacific Corp., were off 21 cents to $86.96 in afternoon trading on the NYSE. The stock has shed 11 percent since reaching a 52-week high of $97.49 on April 24.

Shares of other major rail companies like Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., CSX Corp., Canadian National Railway Co., and Norfolk Southern Corp. were also down.

David Kratochvil, an analyst with Rochdale Research in New York, downgraded Burlington Northern to "Hold" from "Buy" Wednesday morning. He said the stock will face continued pressure from rising inflation concerns and growing expectations for continued tightening of short-term interest rates. Should an economic slowdown occur, reduced demand for consumer items like Asian electronics, as well as manufacturing supplies, could negatively affect Burlington Northern's intermodal business.

Intermodal, which involves handling freight between different forms of transport, accounts for 35 percent of Burlington Northern's business. The company is hoping to expand that to 45 percent by 2010, he said.

"But all industrials are getting hammered today," Kratochvil said. "People are fearing a slowdown and investors are taking profits, especially in the rail companies, which have been doing well."

June 08, 2006

Rail funding fear from watchdog

BBC news: 7 June 2006

Investment in Britain's railways could be put at risk if new laws on red tape are passed, the rail regulator has warned the government. Chris Bolt fears private rail investors could be deterred.

The Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) is appealing for economic watchdogs such as itself to be exempt from the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

The bill allows regulations to be scrapped without full Commons scrutiny.

The rail regulator says private investors could be put off if there is uncertainty about the rules regime.


Chris Bolt, chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation, initially kept his concerns confidential.

But in a sign of his unhappiness with the moves, he has published a letter spelling out his fears to Cabinet Office Minister Hilary Armstrong, as the House of Lords prepares to debate the bill next week.

The government has already backed down on some parts of the legislation, after claims it would give ministers power to change historic laws without consulting Parliament.

Economic watchdogs - such as the ones governing rail, water, telecoms, aviation, electricity and the post network - were brought in after nationalised monopolies were privatised.

They are meant to be independent of government and act to champion consumer interests and prevent price abuses.

'Very concerned'

Mr Bolt said he was reassured the rail regulator had been excluded from one part of the bill.

But in the letter, sent on Tuesday, he says he remains "very concerned" about the impact of the remaining measures on the UK's economic watchdogs.

"There is considerable scope for ministers to make fundamental changes to the functions of an independent economic regulator or to the structure of regulation generally," he says.

The Cabinet Office says it has only just received the letter and would reply "in due course".

In an earlier confidential letter, Mr Bolt stressed the importance of having a period of stability in the rail industry to deliver improved efficiency and performance and encourage further private investment.

Independence fear

He told the team drafting the legislation: "We would be concerned if the bill gave rise to any impression that ministers might now be able to change the balance of duties or ORR's functions without a full debate in Parliament.

"This would not only undermine the independence of economic regulation generally, but introduce uncertainty for ORR, the industry we regulate, and the private sector institutions which help fund it."

The bill is aimed at making it easier to remove burdensome regulation and bureaucracy on business.

At a meeting in Parliament about the bill earlier this year, former rail regulator Tom Winsor warned that the current bill gave ministers "breathtaking powers".

He said that in the run-up to the collapse of Railtrack, the then Transport Secretary Stephen Byers had threatened to introduce a bill to curb his independence.

Tory changes

Only the time needed for parliamentary scrutiny was a protection against such moves - something the current plans would remove, said Mr Winsor.

Conservative constitutional affairs spokesman Oliver Heald said proper safeguards were needed to ensure ministers could not remove the powers of regulators like Mr Winsor.

"Chris Bolt has done us a favour by bringing this up," he said, promising that the Tories would be looking to change the bill in the Lords.

But he believed economic regulators should not be exempt from parts of the bill setting down good practice for regulation, such as being transparent and open.

June 07, 2006

Railway ordered to pay damages for deportation of Jews

Associated Press: 07/06/06

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - An administrative court ordered the French state and the national rail authority to pay compensation to a family whose relatives were sent by train to a Nazi transit camp for Jews during the Second World War, a lawyer said.

The court in Toulouse, southwest France, ordered the state and the SNCF rail network to pay damages of $79,500 (U.S.) for deporting and interning the four people named in a lawsuit, the family's lawyer, Remi Rouquette, said Tuesday.

European Green Party legislator Alain Lipietz, his sister Helene and other family members brought the suit on behalf of four family members taken to a Nazi transit camp at Drancy near Paris in May, 1944.

The four were transported in cattle cars by the SNCF train authority from southwest France to Drancy and remained there for several months until the camp was freed in July, 1944, according to the lawsuit. Drancy was a stopover point for Jews deported to Nazi death camps including Auschwitz.

A similar 2003 case against the SNCF in a civil court failed because a 30-year statute of limitations period had passed. Such a time delay was not applicable before the administrative court.

?It's a first in France, and we are obviously very satisfied,? Mr. Rouquette said. The court allowed for the possibility of other similar suits in the coming months, he said.

The SNCF plans to appeal the decision, lawyer Yves Baudelot said.

See also:


France fined for wartime transport of Jews

Reuters : 06.06.06

French court orders state and railway operator SNCF to pay fines for their role in deportation of Jews during World War II
A French court on Tuesday ordered the state and railway operator SNCF to pay fines for their role in the deportation of Jews during World War Two, a lawyer for the SNCF said. 
Alain Lipietz, a Greens European Parliament deputy, and his sister Helene had sued SNCF for transporting their father and three relatives to a wartime transit camp that sent Jews off to Nazi concentration camps. 
The French state could not have been unaware that transportation to the Drancy transit camp near Paris was a "prelude to deportation" to concentration camps, lawyer Yves Baudelot quoted the judges as saying. The SNCF and the French state were ordered to pay total fines of some 60,000 euros ($77,000) to the plaintiffs, Baudelot told Reuters.
The court also said the SNCF had never objected or protested against conducting the transportations, and had put Jews in freight carriages without food or minimal standard of hygiene, Baudelot quoted the court as saying. Baudelot said his client would appeal against the verdict.
SNCF shocked by ruling
"I'm amazed by the ruling. I can't understand it," He said, adding the railway could not be held responsible for the transportation because it had been forced to cooperate with German occupying forces during the war.
"The SNCF had no liberty of manoeuvre. The (Nazis) told the SNCF by letter that they had to do everything the German authorities wanted, and if someone refused, they would be shot," He said.
Alain and Helene Lipietz had told the court their father Georges had been sent by train in mid-1944 from Toulouse to the Drancy transit camp, usually the last stop for French Jews before they were put on trains to death camps.
He was freed from Drancy on August 18, only days before Paris was liberated by Allied forces. The plaintiffs said the SNCF billed the state for that transport which came two months after Allied forces had landed in Normandy.
A similar suit in 2003 failed when a Paris court ruled it could not establish that the SNCF was responsible for transporting Jews.
Of the 330,000 Jews living in France in 1940, 75,721 were deported to death camps and only about 2,500 returned alive.

London needs more rail privatisation 'like a hole in the head', says RMT

RMT: June 7 2006

TRANSPORT FOR London is moving in the wrong direction by proceeding with plans to privatise the Tube's East London Line and re-privatise the North London Line, Britain?s biggest rail and Tube union said today.

As TfL announced the preferred bidders to run the two lines, RMT general secretary Bob Crow called for the private-sector plan to be abandoned and said the union would defend members' jobs and conditions.

"All our experience, report after report and the vast majority of public opinion agree that rail privatisation has been a complete and total failure, for passengers, for rail workers and for the environment. We need this like a hole in the head.

"It is scandalous that TfL should even contemplate taking the East London Line out of London Underground and handing it to the privateers when there is no earthly reason for them to do so.

"And it is ludicrous that the Mayor should take control of the North London Line and not only hand it straight back to the private sector without even a fight, but put National Express back on the approved list to run it again.

"National Express have been handed well over £300 million in subsidy for Silverlink and taken nearly £40 million in profits out of it, but anyone who uses or works on the North London Line will tell you that it is still an overcrowded nightmare with too few trains, too few staff and too little investment.

"If TfL's vision for rail in London is to 'put passengers first' it would do everything in its power to ensure that the North London Line joined the East London Line in the public sector.

"The private sector's contribution to the Tube is to siphon £2 million a week out of it while failing to deliver improvements, and it has been been extracting up to £1 billion a year from the railways for a decade.

"RMT will do everything it can to prevent any more rail privatisation, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard our members' jobs, conditions and pensions," Bob Crow said.

Terror barriers trial at stations

BBC News: 6 June 2006

Anti-terrorism barriers blocking car access to railway stations are to be tested at two sites in London. Barriers were erected outside the Houses of Parliament in 2003.

The three-foot high concrete blocks will go up at the main entrances to the concourses at Victoria and Waterloo.

The three-month trial will stop vehicles from driving into the station but is designed to limit its impact on passengers and day-to-day operations.

"The potential role for such barriers is obvious," said Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander.

High priority

The minister said the trial was designed to show any effects on passenger flow as well as station operations and businesses inside the concourses.

"It is important that we test any potential measure within authentic environments so that we can see just how they can contribute towards keeping a safe and efficient network," said the minister.

The trials are the latest in a series of tests undertaken this year to assess the effectiveness of security measures on the rail and Tube network.

Voluntary screening of passengers has been taking place at Paddington Station in west London and Canary Wharf Tube station in east London.

Robin Gisby, of Network Rail, said: "Security at railway stations is a high priority for Network Rail and for passengers."

Concrete blocks were placed around the Houses of Parliament in 2003 to counter any potential threat.

Push from pipedream to cross-London rail tunnel

London Evening Standard: 07/06/06
By Martina Smit

A 10-mile rail tunnel underneath central London has been delayed for more than 20 years, but now mayor Ken Livingstone has launched the biggest-ever push to finally get it built.

An influential group of business and unions leaders joined him at City Hall to back the £10bn Crossrail project.

* Download a linear map of the proposed scheme click here (pdf).

The line, stretching from Maidenhead in Berkshire to Shenfield in Essex, would carry 200 million people a year. Journey times would be nearly halved: on Crossrail it would take 43 minutes from Heathrow to Canary Wharf, instead of 70 minutes on the Tube.

