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August 31, 2007

Metronet strike goes ahead on Monday, says RMT

RMT: August 31 2007

THE FIRST of two 72-hour strikes by more than 2,300 RMT members at failed Tube privateer Metronet is to go ahead from 18:00 on Monday after the company and its administrator failed to give the unequivocal guarantees on jobs, transfers and pensions that the union is seeking.

"The letter we have received from Metronet and the administrator falls way short of the guarantees our members need and deserve," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today

"What we sought was firm, unequivocal guarantees, but frankly our members are being asked to stake their jobs and their pensions on a pig in a poke.

"The only assurances we have received about jobs and transfers cover only the period of administration, and that is simply not good enough.

"It is strange that the administrator can determine all sorts of things about the future of the PPP contracts, apparently including who the next fat-cat privateer might be, but is not in a position to give on-going guarantees on the jobs of the people who actually do the work.

"On pensions we have received no guarantee from the employer at all.

"When the government forced through the disastrous part-privatisation of the Tube, the deputy prime minister told the world that the pensions of our members would be safe.

"What we need from the administrator and Metronet is an unequivocal confirmation that Prescott's statement will be adhered to by this employer or by any other employer under the PPP. Anything less is unacceptable.

"Of course we welcome Ken Livingstone's desire to bring Tube maintenance back in-house, but the fact remains that the guarantees we need can only come from the employer.

"When the jobs and pensions of our members are at stake - not to mention the Tube upgrades that the capital cannot do without - vague assurances are not enough, and the strike by our members will go ahead at 6pm on Monday," Bob Crow said.

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London Mayor Urges Unions to Halt Strike Plan at Tube

Bloomberg: Aug. 31
By Brian Lysaght

Mayor Ken Livingstone urged three labor unions to cancel plans to hold strikes against a London Underground contractor that may shut down part of the railway.

About 3,000 workers at Metronet Rail plan two 72-hour strikes, starting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3 and Sept. 10, to protest possible job losses and pension cuts after the company ran out of cash and collapsed last month.

The unions have said the strikes will have a "massive'' impact on the London Underground, which carries 3 million passengers a day. Livingstone, who met with officials from the rail unions yesterday, said he offered assurances that jobs and pensions would be maintained.

"As each of the issues which the trade unions have raised have been fully addressed, I believe the threatened strikes, next week and the week after, are not justified and should be called off,'' the mayor said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The unions are awaiting confirmation in writing from the Metronet administrator of the mayor's assurances, and if they get those, probably will call off the strikes, said a spokesman for the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, which attended the meeting with Livingstone along with the Rail, Maritime & Transport and Unite unions.

The RMT "welcomed'' the mayor's comments, though the strike remains on for now, a spokesman said in an interview.

Nine Lines

Metronet workers maintain trains, tracks and signaling systems on nine of the 12 London Underground lines: the District, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, East London, Bakerloo, Central, Victoria, and Waterloo & City lines.

The RMT said yesterday that drivers represented by the union would refuse to work during the Metronet strike if they were concerned about the condition of tracks or trains.

The company was put under the control of administrators on July 18. Transport for London, the city agency that operates London Underground, said last week it plans to make an offer to buy Metronet to get the company out of administration.

The company was a joint venture owned by WS Atkins Plc, Balfour Beatty Plc, Bombardier Inc., Thames Water and Electricite de France SA.

Ernst & Young LLC, Metronet's court-appointed administrator, had no immediate comment, a spokeswoman said.

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Maintenance strike set to disrupt Tube

Financial Times: September 1 2007
By Andrew Taylor in London

London Underground faces the threat of serious disruption during the first half of next week after unions declined to call off a planned strike by maintenance workers.

Workers employed by Metronet, the failed contractor responsible for maintaining more than two-thirds of the network, are due to stop work for 72 hours from 6pm on Monday.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT), representing 2,300 Metronet employees, said that the strike would go ahead. It claimed to have failed to win “unequivocal guarantees” from Metronet and its administrator that there would be no job losses, forced transfers and that pensions would be protected.

Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor, however, insisted that the union had been given the assurances that it required that “no Metronet staff should suffer any loss of pension, employment or be transferred”.

He said: “With clear assurances from the administrator and Metronet that there will be no job cuts, transfers or losses in pensions as a result of the collapse of Metronet, and my clear commitments for the future security of all Metronet staff, it would be unreasonable to proceed with strikes which will disrupt the lives of millions of Londoners and lose Metronet employees considerable sums in pay.”

Metronet, which was owned by five companies – WS Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier Transportation, EDF Energy and Thames Water – went into administration in July after it ran out of cash only four years into a £30bn programme to upgrade the Underground. It had sought £551m emergency funding but was granted only £121m by an independent arbiter.

The failed contractor is temporarily being run by its administrator, Alan Bloom of Ernst & Young. Mr Bloom the former Railtrack administrator, has been given public funding by Transport for London (TfL) to keep the network running. TfL has warned that services could be seriously disrupted if essential maintenance work is halted.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said on Friday: “When the government forced through the disastrous part-privatisation of the Tube, the deputy prime minister told the world that the pensions of our members would be safe.

“What we need from the administrator and Metronet is an unequivocal confirmation that Prescott’s statement will be adhered to by this employer or by any other employer under the PPP. Anything less is unacceptable.”

The collapse of Metronet was embarrassing for Gordon Brown who, as chancellor, backed the establishment of the public private partnership against stiff opposition from TfL and Mr Livingstone.

TfL last week expressed interest in restoring the failed contracts to public control for an initial period of up to two years. It did not rule out making the move permanent if the transfer proved successful.

The administrator has appointed Rothschild, the investment bank, to value the failed infrastructure company by the end of September after which it will consider whether to invite formal bids.

Vaz joins RMT's referendum call on EU Treaty

BBC News: 31 August 2007

Former Europe Minister Keith Vaz has added his voice to those calling for a referendum on the new EU treaty.
vaz.jpg
Keith Vaz says the British people should have a chance to vote

He told the BBC it was time for British people to be allowed to decide the UK's place in Europe "once and for all".

The referendum could be held on the same day as the next general election, the Labour MP for Leicester East said.

Critics say the treaty is almost the same as the discarded EU constitution, on which a referendum was promised, but ministers say this is not true.

'Convinced'

Mr Vaz told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We should not be afraid of actually putting this argument before the British people.

"We don't need a referendum on the reformed treaty because we didn't have one on the Nice Treaty or on Maastricht. But I think there's a difference between need and desirability.

"And I think once and for all we need to put this behind us by putting it to the British people.

"And I am absolutely convinced that we will win any test of public opinion as to whether or not the British people want us in Europe, at the heart of Europe, which is what's happened over the last 10 years, or whether they want us to turn our back on Europe."

The Tories, UKIP and the GMB and RMT unions have called for a referendum.

Ian Davidson, a Labour MP spearheading a campaign for a referendum, has told BBC News he believes he could gain the support of up to 120 Labour MPs.

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the constitution had been "abandoned" and MPs would see the new treaty was in the UK's best interests.

See also:

EU referendum pressure on Brown

Reuters: Aug 31, 2007
By Adrian Croft

LONDON - Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under renewed pressure to call a referendum on a European Union treaty on Friday when a former minister proposed asking voters if Britain should stay in the EU.

Unlike many of those calling for a referendum, Keith Vaz, a member of parliament for Brown's own Labour Party and one-time Europe minister, is pro-EU.

He sees a broader referendum as a way of stopping constant sniping by Eurosceptics at Britain's membership of the EU.

The Conservatives and some Labour MPs want Brown to hold a referendum on a proposed new EU treaty, saying it is little different from a defunct EU constitution which the government pledged to put to a popular vote.

The original treaty to establish a constitution for the EU was signed by member states in 2004 but never ratified after French and Dutch voters rejected it in national referendums.

Brown argues the successor treaty is much less far-reaching than the constitution and can be ratified by parliament as previous treaties have been.

Opponents of the treaty argue that it hands too much power to Brussels.

The debate creates a thorny problem for Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair as prime minister in June. Political analysts think there is a good chance British voters would reject the treaty, undermining Brown's authority and posing a headache for the EU.

"We don't need a referendum on the reform treaty ... but ... once and for all we need to put this behind us by putting it to the British people," Vaz said.

"I'm absolutely convinced that we will win any test of public opinion as to whether or not the British people want us in Europe," he told BBC radio.

SETTLING EU QUESTION

In an open letter to the Sun newspaper, Vaz said a referendum would "settle the Europe question for a generation."

He said a referendum should be held on the same day as Britain's next general election -- which Brown does not have to call until 2010 but which commentators believe could be held as early as this year.

The question Vaz would put to voters is: "Do you support Britain's continuing membership of the EU as set out under the terms of the reform treaty?"

Labour legislator Graham Stringer, a treaty opponent, said Vaz was proposing a broader referendum because pro-Europeans thought it would be easier to win a vote on British membership of the EU than on the treaty.

Stringer told the BBC he believed a majority of members of parliament favoured a referendum, opening the prospect parliament could force the government to hold a popular vote.

Conservative foreign affairs spokesman William Hague praised Vaz for calling for a referendum but said he was wrong to wrap it up with a "trick question" on Britain's EU membership.

Ministers repeated there was no need for a referendum.

The row over the referendum, together with the strong poll lead Brown has opened over the Conservatives, has fuelled speculation Brown could call a general election as early as October to seek popular backing for his stance.

A YouGov poll in Friday's Daily Telegraph showed Labour with an eight-point lead over the Conservatives, enough to give Brown a crushing 100-seat parliamentary majority at a general election.

August 30, 2007

Rail worker hit by train

Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser: Aug 29 2007

A MAN was seriously injured after being struck by a train at Leatherhead railway station Wednesday morning.

The victim, believed to be a member of staff, was hit by the 9.09am train from Waterloo to Guildford as it was leaving the platform at 10am.

Paramedics were still at the scene working on the employee, who was believed to have suffered head, arm and leg injuries,an hour and a half after the accident, before he was rushed to hospital by a helicopter at about 11.40am.

Robert Gillett, from Worcester Park, was on the train travelling to Guildford when the accident happened.

He said: "I was on the train going out of the station when it hit the man. It had only gone 50 yards out of the station and hit one of the workers on the track.

"I was on the train for an hour and a half and we did not know what was going on. All we were told was that there had been a serious incident on the train."

Elizabeth McKenzie was on her way to the shops in Guildford. She said: "The train just stopped at about 10am. I was just reading my paper when it happened. We weren't told anything and we didn't know anything until the guard came through when we were told that the train had hit a man."

A police inspector at the scene said: "Someone working on the tracks was hit by a train. He has been airlifted to hospital.

"The British Transport Police will be carrying out an investigation into what happened but the guy is in a very poorly condition."

The incident caused delays to commuters,and residents in the town were left wondering about the amount of police cars and sirens rushing through the streets.Water was being handed out to the passengers who were stuck on the train and rail operators were trying to organise buses to replace trains.

All trains were cancelled until 12.30pm to allow for an investigation to be carried out.

Resident Wendy Hill said: "There were sirens going like crazy and police helicopters hovering over the business park I work in. I couldn't get out of the office to find out what was going on."

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Rail worker hit by train is left severely injured

Surrey Advertiser: 31/8/2007
leatherhead.jpg
Emergency services at the scene of the incident at Leatherhead Station this week in which a railway worker was struck by a train

Emergency services at the scene of the incident at Leatherhead Station this week in which a railway worker was struck by a train

A RAILWAY worker is recovering from serious injuries in hospital after he was hit by a train at Leatherhead Station on Wednesday morning.

The man, a Network Rail employee believed to be in his mid-twenties, suffered serious head injuries and was left with all his ribs and both his legs broken after he was struck by the train at around 10am.

The driver of the 9.09am service from London Waterloo to Guildford via Epsom, raised the alarm after he feared he had hit someone on the tracks as he was pulling away from the station.

The British Transport Police (BTP) and two ambulances were sent to the scene immediately and paramedics began treating the man who was stuck between two trains.

A spokeswoman for South East Coast Ambulance Service said: “The man was given intensive treatment by paramedics at the scene but they had a difficult job because he was lying between two trains.

“He had severe head and chest injuries and fractured limbs.”

The man, who is from Walworth in south London, was eventually lifted to the Royal London Hospital at about 11.40am.

Commuters, who had been pulled off the train, were left stranded at the station as rail services were cancelled for more than four hours while officers from the British Transport Police investigated the scene.

Southern and South West Trains, which operate the affected train services from the station, laid on buses for the stranded passengers but these did not arrive until more than two hours later.

Railway staff also gave out bottles of water to those who were waiting to be rescued.

One commuter, who did not wish to be named, said he heard ambulance sirens from the nearby gym at just after 10am but did not realise what had happened until he went to the station to catch a train home.

He said: “I heard all the commotion but it wasn’t until I came round here and saw all the people waiting outside that I realised the seriousness of it all.

“No one I’ve spoken to seems to have seen what actually happened but apparently the guy was somehow stuck on the track and was hit.”

It is not yet known how the man came to be on the track as the train was leaving the station but National Rail confirmed the man had been carrying out work on a section of the line at Leatherhead.

As the Surrey Advertiser went to press on Thursday, the British Transport Police confirmed that the incident was being treated as a work-related accident and a rail accident investigation team was leading an investigation.

It was also confirmed that the man was still recovering at Royal London Hospital and was in a stable condition.

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Rail man crushed by trains

Sunday Mirror: 02/09/2007

A railway worker was being treated for serious injuries yesterday after being crushed between two trains.

The man, in his 30s, suffered head, chest, back and leg injuries after being hit by a train which dragged him along the tracks before hitting another train.

Rescuers spent an hour freeing the man at Leatherhead station in Surrey. He was then flown by air ambulance to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London.

A British Transport Police spokesman said his condition remained stable last night.

"He has two broken legs and he is being kept in for a scan," he added. "Doctors are concerned about any possible spinal injuries."

'One' staff vote by huge margin to strike for colleague

RMT: August 30 2007

RMT receives 'unprecedented public support' for sacked guard

RMT MEMBERS across 'One' railway - part of the National Express Group of companies - have voted by more than five to one to strike in support of a guard sacked following an incident with a violent and abusive fare evader, and against the company's neglect of staff safety.

The union, which has received an unprecedented number of messages of support from the public, is now consulting reps of its more than 800 'One' members in order to mount the most effective possible action.

More than I00 guards, revenue-protection inspectors and retail staff in north Essex have already taken two days of action in defence of Paul Yarwood, after previously voting by 83 to one to strike.

"Our members across 'One' have demonstrated their solidarity with Paul by voting overwhelmingly to strike," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"There is massive anger at the company's abysmal failure to stand by staff who face the daily danger of abuse and assault while management stay safely hidden away in their offices.

"We have received a huge number of supportive letters, emails and calls from members of the public who understand far better than the company the injustice that has been done.

"We thank those who have already contacted us, and would urge people to continue sending their protests to the company.

"We understand that people are having trouble getting through, but we will be happy to pass their messages on.

"Rather than continue to bury their heads in the sand, the company should recognise that its stance is unacceptable, re-instate Paul and start listening to its workforce.

"If they do not, they will face strike action by all our 800 members across the company," Bob Crow said.

ends

Note to editors: In the ballot that closed yesterday, RMT members voted by 300 to 59 to strike.

More than 100 guards based at Colchester and Clacton, revenue-protection inspectors based at Colchester and retail members between Chelmsford and Manningtree voted by 83 to one for action and struck on August 18 and 20.

Paul Yarwood, a guard with an exemplary record, was dismissed over an incident at Colchester North on June 7 involving an abusive fare evader who refused to stop smoking, assaulted a platform supervisor and threatened a passenger and other staff.

RMT sets deadline for safety assurances over Metronet strike

RMT: August 30 2007

LONDON UNDERGROUND’S biggest union has given Tube bosses until 17:00 today to provide assurances that train operators’ safety will not be undermined in the event of strikes by maintenance workers at failed privateer Metronet

Metronet maintenance workers are scheduled to strike for 72 hours from 18:00 on September 3, and again from 18:00 on September 10 over jobs, transfers and pensions arising out of Metronet's collapse and its being placed in administration.

RMT has told LUL that unless it receives unconditional assurances that drivers will not be expected to drive trains that have not been fully prepared and inspected by qualified staff over tracks that have not been properly inspected in line with minimum standards the union will be in dispute.

"Train operators are obviously concerned that if Metronet staff do take action, the regular train preparations and track inspections will not be undertaken within usual timescales," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Our members regard the current train-preparation and track-inspection procedures as minimum standards, and they are not prepared to see them diluted, temporarily or otherwise.

"I have told LUL that in the event of industrial action at Metronet, it is not acceptable for train operators to be asked to drive trains over track sections where either has not been the subject of the established preparation and checks, with or without dispensation from HMRI or the Chief Engineer.

"There is no way our members can be expected to put themselves or members of the public in danger, and I have made it clear to LUL that unless we receive the unconditional assurances we are seeking by 5pm today we will be in dispute," Bob Crow said.

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Union's safety fears over strikes

BBC News: 30 August 2007

A union has warned that a series of planned strikes on the London Underground could undermine safety.
metronet.jpg
Metronet went into administration after a projected £2bn overspend

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union wants guarantees safety checks on trains and tracks would not be compromised by the walk-outs.

Strike action is planned on 3 and 10 September in a row linked to the collapse of maintenance firm Metronet.

The RMT warned there would be another dispute if basic safety standards were not observed during the strikes.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Train operators are obviously concerned that if Metronet staff do take action, the regular train preparations and track inspections will not be undertaken within usual timescales.

"Our members regard the current train-preparation and track-inspection procedures as minimum standards, and they are not prepared to see them diluted, temporarily or otherwise."

Union leaders will meet London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Thursday for talks about the Metronet dispute.

Rail unions want guarantees that there will be no job losses, forced transfers or cuts in pensions as a result of the collapse.

Workers' discontent in Senegal on the “Small Suburban Train”

Agence Presse Senegalloise: August 20, 2007
ptb.jpg
A sit-in and arm-band protest since Monday

Staff on the "Small suburban train'' which connects Dakar to its suburbs from Monday, intend to undertake a 'sit down protest' accompanied by wearing red arm-bands all week, it has been learned from an authorised source. These actions are likely to cause delays to the traffic on this line. The workers want to force their employer to implement the agreement on staffing levels concluded 4 years ago with the workers, said the same source.

Abdou Khadre Diaeylani Diop, trade union communications and press relations officer for the workers of the "Small suburban train'' recalled that the workers are also demanding implementation, across the company, of the wage increase decided by the government.

The payment of the transport allowances, frozen since 2003 by the general management of the company, also appears in the workers' demands.

According to him, an all out strike stopping the trains cannot be ruled out, if the general management of the "Small suburban train'' does not meet the workers' demands.


See also:


Senegal: Small suburban train - the workers maintain the pressure

All Africa.com: August 21, 2007
Ndiaye tinder/Wal Fadjri (Dakar)

In order to win a transport allowance and a wage increase, the workers of the Small suburban train do not intend to retreat before any obstacle. Yesterday, they proved it, raising red arm-bands throughout a sit-in at Dakar station. And it will continue all week.

The workers of the Small Suburban Train (Petit train blue - 'Little Blue Train') are increasing the pressure: they decided, from yesterday, to hold a sit-in at Dakar station and a go-slow each day, from 12 to 3 p.m.

Raising red arm-bands, the railwaymen are ready to unstitch some with their direction, which with believing about it, refuses to increase their wages and to pay the transport allowance. After their meeting with the press the week spent to draw the bell from alarm on possible disturbances which the small train could know, the workers posed another act within the framework of their action plan. While taking care not to reveal the contents of this plan, the railwaymen promise nevertheless the unpleasant surprised ones.

“It is obvious that the stopping of the train is to be envisaged in the days to come if the authorities continue to neglect our claims”, plague in charge one of the communication of the Trade union of the workers of the Small suburban train, Abdoul Khadre Diop. According to this last, the train will run to the idle this week. What is likely to appear on all the levels of its course.

Indeed, so drivers, pointsmen, controllers and counter clerks observe a deceleration of their work, it is certain that the passengers will note several slownesses before arriving at destination. What can be avoided according to Mr. Diop “if the direction of the Small suburban train returns to better feelings”.

In charge one of the communication to reconsider the deceleration of work for saying that it will not consist with a sabotage but rather to put an end to all the sacrifices which the railwaymen authorized. Sometimes “It is able to the counter clerks to draw the tickets up to 2 a.m. from the morning and to total 5 a.m. to finish work with 11h30 mn. That will not be done any more because they will come from now on to 5h the morning only to do their work”, informs Abdoul Khadre Diop.

The next week if nothing is done, the railwaymen promise other actions, this “more muscular” time.

For recall, the workers of Ptb run, since October 2003, behind the granting of and a wage increase transport allowance issued by the State since 2004. The transport allowance to them had however been restored consequently direction of Ptb into 2003 which stopped it two months later.

In spite of that, the direction of Ptb camps on its decision since then: for it, one cannot profit at the same time from a housing and a transport allowance. Only, in the place of “housing”, the railwaymen prefer speech of “dormitory because it is rooms in which one sleeps to four sometimes”, they informed.

On the wage increase, the director of Ptb remained also inflexible on his positions, estimating to be able to pay an increase for which it does not have decree of application.

August 29, 2007

The Telegraph asks: 'Was privatising British Rail a mistake?'

Daily Telegraph: August 29, 2007

More than one train in eight is running late despite the spiralling cost of rail fares, a damning report on the state of Britain’s railways has revealed.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) claimed that nearly 400,000 passengers face delays every day because of track and signal failures.

This latest indictment of Britain's trains comes despite the fact that fares have risen by more than 27 per cent since the creation of Network Rail, a private company which oversees infrastructure, in 2002. Ticket prices are expected to go up by as much as 45 per cent over the next eight years.

Given the high cost and poor performance of the railway, do you think it was a mistake to privatise British Rail in 1996? Is the problem not privatisation itself, but the way in which it has been handled?

Is it possible to glean the benefits of privatisation from an industry that, by its nature, must function in part as a monopoly?

In your experience, are we better or worse off now than we were in the days of British Rail?

Why does Britain's rail network perform so much worse than those of other European countries? Or does it?

Plans to make passengers pay bigger share of rail costs may break law

Times Online: August 29, 2007
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent of The Times

Government plans to force rail passengers to pay a much higher share of the cost of running the network could result in a breach of competition law, according to the Office of Rail Regulation.

Recent large fare increases and plans for further rises will be discussed at a meeting next month between the rail regulator and the Department for Transport.

Bill Emery, ORR chief executive, will raise concerns that passengers are being exploited on many routes, where fares are rising well above inflation but there is no reasonable alternative to catching the train.

The DfT has agreed a series of deals with train companies in recent months under which fares will rise well above inflation every year for the next decade. Many passengers on the East Midlands, West Midlands and CrossCountry franchises will end up paying 30 per cent more in real terms.

Ministers announced last month they they intended to shift the burden of paying for the railway much more heavily to passengers, who paid 50 per cent of the cost this year but will pay 75 per cent by 2014.

From 2009, the annual subsidy for the railways will fall from £4.5 billion to £3 billion. The total collected in fares will rise from £5 billion a year to £6.7 billion by 2010 and £9 billion by 2014.

Mr Emery wrote to Mike Mitchell, the transport department’s rail director, telling him that the Government’s policy of trying to reduce rail subsidy and raise its income from profitable parts of the railway could result in “future tensions” with competition law.

Mr Mitchell replied this week, stating that fare increases were necessary to fund investment in the network.

The ORR is now conducting a study of how it could use the Competition Act to intervene to protect passengers from “excessive increases”.

John Thomas, its director of competition, said: “At some point in the future there could be a tension between the Government accepting high-premium franchises but fares being excessive for passengers travelling between certain stations.”

In order to prove a breach of competition law, it would be necessary to show that fares were significantly higher than the cost of providing the service, he said. This raised the complex issue of cross-subsidy, under which profits from the busiest parts of the network are used to subsidise loss-making routes.

Mr Emery also gave warning that Network Rail’s directors could lose part of their annual bonuses if performance failed to improve on the Great Western route, where a quarter of trains run late.

The ORR is considering taking enforcement action against Network Rail, including imposing a fine.

It said that part of the reason for the slow rate of improvement on other lines, especially those in the South East, was that new trains were much heavier and caused more damage to the tracks. The heavier trains have been brought in over the past two years or so by the Southern, Southeastern, and South West Trains companies.

Track faults increased on the national network in the period April to June 2007 and the ORR said that Network Rail had attributed this increase “in part to the impact of new trains in the south of England, arising from the higher contact stresses from heavier trains with stiffer suspension”.

The number of temporary speed restrictions, caused by condition of track, that were in place by the end of June this year had fallen compared with the same time last year. The one area where there had been no decrease was the South East.

New trains 'too heavy for tracks'

BBC News: 29 August 2007

New trains which have been introduced on several southern England routes have experienced track problems and rail delays because of their heavier weight.
set.jpg
New trains with electric doors are heavier than old slam-door trains

The trains have been brought in by Southern, South West Trains, and Southeastern companies.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said the heavier trains were "causing a different sort of wear to the track".

Network Rail has blamed more track faults in part on "heavier trains with stiffer suspension".


"Too many trains are being delayed and cancelled because of infrastructure problems that are the responsibility of NR" - Bill Emery, Office of Rail Regulation chief executive

The trains have been brought in over the past two years.

A spokesperson from Network Rail said: "As part of the programme to allow new trains on the railway south of the Thames, Network Rail invested £440m on the Southern Power Upgrade scheme.

"The new trains are heavier and have stiffer suspensions than their predecessors so Network Rail - along with its stakeholders - is working to deliver a maintenance regime that is appropriate to the conditions."

He said Network Rail's new role in participating in the design of future trains would ensure that new trains would be even better designed, safer and lighter.

Although the number of temporary speed restrictions due to the condition of the track had fallen by the period prior to June this year, there was no decrease in South East England.

'Recipe for confusion'

An ORR spokesperson said: "Train companies will have to work out a different maintenance regime. The heavier trains are causing a different sort of wear to the track."

In its report, the ORR said it was concerned that the delays attributed to Network Rail had increased and that it was particularly concerned about one route in particular.

ORR chief executive Bill Emery said: "We are seriously concerned about Great Western and we have met with Network Rail to make sure they are fully aware of our concerns.

He said too many trains are being delayed and cancelled because of infrastructure problems.

Gerry Doherty, of the TSSA rail union, said: "This could only happen in Britain where we have such a fragmented rail network.

"Network Rail gets the blame for delays caused by trains that are owned by the banks and leased to the private rail operating companies. It is a recipe for confusion."

When asked if the problem could have been foreseen, Michael Lee, of the ORR, said: "It was predictable only up to a point. I don't think you could call this a mistake."

Network Rail braced for second fine

Daily Telegraph: 29/08/2007
By David Millward, Transport Editor

Network Rail is facing its second huge fine in a matter of months because of the delays it has inflicted on passengers in the Thames Valley, West Country and South Wales.

Rail regulators, who last month hit the company with a £2.4m penalty for failing to complete a signalling scheme on time, are ready to act again.

This time the fine could be far higher as it involves delays on one of the country's key routes - the line linking Paddington and South Wales.

The move comes within weeks of Network Rail being carpeted over its performance by the Government. Tom Harris, the rail minister, called in senior executives to demand an explanation why punctuality is worsening after Network Rail's promises to improve it.

Chris Bolt, the chairman of the Office of Rail Regulation, told The Daily Telegraph that after years of improvement Network Rail's performance has stalled. In some parts of the country, notably the Thames Valley, West Country and South Wales, delays due to poor signalling and infrastructure have got worse. "Performance on the western route has been particularly poor," Mr Bolt said.

Some of the difficulties are down to the train operator, First Great Western (FGW), but many were the fault of Network Rail, the not-for-dividend infrastructure company.

"We took enforcement action against Network Rail in Portsmouth," said Mr Bolt, referring to the £2.4m fine. "If we see Network Rail failing to deliver again, we will consider enforcement action again."