It was first suggested in 1989, but no government has been prepared to put down the required £10bn - more than half the cost of upgrading the entire London transport network.

Trains running by 2015
"Crossrail is the transport system vital to underpin London's 21st century economic engine," Mr Livingstone said on Tuesday.

It would link the economic centres of Heathrow, the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf in total home to 850,000 jobs.

"The City of London alone attracts 350,000 commuters every day," said Michael Snyder, chair of the square mile's policy and resource committee. "City businesses say transport is their biggest concern. Our public transport must be modern an efficient."

The Bill enabling Crossrail's construction is currently making its way through Parliament. If approved by the end of the year, tunnelling would start in 2009. The first trains would run by 2015 at the earliest.

Full-size overland trains would fit into the 20ft-wide twin tunnels - almost double the 12.5ft of the Tube. The 10-car trains would run at 62mph, the same speed as the Jubilee Line.

"We are already close to capacity on our existing rail system," Mr Livingstone said.

Crossrail would increase the Tube capacity by a fifth, he added. "It is even more important to London's long-term prosperity than our victory in winning the Olympic Games."

The new campaign for Crossrail also argues that it would link poor areas in the Thames Gateway with major job hubs.

It matters not only to London, but is a "national priority", the mayor said. Transport for London estimates that it would add £30bn to the UK's GDP over 60 years and save almost £5bn in business time.

'No longer a paper project' Funding for the scheme would come equally from fares, taxes and the private sector, Mr Snyder said.

"Crosstail is no longer a paper project'. We are making real progress now in delivery," said Douglas Oakervee, chair of Cross London Rail Links.

The government backs the project. In his appointment letter to the new transport secretary, Douglas Alexander, the prime minister wrote he must ensure "that we have identified a clear way forward on Crossrail".

There is no Plan B, the mayor said. "I don't think there is anything else that is going to cost less than Crossrail."

The Crossrail campaign is writing to all major London and UK employers and the capital's 32 boroughs. The mayor will also address the all-parliamentary group on Crossrail on July 10. Other initiatives include a major stakeholder event and lobbying at all the main party conferences.

Crossrail to cost businesses 3% on rates

RMT: 07 June 2006
By Barrie Clement, Transport Editor

Companies across London will have to pay a 3 per cent premium on their business rates if the £10bn Crossrail project goes ahead, it emerged yesterday.

The tax would be reviewed every three years to decide whether the economic benefit of the east-west link meant that employers should pay more.

It is thought this system for extracting private sector funding could be used elsewhere in Britain for other projects as part of the continuing attempt to supplement public investment.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said a "consensus" had emerged about the level of business rates needed to back the venture.

Michael Snyder, of the Corporation of London, said Crossrail would probably be financed equally by the state, private sector and fares paid by passengers on the services which would run from Heathrow in the west to the Thames Gateway in the east.

Although a government-backed enabling Bill is going through Parliament at the moment, there is no hard-and-fast funding commitment from the public or private sector.

To try to galvanise financial backing from the business community, Mr Livingstone said yesterday a series of major companies had given the venture their support. Among them was BT, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank and British Airways.

Mr Livingstone said Crossrail was essential to the future of London and the UK, and more important to future prosperity than the London 2012 Olympics.

The railway would support the renewal of the West End and enable the City and Canary Wharf to keep their "global edge", he said. It would also serve the more deprived areas of the East End.

The Mayor said: "A project as large as Crossrail will take 10 years to complete even after the definitive decision to go ahead is taken ... To carry forward momentum after the Olympics, the key decisions to enable its construction must be taken while the Bill is going through Parliament."

Transport for London calculates that the new link would add a net benefit of £30bn to Britain's GDP over 60 years and contribute £12bn in tax revenues.

Summer rail strike threat loses steam

Independent Online:07 June 2006
By Barrie Clement

The threat of a summer of strikes by 100,0000 rail workers receded yesterday after union leaders agreed to take part in a commission to investigate a 600m pensions deficit.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union, the industry's biggest union, said it would participate in the inquiry after reporting that members had voted by more than three to one to walk out.

The train drivers' union, Aslef, called off its strike vote last week after agreeing to the investigation, and yesterday the white-collar union Transport Salaried Staffs' Association suspended its ballot because of the breakthrough.

However, Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, said his strike mandate would remain "live" while the commission was set up. The union revealed that its members backed industrial action over pensions by 16,203 votes to 4,989, reflecting their depth of feeling over the issue.

A spokesman for the state-backed infrastructure organisation, Network Rail, welcomed the unions' agreement to the commission, but urged the RMT to withdraw the strike threat - a point echoed by the Association of Train Operating Companies.

Gerry Doherty, the TSSA general secretary, said the "vast majority" of employers in the industry supported the creation of a commission. He said the industry-wide pension scheme has about 100 different sections, and that unions wanted them reduced to three.

Keith Norman, the general secretary of Aslef, said the commission was a major step forward. "I'm pleased we are talking rather than fighting," he said.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "The establishment of the commission is conditional on the withdrawal of the pensions strike ballot."

June 06, 2006

RMT to participate in rail-pensions commission

RMT: June 6 2006

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST rail union today decided to take part in an industry-wide commission to try to find a long-term solution to the pensions crisis in the industry.

Meeting to discuss the 74 per cent majority vote for strike action by its members, the RMT executive agreed to participate in a three-member forum, to comprise one representative of the 100-plus employers involved, one representative of the unions and an independent chair.

"Our members have backed the call for strike action with a massive three-to one majority, reflecting the depth of feeling that exists throughout the industry," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Throughout this campaign the employers refused to speak to us collectively because there was no industry-wide forum through which to do so.

"The commission should now give the various components of the industry an opportunity to discuss and try to resolve the very real problems that threaten to overwhelm the Railways Pension Scheme.

"Our four areas of concern - affordable contributions, maintaining benefit levels, keeping the scheme open and streamlining it in a sensible industry-wide structure - remain in place, and our strike mandate remains live.

"We now need to see the speedy appointment of tribunal members, without any dragging of feet.
"Since we launched our campaign we have managed to prevent any immediate pension benefit cuts, and have managed to ensure that the vast majority of members will, for the time being, be paying contributions of 10.56 per cent or less - the cap we have been seeking.

"However, short-term fixes will not solve the long-term problems, and we need a long-term industry-wide solution.

"The RMT executive will therefore discuss the rail pensions issue again on June 20 to ensure that progress has been made in a speedy start to the commisison's deliberations," Bob Crow said.

RMT members vote overwhelmingly for action on rail pensions

RMT: June 6 2006

RMT MEMBERS have voted by more than three to one for strike action to secure the future of the industry's pension scheme.

In the ballot that closed this morning, 16,203 voted for action (76.46 per cent) and 4,989 against (23.54 per cent), in a 50 per cent turnout.

The result will now be considered by the RMT executive and a further statement will be issued in due course.

Campaign of the week

The Guardian: June 6, 2006

Can Community rail partnerships keep those long spindly arms of the rural train network going?

The Association of Community Rail Partnerships (Acorp) spends hours thinking up ways to tempt people out of their cars. Music trains, for example: "If you've got evening services that are being very lightly used, we put a band on the train, put a real-ale bar in and you can get up to 200 people leaving their cars behind and travelling all round the area, so you are spreading their money too," explains Neil Buxton, general manager of Acorp.

The idea of community railways stems from Germany where any line that is due to be closed must be offered first to the community to see if they want to take it over. That system is not operable here, but Buxton and his team put their ingenuity into coming up with other ways to keep quiet lines viable. They offer charities the opportunity to use old station buildings - they even offer people the chance to "adopt" a station. Mainly, they bring together communities with railway providers and local authorities so that everyone can talk through timetables and other niggles: whatever helps put bums on seats.

"If a train service is no good, if we can't get it working properly then it should be shut down. We're very pragmatic," says Buxton. "But I believe that railways can deliver far more than they are at the moment."


High-speed rail would stop Heathrow 'choking on its own congestion'

24dash.com: 05/06/2006

Transport 2000 report advocates high-speed rail link.

A high-speed rail line from London to the North and Europe could rule out the need for the planned Third Runway at Heathrow and stop the airport choking on its own congestion, according to a new report.

Fog on the Runway, published by Transport 2000 and written by independent consultant Jim Steer, says that plans for a Third Runway at Heathrow have overlooked the potential of High Speed Rail to meet travel demand.

Flights at Heathrow are expected to rise significantly if a Third Runway is built, with flight numbers projected to increase by 27% against a backdrop of a projected trebling of air passengers in the UK by 2030.

The report concludes that High Speed Rail could do the job of a Third Runway at Heathrow and meet travel needs more efficiently and with less environmental impact.

The report suggests:

* The number of passengers that could be served by High Speed Rail in the place of short-haul airlines would be of a similar order of magnitude to the expected increase in passenger throughput from a Third Runway at Heathrow.
* A wider set of rail connections is needed to meet future air quality standards currently threatened by the proposed Third Runway.
* High Speed Rail links from Heathrow to the North and Europe are needed to help the UK compete with other European countries. High Speed Rail already plays an important transport role across mainland Europe. Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Schiphol airports have direct links into High Speed Rail networks, increasing their economic potential by transforming themselves into transport hubs.
* An urgent examination of the options to create additional capacity at Heathrow is required before plans for the Third Runway advance any further.

By connecting the airport to a High Speed Rail network and turning the airport into a transport hub, new rail links would give the Midlands, the North, Scotland and the near Continent fast, direct and reliable journeys to the airport and do so with less environmental impact than air transport.

Jason Torrance, Campaigns Director of Transport 2000, said: "High Speed Rail could provide a real alternative to short haul flights, an alternative that comes with a much smaller environmental price tag.

"The Government should scrap plans for the Third Runway at Heathrow and put in place a timetable to examine the case for High Speed Rail."

Lord Whitty, former Government Minister, who provided the foreword for the report, said: "The planned Third Runway at Heathrow would involve significant demolition and threatens to break statutory limits in terms of air quality and noise.

"This report suggests that using High Speed Rail could promote competitiveness while safeguarding the environment.