The latest punctuality statistics are embarrassing for both the Government and train operators as they come at a time when they are under pressure from passengers over both overcrowding and fares.

The latest figures, which do not include July when parts of the network were flooded, show passengers faced 650,000 minutes of delays over the previous 12 months - the equivalent of 30 seconds on every journey a rail passenger takes. Six months ago the figure was 600,000 minutes.

The problems are reflected in some services running spectacularly late. One of the worst incidents led to thousands of Chelsea and Arsenal fans missing most of the Carling Cup final in Cardiff after trains ran up to two hours late because of signal failure at Newport. Although the fault - a defective cable - was discovered at 6am on the day of the match, a replacement did not arrive until 4.45pm, having been delivered from Exeter.

Deteriorating punctuality over the past year has also been a source of tension between Network Rail and rail companies. Earlier this year the Department for Transport tried to hush up an embarrassing row between the Association of Train Operating Companies and Network Rail.

This followed a decision by ATOC, which represents 24 companies, to table a critical resolution at Network Rail's annual meeting last month. Mike Mitchell, head of railways at the DfT, made it clear to George Muir, ATOC's director-general, that the Government did not wish to see a public falling out between train operators and the infrastructure company. Although it was voted down, train operators felt the need to speak out over the problems they faced trying to run services on time. They said that Network Rail delays - due to signal and track problems and overrunning engineering works - were 24pc worse than under Railtrack seven years ago.

Punctuality was one of the key targets for the industry in the Government's rail White Paper last month. With reliability at 88pc already, it set a target of 92.6pc of trains running on time by 2014.

But figures covering four weeks up to June 23 showed train delays were 15,848 minutes more than they should have been. This could see Network Rail executive directors Iain Coucher, Ron Henderson and Peter Henderson (no relation) receiving lower bonuses, as could the failure to meet punctuality targets.

Now, The Daily Telegraph has learned, it is not only the regulators whose patience is running out, but also that of the Government and Mr Harris in particular. Earlier this year he criticised FGW for levels of overcrowding that saw passengers forced to stand in trains' toilet cubicles after a new timetable was introduced.

Watchdog Passenger Focus said: "Train companies are making efforts to [cut] delays. We want to see a lot more being done by Network Rail so we can depend on the timetable."

A Network Rail spokesman said its calculations showed performance was improving, rather than deteriorating, but he added: "In recent weeks there has been a problem with severe weather conditions."

August 28, 2007

120 Labour MPs 'may back EU vote'

BBC News: 28 August 2007

Up to a third of Labour MPs may support calls for an EU Treaty referendum, says a Labour MP spearheading the campaign.

Ian Davidson told the BBC he believed he could persuade up to 120 MPs to support a referendum on the new treaty.

He said it was "virtually identical" to the failed EU constitution - on which a referendum had been promised.

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the constitution had been "abandoned" and MPs would see the new treaty was in Britain's best interests.

The Conservatives have been calling for a referendum on the treaty, which they also say is practically the same as the failed EU Constitution - on which Labour had promised a referendum in 2004.

Labour 'disquiet'

UKIP and the GMB and RMT unions have joined calls for a referendum.

Eurosceptic Glasgow South West MP Mr Davidson said disquiet in the Labour party was similar to that in 2004 - when former prime minister Tony Blair bowed to calls for a referendum.


"The treaty and the constitution are essentially the same thing" - Ian Davidson


He told the BBC he was confident he could persuade up to 120 MPs, who had backed a referendum in 2004, that it was still needed.

He said the strength of feeling then had persuaded the government to concede to a referendum and he believed the policy was currently in "transition".

"You have got to remember that last time the government were completely against the referendum, until they were in favour of it - and once they were in favour of it, it was almost impossible to find anyone who was against it," he said.

"The vast majority of Labour MPs have assumed that the treaty and the constitution are different.

"But once we explain to them that they are actually, in fact, virtually identical, they come back to the traditional view that they had before - and that was that our manifesto commitment has got to be honoured, that we have got to have a referendum on this constitution."

Constitution 'abandoned'

He said: "The treaty and the constitution are essentially the same thing."

Mr Davidson added that he believed the caveats and exemptions the government had said it had secured would not stand up against an "attack from the European Court of Justice".


"As Parliament gets to grips with the reform treaty that comes out come December, as they look line by line, they will see first that it's good for Britain" - David Miliband


But the foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that 27 European heads of state had signed a document in June saying the constitutional concept "has been abandoned".

"As Parliament gets to grips with the reform treaty that comes out come December, as they look line by line, they will see first that it's good for Britain," Mr Miliband said.

He added: "It's very different from the constitution in absolute essence and ... the 'red lines' - the key national interest in foreign policy and other areas of the United Kingdom - have been protected."

And Michael Connarty, the Labour chairman of the Commons European scrutiny committee, added: "I don't think the referendum call will be as strong as 120 and I don't think it's sustainable or necessary."

See also:


Growing push for EU treaty vote dogs Brown

Reuters: Aug 28, 2007
By Adrian Croft

LONDON - Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced a growing revolt on Tuesday over his refusal to hold a referendum on a new European Union treaty when a group of Labour MPs urged him to allow the public a vote.

MP Ian Davidson wrote to Brown on behalf of an unspecified number of Labour MPs to say the treaty should be put to a referendum unless the government pushed for and achieved 12 amendments.

Davidson told Reuters he estimated as many as 120 of the 353 Labour MPs, including some ministers who did not wish to come forward publicly, backed calls for a referendum.

"We want the European Union to be a success but do not support 'ever closer union', nor the creation of a European superstate. All the available evidence indicates that our view is shared by a clear majority of Labour voters and by the people of our country," Davidson's letter said.

Last week two trade unions -- traditional Labour Party backers -- urged Brown to hold a referendum on the treaty. Brown believes the treaty can be ratified by parliament.

The demands are an embarrassment to Brown and risk spoiling the honeymoon he has enjoyed with his party and voters since succeeding Tony Blair as prime minister two months ago.

Brown has fuelled speculation he may call an early general election this year or next but he would risk the campaign being dominated by the referendum issue.

He has resisted calls from the Conservatives for a referendum. The Daily Telegraph is also campaigning for a popular vote and says more than 62,000 of its readers have signed up.

TOUGH BATTLE

In the letter to Brown, Davidson said the proposed EU treaty was "virtually identical" to the European Constitution scrapped after French and Dutch voters rejected it in 2005.

The government was therefore bound by a promise it had made to give Britons a vote on the defunct constitution, he said.

The government says the proposed treaty is much less ambitious than the constitution and can be ratified by parliament. Brown's spokesman said on Tuesday that the prime minister's position had not changed.

Davidson sent Brown a list of 12 amendments to the treaty that they said might remove the need for a referendum if London could persuade its EU partners to accept them.

EU leaders have ruled out readdressing a delicate compromise on the treaty agreed at Blair's last summit in Brussels in June. Brown backed Blair's strategy of insisting on "red lines" where Britain would not give up powers to Brussels.

The Labour MPs who wrote to Brown opposed the creation of an EU diplomatic service. They called for the current EU voting system to be kept, saying proposed changes would make it harder for Britain to block EU laws.

See also:


Gwyneth Dunwoody joins Labour EU rebellion

Daily Telegraph: 25/08/2007
By Christopher Hope and Brendan Carlin

The Labour rebellion against Gordon Brown's refusal to hold a referendum on the European Union's new reform treaty gathered pace when Gwyneth Dunwoody, one of the party's senior backbenchers, backed calls for a national vote.

Gwyneth Dunwoody: 'I believe we have to make an exception'

The number of readers who have backed The Daily Telegraph campaign for a referendum has surged through the 60,000 mark. Readers are returning coupons and signing the online petition at a rate of 1,500 a day.

Last night, it emerged that a "hard core" of 40 Labour MPs is preparing to put a 15-point plan to the Prime Minister calling for a referendum or amendments to the treaty.

Mr Brown appeared to set his face against having a referendum when he said this week: "The proper way to discuss this is in the House of Commons and the House of Lords."

But Gwyneth Dunwoody, the Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich and chairman of the Commons transport committee, said: "Normally, parliamentarians do not like referenda and in my case, I believe Parliament is sovereign. But when Parliament gets it wrong, we may need other means of finding out what the British public think on major changes which would have impacts across many aspects of our national life."

Mrs Dunwoody, who entered Parliament more than 40 years ago, added: "I have strong reservations about the new moves on the part of Europe to consolidate legislation and have great concerns about the proposed changes. So in the rare case of the EU treaty, I believe we have to make an exception and have a referendum."

Ian Davidson, the Labour MP for Glasgow South-West, said: "The only circumstance in which a referendum would not be necessary is if the treaty is substantially altered."

Union barons also said they supported a referendum.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said: "We support the EU, but need to have a debate on its future direction. Trade unions across Europe have fought tooth and nail to protect their own public services against repeated attempts by European leaders and officials to sell us out to foreign business."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The 27 member states were very clear in June that the constitutional concept is abandoned. The Reform Treaty will be different in form and content to the old Constitutional Treaty. The existing treaties remain in place as the basis of the union - there will be no free-standing, single consolidated text. There will be no transfer of power away from the UK on issues of fundamental importance to our sovereignty.

"A number of countries, including the UK, have negotiated specific arrangements through protocols and opt-ins. So the impact of the treaty will be different in different countries, depending on the deal."

What they said:

GISELA STUART, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and former UK parliamentary representative on the Convention on the Future of Europe: "I would have thought that it [the call for a referendum] was a classic New Labour agenda. We are the party that has asked the people far more often than any other party has done before. I can see, having skimmed through this new document, that all the big items are still in there."

GWYNETH DUNWOODY, Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich and chairman of Commons transport committee: "The proposed EU treaty needs to be debated in great detail. I have strong reservations about the moves on the part of Europe to consolidate legislation and have great concerns about the proposed changes. In the rare case of the treaty, I believe we have to make an exception and have a referendum."

MIKE HANCOCK, Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South and member of the Commons defence committee: "I believe there should be a referendum and I hope my party will honour its commitment in our 2005 manifesto. This is more or less the same package of proposals that were contained in the previous EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters. A national vote is needed if only on the proposed defence mechanisms."

MARK FRANCOIS, Conservative MP for Rayleigh and shadow Europe minister: "A string of EU leaders and independent commentators accept this document is effectively the EU constitution under another name. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of its greatest advocates, said in June that '... the substance of the constitution is preserved'. Eighty per cent of the British people want a referendum."

BOB CROW, general secretary of the RMT union: "Chancellor Merkel says it's essentially the same document, former French president Giscard d'Estaing says it's 'very, very near' the original. So does Giuliano Amato, who should know, because he helped write it. It is the back-door constitution that would transform the EU into a state and transfer power to an unelected EU government. For working people it would be a disaster."

PAUL KENNY, general secretary of the GMB union: "GMB members are sick of being treated as second-class citizens in Europe. If these rights are good enough for French, German and Spanish workers, they should be good enough to apply to UK workers. We are dealing with political cowardice - a failure by the Labour Party to stand up to the multi-millionaire elite at the CBI and a fear of arguing the case in front of the electorate.

World's second richest man sells EWS - buys US rail freight firms

Associated Press: 08.28.07
Joshua Lipton

Warren Buffett, the world's secondest richest man after Microsoft pioneer, Bill Gates, since agreeing the sale of EWS to Deutsche Bahn has continued to increase his stake in North American rail freight firms including Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

All aboard at Berkshire Hathaway.

Warren Buffett's company reported that it has raised its stake in the railroad sector, buying up 10.1 million shares of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, increasing the firm's position in the railroad to nearly 14.8%.

In documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Berkshire showed it bought more than 4.3 million shares for $79.96 apiece on Aug. 23 and nearly 2.5 million shares for $79.97 on Aug. 24.

On Aug. 27, the company bought more than 3.3 million shares for $80 apiece.

Earlier in the month, Berkshire reported that it bought 2.5 million shares of the railroad. Berkshire's total stake is now 52.1 million shares.

Buffett has become a serious fan of the railroad industry, where his company has bought some sizable pieces of firms. In May, Berkshire revealed it owned 10.5 million shares of Union Pacific and nearly 6.4 million shares of Norfolk Southern.

In morning trading on Tuesday, shares of Burlington Northern Santa Fe increased 0.5%, or 37 cents, to $80.70.

Differentiating Burlington from its rivals is its transcontinental route from Los Angeles to Chicago, which is the shortest of all its competitors. Also, the company has a significant agricultural business, and not much exposure to the struggling automotive sector.

Buffett, the world's second-richest person, isn't the only investor curious about pushing cash into the railroad sector. Fortress Investment Group agreed to buy Florida East Cost Industries for $3.5 billion in May. Florida East is a regional rail freight hauler.

German train drivers agree not to strike for another month

Associated Press: August 28, 2007

BERLIN -- A union representing German train drivers has agreed not to call a strike before the end of September while it tries to end a pay dispute with the national railway, negotiators said Tuesday.

After two weeks of mediation by a pair of veteran conservative politicians, The GDL union said it would not call out its members before Sept. 30 in its bitter dispute with railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG.

Deutsche Bahn agreed in return to negotiate with GDL on a deal that union chairman Manfred Schell said he hoped would result in "substantial improvements" in both pay and working hours for drivers.

GDL originally sought a deal separate from other unions. However, two other unions will join the pay talks.

Mediators were called in earlier this month after GDL members voted to strike in support of the union's wage demands, threatening widespread disruption in the busy summer season. Deutsche Bahn responded by obtaining a series of injunctions to block walkouts.

GDL had sought a pay increase of up to 31 percent for its members, and has rejected a 4.5 percent raise that Deutsche Bahn agreed in July in talks with the two other unions, Transnet and GDBA.

GDL says the drivers currently earn about €1,500, or US$2,050 per month after taxes, an amount it calls inadequate. The unions also have pointed to healthy earnings at Deutsche Bahn, which is preparing for partial privatization next year.