June 05, 2006

Minister urged to resist all-French Eurotunnel plan

The Guardian: June 5, 2006
Andrew Clark, transport correspondent

Labour and Tory MPs say dual structure must stay - Contract granting 99-year concession could be vital.

The transport secretary, Douglas Alexander, is facing cross-party calls to safeguard British influence over the Channel tunnel by preventing Eurotunnel from ditching its dual nationality and becoming a French company. A rescue plan announced last week involves abandoning its carefully balanced Anglo-Gallic structure, put in place when work began on the tunnel in 1986, and reconstituting itself as a French parent company with a British subsidiary.

Senior parliamentarians say this is a step too far for a business which is already run by an all-French board in Paris and has a French-dominated share register. The government could block the change if it is judged to be a breach of Eurotunnel's 99-year concession to run the tunnel.

The concession agreement requires twin British and French undertakings to operate the undersea link. Clause 29 of the document, obtained by the Guardian, requires the "central management and control" of the British concessionaire to be "at all times exercised in the United Kingdom and in no other place".
Shadow transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "The Channel tunnel is of such strategic economic importance that it's essential to retain the international balance of its structure. It's always been an Anglo-French project and if there's any danger of change, the government needs to look with some urgency at the implications."

Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour chair of the transport select committee, said vast amounts of British money had been pumped into road and rail links to the tunnel: "It is essential that this access route to the UK is not controlled by one of the parties. I'm sure the UK government will look closely at the terms and conditions under which so much British money has been made available."

Eurotunnel maintains that its present structure is wasteful and time-consuming. It points out that it is required to hold every board meeting three times - for its French arm, British arm and the "group" which the two sides jointly own. It claims it would be hard to get a "clear verdict" on its efforts to slash its £6.2bn debt if it was required to continue juggling twin companies.

The restructuring will be put to a vote of shareholders next month but is facing a challenge from bondholders, who are working on an alternative proposal.

The Guardian has established that a cost-cutting drive by Eurotunnel involves reducing staffing levels in critical areas -measures which have come under scrutiny from the inter-governmental Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. Eurotunnel has successfully applied to reduce the number of employees from three to two on its lorry shuttles. These carry 80 heavy goods vehicles and one such shuttle caught fire in 1996. The company has also asked for approval to amend minimum staffing at its emergency centre and to change the frequency of maintenance on undersea doors between tunnels.

In its annual report, the safety authority made it clear it was monitoring Eurotunnel's swift turnover of senior executives, noting "the departure of a number of experts from among the company's managerial staff".

A Eurotunnel spokesman said many of the tunnel's safety guidelines were drawn up when the tunnel opened. "We've now got 12 years of experience of how the tunnel runs, what the risks are and how to deal with them. In that sense, it's entirely natural to use historical data to show what we really need in terms of safety and to modify how we run the business."

He dismissed criticism of the company's plan to become French, saying that it would have a British subsidiary registered at the tunnel's Folkestone terminal. He accepted it would be overseen by a French supervisory board which would generally meet in Paris: "The registered company address is the terminal in Folkestone. Where they [the directors] hold their meetings is neither here nor there."

Rail yard to use unmanned locomotives

San Bernardino Sun: 06/05/2006
Stephen Wall, Staff Writer

Colton facility switching track
COLTON - Some railroad workers are urging the city to adopt strict safety measures before Union Pacific switches to remote-control technology next week.

Starting next Monday, Union Pacific's rail yard in Colton will convert to the new system of using unmanned, remote-control locomotives to sort train cars.

Colton is the company's last yard in California to make the change, said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.

Critics contend the new technology is unsafe and produces more accidents than conventional switching methods.

But railroad officials say the remote system is safer and more efficient.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which began allowing the use of remote-control switching in other parts of the country in 2002, says the two methods are about the same in terms of safety.

In a report released in April, the railroad agency found the accident rate in rail yards that use automated technology was 25 percent higher than in yards that use manned locomotives. Despite that finding, the administration concluded that remote control is no more dangerous than conventional switching methods.

The debate over train safety comes as the region braces for an explosion of goods movement from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach through San Bernardino County over the next 20 years.

The increased train traffic has raised renewed concerns about the possibility of another disastrous derailment in the county.

In April 2005, a freight train carrying 60 tons of liquid chlorine and unknown amounts of liquid propane derailed near a San Bernardino neighborhood, forcing the evacuation of about 500 residents.

Although no injuries or deaths occurred, several residents complained of health problems stemming from the incident, which railroad officials blamed on uneven tracks caused by decades of wear and tear.

Residents also criticized authorities for providing an inadequate response to the disaster.

The derailment prompted state Sen. Nell Soto, D-Ontario, to introduce legislation last year requiring rail companies to foot costs to prepare residents for such a disaster. Senate Bill 351 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Local Government Committee on June 14.

"When a train derails, it is the people of the communities - including police, fire and other personnel - who are the first to respond," Soto said in a statement issued Friday. "They do a fine job, but much more needs to be done. My bill would provide them with additional tools and resources to develop derailment evacuation plans and establish evacuation training programs and drills."

Workers at the Colton yard, which handles about 1,500 rail cars a day, are pushing the City Council to pass a resolution requiring emergency-response procedures to be in place before the remote system is running.

"This place is dangerous to begin with," said Richard Villines, who has worked at the Colton yard seven years. "There's a high risk of injury and derailments just by the nature of the industry and the goods we transport. We're increasing that risk by introducing technology that nobody wants."

Federal and state authorities have yet to establish regulations for the use of remote control, said Gary Mayfield, who has worked at the Colton yard 28 years.

"At this time, the railroads are self-regulated with this technology," said Mayfield, 53. "Cities have the power to enact legislation if they don't want it or they think it's unsafe."

Colton officials said they would research if the city has the legal authority to develop its own standards.

"I'm sure it's something our council will be interested in looking at," Councilwoman Kelly Chastain said. "I can understand the concerns of the residents. I have questions too."

The remote-control technology replaces the engineer with a computer onboard the locomotive. The computer is controlled by a 3-pound remote-control transmitter worn around the waist of the switchmen on the ground.

Railroad officials say the automated system reduces miscommunication because the ground crewmen can directly control the train without having to pass hand signals to the engineers. They said the technology automatically brings the locomotive to a stop if communication is interrupted and provides better control of train speeds so the operator can concentrate on train movement.

The remote-control system allows the railroad to transfer engineers from yard duties to long hauls. Unmanned locomotives are not used on trips outside of rail yards, said Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, D.C.

Major railroads such as Union Pacific that use remote control have about the same accident rates as those that use conventional methods, the administration's report said.

The administration "believes these operations can be conducted safely, provided employees are properly trained for the duties they are expected to perform and provided railroads maintain proper oversight during these operations," Joseph Boardman, the railroad agency's administrator, wrote in the report.

But some workers say locomotive engineers are essential to preventing disasters such as train breakaways and derailments.

"We're concerned that you're taking another set of eyes off the job," said Ray Carver, president of the Brotherhood of Local Engineers and Trainmen Local 56.

June 04, 2006

Pop band's magical history tour

The Times: June 03, 2006
By Adam Sherwin

A group of train-lovers who take their inspiration from the past are on track for chart-topping success.

DR BEECHING may not seem Top of the Pops material, but the man who notoriously closed much of Britain's rail network four decades ago has put rock's unlikeliest cult group on the brink of chart success.

Radio 1 and NME are rushing to endorse the history-inspired Leeds band iLiKETRAiNS, who have been signed by Fierce Panda, the independent company that discovered Coldplay and Keane.

The five-piece group perform in restored British Rail uniforms on stages adorned with rail paraphernalia in front of images of Victorian England.

The breakthrough song The Beeching Report, a bitter attack on the British Railways Board chairman written 20 years after his death, is sung from the standpoint of a rail worker who lost his job because of Richard Beeching's "axe".

David Martin, of the group, said: "We wanted something different to write about and Beeching had the ingredients.

The rail network was a great engineering feat, and its decline was very sad," he told The Times before the band played a packed London showcase this week. Their new single, Terra Nova, a narrative of Captain Scott's doomed 1912 expedition to the South Pole, has found its way on to Radio 1. The B-side, Fram, is about Hjalmar Johansen, who was ousted from the Norwegian team that beat Scott to the Pole. Johansen committed suicide in 1913.

Light relief is provided on their debut album, Progress Reform, by A Rook House for Bobby, written from a perspective of Bobby Fischer, the eccentric US Cold War chess champion, when he disappeared from public view. Martin said: "We research our songs at libraries and by trawling the internet. We are attracted to historical figures who are often tragic. Our subjects just leap out at us. It's a bit like writing an essay but a lot more rewarding."

Fans ask for more information about Beeching, rather than autographs. "They also want to know where they can buy British Rail uniforms," said the cornet player Ashley Dean.

The group's haunting, nostalgic songs have received 33,000 "plays" through the MySpace.com social networking website, which helped to propel Arctic Monkeys to chart success.

Martin is working on a new historical song. "It's about Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated," he says. Perceval was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812. His assassin, John Bellingham, was a government export representative who claimed the Crown owed him money.

The band make their European debut in Paris tonight, and hope to inspire a new genre of "library rock". The Brighton band British Sea Power sing paeans to Larsen B, the Antarctic ice shelf that collapsed in 2002, as well as to Dostoevsky.

Three hundred fans have signed up for laminated iLiKETRAiNS "railcards", giving them discounts to the band's concerts and free downloads. The group's emergence has confirmed Yorkshire's dominance of the pop world. Record companies are beating a path to Sheffield for the next Arctic Monkeys. Leeds has produced the Kaiser Chiefs and Corinne Bailey Rae.

7/7: The day the world was blown apart

The Observer: June 4, 2006

His bloodied face became one of the iconic images of the 7 July terrorist attacks on London.

Now survivor John Tulloch has written a moving book about his experiences that day. In this exclusive extract, he describes coming face to face with the Edgware Road bomber moments before the explosion, the dramatic rescue operation, and how he is rebuilding his life

The Circle Line train pulled in to Euston Square station. I toyed with getting into the first carriage because I could see the second was crowded. But I saw just one vacant seat in carriage two, next to the end of a bench seat along the wall between two double doors. There was a very big guy in the next seat, sort of spilling over into what seemed too narrow a space for me and my bags. Other people were obviously thinking the same thing and not taking the seat. You make split-second decisions. I didn't have time now to pull my bags back to the first carriage, so I plunged in and squeezed into the gap, with my roller case tight against my legs. My laptop bag was on my knees and my black cabin bag was on top of that. We set off, typically packed in, towards Paddington.