See also:

Deutsche Bahn, GdL union agree to resume wage talks - negotiators

AFX News Limited: 08.28.07

BERLIN (Thomson Financial) - Deutsche Bahn AG and train drivers' union GdL agreed to resume wage negotiations jointly with union Transnet and GDBA, averting possible further strikes, according to negotiators Heiner Geissler and Kurt Biedenkopf.

The two former politicians have been acting as mediators between the German rail operator and the union for the past two weeks.

GdL has pledged not to launch strikes until Sept 30, they said.

Deutsche Bahn last month came to an agreement with Transnet and GDBA, under which workers will receive a 4.5 pct pay raise and a one-time bonus payment of 600 eur.

Until recently, GdL has refused to negotiate with DB, saying a pay hike of as much as 31 pct is needed to align its members' salaries with those of train drivers in other European countries.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn declined to make an agreement with GdL that is not in line with the other two unions.

Mental health services ‘not doing enough’ to prevent railway suicides

The Times: August 28, 2007
David Rose

LONDON The number of people who died on the railways rose last year, amid claims that the processes in place for preventing suicides are not working.

The British Transport Police and Network Rail, the railway operator, said that mental health services were not taking enough action to treat the increasing number of people known to be a suicide risk.

Nearly 300 deaths were recorded on the mainline network and London Underground in 2006-07, about a fifth more than in previous years. The vast majority were thought to be suicides, transport officers said. A separate log of incidents by Network Rail recorded 219 suicides in 2006 – the highest number for more than a decade. These caused nearly 5,000 hours of delays. Officers said that some people were being turned away by mental health services, despite evidence of previous attempts to kill themselves on the railways.

Opposition parties have suggested that cuts to mental health services could be responsible for a spate of recent cases where local authorities refused to admit patients to hospital.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “Access to mental health services is not as good as it should be, in part because of cutbacks in the NHS.”

August 27, 2007

Cumbria rail crash report to question safety of 1960s track technology

The Guardian: August 27, 2007
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

· State of 700 sets of points called into question
· Network Rail braces for outburst of public concern

The safety of up to 700 sets of points used across the rail network will be called into question next month as a key report outlines the causes of last February's fatal train crash in Cumbria.

A study of the Grayrigg derailment, due to be published over the next fortnight, will provoke concern about decades-old railway technology that is still in widespread use.

The rail industry report is expected to state that Network Rail will examine the design of groundframe points after a faulty set derailed a Virgin train travelling at 95mph on February 23 2007 killing one person and injuring 22. If the equipment needs to be replaced the rail infrastructure firm would have to change up to 700 sets of points at a cost of millions.

Network Rail is braced for another outburst of public concern about the safety of the railways once the report is published. Confidence in the railways has recovered significantly since the Potters Bar crash which killed seven people in 2002, but industry sources have warned that the Grayrigg report will make alarming reading because of the incident's similarities with Potters Bar, which was also caused by faulty points.

A rail industry source said there are question marks over whether groundframe points, designed in the 1960s, are robust enough for modern rail travel: "The issue of whether they are the right type of points needs to be addressed." The source added that a wholesale replacement programme might be needed because doubts over the points could force Network Rail to step up track inspections, which could in turn delay trains.

"If Network Rail ends up having to inspect these points every three days instead of every seven days it could interrupt services. So they could mitigate that by replacing these points altogether."

A Network Rail spokesman said yesterday that the analysis of what caused the crash will be hard-hitting. He added that, despite the emphasis on problems within local management, the report would recommend changes at a national level.

"The report will be sobering reading for Network Rail," he said. "It will be the first time that the rail industry has ever published anything as thorough as this. Right from the start we have held up our hands about the incident."

The industry report, produced with most of the input coming from Network Rail and Virgin Trains, will be followed later this year by a further report from the Department for Transport's Rail Accident Investigation Branch. That report is expected to raise concerns over the groundframe points in more detail. Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways magazine, said groundframe points posed a threat only if they were inspected infrequently. "They need to be maintained regularly and properly. Quality and frequency of maintenance is the key," he said.

Alongside concerns over the points, the study's focus will be a breakdown in communications among Network Rail's Cumbria workforce which contributed directly to the crash. It is expected to state that track inspections were not carried out as planned, that records of inspections were flawed and that safety certification used by some engineers had expired.

Industry sources also confirmed reports yesterday that two different inspection teams thought the other had inspected the points prior to the crash and therefore failed to inspect a crucial stretch of track at Grayrigg. As a result, a Virgin Pendolino train travelling from London to Glasgow on the night of February 23 was derailed by a broken set of points that should have been noticed earlier by track inspection teams.

British Transport police have arrested a 46-year-old Network Rail employee in connection with the crash. Network Rail executives were forced to freeze their own bonus payments in May. They performed the about-turn hours after saying they would pocket the payouts despite suspending bonuses for 119 fellow employees in the wake of the crash. Four current and former executive directors are due a total of £286,000 in bonuses. The 119 employees, who will be told whether they get their payouts once the investigation is completed, are mostly maintenance workers in the Grayrigg area.

The report is expected to put the executive bonuses under pressure, but Network Rail executives are adamant that the main causes of the crash were due to a failure of the local maintenance system and did not reflect problems at a national level.

August 26, 2007

Debate: EU Constitution referendum

BBC News: 24 August 2007

Several trade unions are pushing for a referendum on the European Union treaty, arguing it is almost the same as the abandoned EU constitution, on which a public vote was promised. But the government says the two documents are very different and no referendum is needed. On BBC Newsnight on Wednesday 22 August RMT General Secretary, Bob Crow put the case for British voters to have the right to vote in a referendum. He was opposed by Labour MEP Gary Titley.

BOB CROW, GENERAL SECRETARY OF RMT UNION
crow.jpg
Bob Crow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it's essentially the same document.

Former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing says it's "very, very near" the original.

So does former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, who should know, because he helped write it.

According to Amato: "The proposed new treaty and supplementary protocols take over almost all the innovations contained in the constitutional treaty.

"They only leave aside the symbolic changes which were introduced by the constitutional treaty - such as the title of the treaty or the symbols of the union."

Dozens of EU leaders openly admit the same thing, yet UK politicians are trying to claim that it is a different treaty to convince us there is no need for the referendum we were promised two years ago.

Whatever you call the EU Reform Treaty, it contains the same anti-democratic mix that was in the constitution supposedly killed off by French and Dutch votes in 2005.

It is the back-door constitution which would still transform the EU into a state, and transfer power to an unelected EU government.

For working people it would be a disaster, further institutionalising the mis-named economic "liberalisation", forcing more privatisation of public services and abolishing vetoes over transport and a host of other areas

GARY TITLEY MEP, LABOUR LEADER IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
titley.jpg
Gary Titley

People say the European Constitution and the reform treaty are the same.

But you could say my car and a Formula One racing car are the same. They've got four wheels and an engine - but that's about it.

The constitution and the reform treaty are two very different things.

The government said there would be a referendum on the constitution, but there isn't a constitution anymore.

The changes in the new reform treaty are only minimal, not fundamental, and therefore no referendum is needed.

The European Union is a process and not a state, and the reform treaty is simply about modernising and updating the rules.

We have got a parliamentary democracy and Parliament should decide that.

The RMT is arguing that the UK has opted out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

This is wrong. What we have done is made the wording clearer to show that the European Court should not make changes which alter or make the charter worse.

We need this because of the way the British common law system works, which is entirely different from continental Europe.

The treaty is about modernising and streamlining and trying to make the EU simpler.

Most people aren't interested in the processes. They want to know what Europe does, not how it does it.

It's about jobs and energy and competing in a globalised world. The treaty is a means to those ends rather than the end itself.

See also:


Ex-minister demands EU referendum

BBC News: 26 July 2007

Labour former minister Gisela Stuart has criticised the government for not holding a referendum on the EU treaty.

gisela_stuart.gif
Ms Stuart said all the major points of the constitution were in the treaty

She said it was "extremely misleading" to say, as the treaty suggests, that it gives back more power to member states than the abandoned EU constitution.

Ms Stewart, who helped draw up the original constitution, said it was important to give voters a say.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists a referendum is unnecessary because the UK has secured a series of opt-outs.

The government had previously promised to hold a referendum before the constitution was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands.

Ms Stuart, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, said she had read an "unofficial" translation of the new constitutional treaty and "all the big items" from the previous document had been retained.

'Trust'

She told MPs: "The red lines that we now say we have secured and therefore don't need a referendum, actually those red lines were already protected in the constitutional treaty on which we were prepared to give a referendum. Nothing has changed.

"This is now a question of trust. It is a question of having given a commitment to a referendum on a document which we say is good for Britain.

"We actually should ask the people to endorse that. If we are so confident it is good, we should have the confidence to ask the people."

Ms Stuart, who was a member of the group which drew up the original constitution, told MPs: "The foreign secretary and the Europe minister, who at the moment deny this treaty is substantial enough that we should be bound by that promise, they are either being deliberately disingenuous or ill-informed."

'Fundamental'

The EU treaty was published in draft form on Monday.

The Tories say it would "fundamentally change" Britain's place in the EU and are calling for a referendum.

On Wednesday, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said there was "near unanimity" across Europe that the treaty was "simply the substance of the EU constitution repackaged".

But Mr Brown has accused the Tories of returning to an "old agenda" on Europe.

Negotiated before he took over from Tony Blair as prime minister, the treaty gives an opt-out on a human and social rights charter and keeps an independent foreign policy and tax and benefit arrangements.

Europe minister Jim Murphy told the BBC: "We wouldn't sign up to any treaty that transferred in any significant way, any UK sovereignty to the European Union."

When it was put to him that others said there had only been cosmetic changes to the old constitution, he said: "The UK has signed up to a UK version of the European treaty."

There will be three months of talks on the text of the new treaty aimed at reforming the 27-member European Union.

The final text is expected to be ready in time for a summit in Lisbon in October.

10,000 rail workers to strike today in Sri Lanka

Sunday Times: August 26, 2007

More than ten thousand railway workers will launch a 24-hour token strike beginning midnight today in protest against what they called the Transport Minister’s failure to address their grievances.

Railway trade union spokesman S. Manawadu said last night they had handed over a petition to the minister, listing their grievances, including salary anomalies and delays in promotions, but little or no action had been taken to address them.

He said the 15 independent railway trade unions in the Union for the Protection of Workers’ Rights and Railway Property (UPWRRP) would join the strike. A Railway Control Room official said last night that train services were unlikely to be disrupted as most of the striking workers were maintenance workers.

See also:


Unions to derail railways today

Daily Mirror: August 26, 2007
By Sandun A. Jayasekera

Rail services are expected to be partly crippled as a section of the Railway employees of the Organization for Protection of Properties and Rights of Railway Employees (OPPRRE) launch a one day token strike on their six demands today.

OPPRRE convener Sumathipala Manawadu told the Daily Mirror yesterday that he expects a major disruption of the service as nearly 10,000 employees representing eight trade unions would strike work today.

However, GMR Lalithasiri Gunaruwan expressed confidence that the rail services would not be crippled as the majority of the 17,000 strong work force would be turning up for duty as usual.

“The token strike would be a flop today as only less than ten trade unions are to take part,” he added.

The strikers are demanding an end to rail delays, removal of salary anomalies created by the 2006/06 Ministry circular, resumption of distress loan payments, confirmation of the 2642 contract, casual and substitute employees in their posts, promotions to employees who are entitled to and have been denied for 15 years and the filling of 5,333 existing vacancies in the railway service.

“We are expecting a collapse of the railway service today as OPPRRE and eight other affiliated trade unions are launching the strike.

However, we are waiting for an invitation from Transport Minister Dulles Alahapperuma for a discussion as early as possible to sort out our problems,” Mr. Manawadu said.

Addressing the media on Friday, Transport Minister Dulles Alahapperuma said he has endeavored to bring some discipline and efficiency to the service ever since he assumed duties as Transport Minister.

“I accept that many of the demands are fair. But the problem is, the Railways Department is heavily burdened with financial constraints as it earns only Rs. 2.5 billion a year while the expenditure runs to some Rs. 7.5 billion. We owe a fuel bill of Rs. 1.5 million to the CPC alone,” he said.

With the largest budgetary allocation in the history of the Railways pledged by the Treasury for 2008, the Ministry would be in a position to meet the majority of the demands sooner than later, Minister Allahapperuma assured.

Nigerian Rail Transport: You’ll Never Know What You’re Missing

This Day: 08.26.2007
Eugene Agha

The Nigeria Railway Corporation has over the years been going through some difficult times. Some of its challenges include poor government funding and dilapidated engines. But despite these handicaps, the corporation has managed to provide skeletal inter-city shuttle services in Lagos State.

Iyabo Tanibegiloju is a 42 year-old mother of five. She lives with her five children in the shanty area of Ebute Metta, a suburb of Lagos. Her husband died some years ago and the bulk of fending for her children fall squarely on her shoulders. She had come to terms with this stack reality, since her husband’s relations, were only struggling to eke a living for themselves. Since her husband’s death she has been operating a restaurant along the railway line at Agege, another suburb of the metropolis.

Her day begins around 4am daily and end as late as 9.30pm to 10pm. Since she is expected to wake up and prepare some of the food to be sold from home. However, getting to her house in the evening, formally, was like a nightmare, since she needed to contend with the heavy traffic situation in the State until she discovered the local train shuttle operated by the Lagos District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).

Now, rather than leave her house as early as 5.30am or 6am, she now set out on her journey around 7am to catch up with any of the local train shuttle that takes her to Agege. Unlike before when she normally spends between N1,000 and N1,500 to get her items to her restaurants, she now spends between N150 and N200 to get the same items and two of her children conveyed to the same place. Apart from assisting their mother to sell food to the numerous customers who throng her restaurant, three of her children also attend one of the public schools in the area.

For her, the use of train came as a suiting relief for her. According to her, apart from the financial stress, which going by commercial bus tells on her, the mere thought of being held up in the never- ending Lagos traffic was killing.

“It takes me a little less than an hour to travel all the way from Ebute Metta junction to Agege. The time varies, as a result of the number of stops each train makes while in transit. But it use to take me far more than that before, to get to my business place going by commercial bus. Now I have enough time to rest and still prepare for the next day business,” Iyabo told THISDAY in Yoruba during one of the train rides from Ebute Metta to Agege.