I'm not sure where they got in but, after a while, I was aware of two American voices, students I thought, in the two seats next to me on my left, with the big man still on my right. They were talking like people who knew each other well. I didn't listen particularly to what they were saying, but their cheerful voices were a ray of pleasure in that humourless, everyday dash we all do to work each morning.

Then, at Edgware Road, the carriage emptied of half its passengers. I was surprised because that tends to happen at Paddington, not the stop before. But it suited me because all the people in the aisle got out or found seats and, even better, the large man next to me left the train. We rolled out of Edgware Road, with me and a tweedy, lugubrious but gentle-looking man sitting facing each other, and me breathing easier because I had more space, and because the train sometimes stops for ages at Edgware Road and this time it didn't. I was anxious about getting my connecting Cardiff train at 9.15, and only 50 metres into the tunnel from Edgware Road I began to push down on the seat with my hands to stand up, get my bags organised and be ready for a quick exit in the doorway.

But it was still only 8.56 by my watch, so I eased back into the seat because it was too early to get up. That action saved my life because I was now sitting only three feet from the suicide bomber standing in that doorway. Had I been standing, there would have been nothing but air between me and the bomb. And three seconds later, it happened.

Everyone injured or bereaved by the 7/7 explosions will have had the phrase running around their own or their comforters' thoughts: 'The wrong place at the wrong time for me/for my loved one'. It is true, but also a cliche and not much to work back from, because it underplays our freedom to make everyday decisions about where we are and when. We who experienced the explosions had made active choices to be doing what we were doing at the time of the terrorist attacks. We were also subject to a wide range of factors determining why we were there and what happened to us. Some of those contexts are very cruel. However, not all of them were, and to forget the loving ones, the ties of friendship and professionalism, the loyalties, preoccupations, obsessions and coincidences that put us in 'the wrong place at the wrong time' is to do more of the terrorists' work for them.

So why was I at the wrong place at the wrong time? Normally, because I work on a 70 per cent research contract and live in Cardiff, I would have travelled home on Wednesday evening, 6 July, and so would not have been in London the following morning. However, the next Tuesday, 12 July, was the annual degree presentation for our school of social sciences and law at Brunel University. It would be my job to announce the PhD graduates that afternoon, and there had been a training session for us on the Wednesday evening. So I had stayed in London that night.

I might have set out for Cardiff earlier on 7 July if I had been staying in the comfortable small flat I rent from my friends, John and Maire, near Tavistock Square, where a bus was blown up that morning, and under which a Piccadilly Line tube train was destroyed. However, one of John and Maire's daughters had asked to use the flat during July and August. So, on the night of 6 July, I was staying at the Camden flat of my friend Janet, and requiring a start-off to Cardiff from the same tube station I would have used if I had been staying near Tavistock Square: Euston Square. My walk from Janet's flat would normally have taken 10 minutes but that day it took longer because I had three bags: my long-haul flight luggage from Australia the previous weekend.

At the station, I bought my ticket, struggled through the barrier with my bags and manhandled them down the two flights of stairs to the westbound platform... and that was how I came to be sitting on that train at 8.56 at Edgware Road. In the next instant, there exploded suddenly into my vision a strange and uncomfortable image of that carriage. Everything turned a horrible, urine-coloured yellow. The carriage seemed to be distorting, being pulled and displaced as though it were a flat, rubberised photograph that someone was yanking at the sides. I heard no sound. (I read three days later that experienced soldiers tell you if you don't hear the sound of an explosion you are probably about to die.)

Next, I was on my back, slumped on a wrecked seat, my spectacles blown away, blood all over my face and head. It was dark in the carriage. There was blood everywhere. The support pole at the end of the bench seat was at an extreme angle over me and had probably caused the damage to my head. But at that moment, at underground zero, I wasn't connecting such things. I knew something bad had happened to me, and I remembered those two, fresh American voices near me minutes before.

I rolled to my left to ask them for help - to help me find my glasses so I could see. I think I even began to speak to them. But then I saw them, one slumped on the seat, the other on the floor, both in a terrible way and bleeding. Only then did it occur to me that something bad had happened to everybody.

There is a strange and embarrassing sense of solipsism about this, which I talked over with my Australian social worker, Lou, when she visited me two weeks later. Lou had been in contact with the victims of the first Bali bombing and explained that in a near-death situation, the body moves quickly into survival mode, generating huge amounts of adrenaline that give us the energy to fight (to protect ourselves from danger) or flight (away from trouble). So, Lou said, that 'me, me' focus at the beginning was programmed and normal, and it certainly helps explain what happened next. Despite the considerable pain in my head, and my extreme shock at seeing the two badly injured women next to me, something brought my attention back to the good parts of my body. My feet and legs felt really good and I was determined to try them out. So, the next thing, I was on my feet, going looking for my cases and glasses. I think my obsession with retrieving them was my reaction to extreme threat, the only narrative thread I had in my moment-by-moment life then.

With my impaired vision - no glasses, one eye completely closed and the other half-closed - I couldn't see much in the dark and the smoke. I could see considerable damage to the floor of the carriage in front and, to my right, some sort of concave shape to the floor, and in that lay a man's body. I worried instantly for the man opposite, but I'm squeamish at the best of times and knew that looking at him wouldn't help either of us. Besides which, I was in survival mode, the only person on his feet in the carriage and heading off to look for my bags.

Those bags had almost certainly saved my legs, especially the roller case, which was between me and the bomb. (It was returned to me in a shocking condition a couple of months later by the bomb squad. Likewise, the laptop and its case. They all looked, in the words of the bomb squad detective, as if he had taken to them with a high-powered gun.) The case and my laptop would be in tatters and, at the time, covered in blood and, no doubt, body parts. But they were not my body parts, which were driving me across that wrecked carriage. The only shrapnel in my legs was in my thigh. Otherwise, my feet and legs were in fine shape and the strong shoes I was wearing bore only a few traces of shrapnel in the right toe. Having crossed the carriage diagonally to the bench seat opposite, I was now looking straight across and beyond the two injured American women, and I saw for the first time another train next to ours. It was a surreal image of contrasts.

The other train looked whole; ours was wrecked. The other train was lit up; ours was dark and in smoky gloom. The other train had people all on their feet, scrabbling silhouettes at doors and windows. Our carriage seemed to have just me on my feet, with everyone else silently spreadeagled or slumped and moaning in pain, only too solidly material and twisted, unlike the shadows of the next carriage. The two trains seemed wholly incommensurate, not of the same system, visually discordant with each other. But that second train did enable me to begin to fill in my new, everyday life. I thought then that we had been in a train crash.

Then out of that train, figures came. One was Wing Commander Craig Staniforth. I seem to remember them climbing in over the remains of a wrecked door, but Craig assures me there were no doors and that he had to jump from his lit train into the cave-like dark and smoke of my carriage. Craig is the head of a medical support team at RAF Lyneham and was on his way to a meeting in London when his train, travelling in the opposite direction, ran into the doors and other debris of my train. He told me later that it took him 15 minutes to realise there was another train in all that chaos, and to be alerted by a man bleeding profusely from the face that there were people in it urgently in need of help. Craig had no equipment with him and his training would have urged extreme caution in making the decision to jump across live rails into complete uncertainty.

Craig's first task was to estimate the stability of my condition, given the head wounds he could see. If he had been able to see my eyes, he could have assessed me more quickly. However, he had no torch (he now carries one everywhere with him), and my eyes were almost closed anyway. He had to assess me by asking questions. Here he met an obstacle. I don't remember this at all, but Craig tells me that my first response (after telling him my name and what my job was) was to say that I wanted to lie down and sleep, and to ask if he could go find my bags and glasses. It seems that with the arrival of Craig, my body and mind switched instantly from heroic survivor to victim mode.

Craig admits now that, at the time, his decision to look after me made him slightly anxious and guilty. 'Am I going for the easier option here? Should I not go forward and still look for more patients that I should probably be doing cardiac massage on, or should I be tying someone's limb up? But in the end, you have to make that decision. And I was very conscious that you had a head injury and, with a head injury, you do not know what is going to happen. And the person has to be monitored continuously.'

Then, given his choice, knowing I needed constant attention, should he disturb the two bodies, a risk, and get my bag? Again, he made his informed decision and I was so lucky that he did. And once he had my attention by returning the bag, he still had to pick a conversation topic that would drill down to my very concussed attention. He had ascertained early on that I was an academic; his daughter was doing A-levels and thinking about which universities to apply to, so here was the area to catch my attention. And he did hold my attention, so that to this day I remember the subjects that Craig's daughter is interested in and even the names of the universities she was thinking of applying to: Exeter, Aberystwyth, Manchester, Reading. That memory detail contrasts with my remembering little or nothing of the earlier part of our conversation, and tells me that I was looking for something to pull my old story and my horrible new one together.

Meanwhile, Craig was busy assessing my condition. As he told me later: 'When casualties are assessed, the basic categories are as follows: Priority 1: requires immediate life-saving skills; Priority 2: requires immediate treatment; Priority 3: requires treatment when time permits; Priority 1 Hold: the injuries are so great that there may be a need to deal with P1-3 in the first instance. In your case, my initial assessment was a P2.'

Craig reckons it took between three-quarters of an hour and an hour for the emergency services to reach us. He surmises that this was a responsible policy decision on the part of the police, acutely aware of the loss of emergency service lives and resources when the firemen went quickly into the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11. If you lose your resources (and in the case of 7/7 there was also a worry about further explosions or dirty bombs or chemical warfare), you lose your power to help. This is a rationale of emergency and security retrieval and help.

Eventually, the emergency services did arrive and some workers say they came before the all-clear. After all the other injured were removed, I was helped to walk through the train by Craig on one side and a paramedic on the other. As soon as I had walked through the intervening door to the third carriage, I was amazed. It was empty and, to my surprise, seemed fully intact, with its seats and fittings all in their places. Given that I still thought this was a train crash, I immediately thought: 'If the third carriage is OK and my second carriage is so bad, what must the first carriage be like?' So I was already rejigging my theory from the idea of two trains sideswiping (after seeing the second tube train next to ours), to one of a head-on crash, and I assumed there could be no survivors in that front carriage.