To her, it is also fun as she have enough time to think and plan for the next day, while on her way home, something she could not have done inside a commercial bus. According to her, it is either somebody is quarreling with the driver or the conductor over change or how much to be paid.

Iyabo would want more funding for the Corporation so that it can operate more than two trips in a day. This she said will also improve on the internally generated revenue of the corporation. Another passenger who feels the same way is James, a factory worker in Ikeja. His daily activities begin from 5am, when he expected to prepare for the day’s job. He told THISDAY that he is expected to resume work for the day as early as 6am and as such, to travel from his house in Mushin, another shanty area of Lagos State to his place of worker was quite scary, until he discovered the local train shuttle.

“I have never missed it since I started using the rail transport two years ago and now I can afford to save some few naira note for the rainy day since my salary cannot support me entirely” he added. James further stated that traveling by train was also fun since one will meet all manners of people inside. He said the most interesting aspect of the whole thing is that nobody cares to know who you are. As far as you are inside the train, you automatically become one.

“Some of us can identify a first timer on the train. One can be identified by the way he or she would try to disassociate himself or herself from other passengers,” he explained.

But Frank feels differently. He believes that more could be done by the Federal Government to get the Corporation back on its feet, rather than allow it to be chased out of business by those who are into to the business of haulage. According to him, the Nigeria Railway Corporation once had the single largest network of transport services in the country. He argued that there was a time that the only means which one could connect the northern part of the country was by train though it takes longer time then, it was sure to get one to ones destination.

Relishing one of the numerous trips he had in the 70s, Frank told THISDAY that his father was a petty trader in Jos, Plateau State, while his mother and three of his siblings were living in the eastern part of the country.

“During holidays, I travel by rail to meet my father in Jos by joining the train from Enugu. Then the shrill horn and the locomotive engine of the train was the only thing you could hear in the forest as the train glides towards its destination. It could take as long as three days to travel from Enugu to Jos, while at times it takes over one week, depending on the state of the train,” he said with nostalgia. He further said that all this was in the past as children of these days will live with only the tails of how NRC operated in the country.

But how did he become a regular passenger and fall in love by the inter city shuttle? Frank told THISDAY that a neighbour at Ijora introduced him to it. Though it was a little hard on him at the beginning, but today he looks forward to traveling in it on a daily bases, particularly during the weekdays.

“For me, my day begins from 6am and at time it could be earlier than that. I discovered that the very first time I went to work by the train, I got to my officer earlier than others. The trip was exciting and entertaining as all shades of people made up the passengers. From the local drug seller to beggars, from the pick pockets to the early morning current affair discussants” he added.

Some people take out time to unwind inside the train while others see it as an avenue to see what Lagos look like as the train criss-cross through the shanty areas of Ido, Ebute Metta and Mushin to the ever busy Oshodi market.

The NRC, Lagos district currently operate two trips daily. One in the morning and another in the evening hours to convey workers to and from their places of work. To travel by the shuttle, one will have to get to any of the terminus or officials stops along the route. It will cost one N60 flat rate to travel from one end to another. The transit time depends mainly on the number of stops along the route. However on the whole it could take an average of between one hour and 1.30minutes to travel from Ido to Ojokoro.

Though, in the 70s the doors were shot when the train is in motion but far from it now, as passengers are seen hanging around the doors while some will hang on top of the roof of the train, probably to avoid payment. Part of the measures put in place by the authority to discourage miscreants from hanging on the roof of the train as it travels are the erection of iron bars along the tracks, but this hoodlums have also devised methods of scaling those barriers. One of the suspected urchins who spoke to THISDAY said that they enjoy it in the open as it afford the opportunity to take fresh air as the train glides through the very busy Lagos towns.

Before now, the corporation provided some comfort for its numerous customers as there were first class, business class as well as economy class. But all these now belong to the past as miscreants and workers mingle freely in the train.

The only soft leather chairs have seen better days, while a good number of the coaches have wooden seats. These seats are screwed to the floor of the coaches to prevent passengers from falling over as they go. Also, unlike commercial buses where the conductor will shout the bus stop to the hearing of passengers, in the train this is done through the public address system that could be heard from any of the coaches.

The Regional Manager of the corporation at Ebute Metta, Mr. Paul Ndibe who spoke with THISDAY, said things are not as bad as people think. According to him, the corporation, as a government organ, only went through some challenges, which include urbanisation and influx of other haulage companies in the country.

Ndibe who joined the corporation in 1979 as a probationary training staff, in Enugu, said before now the corporation operated from Lagos to Kano twice in a week. The train, he said, takes off from Lagos on Friday to arrive its destination on Sunday. But as time went by the corporation increased the number of trips made beyond the former two times. Ndibe said the corporation began shuttle services when it discovered that large number of people tend to move towards Ikeja, Agbado and up ward.

“It was as a realisation of this discovery that we decided to introduce train shuttle along that route,” he added. He explained that the corporation operates two shuttles for now, one in the morning and the other in the evening. He said that the first train is expected to leave Agbado around 6.30 for Iddo, while the one at Iddo could leave the terminus around 7am to Agbado.

In 1966, after the introduction of the 1401 class locomotive engine, the 1001s were moved to local services from Lagos. Meanwhile, several of the engines are beyond 25-year life span as they currently lie in their decay in and around the country.

By 1958 the EMD 567 engine had been in rail use for close to 20 years with many hundreds in use across the USA and Canada NRC were on safe ground with this class. That these locomotives are still operating when many others up to 15 years younger have been withdrawn and scrapped, THISDAY learnt, was a testament to the design and construction abilities of EMD in its prime.

At a time when similar sized locomotives had been supplied by MLW and GE, EMD supplied another 30 locomotives, it is surprising that these locomotives were added to the 1101 class as there are a number of major differences with the locomotives supplied 19 years earlier.

THISDAY reliably learnt from some NRC staff in Lagos that this seems to be as close as it comes to a standard export class, being developed from a type sold to Zambezi and identical locomotives being delivered to Malawi at the same time. Though, four locomotives that were originally intended for Nigeria went to Malawi with Nigeria getting four locomotives later in the construction programme.

Used in its hundreds in the UK, the Sulzer engine was tried and trusted by the time the 1401s entered service with NRC. All 29 locomotives carry the names of major towns or cities on the railway including Lagos, Kaura Namoda, Jos, Zaria, Kafanchan and N'guru (Railway workshops or Terminal). Locomotives 1428 and 1429 were supplied with dynamic braking, requiring resistors to be mounted in the body sides.

August 25, 2007

Plan for public control of Tube work

Financial Times: August 24 2007
By Andrew Taylor and Chris Bryant
tube train.jpg
Maintenance of a large part of London Underground could be restored to public control under plans an­nounced on Friday by Transport for London.

TfL announced “a formal expression of interest” to take over contracts operated by Metronet, the failed infrastructure company responsible for maintaining and upgrading more than two thirds of the Underground network. The move would unwind one of Gordon Brown’s flagship policies. The collapse of Metronet was embarrassing for the former chancellor who backed the establishment of the public private partnership against stiff opposition from TfL and Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor.

TfL, under the proposal made to Alan Bloom of Ernst & Young, Metronet’s administrator, would take over the contracts for an initial period of up two years. But it did not rule out trying to make the move permanent if it were successful.

The failed contractor is temporarily being run by the former Railtrack administrator, who has been given public funding by TfL to ensure the Tube network does not grind to a halt. A spokesperson for Mr Bloom said that he was looking forward to receiving a formal offer from TfL by the end of the September but would also “like to receive other bids”.

Tube Lines, responsible for maintaining the remainder of the network, said on Friday that it was not going to bid for the Metronet contracts. It said: “We would need to know what we would be bidding for. When a decision is made about the long term future [of the work] Tube Lines will review its opportunities.”

Metronet, which was owned by five companies – WS Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier Transportation, EDF Energy and Thames Water – went into administration last month after it ran out of cash only four years into a £30bn-programme to upgrade the underground. It had sought £551m emergency funding but was granted only £121m by an independent arbiter.

TfL said: “We want to bring Metronet out of administration and this is the fastest and most efficient way.” Tim O’Toole, London Underground managing director, added: “The best and most robust way to achieve our ultimate goal is for an early exit from the administration process to enable TfL to maintain the continued safe operation of the Tube network and to mitigate the performance and cost risks that inevitably come with such a situation.”

Unions threatening to disrupt services next month because the administrator had failed to guarantee Metronet jobs, welcomed TfL’s move. Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said it was the union’s “view that Tube maintenance should be returned to the public sector under the di­rect control of London Un­der­ground. If this is to be a se­rious bid it is clearly a wel­come step in the right direction”.

Gerry Doherty, TSSA general secretary, said: “Returning Tube maintenance to TfL could ultimately deliver a stable, economic and efficient structure that is better able to meet the needs of Londoners than that delivered by the failing private sector under the PPP arrangements.”

See also:


TfL in pursuit of stricken Underground contractor Metronet

The Times: August 25, 2007
Steve Hawkes

Transport for London (TfL) is bidding for Metronet, the stricken London Underground contractor, in a move that could lead to maintenance work on three quarters of the Tube being returned to the public sector.

The Mayor of London’s transport authority revealed yesterday that it had lodged an expression of interest with Metronet’s administrator and would make a formal offer by the end of next month. In a short statement, TfL said that it “was in the best interests of all parties for an exit from administration as quickly as possible”.

The move follows the collapse last month of Metronet, which ran more than £2 billion over budget on repairs and refurbishments to nine London Undeground lines, including the Victoria, District and Circle lines.

TfL would state only that it wanted to take control of the contractor on a “temporary basis”. However, sources said that TfL executives were preparing to operate the business for two years, given the scale of inefficiency in the Metronet business and the time they believe that it would take to restore it to full health.

The decision threatens to spark a new political dispute between Ken Livingstone, the Mayor, and Gordon Brown. Mr Livingstone has been a fierce critic of the Public Private Partership (PPP) – championed by Mr Brown when he was Chancellor – as a way of funding the biggest Underground investment programme since the Second World War.

When Metronet called in the administrators last month Mr Brown insisted that the PPP was working. He noted: “If Metronet pulls out, then another private company will be found to take its place.”

Metronet was four years into a 30-year, £17 billion work programme, split into two contracts. It was attacked for vast cost overruns and a system under which work was handed out among its five shareholders rather than awarded by competitive tender. The latter approach is used by Tube Lines, the other London Underground contractor.

TfL set aside £750 million last month to ensure that maintenance and repair work on the Metronet lines did not grind to a halt, putting a further strain on the public purse.

Tim O’Toole, the London Underground managing director, said yesterday that TfL wanted to put in place a “stable, economic and efficient structure” at Metronet as quickly as possible. He added: “We strongly believe that the best and most effective way to achieve our ultimate goal is for an early exit from the administration process.”

Alan Bloom, the Ernst & Young partner in charge of the administration process, declined to comment. Union leaders, who have declared a series of three-day strikes by 1,400 Metronet staff over a planned redundancy programme, welcomed TfL’s move.

Ken rolls the dice

"To impose the PPP on the capital is to show contempt for the overwhelming views of London"
Ken Livingstone, April 2001

"Mr Livingstone has made clear that he would like to see a way forward which involves maintenance being carried out by London Underground"
TFL spokesman, 23 August 2007

See also:


TfL could take over Metronet's PPP contracts

Guardian Unlimited: August 24, 2007
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

Transport for London moved to unravel one of Gordon Brown's flagship policies today by declaring an interest in taking over Metronet, the stricken company behind a controversial £17bn public private partnership programme to upgrade the capital's underground network.

The London mayor's transport authority said it had lodged a formal expression of interest in taking over Metronet's two PPP contracts, which cover three-quarters of the capital's tube network.

If TfL's bid is successful it would undermine the fundamental principle of the PPP process, which is to have private sector involvement in funding and running a public asset. The tube PPP was one of the ideological cornerstones of Gordon Brown's tenure as chancellor, when he drove through the programme in the face of vociferous opposition from Mayor Ken Livingstone.

One of Mr Livingstone's senior lieutenants, London Underground boss Tim O'Toole, said the contracts would be restructured under the TfL proposal.

"We strongly believe that the best and most robust way to achieve our ultimate goal is for an early exit from the Administration process, to enable Transport for London to maintain the continued safe operation of the Tube network and to mitigate the performance and cost risks that inevitably come with such a situation."

The Guardian revealed last month that TfL has held talks with the government about taking over the contracts on a temporary basis, but it has now decided to make an official approach to administrator Alan Bloom, the Ernst & Young accountant who was called in to manage Railtrack's insolvency.

If TfL's bid is successful it would unravel the fundamental principle of the PPP process, which is to have private company involvement in funding and running a public asset. The tube PPP was one of the ideological cornerstones of Gordon Brown's tenure as chancellor, when he drove through the £30bn PPP programme in the face of vociferous opposition from London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Mr Livingstone has played an astute political game second time round, refusing to criticise the PPP process or its intellectual godfather. However, his office has made clear in talks with government officials that they believe Metronet's internal problems to be more severe than envisaged and they are unlikely to be resolved if the contracts are returned to the private sector.

Metronet went into administration in July after racking up a projected overspend of £2bn. So far TfL has provided emergency funding of around £750m to ensure that maintenance work continues and the tube does not grind to a halt.

Tim O'Toole, the head of London Underground, said last month he expected the government to refund any money spent by TfL on propping up Metronet while it is in administration: "This will feed in with the larger discussion with the government about the funding of TfL and transport in London," he said.

Under the terms of the PPP, Metronet was paid around £860m a year in taxpayers' money.

Other funds came from Metronet's shareholders - Balfour Beatty, Thames Water, EdF, WS Atkins and Bombardier - which put in £350m and have washed their hands of the company. However, they still have lucrative subcontracts with Metronet, which TfL is expected to enforce with much more zeal if it takes over the business.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "It is the RMT's view that tube maintenance should be back in the public sector under the direct control of London Underground. If this is to be a serious bid it will obviously be a welcome step in the right direction."