It was a long stagger down the full length of that underground train in the dark. When I got to the very back and to the little train ladder that I'd never seen before, leading from the rear door to the ground, there was another positive sight. Not only were there lots of emergency people there busy with stretchers and other support, but I could see Edgware Road Station not more than 100 metres away, bathed in sunlight.

Given the surface nature of our tube line, immediately obvious even to my concussed mind, I was already beginning to puzzle over why it had taken so long for help to get to us. Still, the emergency services were a very welcome sight now and were wonderfully friendly and efficient. I must still have been in survival mode - the adrenaline rush that Lou told me about can last for weeks - because I told the paramedics I was perfectly able to walk across the complex web of train lines to Edgware Road Station.

Sensibly, and affably, they told me they were having none of that nonsense, and got me stretchered and out of there quick-smart. They lifted me up the slope at the end of the platform, and I remember wondering whether they would have to tilt me even more up the stairs to the station entrance. It was a bizarre concern, but maybe the first hint of feeling the dreadful vertigo I encountered briefly (but which would return later as a major symptom of my injuries) as Craig and my emergency service helper walked me to the side entrance of the Edgware Road Marks & Spencer, where an area had been cleared for the walking wounded.

From his monitoring of me in the train, Craig advised the paramedics I was a Priority 2, and then, once he could see me properly in the daylight, a Priority 3. And so it was that the photographs of me at Edgware Road in newspapers round the world showed a label round my neck: 'PRIORITY 3'.

In Marks & Spencer, they bandaged my head and prepared me for transfer to hospital. At this point, Craig felt it was OK to leave me. I asked him to give my best wishes to his daughter as he left. Then, with Craig gone, for the first time I turned to the victim sitting on the row of chairs next to me and asked what he thought had happened. He was the first to tell me there had been an explosion and he had seen a crater in the ground.

I was wheeled into a plastic cubicle in A&E and laid with great care on a bed. I was hurting a lot and in complete victim mode in my head. No more walking-wounded survival heroics now. There seemed to be so many medics, all looking after me personally in that cubicle. One started to sponge my blood-encrusted forehead so gently that even where the pain was worst I felt soothed. Another was carefully lifting my watch off my right arm, and another the watch off my left. (I always wear two watches when on long-haul flights and was still wearing them.) Given that I had been in hospital in London briefly the previous Saturday with open wounds on my hands after treatment for a skin condition in Australia, and given that the bomb blast had made these infinitely worse, those two careful medics taking off my watches were much appreciated.

Then there seemed to be another person removing my shoes, yet another my clothes, another giving me medication; in all, there seemed to me up to 10 people looking after me. All were caring, careful, professional; I have never felt so helpless but in such good company.

Janet and her daughter, Shona, visited me in the afternoon. They had walked across London from Camden to Paddington, with little idea of what they would find, but much more knowledge than me about what had happened. They eschewed over-serious talk for generous badinage. Shona is a lively lady and has an acute sense of the bizarre and the aesthetic. She sparred across my bed with the equally amusing Irish nurse, Aidan, and she cheered me up by saying that even though my face was pretty bad, the 'rough look' was currently cool.

On the weekend of 9 and 10 July, I was at my lowest ebb: vomiting throughout my brother David's hour-long visit; worrying that my niece Tracey's children, Camilla and Daryl, might be scared off by my horrible face when the family came to visit on Sunday (they weren't scared, and left lovely drawings of me instead); and being helped laboriously across the ward to the lavatory by my Viennese friend, Gerhard, who took a set of digital shots of me looking very bad indeed.

Still, there were lots of uplifting things happening, too. Colleagues began to visit, including Liz, our senior research administrator, with positive news about her daughter, who had been close to two of the blasts. Janet was a constant visitor, quietly absorbing and tempering my ludicrous belief that I would be out of hospital on Monday, and talking with the hospital's occupational therapy staff about making her flat more vertigo-friendly for when I did get out.

And emails were pouring in. There were messages from terribly shocked and very close friends, and emails from Australians I had never met both in Britain and at home. An Australian in London whom I didn't know sent me a packet of Tim Tam biscuits to 'cheer me up and make me think of home'.

My time at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington lasted from 7 July to 15 July, and the last four days, from Monday to Thursday, were marked for me by two turbulent things: my increasing difficulties with vertigo, and the country's angst-ridden recognition that the bombers who attacked us were 'home-grown'.

The nausea and vomiting associated with vertigo were constant and unpleasant. Nurses were trying to control the sickness with tablets, which meant a minor trauma for me each morning of: 'Will the pill come before the breakfast trolley?' Usually it did. But if it didn't, I would bring up my breakfast immediately. And even if it did, I still brought up my breakfast often enough.

My biggest hospital enemy was still the wheelchair, since I nearly always vomited after being wheeled to some medical check or other. A moment of disastrous hubris in this regard came on 11 July during my first visit to the audiology lab. After my previous day's vomiting - embarrassingly in front of my brother for the full hour of his visit - I resisted the suggestion that I be wheeled to the lab. Nurses told me

it was quite a long way, down the lift and in another building, but I persevered, and was assigned someone to help me walk there.

The experience was awful. In the lift, the effect of the downwards motion on me was not as bad as I had feared but when the doors opened at the ground level, I was totally confused: the speed of the British public nearly knocked me over. In the lobby people, young and old, seemed to be flying by the open lift doors in their carefree summer clothes, and I realised straight away what a long journey of recovery I had in front of me.

This marked the start of a growing recognition that my optimism in the first two days after the bombings was wide of the mark. There was an awful lot to do (though I hadn't any idea quite how much), and even my departure from the hospital on Thursday 15 July was physically fraught. It was decided that I should leave by a back entrance in case any of the media were still at the front. So Erin, my young Australian occupational therapist, began to push me in a wheelchair across an uneven Tarmac surface which seemed like that of the moon.

The tar had melted in those hot July days and was so pockmarked and rocky that I couldn't manage it without vomiting. We had to walk the last 30 metres and then I had to be strapped flat on a stretcher in the ambulance because I couldn't sit up in the seats without vertigo.

It wasn't an auspicious way to leave hospital but, on the other hand, it was a reality check. I was no longer the survivor of 7 July but a struggler on a slow yet upward path, and I was being given clear and positive markers towards my new identity.

Erin had been to Janet's flat before to establish problem points in relation to my vertigo: the four flights of stairs up to the flat; and the height of the lavatory seat, armchair and bed. She chose the most suitable armchair and made it and the lavatory seat higher with simple, solid frames. It was a wonderful support service: from Erin, my physiotherapist Maggie, and something like a dozen different ladies who helped me bathe.

I used to chat with those carers, mostly student nurses, but one a young computer student at Brunel University. Within that fantastic outpatient service, I was able to find new friends and a renewed identity. As Maggie emphasised, it had to be one built using the kind of patience that I had never had, setting small targets regularly and not being upset if a particular target was not achieved.

I remember clearly the first time I was able to walk across Janet's sitting room from my chair to the window, unconsciously shifting her grandson's little yellow plastic chair out of my way with one leg as I went. It was only after I had done it that I realised I had stood momentarily on one leg to move the chair with the other. It was a euphoric feeling.

My other problems of concussion and, especially, hearing have been harder to deal with. In my first weekend at Janet's flat after leaving hospital, I spent much of my time in bed, watching the Open Golf championship on TV from St Andrews. I couldn't handle fast movement or quick editing on the screen, so the golf was perfect, with its long, slow preparation shots. I could watch the ball in the air without having to look up, and all the dramatic putting was covered by a static camera and patient expectation. Hearing the sound, though, was another matter. The TV was on so loud - and still I couldn't hear it well - that Janet worried about complaints from the neighbours.

On Sunday 24 July, in the midst of the turmoil over the 21 July attacks, my two sons, Anton and Rowan, flew into Heathrow from Australia to help me with my recuperation. When they arrived at the flat that morning, tired from a fairly sleepless 23-hour flight, I told them what had been developing while they were in the air. I gave them the precautionary advice about travelling which Lou had given me the day before.

She had said to tell them it was all right to feel nervous when travelling, to follow their instincts and, if they felt anxious in the company of another passenger, either to change carriage or to get off the train straight away. They both took this advice and also decided not to travel by tube or bus in London during their visit.

We went to restaurants in London - Indian, Nepalese and Mexican - usually by taxi, after detailed explanations of vertigo to the drivers: 'Please slow down for speed bumps' and 'Please avoid fast right or left turns'. They were enormously friendly and supportive.

The trips outside with Anton and Rowan were making me feel I was getting back to normal. There were all the taxi rides sitting upright. There was also my first train journey since the blast, to Brighton on Saturday 30 July, and a walk to Regent's Park. Rowan was visiting relatives, so it was a job for Anton and me. Janet gave us detailed strategic advice for the journey: there were no seats in the 20-minute walk to the edge of the park, but there was a low wall I could rest on at a bus stop.

And Anton must have been listening to Janet because on the way back through the park, after a coffee at the lakeside restaurant - and at a moment when I was steaming along feeling very pleased with myself - he pointed out the last seat before the park limits, and asked if I needed a rest. Little things like this - a walk, a bit of unexpected advice from my son - made me feel very good.

Indeed, strolling through the Regent's Park rose garden was a revelation to me. For the first time since the explosion, I could walk and look around at the lovely, scented flowers, without fearing the visual impact that cars or people flashing by might have. At that moment, I valued my life in a way I never had before. Turning my head around for the first time since 7 July to look at the roses, walking, talking with my son, felt like a kind of epiphany, washing away some of the death and horror of carriage two at Edgware Road.

· About the author

John Tulloch was born in India in 1942 to British parents. His family moved back home when he was three years old and he later studied at Cambridge University. Tulloch then spent 25 years living in Australia and is now an Australian citizen. He has taught in British and Australian universities and is currently Research Professor in Sociology and Communications at Brunel University. His books include Risk and Everyday Life (with Deborah Lupton) and Shakespeare and Chekhov in production and reception: Theatrical events and their audiences. His next book, about the playwright Trevor Griffiths, will be published by Manchester University Press later this year.