London City Government Plans Bid to Take Over Metronet Business

Bloomberg: Aug. 24
By Brian Lysaght

The city agency that operates the London Underground plans to bid for Metronet Rail, the network's maintenance contractor, which collapsed after running out of cash last month.

Transport for London will lodge a formal bid next month with Ernst & Young LLC, Metronet's court-appointed administrator, the agency's spokesman, Dan Hodges, said in a phone interview today.

Metronet maintains two-thirds of the railway and has 5,000 employees. The company's collapse may undermine the U.K. capital's largest investment since World War II in the 144-year- old London Underground. City officials said taking over Metronet will be the quickest way to remove it from administration.

The insolvency process is ``very complex and very expensive,'' said Hodges. ``We want to bring Metronet out of administration, and this is the fastest and most efficient way.''

The city set aside 900 million pounds ($1.8 billion) to fund Metronet's administration through the end of the year. The financial details of the bid weren't given.

Transport for London has expressed its interest to the administrator, said Vicky Conybeer, an Ernst & Young spokeswoman, in a telephone interview. There have been no other bids so far for Metronet, she said.

London Underground performed its own maintenance until 2003, when Metronet won a 30-year contract for work on nine of the railway's 12 lines. Tube Lines Ltd., a separate private company, does the work on the other three lines.

Three rail unions have called for the city to take over Metronet. The unions yesterday said they're planning two 72-hour strikes against the company, starting Sept. 3 and Sept. 10, to protest possible job cuts. The walkouts may disrupt service.

Metronet collapsed after saying it ran up about 2 billion pounds in extra costs. The company was a joint venture owned by WS Atkins Plc, Balfour Beatty Plc, Bombardier Inc., Thames Water and Electricite de France SA.

Metronet workers set two three-day strikes over jobs, conditions and pensions

RMT: August 23 2007

MORE THAN 2,300 RMT members at failed Tube privateer Metronet are to mount two 72-hour strikes after failing to secure guarantees over jobs, conditions and pensions from the bankrupt company’s administrator.

The Tube maintenance staff will walk off the job at 18:00 on Monday September 3 until 17:59 on Thursday September 6. The second stoppage will be between 18:00 on Monday September 10 and 17:59 on Thursday September 13.

The strikes will have a massive cumulative impact on Tube services on those lines Maintained by Metronet, but the spill-over effect will disrupt the entire network.

During the first strike Metronet workers will demonstrate at the department for Transport in London on September 4 for an end to the part-privatisation of the Tube and for the return of infrastructure work to the public sector.

During their second stoppage they will also lobby the Trades Union Congress on Tuesday September 11 for support from fellow trade unionists.

"Our members voted by a huge margin to strike against the threat to their jobs, conditions and pensions following the collapse of Metronet, and they have made it clear that they wanted substantial and meaningful action," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The bottom line is that they will not accept being made to pay for the failure of the PPP and the decision by Metronet's fat-cat shareholders to walk away from the contract, and that means no job losses, no forced transfers and no cuts in pension entitlements.

"Our members are the people who get out there and keep the Tube running seven days a week, and it is they who will deliver the improvement the network must have if it is to be up to the standard required by the 2012 Olympics.

"The PPP stands in the way of those improvements, and the time has come to return the work to the public sector where it belongs.

"Maintenance on the national railways has improved massively since it was brought back in-house, and that is the only sensible solution for the Tube as well," Bob Crow said.

ends

Notes to editors: In ballots of RMT, TSSA and Unite members which closed on Monday (August 20), Metronet workers voted by a total of 1,369 to 70 to strike.

In the RMT ballot, there were 1,123 (98.3 per cent) votes to strike, with 20 votes (1.7 per cent) against, on a turnout of 51 per cent.

August 24, 2007

More staff and zero tolerance needed to combat violence on transport, says RMT

RMT: August 24 2007

Union renews call for reinstatement of sacked guard Paul Yarwood

BRITAIN'S BIGGEST rail union today renewed its call for the return of guards to all trains and for more uniformed staff on stations as British Transport Police figures released today reveal an eight per cent rise in violent crime on Britain's rail and Tube networks.

RMT also renewed its demand for the reinstatement of sacked guard Paul Yarwood, who was unfairly sacked by 'One' following an incident with a violent and abusive fare-evader.

"It is our members who have to bear the brunt of aggressive, drunken behaviour, particularly at night and particularly when working alone, yet year on year the figures go up, and it is time to put staff safety ahead of profits," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Just as our members want to be able to work in safety, members of the public, particularly women travelling alone, should not have to run the gauntlet on deserted stations late at night or worry about being attacked in a train carriage.

"Deputy-chief constable Andy Trotter is quite right to say that rail staff should not have to tolerate abuse and violence, yet when Paul Yarwood tried to deal with a violent fare evader in Colchester he ended up on the dole.

"The head-in-the-sand attitude of One railway perfectly illustrates everything that is bad about rail employers' attitudes towards violence against their own staff.

"Employers say they encourage reporting, but far too often staff who do report incidents are made to feel that they are the problem.

"Passengers and railway workers alike want to see more staff on stations and trains, not fewer, yet cost-cutting private rail employers - and sadly even London Underground - are looking for more cuts in station staff.

"We need adequate staff on every station all the time they are open and a guard on every train, including on the Tube, and we need the BTP to have enough resources to respond in time, every time," Bob Crow said.

Assaults on rail staff 'increase'

BBC News: 23 August 2007

A rising number of railway staff are being assaulted as they go about their jobs, new crime figures have shown.
Mark2_coach.jpg
Often anti-social behaviour was fuelled by alcohol

More than 3,000 assault cases were recorded in the British Transport Police (BTP) annual report for 2006/07 - a rise of 8% on the previous year.

The police force says overall crime fell but anti-social behaviour on trains and at stations was making travellers feel less safe.

Senior officers told them not to suffer in silence but to report trouble.

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter, of British Transport Police (BTP), said: "An increase in low level disorder and anti-social behaviour means passengers are more likely to fear becoming a victim of crime."

This ranged from rude behaviour by individuals or groups to more serious threatening and intimidating behaviour often fuelled by alcohol, he said.

'Spittle kits'

The figures also showed that violent offences, sexual offences, hate crime and criminal damage had all increased.

Public disorder spiralled, with 6,689 offences recorded, an increase of 1,747 (34%) on the previous year.

The number of serious assaults however fell by 16%, robberies by 10% and thefts by 6%.

DCC Trotter said the police force had a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour-type offences which resulted in about 4,000 more convictions than in the previous year.

Passengers who spit at drivers and ticket collectors were warned that most staff have access to spittle kits, which enable them to take a DNA sample.

'Security improvements'

Among the 60,000 people to pass through portable metal detectors used in London, more than 300 people were arrested and 285 weapons were recovered by officers, the figures showed.

"We want the millions of passengers who depend upon the network to feel safe, as well as be safe when they are travelling," DCC Trotter said.

"I would urge passengers and staff to support our officers by reporting anti-social behaviour when they witness it rather than suffering in silence or simply ignoring it."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Passengers want a safe and secure transport network and we will continue working with the BTP to deliver it.

"For example, we are expanding the number of stations in the secure stations scheme and asking train operators to spend more on security improvements such as CCTV cameras, better lighting and ticket barriers."

See also:


Attacks on train staff on the up

BBC News: 24 August 2007
transportpolice.jpg
Wales's railways saw 315 assaults on members of staff in 2005/06

The number of public disorder offences and assaults on railway staff in Wales and west England have increased in the last year, new figures reveal.

British Transport Police's annual statistics show assaults on railway workers rose by nearly 15% on 2005-06.

The figures also showed instances of public disorder and criminal damage have risen by around a quarter.

However, robberies, fraud offences and violent attacks were down on the previous year.

British Transport Police concluded that the railways were safer in Wales and the west of England in 2006-2007 than ever before, with fewer offences and more convictions.


"It makes me feel very scared, vulnerable and intimidated" - Francis Norman, conductor


The number of violent attacks dropped from 538 to 514. Sexual offences were also down from 39 to 33.

However, there were 315 assaults on members of staff this year - 40 more than the previous 12 months

Conductor Francis Norman from Cardiff Central Station said staff face abuse on an almost daily basis.

Ms Norman said: "Not a day goes past really without some sort of incident.

"It makes me feel very scared, vulnerable and intimidated.

"Its not very nice and it can take a long time to get over such an incident... it can be very upsetting.

vandals.jpg
British Transport Police want people to report offences on the railways


"I wish something more could be done about it to make our lives a lot better, makes our jobs a bit easier."

Superintendent Paul Richards, of British Transport Police's operations unit for Wales and the Western area, said the figures covered an area stretching from Bristol to Birmingham and Nottingham.

He said the "relatively low" figures also needed to be seen in the perspective of improved reporting procedures.

"Violent crime in Wales has dropped by 9.5 %, sexual offences 16.5%, so there's some really good news and really positive work going on," he added.

"And again, we're doing a lot of pro-active work around hotspot areas where we're getting particular problems.

"We stop it by getting the community involved. They need to identify who these people are - we have a tremendous success as far as detections are concerned- and its sending out the right message."

He said he did not want the public to be "getting directly involved" but to report offenders.

Train disabled

The problem of crime on Welsh railways was highlighted in May this year when one train company threatened to withdraw some of its services.

Arriva Trains Wales said that instances of crime and disorder had nearly doubled so far that year.

In March, passengers were left stranded after a train was disabled by a gang of youths at Ystrad Rhondda.

The guard - who had a fire extinguisher let off in his face and a bottle thrown at him - driver and three security guards were left terrified.

Arriva Trains Wales warned that if unless things improved it would have to cancel some services on the stretch of track between Pontypridd and Treherbert.

German rail reform complete, says DB boss

Railway Market: 23 August 2007

“The tasks set out by the Rail Reform Act have been completely fulfilled.” This statement was made today in Frankfurt by Hartmut Mehdorn, CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn AG (DB AG), during his presentation of results for the first half of this year.

“The railroad has been restructured and renewed in Germany, and rail transport is continuously growing. The burden on the taxpayer is being reduced and DB AG is a reliable employer in addition to being an internationally structured transport company that is prepared for the future.“

During the first six months of this year the company recorded revenues of €15.3 billion, a gain of 5.8 percent or €843 million. The increase in revenues noted for the first half stemmed almost entirely from the organic growth of existing business.

Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose by €416 million, or 44 percent to €1.35 billion. At the same time gross capital expenditures climbed by almost 20 percent to €2.8 billion. As of June 30, 2007 the number of DB employees had risen by nearly 2,000 over the same year-ago figure to about 231,000. Net financial debt was reduced by €658 million during the first six months.

“As we previously announced, we are able to use our free cash flow from our operational business to reduce our debt,” said Diethelm Sack, Chief Financial Officer at DB. “Furthermore, we anticipate – barring any unforeseen events – that growth for the full year 2007 will slightly exceed the forecast we made in March.”

The company expects comparable full-year revenues to grow by about 5 percent over the same year-ago results, and that EBIT before special items will amount to approximately €2.4 billion in contrast to the €2.1 billion posted for the 2006 financial year.

Rail transport continues to develop at favorable pace

During the first half of this year 1.3 billion persons traveled by Deutsche Bahn trains or buses, or about 21 million more than in the same year-ago period. A total of 913 million people traveled by DB trains, about 4 million more than in the first half of 2006. Total passenger transport performance rose by 523 million to 41.3 billion passenger kilometers, or 36.7 billion rail passenger kilometers (a gain of 525 million rail passenger kilometers). “Despite previous year’s one-time effects like the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and growing competition on the rail, we have been repeatedly successful in convincing more new customers to take our trains in the first half of 2007. This speaks for the attractiveness of our offers,” said Mehdorn.

The increasing internationalization of activities played a role in generating additional growth in passenger transport. In this context Mehdorn mentioned the premiere of scheduled ICE service to Paris and the inauguration of new connections at the end of the year to Copenhagen and Vienna.

Transport and Logistics Activities Continue to Expand

DB’s rail freight transport performance rose by 4 percent to 49.9 billion ton-kilometers. DB anticipates that performance for total rail freight transport in Germany – consisting of the DB Group and all its competitors – will rise by 10 percent in the current year. This will mark the fifth year in a row where rail freight will post a higher rate of growth than the entire German freight transport market.

Train kilometers on the track infrastructure also increased by 4 percent and amounted to 521 million train-path kilometers. The increase of 20 million train-path kilometers was generated equally by DB and non-Group companies. “This is further proof that competition is functioning on the rail,” noted Mehdorn.

DB Group’s international transport and logistics activities continued to develop favorably. “These results show that our strategy of expanding our international logistical networks and strongly linking them to customer-oriented integrated offers was right,“ said Mehdorn. Shipping volumes in European land transport grew by 10 percent. Overall development in our air freight segment is favorable. Ocean freight is continuing to record dynamic growth. Here, Schenker is growing at a faster pace than the market (based on volume shipped).

Profits in all business units develop favorably

DB Group’s business units recorded very good developments in the first half of 2007. In terms of revenue growth the absolute greatest increase was posted by the business units Schenker (up €509 million, or 8 percent to €6.8 billion), Rail Freight (up €95 million, or 5 percent to €1.9 billion), Urban Transport (up 59 million, or 7 percent to €0.9 billion), Regional Transport (up €50 million, or 2 percent to €3.3 billion), and Long-Distance Transport (up €41 million, or 3 percent to €1.6 billion). The structure of revenues based on contribution by business unit remained almost unchanged. As in the same year-ago period, two-thirds of all revenues were generated in Germany.

The most significant rise in profits was posted by the Track Infrastructure business unit (an increase of €147 million, or 100 percent to €294 million), followed by the business units Rail Freight (up €66 million, or 49 percent to €200 million) and Urban Transport (plus €41 million, or 82 percent to €91 million). Development noted for the business units Services (up €29 million, or 42 percent to € 98 million), Long-Distance Transport (up €28 million, or 48 percent to €86 million) and Passenger Stations (up €25 million, or 32 percent to €103 million) was significantly positive.

“Our first step was to get Regional Transport on an economically sound basis. We then turned our attention to Long-Distance Transport, and finally the rail freight business,“ stated Mehdorn. “And now Track Infrastructure is progressing nicely. At the same time our Pro Netzprogram is designed to ensure that the quality and capacities of the track-path infrastructure can be maintained and increased over the mid-term.“

August 22, 2007

Man loses legs in train accident

BBC News: 22 August 2007

A rail worker has lost his lower legs in an accident in sidings close to Harlow railway station in Essex.

The man, in his 40s, was overseeing a nine-carriage train carrying freight when the accident happened. Emergency crews freed him from under the train.

Mark Samuels, fire officer in charge at the incident, said: "It appears the man slipped underneath the carriage as he was seeing back the train."

The firefighters recovered his limbs in the hope that surgeons can save them.

A police and Office of Rail Regulation investigation is now under way to establish the cause of the accident.

See also:


Legs go in rail horror

Daily Mirror: 23/08/2007

Doctors were yesterday battling to sew back the severed legs of a rail worker who fell under a train.

The man, in his mid-50s, was working in a siding when he slipped on the wet track and stumbled under a moving wagon.

Shocked workmates at Harlow Mill station, Essex, raised the alarm and the man was taken to hospital along with his severed limbs which had been recovered by firemen.

A brigade spokesman said: "The cut was clean so the legs were taken with the casualty to hospital in the hope they may be able to sew them back on."

Health and Safety and police are investigating.

See also:


Worker 'stable' after losing legs:

BBC News: 23 August 2007

Hospital staff have been unable to save the lower legs of a railway worker who was injured in an accident in Essex.

The man, in his 40s, was overseeing a freight train in sidings close to Harlow railway station on Wednesday.

Fire crews at the scene said it appeared he slipped under the train, and his limbs were recovered.

Surgeons at Harlow's Princess Alexandra Hospital were unable to save his legs and he is in a stable condition, a hospital spokesman said.

A police and Office of Rail Regulation investigation is under way to establish the cause of the accident.

August 21, 2007

Rail guard sacked for standing up to yob

Daily Mirror: 21/08/2007
By Aidan McGurran

The wife of have-a-go rail guard Paul Yarwood told of her despair last night as he faces ruin for standing up to Britain's yob menace.
one train.jpg
'One' train

Sacked Paul, 44, is set to lose his home as he cannot pay the mortgage and will be hauled before a court this week charged with threatening behaviour. Yet the boozy thug who rampaged through his station got off with a paltry £80 fine - despite admitting he was entirely to blame.

The fiasco has incensed law-abiding Brits fed up with being cowed by marauding louts.

Many have even backed train strikes held to demand justice for the public-spirited railman.

His wife Maria, 41, of Brightlingsea, Essex, fumed: "Our lives have been ruined by this.

"Paul was doing his job and helping to protect passengers. It's a farce. He didn't attack the man."

The selfless dad of three, who spent 14 years in the Army, refused to stand idly by as the hooligan intimidated commuters and staff in Colchester, Essex.

The fare-dodger vaulted a ticket barrier, abused employees and further brazenly defied the law by smoking on a waiting train.

When a supervisor tried to get him to leave, he violently grabbed him, threatened to batter other staff with a broom and sneeringly told a commuter he would thump him.

Paul led passengers to safety and challenged the yob but was knocked to the ground, with the man looming over him. As Paul got up, their heads collided.

Despite Paul's bravery, bigwigs at train firm One axed him after claiming CCTV showed he headbutted the man. Police quizzed and charged him - while the hooligan merely got an £80 smoking fine.

The RMT union has held two strikes over the incident in June, supported by the public. Derek Monnery, of the Essex Rail Users' Federation passenger group, said: "Managers have to ask why the strikes were so strongly backed."

One passenger said: "It's a shabby way to treat someone doing his duty." The RMT added: "We've had many messages of support.

"One commuter said he'd never supported the union in his life but was 100 per cent behind us now."

Even the thug admitted he was at fault and backed the guard. An RMT insider said: "He returned to the station, made clear he was to blame and did not feel action should be taken against Paul."

But bosses at One defended the sacking and claimed they had addressed the union's concerns.

See also:


Rail guard bravely defends commuters from a violent yob - and gets sacked for it

Daily Mail: 21st August 2007
Paul Yarwood.jpg
Sacked: Rail guard Paul Yarwood has been forced to put his house up for sale after being sacked for tackling a violent fare dodger

A rail guard has been fired for defending commuters from a violent fare dodger.

Paul Yarwood, 44, came to the rescue after a drunken passenger abused travellers and threatened staff with a broom at Colchester station.

But bosses at rail company One Railway sacked him for gross misconduct, claiming CCTV showed him headbutting the man.

His dismissal comes despite an admission by the fare dodger that he was entirely to blame.

The father-of-three, who has not worked since the incident, will appear before a court on Thursday accused of threatening behaviour.

Today his wife, Maria, 41, said the family have been forced to put their house up for sale after being unable to pay the mortgage.

She told the Daily Mirror: "Our lives have been ruined by this and it has been hanging over our heads for months. Paul was just doing his job and helping to protect his passengers.

"It's a farce. He's shattered by this. He didn't attack this man, even though he could have claimed it was self-defence.

"The company say he should have kept his cool, but he did. It's not they who have to deal face-to-face with situations like this and put up with what staff have to."

Mrs Yarwood said her husband - a former soldier who had notched up seven years of exemplary service with One Railway - had refused to stand by when a drunken passenger threatened members of the public at the Essex station.

The man had jumped over a ticket barrier, abused station staff and illegally lit up a cigarette on a waiting train.

When a supervisor tried to persuade him to leave, he grabbed him, threatened to hit another member of staff with a broom and told a fellow traveller he would punch him. After escorting passengers to safety, Mr Yarwood confronted the man, who lunged at him and knocked him to the ground.

Onlookers described how his attacker "loomed" over Mr Yarwood as he tried to get up and how their heads had briefly touched.

One Railway sacked Mr Yarwood after claiming that six seconds of CCTV showed him headbutting the man.

Police later questioned and charged Mr Yarwood while the man was fined £80 for smoking.

Mrs Yarwood said: "They're basing their case on six seconds of CCTV while there are plenty of witnesses to tell them what did happen."

The RMT union has held two local strikes over the incident, with the support of members of the public.

Derek Monnery, head of the Essex Rail Users' Federation passenger group, said: "Managers have to ask why this strike was so strongly backed. They should have taken into account the support given to Mr Yarwood by co-workers when they took the decision to sack him."

According to a union insider, the fare dodger returned to the station shortly after the incident and admitted he was at fault.

The source said: "He gave a taped interview to the station manager in which he admitted being abusive and threatening. He made it clear he felt he was to blame for the entire incident and did not feel any action should be taken against the guard."

Bosses at One Railway have defended the sacking, claiming they have "comprehensively" addressed the RMT union's concerns.

August 20, 2007

UK Rail Union Wants London Underground to Take Over Metronet

Bloomberg: Aug 20
By Brian Lysaght

London Underground should permanently take over the running of collapsed maintenance contractor Metronet Rail, said the head of the railway's largest union.

There's an opportunity for London Underground "to set up a non-profit infrastructure company,'' said Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime & Transport union, at a news conference today in the U.K. capital.

His comments came as union members at Metronet voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against the company. They're demanding job security for 3,000 workers after Metronet, London Underground's largest contractor, ran out of cash and was put under the control of administrators last month. The unions say the company's collapse threatens workers' jobs, pay and pensions.

"Our members are angry,'' said Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association union, at the news conference.

Metronet maintains nine of the 12 London Underground lines,and a strike would severely disrupt the railway, which carries 3 million passengers a week, union officials said.

The unions wrote to U.K. Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly and spoke to London Mayor Ken Livingstone about establishing a non-profit, government-controlled successor to Metronet, Crow said. He favors a company similar in structure to Network Rail, which maintains Britain's national railway, he said.

The U.K. government set up Network Rail to succeed Railtrack Plc, which collapsed after running out of cash in 2001.

Industrial Action

Peter Hendy, London's transport commissioner, said no decision has been made about Metronet's successor and the administration, overseen by Ernst & Young LLP, will take "months rather than weeks.

"We've go to do it in an orderly fashion,'' Hendy said in an interview today. He said was disappointed about the union'sstrike plans. "We don't think there's any cause for industrial action.''

Metronet signed a 30-year agreement with the U.K. government that required it to spend 17 billion pounds ($34 billion) inreturn for annual payments of about 850 million pounds. The so-called public-private partnership contract, which was backed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was treasury chief, was designed to boost private investment in the London Underground.

The company collapsed after saying it ran up about 2 billion pounds of extra costs. Metronet is a joint venture owned by WSAtkins Plc, Balfour Beatty Plc, Bombardier Inc., Thames Water and Electricite de France SA.

Metronet workers vote for strike action over jobs and conditions

RMT: August 20 2007

NEARLY 3,000 members of RMT, TSSA and Unite have voted by massive margins for strike action to defend jobs and conditions at failed Tube privateer Metronet.

In the three unions' ballots, which closed today, Metronet workers voted by a total of 1,369 to 70 to strike (full figures below)

The strike votes were sparked by the failure of the bankrupt company's administrators to provide guarantees that there will be no job losses or forced transfers as a result of the company's financial collapse.

RMT and TSSA members also voted to strike over the failure to guarantee that there would be no cuts in pension entitlements.

"Our members have said with a single, united voice that they are not prepared to be made to pay for the failure of the PPP with their jobs, conditions or pensions," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The work our members do is crucial not only to the day-to-day operation of the Tube but to the urgent upgrades that are slipping further behind schedule, and any further fragmentation of the workforce is out of the question.

"If we are to have the world-class Tube that London needs in time for the Olympics the only sensible answer is to bring the work back into the public sector," Bob Crow said.

"Metronet shareholders may be able to walk away from this PPP fiasco but it is our members who are being asked to pick up the bill with lost jobs, transfers and pension cutbacks," said TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty.

"They have sent a clear message today to the Administrator and the Mayor that they will not stand for it. The long-term solution must be to bring this work back in-house to the public sector," Gerry Doherty said.

"This 'yes' vote gives Unite the mandate to take strike action against Metronet's shameful plan to cut hundreds of jobs and outsource a further one thousand," said Unite assistant general secretary Jennie Bremner.

"These proposals come from the same management that were responsible for running Metronet into the ground. Unite is calling on the administratorto take firm action to put the Tube back on track and to cease operating the same policies that led to Metronet being taken into administration in the first place.

"We are available to meet with the company to thrash out a deal that will avoid industrial action. However this vote demonstrates our members' willingness to take the company on to protect jobs and the future of the Tube," Jennie Bremner said.

ends

Notes to editors: In the RMT ballot, there were 1,123 (98.3 per cent) votes to strike, with 20 votes (1.7 per cent) against, on a turnout of 51 per cent.

In the TSSA ballot, there were 127 votes for strike action (77 per cent) and 38 votes (23 per cent) against, on a 48 per cent turnout.

In the Unite ballot there were 119 votes (90 per cent) for strike action and 12 votes against (ten per cent)

See also:


Metronet vote threatens Tube 'for weeks'

Times Online: August 20, 2007
Steve Hawkes

Unions give administrator running Metronet a deadline to meet their demands after 95 per cent of members back a walkout

Nearly 1,400 London Underground workers today voted for strike action in a move that threatens to disrupt services on the Tube for weeks.

Union leaders today revealed that 95 per cent of their members at Metronet, the consortium that collapsed into administration last month, have backed industrial action.

They warned that unless Metronet’s administrators meet their demands by 6pm Wednesday, they will set the date for a first walkout on Thursday.

They have to give management seven days' notice of a strike date.

The workers include maintenance and repair staff vital to the upkeep of nine London Underground lines, including the Circle, Central and District lines.

The RMT union, the biggest of three trade unions with members at Metronet, wants guarantees that workers jobs, pensions and working conditions will be unaffected by Metronet’s demise.

Metronet was four years into a controversial £17 billion public-private partnership when it was forced to call in the bankers after huge cost overruns.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said: "Our members have said with a single, united voice that they are not prepared to be made to pay for the failure of the PPP with their jobs, conditions or pensions.

"The work our members do is crucial not only to the day-to-day operation of the Tube but to the urgent upgrades that are slipping further behind schedule, and any further fragmentation of the workforce is out of the question."

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the TSSA (Transport and Salaried Staffs Association), added: "Metronet shareholders may be able to back away from this fiasco but it is our members who are being asked to pick up the bill with lost jobs, transfers and pension cutbacks."

Before the ballot result, a spokesman for Transport for London said that any strike action would be “completely unnecessary”.

He added: “It is particularly unreasonable at a time when administrators are working to ensure the stability of Metronet following the company’s collapse.

“There are agreed channels for discussion on these issues and the unions should use them rather than call for strike action.”

See also:


London Underground Contractor Metronet Faces Strike by Union

Bloomberg: Aug. 20
By Brian Lysaght

U.K. workers voted to take strike action against Metronet Rail, the largest contractor on London's Underground railway, in a dispute over possible job cuts.

Metronet workers who are union members voted 1,369 to 80 to walk off the job, said a group of three unions in a statement today. A strike date hasn't been set.

Metronet, the contractor responsible for upgrading two- thirds of the London Underground, was put under the control of administrators after it ran out of cash last month.

Union leaders will meet with the company on Aug. 22, Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, said today at a news conference in London. If they fail to reach an agreement at that meeting, the unions will go ahead with the strike, Crow said.

August 19, 2007

The dignity of trains is in looking like themselves, not ice-cream vans

The Guardian: August 18, 2007
Ian Jack

Inequality finds its reflection on the railway, where 10% of passengers occupy 50% of space.

When Richard Hannay fled London for Scotland at the start of The Thirty-Nine Steps, he took a Glasgow express from St Pancras and went the middle way, though Leicester and Leeds and then up over the Pennines to change to a Galloway local at Dumfries. That route was comfortable but slow and vanished from the timetable in the 1970s. Alfred Hitchcock had already discarded it in the 1930s. His film played fast and loose with John Buchan's novel. When Robert Donat's Hannay flees north, he catches the Aberdeen train from King's Cross and speeds north as far as the Forth Bridge, where he jumps off after hugging Madeleine Carroll in a short-lived attempt to deceive the police. Later, of course, he takes off her stockings.