· One Day in July: Experiencing 7/7, by John Tulloch, is published by Little, Brown on 15 June. To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p go to observer.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0885

Five killed in Zimbabwe train collision

Mail & Guardian: 04 June 2006
Harare, Zimbabwe

Five people were killed and 24 others injured when a freight train rear-ended a passenger train on Saturday in southern Zimbabwe, state television reported.

"The derailment occurred after a goods train that was travelling from Rutenga to Gweru rammed into the back of a passenger train," the broadcaster said.

Four of those killed in the accident were employees of National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), travelling on the freight train, while the fifth was a person on the passenger train, it said.

The injured were taken to hospitals in the southern cities of Bulawayo and Gweru, the report said. Six of the survivors were described as having severe injuries.

An official from the NRZ said that the accident, which occurred early on Saturday, could have been caused by "the non-functioning of the parastatal's central train-control system", which operates signals on the rail network.

The accident comes a little more than a week after 34 passengers were injured when 10 carriages and a dining car derailed near Dete in north-western Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's ageing rail network links major towns and cities but is suffering from a shortage of money for spare parts and maintenance amid the country's economic collapse.

June 03, 2006

RMT infrastructure workers to strike at GrantRail

RMT: June 1 2006

AROUND 250 RMT members at rail infrastructure firm GrantRail are to strike for 24 hours from a minute after mid-day on Saturday after the company failed to honour a pledge to recognise the union, despite it representing a majority of the workforce.

"It is time for GrantRail to do the honourable thing and recognise the union that the majority of its workforce have chosen to represent them," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Last summer the company said it would reognise RMT if we could show that the majority of the workforce had joined. We did that, but for some reason the company has failed to stand by that pledge.

"GrantRail already recognises those RMT members who transferred to GrantRail from Jarvis contracts, so it is hardly asking for the moon to expect them to enter a proper working relationship with the union.
"For a company that styles itself as a major player in the rail infrastructure industry, it is baffling why they appear to have buried their heads in the sand.

"Only 19 people voted against taking strike action and it should be clear to the company by now that its workforce is serious about being represented by a union with more than a century's experience in the rail infrastructure industry," Bob Crow said.

Victoria's country rail network under scrutiny

The Age: June 2, 2006

THE heat is on the Bracks Government to spend millions to save Victoria's privately owned country rail network after the government regulator finalised state policy on third-party rail access.

The Essential Services Commission, releasing its final decision yesterday on open access, said it had rejected Pacific National's revised access proposal because it depended on the State Government paying $31 million a year towards PN's maintenance costs. PN owns the country rail network under a 45-year government lease.

PN general manager David Willett, in a letter to the ESC, said it could not afford to maintain the freight network and needed government help.

He said the Victorian Government faced a choice whether it supported a rail network in Victoria. "If not, rail will not be commercially viable," he said.

The ESC will set up the access regime to start by next month. The Government said PN bought the regional freight network with no expectation of government help. But the Government was still working with PN on rail projects, it said.

See also:

State to set rail tariffs

The Australian: June 02, 2006
Blair Speedy

THE Victorian state Government will decide how much Toll Holdings subsidiary Pacific National can charge for use of the state rail network, after twice rejecting access arrangements proposed by the company.

The decision could cause concern among potential buyers of a 50 per cent stake in Pacific National, which Toll must sell under an agreement made with the competition regulator during its takeover of Patrick Corporation, formerly co-owner of the PN business.

The Essential Services Commission, which regulates utility services for the state, yesterday said it would not approve PN's proposed access arrangements for the country Victorian rail network, owned by the state but leased to PN until 2043, and a key rail terminal at Port Melbourne.

While the prices proposed by PN would comply with an acceptable revenue cap, they were dependent on the state Government paying $31 million towards maintenance costs per year, for which funding was uncertain.

The commission will instead set its own access arrangements for PN and Connex, the French-owned operator of Melbourne's passenger train network, to come into force by July 1.

Fischer urges rail upgrade after crash

The Australian: June 03, 2006
Natasha Robinson

FORMER deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has called for an urgent upgrade of key rail networks after the third regional train accident in a month.
ute_derailment (30k image)
End of the line: the wreckage of the train lies strewn over the tracks near the Benalla station yesterday. Photo: Craig Abraham

The Tourism Australia chairman and railways expert said he feared further rail disasters unless more work is done, particularly on the critical Sydney-to-Melbourne line.

"There needs to be rapid execution of maintenance and upgrade," Mr Fischer said yesterday. "It could be said that Mark Twain travelled by a faster and safer train through Benalla back in September 1895 than some of the freight trains that operate on that corridor today."

Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators were still uncertain about the cause of a freight train derailment yesterday at Benalla, about 200km northeast of Melbourne.

ATSB investigator Mark Stallbaum said: "It can be things like a problem with the track, a mechanical problem with the train, or it can sometimes be an interaction between worn wheels and an old track."

Locals were amazed no one was killed when the 34-car train loaded with a range of goods, including steel and plastics, left the track near houses.

It came a week after a truck driver was killed near Lismore, in western Victoria, last week when he collided with a train. In April, two people were killed and dozens injured when a train came off the tracks near Ballarat.

Mr Fischer welcomed the federal Government's injection of cash into the Sydney-Melbourne rail line, but said accidents would keep happening if the line was not upgraded immediately.

Australasian Railway Association spokesman Brian Nye said the federal Government had sunk more than $2 billion into the line in the past three years.

"This is a well maintained line that's used daily - it (the cause of the accidents) could be any number of reasons." But he said the Government needed to upgrade regional and rural tracks.

See also:

Four escape as train jumps rails

The Age: June 3, 2006
Stephen Moynihan and Selma Milovanovic

FOUR men cheated death when a goods train jumped the tracks and smashed into a building in a country town.

Two of the men walked away unharmed after a wagon from the train crashed down on top of their cars, parked in Benalla, 188 kilometres north-east of Melbourne yesterday.

The two train drivers, aged in their 40s, were treated for shock but were otherwise unharmed.

The QR National train was bound for Brisbane when two locomotives and 12 of the 34 wagons left the rails about 6.50am, with the carriages crashing into an unoccupied Victorian Railways building.

Maintenance worker Brett Andrew was on the phone to his boss when a wagon landed on top of his ute and the four-wheel-drive belonging to a colleague. Both men walked away unhurt.

"I was just talking to control when it happened," Mr Andrew said before leaving the scene.

Hours after the crash the scene remained a tangled mess of twisted carriages, plastic products, trees and cars.

The train jumped the tracks just before the Benalla railway station and careered across a large block of land owned by the Victorian Railways.

A second track runs parallel to the main track and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating whether the train jumped the main track after crossing through a section of points.

Sources have told The Age the train was travelling too fast as it approached the junction.

Libby Armstrong, 20, whose house backs onto the vacant land, was asleep in the front bedroom at the time of the crash, unaware of the mayhem outside.

"We didn't see or hear anything," Ms Armstrong said.

"My aunt rang and said, 'Are you guys all right?' and I said, 'Why wouldn't we be?' Then we had a look from our backyard and saw the top of the engine resting just behind the fence."

She said her dog Lily became frightened when the house shook, but none of the family had thought it was an emergency as the house always vibrated when trains passed.

"My mum and dad have lived here for 30 years, and as my mum said, our time obviously wasn't up," Ms Armstrong said. "Imagine if it had been a passenger train. I guess we're feeling lucky today."

Benalla Mayor John Brownstein said he was jogging three kilometres from the site when he heard the crash.

"It was a sound like a low rumbling, scraping sound in the distance," he said.

He said the accident scene looked dramatic and it was lucky that nobody was injured or killed.

Mr Brownstein said trains often travelled at 100 km/h through that section of track.

"There's been plenty of times I've sat at the level crossing on the Midland Highway and wondered what would happen if there was a derailment."

The track is owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation and QR pays a fee to operate services on the line, which is the main freight route between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

The corporation said the train was hauling plastic products.

The line is expected to be reopened today.

Investigations into the crash continue.

Rail staff tell of close call with death

The Border Mail: 03/06/2006

?I think I?m going to be killed?
ute (15k image)
Brett Andrews and Bob Smith were sitting in their cars near the track when the train derailed. Picture: SIMON DALLINGER

The Euroa rail track contractor told his boss just that as a wave of wreckage from a derailing freight train swept toward him.

The father of two was on the phone to his employer before starting work just before 7am yesterday.
He was sitting in his work ute near Benalla train station only metres from the rail line.

Sparks lit up the early morning light as the engine lost its grip and a succession of wagons and containers headed in his direction.

?I thought I was going to die, I told him on the phone,? Mr Andrews said.

His Nissan Patrol was pushed sideways as the wreckage spread from the tracks.

Mr Andrews said his boss couldn?t hear anything other than banging and crashing.

?The noise was metal on metal and there was dust and stuff everywhere,? he said.

?I rang the wife and she was in tears and I said ?I?m still above ground and that is all that matters?.?

The 700m freight train left the tracks just 200m on the northern side of Benalla railway station near a switch point on the standard gauge line.

Sleepers were tossed aside and the track twisted and bent.

Wagons and freight containers lay twisted and torn apart for more than 300m from the head of the train.

One container, torn open by the impact, engulfed Mr Andrews? ute.

BRETT Andrews thought he was about to die.

So thick was the dust that Mr Andrews was unable to see more than a metre in front of him and called out to his co-worker Bob Smith parked only 5m away.

Mr Smith was about to get in his track re-aligning machine that was in the path of the derailing freight train.

?I saw it all happen, the sparks were flying off the tracks and I knew something wasn?t right,? he said.
?And the noise was like nothing I?ve ever heard.

?I jumped from the car as the passenger side window exploded.

?I started running and things were falling all around me.

?I didn?t stop running until I reached that telephone pole over there, about 50m away and then I realised that Brett was still in his ute.?

See also:

Miracle man dodges train

The Herald Sun: 03 June 06
Jane Metlikovec

A MAN amazingly cheated death yesterday when a freight train plunged off the tracks at 100km/h and ploughed into his car.

Brett Andrews was sitting in his ute just metres from the track, talking on a mobile phone, when he looked up to see the train hurtling towards him.

"I said, 'Oh my God. The train's come off. It looks like I'm going to die," he said. "I'm very lucky to be alive."

The 44-year-old father of two was about to start work at Benalla railway station just after 6.30am when the 706-metre-long train derailed after switching tracks.

Police said it was a miracle no one was killed by the Brisbane-bound engine, which was hauling 19 containers of goods, including steel.

Two train drivers also escaped without injury.

Mr Andrews' co-worker, Bob, was in another ute parked farther down the track. It was untouched.

"I saw him jump out of his and run, but I had no time to do anything," Mr Andrews said. "Carriages were going everywhere.

"Luckily, it just slowed right down, and when it got to me it ended up just giving me a nudge a few metres, and that was it."

The Queensland Rail train smashed into a disused Victorian Railways Institute hall, wrecking a corner of the building.

"They were planning to demolish it anyway, and what happened today has done a pretty good job of that," Mr Andrews said.

Acting Insp Ralph Willingham said it was a miracle there were no deaths. "Considering the amount of damage and the speed involved, police are amazed that no one was injured," he said.

Despite his close shave, Mr Andrews said he would remain at the station where he has worked for 20 years.

"Got to keep earning money," he said.

"But I think I'll buy a Tattslotto ticket and have a few beers tonight."

The crash did not affect passenger services between Melbourne and Sydney; V/Line operated on another track.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will investigate.

Last week, a truck driver was killed when his truck piled into an Adelaide-Melbourne goods train near Lismore.

And on April 28, a V/Line passenger sprint train struck a semi-trailer at Trawalla, on the Ararat-Ballarat line.

Two passengers, including the mother of the train driver, were killed and more than 30 others were injured.

Rail franchise process to be changed after east coast battle

Independent Online: 01 June 2006
Transnsport Editor

A key change in the process of awarding rail franchises is to be introduced to avoid the kind of high-profile legal battle that has erupted over the East Coast Main Line.

Ministers are to insist that no licences are to be awarded by the Government until access to the route in question has been established, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said.

Great North Eastern Railways is taking the ORR to court for allowing a competitor access to its east coast route a year after it was awarded the franchise and will see the change as an acknowledgement that the process was critically flawed.

The company is challenging the decision to grant Grand Central Railway a licence to run services from Sunderland to London instead of allowing GNER to run more trains between the capital and Leeds. The Rail Regulator is being accused of breaching European rules on state aid and distorting competition.

The ORR conceded yesterday that "on reflection" the franchise bidding process should have taken place after the decision on access. Chris Bolt, the ORR chairman, said there would be "a more sensible way of doing things in future". There was no question of setting access rights "in stone" but new franchisees
should know how much competition there would be in the foreseeable future.

It is understood ministers were furious with the ORR's decision because it called into question GNER's ability to pay £1.3bn to the Exchequer over the next 10 years. But senior ORR officials insisted that Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander, his successor as Transport Secretary, both agreed that the regulator should maintain its independence from the Government.

Bill Emery, the chief executive of the ORR, said it would "vigorously defend" its strategy. He warned Network Rail directors that they would have to do a "lot more" to earn their bonuses next year. Board members received £1m in extra payments despite a five-fold increase in losses last year to £232m. John

Armitt, the chief executive, received a 30 per cent increase in bonus payments.

A key change in the process of awarding rail franchises is to be introduced to avoid the kind of high-profile legal battle that has erupted over the East Coast Main Line.

Ministers are to insist that no licences are to be awarded by the Government until access to the route in question has been established, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said.

Great North Eastern Railways is taking the ORR to court for allowing a competitor access to its east coast route a year after it was awarded the franchise and will see the change as an acknowledgement that the process was critically flawed.

The company is challenging the decision to grant Grand Central Railway a licence to run services from Sunderland to London instead of allowing GNER to run more trains between the capital and Leeds. The Rail Regulator is being accused of breaching European rules on state aid and distorting competition.

The ORR conceded yesterday that "on reflection" the franchise bidding process should have taken place after the decision on access. Chris Bolt, the ORR chairman, said there would be "a more sensible way of doing things in future". There was no question of setting access rights "in stone" but new franchisees should know how much competition there would be in the foreseeable future.

It is understood ministers were furious with the ORR's decision because it called into question GNER's ability to pay £1.3bn to the Exchequer over the next 10 years. But senior ORR officials insisted that Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander, his successor as Transport Secretary, both agreed that the regulator should maintain its independence from the Government.

Bill Emery, the chief executive of the ORR, said it would "vigorously defend" its strategy. He warned Network Rail directors that they would have to do a "lot more" to earn their bonuses next year. Board members received £1m in extra payments despite a five-fold increase in losses last year to £232m. John Armitt, the chief executive, received a 30 per cent increase in bonus payments.

Train victims' families hit out at rail bosses

Herts & Essex News: 01 June 2006

THE parents of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson have reacted angrily to news that Network Rail bosses have awarded themselves bonuses of more than £1m.

They said the railway infrastructure firm's safety record should have been a consideration in the huge cash awards and repeated their support for the Observer's Get It Locked campaign.

On Tuesday, Olivia's father, Chris Bazlinton, said: "I hope they enjoy their bonuses, but I would like to see them spending a lot more time and effort on getting the safety right."

He could not understand Network Rail's opposition to installing a locking system on the crossing at Elsenham, where Olivia and Charlotte were tragically killed on December 3.

"I found Network Rail's suggestion to cancel the campaign outrageous," he said, referring to a letter from Network Rail's route director, Jon Wiseman, published in last week's Observer. "It stirred me up to make sure I get as many people as possible to sign the petition."

Reg Thompson, Charlotte's father, objected to Network Rail chairman Ian McAllister's description of company performance as "stellar".

"It shows it's based only on their economic performance and perhaps when considering public transport, bonuses should be decided on the basis of safety, which is where they have fallen down." He also praised our campaign. "It will help to make a difference; I am sure of it."

Network Rail chief executive, John Armitt, will get £352,728 in addition to his £504,000 salary, while his deputy, Iain Coucher, will receive £314,490 on top of his £450,000 income. Ron Henderson, the finance director, and Peter Henderson, the engineering director, each receive £235,033 in addition to their £335,750 salaries.

Train punctuality has reached 86 per cent, but Network Rail's losses jumped from £47m to £232m due to a delay in government subsidy; it expects to make a profit next year. Overall debt, however, stands at £18.2 billion.

Freight firm on track to handle new direction

Cumbria News & Star: 02/06/2006
By Mark Preskett, Business editor

CUMBRIA?S nuclear rail freight company Direct Rail Services is pushing into the general freight market as Britain?s nuclear decommissioning gathers pace.

Direct Rail Services (DRS), which is based at Kingmoor in Carlisle, expects to see work transporting spent nuclear fuel from across the UK to Sellafield reduce by 25 per cent over the next seven years.

As a result, the company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), is looking to expand into general freight.

The company has signed deals with supermarket giants Asda and Tesco.

Managing director Neil McNicholas said he expected the company?s ratio of nuclear to non-nuclear business to shift from 70/30 today to 50/50 by 2010.

He said: ?Our two big general freight contracts are both in partnership with road hauliers.

?We?re in the sixth year of a 10-year contract with Scottish haulage firm W H Malcolm to take freight from Daventry in the Midlands to Scotland for Asda.

?And we recently signed a deal with Eddie Stobart and Tesco to take 26 wagon loads of goods across the border.?

Mr McNicholas told The Cumberland News: ?This offers road hauliers a cheap way to carry large amounts of freight long distances, and frees up their assets for more local work.

?It?s also good for the environment. Last year, our trains helped reduce CO2 output by 83,000 tonnes.?

Reducing CO2 emissions by switching road freight to rail is a hot topic at the moment and operators involved in partnerships of this kind enjoy substantial subsidies.

The Tesco/Stobart partnership benefited from a £235,000 grant from the Department for Transport and £200,000 from the Scottish Executive to help buy 90 containers to transport the goods.

DRS was established in 1995 as part of BNFL and was taken over by the state-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Despite being part of the NDA, Mr McNicholas said the company operated as a normal commercial organisation, like Royal Mail.

The firm?s latest unaudited results show pre-tax profits for the year to March 31 stood at £1.7 million.

Sales for the same period grew 12.7 per cent from £23.7 million to £26.7 million.

DRS employs 250 staff, around 130 in Carlisle.

June 02, 2006

Germany rebuffs China on magnetic train technology

Financial Times: June 1 2006
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin, Geoff Dyer in Shanghai and Richard Milne in Frankfurt

Berlin has rejected Chinese demands that it provide state funding and access to sensitive technology in exchange for the right to build a $4.3bn (Euro 3.34bn, £2.28bn) magnetic levitation train link between Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Germany's tough stance on funding and intellectual property transfers for the project comes a week after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, scolded the Chinese government for not doing enough to protect foreign companies intellectual property.

Berlin officials told the FT they had refused to bow to Chinese pressure to strike an agreement on the maglev track ahead of Ms Merkel?s maiden visit to the country as chancellor last month.

Beijing has been in talks for years with Transrapid International, a joint venture between Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, over building the world?s second commercial high-speed maglev track.

A Transrapid train, which reaches speeds of 450km/h, has been operating on a 30km stretch between Shanghai and its airport since 2004. But while Beijing's planners gave the go-ahead to a second, 200km track in March, talks with the companies have been slow.

At a meeting in Beijing last week, Wolfgang Tiefensee, German transport minister, rejected requests by Wu Xiangming, head of China's National Maglev Transportation Technology Research Centre, for German government funding.

Germany provided 10 per cent of the $1bn budget for the Shanghai airport link. But a Berlin official said: "If we were to put taxpayers' money into another maglev track, this track would be in Germany."

The official also dismissed suggestions in the Chinese media last week that the German side had agreed to transfer "core aspects" of the maglev technology to China to secure the contract.

One person close to the companies said: "We want to stick to conditions agreed for the airport track. Levitation and engine technologies will remain in German hands."

Many foreign businesses in China willingly transfer technology to local partners. They are also subject to "local content" rules, which dictate what share of a product sold in China should be made in China.

German lobbyists, however, have complained lately about "forced technology transfers" - aggressive attempts by Chinese companies, with or without political support, to acquire foreign technology.

A spokesman for Transrapid International declined to comment on the Shanghai-Hangzhou line, saying ?talks are ongoing, including over local content and technology.?

Thyssen and Siemens hope to make Transrapid an export hit. Yet executives say this could be difficult if the technology does not take off in Germany.

A plan to build a Cologne-Frankfurt link was dropped, while the fate of a proposal to link Munich to its airport is uncertain because of a dispute between the Bavarian and federal governments over funding. Klaus Kleinfeld, Siemens? chief executive, told the FT in April: "If Germany is serious about investing in future technologies then why is it that China is building the Transrapid and not us?"

June 01, 2006

RMT welcomes bid to return Scottish rail to public sector

D??z?tp://www.rmt.org.uk/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeID=97302">RMT: May 31 2006

SCOTLAND?S BIGGEST rail union today welcomed the launch of a parliamentary bid to return the country?s passenger rail services to the public ?not-for-profit? sector.

As MSP Tommy Sheridan today launched a consultation on the proposed Provision of Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill, RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:

"RMT members and the vast majority of rail users alike will welcome this proposed Bill, which would return Scotland's rail services to the public sector, where they belong, and stop the massive haemmorhage of public money from the industry.

"The private sector gets three times the subsidy that British Rail got, but fares have risen way ahead of inflation and at least £15 million a week is siphoned out of the industry UK-wide by the privateers.

"This proposed Bill aims to plug that leak in Scotland, and not only reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish public and the STUC, but also echoes the policy of Labour, the Greens and the SNP's 2003 manifesto.

"Removing the private sector from rail service provision will bring a huge 'rail rebate' to the industry, and it is to be hoped that progressive Scottish political opinion will unite to make the proposal a reality," Bob Crow said.

"By backing this Bill the Scottish parliament can show the rest of the UK the way," RMT Scotland regional organiser Phil McGarry said.

"Scotland has the right to expect that that every penny invested in its railways is spent on improving them, not siphoned off for the benefit of a few shareholders - and now we have the chance to make it so.

"There is more than ample evidence that a publicly run railway is a more efficient railway. Bringing rail maintenance back in-house is already showing huge benefits.

"The rail industry, its workforce and its passengers have been held to ransom for too long, and this proposed Bill will signal an end to it," Phil McGarry said.

Notes to editors:
The proposed Provision of Passenger Services (Scotland) Bill, due to be lodged in the Scottish parliament by Tommy Sheridan MSP today, would direct Scottish ministers to use their powers under the Railways Act 2005 to arrange for rail passenger services to be provided directly by the public sector or by a specifically created company on a not-for-profit basis when the current Scotrail franchise expires in 2011
The consultation on the proposed Bill ends on August 31 2006. The consultation document can be found on the Bills page of the Parliament's website at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/bills/membersBills.htm, and in SPICe 

Responses to the consultation should be sent to Phil McGarry, RMT Regional Organiser, 180 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 2UE or p.mcgarry@ rmt.org.uk. A copy sent to tommy.sheridan.msp@scottish.parliament.uk would also be appreciated

RMT ballot begins over attack on jobs and pay by Docklands Railway

RMT: May 31 2006

A BALLOT of more than 250 RMT members at Docklands Light Railway is under way today after the company failed to withdraw plans to cut safety-critical station staff jobs and slash pay by up to £5,000. The ballot will close on June 13.

In the guise of a 'reorganisation' the company plans to reduce the overall number of station staff from 42 to 34, cut the pay of station assistants by £5,000 and sack or downgrade more than half of the current station supervisors.

"We made it clear to Serco that these plans were unacceptable, and they have left us with no option but to press ahead and ballot all RMT's DLR members for inndustrial action," said RMT general secretary Bob Crow today.

"No matter how much they try to deny it, this re-organisation means a cut in safety-critical staff and fewer people on duty on a railway where most stations are already unstaffed, and it means the downgrading of the skills of those station staff that remain.

"For all sorts of reasons, not least today's heightened security fears, this is a very bad idea.

"We need to see more safety-critical staff on stations, not fewer, and it is outrageous that Serco appears to be wielding the axe to make up for their serious underbidding for the DLR contract," Bob Crow said.


Notes to editors: Serco's planned re-organisation involves reducing the overall number of station staff from 42 to 34, with most of those remaining downgrade in both skills and pay.  

* The current 24 platform agents, who hold train licences and can therefore move trains when required, would be reduced to 18 'customer service officers' who would no longer be required to hold licences and would lose £5,000 a year in pay, reduced over two and a half years.
* There are currently 18 station supervisors, but these would be reduced to eight 'customer service team leaders' after re-organisation, with ten being made redundant or downgraded, with those downgraded into one of eight new 'leading customer service officer' posts losing £2,500 in salary.

Freight customers rail against delays

Financial Times Deutschland: 29.05.2006
by Andrew Ward

Demands to improve the train network grow louder · Crisis has its roots in the industry's deregulation in 1980 · Capacity no longer easily expandable.

It is a stand-off befitting of the town where Billy the Kid, the legendary Wild West outlaw, was laid to rest.

Two stationary freight trains face each other across a 1,500ft-long, single-track railway bridge spanning the Pecos River in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Behind them, five more locomotives wait their turn to cross.

Among the freight caught in the bottleneck: a consignment of coal for an Arizona power station, hundreds of containers carrying imported goods from west coast ports and two trains full of UPS parcels. Such scenes are typical of the daily hold-ups throughout the US as the country's ageing rail network struggles to cope with the surging freight volumes generated by robust economic growth.

Union Pacific and BNSF, the two largest operators, recently sought to ease pressure on one of the busiest stretches of track when they agreed to jointly invest $100m in additional capacity around the Powder River Basin coal fields in Wyoming. But angry rail customers, including most of America's largest manufacturers, retailers and energy companies, believe the industry is not doing enough to tackle congestion and poor service.

Everybody agrees action is needed to make US railways flow more smoothly but there is no consensus about the solution. Rail operators want Congress to provide tax incentives for investment in capacity, arguing that shareholders will not accept more expenditure without greater rewards. Many rail users, however, believe there is only one sure way of making the industry more responsive to customer needs: increased competition.

The crisis on US railways has its roots in the industry's deregulation in 1980, when operators were freed to cut capacity and forge mergers in search of efficiency. Over the following 26 years, the network has shrunk by more than a third and only four large operators remain: Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX and Norfolk Southern. Nobody doubts that some consolidation was necessary but critics say the restructuring gave too much power to operators. With each of the big four enjoying near-monopoly control over entire regions, the industry has little incentive to improve service or increase capacity, says Bob Szabo, executive director of Consumers United for Rail Equity (Cure), a rail users' group.

He points to the industry's record profits over the past year as proof that capacity shortages are being used to inflate prices. Union Pacific last month announced a doubling in first-quarter net profit and its shares have increased by nearly 70 per cent in the past two years.

"As long as Wall Street is rewarding them for having less capacity than demand, nothing much is going to change," says Mr Szabo.

Matthew Rose, chief executive of BNSF, says while service will improve eventually, the days of unlimited rail capacity are gone. "This industry used to be like a light switch. If you needed more railroad cars you just flipped a switch and they were available," he says. "That switch is no longer working."

Mink stink at rail link

Greenock Telegraph: 1st June, 2006

A RAIL ticket office has been closed after it was overrun by vermin.
mink (17k image)
VERMIN: Mink have moved in at Gourock ticket office

Mink have set up home in Gourock train station, prompting rail bosses to take action.

The animals are believed to have moved into the office from the seafront and have been causing a health hazard by leaving rotting fish everywhere.

ScotRail is to set up a temporary ticket office and passengers will have to buy tickets on the train in the meantime.

They are now set to send officers to get rid of the animals, a non-native species that originally escaped from fur farms, by catching them in cages.

A spokesperson for First ScotRail said: "The ticket office has been closed because mink have set up home on the roof and return with fish from the seashore. Fortunately, mink can be caught in cage traps and a contractor has been hired to do so.

"A temporary booking office will be set up. Until then, our customers can purchase their tickets on trains."

Gourock Councillor George White said: "I'm surprised to hear that's happened. If that is the case, ScotRail should phone environmental services and they'll come very quickly."

Stuart McMillan, parliamentary SNP candidate for Greenock and Inverclyde, said: "From the health and safety aspect this is incredible, for staff and customers."

Shropshire-London link trains blow

Shropshire Star: May 30, 2006
Rail campaigners calling for the restoration of Shropshire's direct rail link with London were today dealt a massive blow by Government transport officials who claim it would be too expensive.

The Department of Transport says the use of the latest modern trains on the non-electrified route between Wolverhampton, Telford and Shrewsbury cannot be justified on cost grounds.

A progress report on plans for the West Coast main line upgrade said a plan to link Shrewsbury and Telford to London could be considered in the future but not before 2009.

Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski said he had written to the Department of Transport in response to the report.

He said: "I'm very disappointed. I don't understand why they are saying this, because in various deliberations they have said they understand that Shrewsbury is the only county town without a direct rail link to London."

Shropshire rail users will now have to pin their hopes for a direct link to the capital on the Wrexham-Shrewsbury-Marylebone Railway. Laing Rail and Renaissance Trains are planning a direct two-and-a-half-hour service to London in early 2008.

Sheridan launches public rail plans

icRenfrewshire: May 31 2006
Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan has returned to the political fray to unveil plans which would effectively re-nationalise rail services in Scotland.

In a show of unity, SSP leader Colin Fox pledged support for the plan published by Mr Sheridan as a proposal for a member's bill. Neither would comment on the SSP's internal wars which erupted publicly when Mr Sheridan wrote an open letter complaining of a smear campaign against him.

The legislative proposals launched by the Glasgow MSP would enable ministers to use their recently-extended powers under the 2005 Railways Act. His bill, if passed by Holyrood, would direct ministers to use these powers to arrange for rail passenger services to be provided directly by the public sector or by a specially-created company on a not-for-profit basis when the ScotRail franchise expires in 2011.