In Hitchcock's day, thanks to the locomotives of Sir Nigel Gresley and the marketing department of the London and North Eastern Railway, the East Coast route had become the fashionable way north. It was quicker, much more so than the line from St Pancras, and by then also faster than the London Midland and Scottish Railway's West Coast route, where the trains toiled over the summits at Shap and Beattock and where, save for a glimpse of Morecambe Bay, the traveller does not see any coast. Rivalry between east and west was serious in the 1890s and grew so again in the 1930s, and out of it came the world speed record for a steam locomotive, which has stood for nearly 70 years; how strange now that such a famous event - enginemen driving Gresley's Mallard at 126mph south of Grantham on June 3 1938 - could have stemmed from the publicity battle over the fastest overland way to travel the 400 miles between London and Edinburgh or Glasgow.

This week the Department for Transport announced that National Express would in December take over the franchise for the East Coast route from the Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), which has run it since privatisation in 1997. Aesthetically, the results could be sad. Alone of the big train operating companies formed by privatisation, GNER perpetuated the handsome dignity of trains by seeing that their attraction lay in their looking like themselves rather than a cut-price airline or an ice-cream van. There was a lot of history to draw on. Railways once thought of design and livery as great selling-points. John Major may never be forgiven as the prime minister who instigated railway privatisation, but, bless his sentimental English soul, as well as the warm beer and cricket he remembered the chocolate-and-cream carriages of the Great Western and imagined, foolish man, that the return of capitalism to railways would restore an old pride in their local identities. Instead, Britain has train companies with titles that could belong to mobile phone service providers or credit cards - C2C, First Capital Connect - stamped on rolling stock painted in gay purple or go-faster stripes. The "Great Western" is still there, but brand management insists it carries the prefix "First" on its frequently late-running and overcrowded trains.

GNER did something different. It was a subsidiary of Sea Containers, led by James Sherwood, an American who liked railways and saw them as more than a business. GNER remembered history. It devised for itself an old-fashioned coat of arms and inscribed the legend "The Route of the Flying Scotsman" on its rolling stock, and then cleverly undercut what could have been a too-saccharine heritage appearance, the Laura Ashley of railways, with some elegant sans-serif typography and a livery of deep blue and red. The same design scheme runs through its restaurant-car china, timetables and staff uniforms and the look of its trains remains one of the few recent British success stories in transport design. I see these trains many times a week, sliding over Holloway Road on their way south or north, and when my children were younger we would sometimes go to the local park and watch them cruise up the bank from King's Cross. To me, they say that trains have a tradition distinct from aircraft and buses, that they are capable of their own kind of elegance and can be lovely to look at.

If National Express can retain this elegance, (a) that will be good and (b) I shall be surprised. Railways are now scrutinised entirely by a quick glance through the prism of profit and cost. Here too, if you happen to travel by GNER, there are reasons to worry. GNER found that by agreeing to pay £1.3bn to the Treasury for a 10-year franchise it was heading towards bankruptcy. National Express will pay £100m more for a contract that is 30 months shorter. The revenue will have to come from somewhere. National Express promises more trains and 14,000 extra seats every weekday - revenue from passenger growth - but also that all "unregulated" fares will rise at rates well above inflation.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said this week: "The government puts a lot of emphasis ... on doing something about the equality gaps that are opening up in society. The railways should not be excluded from that. If you keep pricing up tickets, it will have long-term consequences."

The evidence for government concern about the growing inequality of wealth in Britain would be interesting to see. In terms of rail travel, it expresses itself by regulating season ticket rises to no more than 1% above inflation - a concern not brought about by ideas of social justice or holding carbon emissions in check but by needing to appease the commuting electorate of south-east England.

Elsewhere, the disparities of the Gilded Age prevail. With a Family Railcard and a fortnight's foresight, an adult and two children can travel standard-class from London to Glasgow by Virgin Trains for £40. Due to over-sophisticated engineering, the toilets may not work; due to the need to pack in as many standard class seats as possible, there is little space for any luggage bigger than a laptop. Until Preston comes, the train in standard class will resemble an evacuation instrument for refugees.

But travel first-class and you enter the world of the Pullman - food, drink and newspapers brought to you and a train threequarters empty; by Glasgow it had 10 first-class passengers for 149 seats. You pay a lot - £177.50 for a single bought on the day, the equivalent of two return airfares (to be ecological you need to be rich). But even more striking is the division of the train. Nine coaches are divided nearly equally between first and standard class. The rich may number only 10% of the passengers but they occupy 50% of the space.

I think this was not even true of the Titanic. Certainly, in the heyday of the East Coast route, when apple-green engines were pulling varnished teak coaches, the third-class passenger felt more a part of the same train (if not the same world) as the people sitting on the softer cushions in first class. They even shared the same dining car. Did Donat's Hannay go third? I can't remember. As he sat opposite a couple of lingerie salesmen, that seems likely, but the fact is that in 1930 it was harder to spot the difference. And what a troubling fact that is.

National Express faces OFT probe

Sunday Telegraph: 19/08/2007
By Jonathan Russell

National Express's award of the InterCity East Coast rail franchise has been thrown into doubt this weekend after the Office of Fair Trading revealed it is to investigate the company's suitability to run the business on competition grounds.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned National Express faces an inquiry over its potential dominance of both coach and rail services along the route between London, the North East and Scotland's east coast.

Although the bus and rail operator dismissed the investigation as "routine" there is a worrying precedent for the company. In 1997 the Competition Commission forced National Express to sell its coach operation Scottish Citylink as a result of it winning the Scottish Rail franchise.

Since then there have been five other investigations into franchise awards, three of them involving National Express and the overlap of its coach and rail operations.

A spokesman for the OFT said: "The OFT is likely to be considering the National Express award of the East Coast franchise. As part of an investigation, we will be obtaining information from third parties. This is likely to be some time in September."

National Express will be desperate to hold on to both its existing coach business and the rail franchise, which is the first it has won in over two years.

The company recently missed out on both the East Midlands and Cross Country franchises. Before the award of the East Coast business it had seen its dominance of the rail market slashed from a peak of nine franchises in the mid-nineties to just two.

The East Coast franchise award was announced last week amid concerns over the £1.4bn price National Express agreed to pay the Government over the seven-year life of the contract.

Previous operator GNER had to withdraw from the contract at the end of last year when its parent company Sea Containers filed for bankruptcy. However, there were already rumours GNER was struggling to find the revenue growth to fund the £1.3bn it had agreed to pay for the franchise.

The OFT investigation and its decision on whether to instruct the Competition Commission to rule on the matter is likely to take some months.

A spokeswoman for National Express Group said: "This is part of the normal process following a franchise award. We don't believe there are any competitive issues.

"Our belief is the real competition on this route is cars and low-cost airlines. We will be submitting our application over the next few weeks."

UK's fastest train on track for 2009 start

The Observer: August 19, 2007
Juliette Jowit, transport editor
hitachi-javelin-train.jpg
140mph Japanese bullet trains will slash the journey times into London

Britain's fastest-ever domestic train arrives in the country this week - but passengers will have to wait two years to take a ride.

The train, built by the company that makes Japan's iconic bullet train, will run at 140mph on commuter services into London from 2009 and be quicker than any service except the Eurostar, which goes to Paris and Brussels. It is also raising hopes of a new era of high-speed rail travel in Britain to emulate the world-famous Japanese Shinkansen and the French TGV.

'Estate agents are already telling people about the new link and property prices are heading north,' said Keith Ludeman, chief executive of the Go-Ahead Group, which operates commuter rail and bus services. Using both high-speed and existing lines, journeys to St Pancras will be cut after two years of trials from 83 to 37 minutes from Ashford, 102 to 61 minutes from Canterbury, and 98 to 63 minutes from Dover.

Since Japan launched the first modern high-speed Shinkansen train in the Sixties, when Britain still had steam trains, British railway engineers and travellers have nurtured hopes of super-fast train services. In the mid-Seventies, British Rail's Intercity 125 was outpaced only by the Japanese, but since then Britain has stuck at 125mph and been overtaken by 186mph railways around the world. And this summer Spain launched a new generation of 217mph trains.

The breakthrough came when the government rescued the £5bn new high-speed link from London St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel, which fully opens later this year - on condition it could also run high-speed domestic services.

The £260m contract for the 29 six-carriage trains was placed in 2004. The services will be operated by South Eastern, the franchise won by the Go-Ahead Group last year. Built by Japanese group Hitachi, the new trains are a distant cousin of the bullet train. The arrival of the new trains from Japan at Southampton docks is being seized on by supporters as an important step in their campaign to convince government of the value of spending billions of pounds building a high-speed UK network.

'We'll only get high-speed rail if people have seen the advantages of it and realise what it can do. So introducing them to it through this is splendid, and hopefully they'll clamour for more,' said Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College London.

Not everybody is so optimistic, however: the latest railway white paper made no commitment to a long-discussed high-speed line from London to the north, proposals for a new inter-city fleet only specify top speeds of 125mph, and there are concerns about the increase in energy required to power super-high speeds.

Critics also say Britain is too small to warrant spending large extra sums on speeding up journeys and say money would be better spent on increasing capacity on Britain's trains, not speed. 'If you speed up movement people will take advantage of that to travel further,' said David Metz, visiting professor at University College London and a former chief scientist at the Department for Transport.

The new services from London to Dover, Margate and Ramsgate are also expected to help Kent cope with massive house-building plans, boost regeneration of south coast towns and ease pressure on London's property market by putting the capital within commuter reach. Trains will also stop at a new station at Ebbsfleet near the M25 and Stratford in east London.

The trains will add 10,000 seats a day to South Eastern services, which already carry nearly 400,000 passengers a day.

August 18, 2007

New railfreight link for Portsmouth

Portsmouth News: 14 August 2007
By Jeremy Dunning, Business editor

A DIRECT rail link transporting freight between Portsmouth and the north-west of England is a step closer to reality.
fratton.jpg
Jerry Clark at Fratton goods yard

Work is set to start in about a week, and the development will see freight taken by road from the port to Fratton goods yard then taken out of the city by rail.

It also secures the long-term future of the port for freight and represents the end of a 10-year journey to get it off the ground.

The first cargo will leave Portsmouth on November 30.

The problem with a Portsmouth rail freight link has previously been because the track capacity off the main line was too short to make rail freight from the city economically viable compared with road transport.

Now, thanks to a £400,000 European grant and match-funding from the city council, contractors working for the port will lay nearly 1,400ft of new track, ensuring the sidings will be long enough to attract the trade.

Project leader Jerry Clark said: 'For the port it means we can offer an alternative to road. That is necessary because of congestion, but it also means now we can beat the road prices and are possibly quicker. We are going to be aiming at waste paper.

'Waste paper currently goes by road to Shotten in Aylesford in Kent, so now not only can we beat the road price but we have the sustainability angle as well.'

Another example could be getting 50,000 tonnes a year of lubricating oil off the roads.

This currently goes from Le Havre to Widnes by way of Portsmouth.

Another factor behind this is an attempt to keep the banana trade. There is a move towards what is called the containerisation of the banana trade – in essence, large moveable warehouses.

There is a danger the banana trade could increasingly go into Le Havre then be transported by road via Dover and to the central UK depot at Livingston in Scotland.

But rail freight could offer the speed and lower rates required by transport companies.

Mr Clark said: 'It's essential for the port that we offer the service they need. They will go to the port that best meets requirements.'

Taxis carry passengers to new rail platform

BBC News: 17 August 2007

Bosses at Newport station are paying cabbies £3 a time to ferry passengers from one rail platform to another.newportstation.jpg
Another redevelopment will take place before the Ryder Cup

It is because a new £5.5m platform, opened last month, does not have a lift for disabled, elderly or passengers with pushchairs to use.

Network Rail said building a lift now would cause disruption, although there will be one in another redevelopment in time for the Ryder Cup in 2010.

In the meantime it is to provide free taxis as a "goodwill gesture".

The only access to the 270-metre long platform four is either a long walk through a car park or through the station over a footbridge.

But both routes are too difficult for passengers with mobility problems.


"It seems a bit strange if this was a new development that it wasn't thought about." - Disability Rights Commission spokeswoman

They are now being helped into a taxi and driven half-a-mile around the station to reach the new platform.

A Network Rail spokeswoman said: "The taxi service is there as and when needed and can be accessed via a help-point on the platform."

A local taxi firm has been commissioned to ferry passengers who need help to the new platform at the station, which is on the mainline between south Wales and London Paddington.

The situation will change in time for golf's Ryder Cup, one of the world's biggest sport events, being held at nearby Celtic Manor Resort in 2010.

The spokeswoman added:"Lifts will be put in a new station development by the time of the Ryder Cup in 2010.

"To do so now would require a lot of development work and we did not want to delay the extension."

Integral feature

A spokeswoman for the Disability Rights Commission said the situation was not ideal, but Network Rail was not breaking the law as they were providing access for passengers.

But the spokeswoman added: "It seems a bit strange if this was a new development that it wasn't thought about."

Conservative AM William Graham also criticised d the lack of disabled access.

"I appreciate that this service is being provided free of charge as a 'goodwill gesture', " he aid.

"However, a wait until the Ryder Cup in 2010 for lifts to be installed is not an answer.

"Disabled access should have been an integral design feature from the very beginning of this project".

See also:

Legal quiz on £5.5m rail platform

BBC news: 19 August 2007

Wales's disability rights commissioner is taking legal advice on whether the absence of a lift at a rail station's £5.5m new platform breaks the law.
newport platform four.jpg
The £5.5m new platform has no lift for people with mobility problems

Network Rail is paying cabbies £3 to ferry passengers with mobility problems from other parts of Newport station to platform four.

It says a lift will be in place by 2010 when the city hosts the Ryder Cup.

But commissioner Kevin Fitzpatrick said the needs of ordinary customers, rather than golfers, should come first.

Passengers using the new 270m (885ft) platform, which is on the main line between south Wales and London Paddington, must climb a footbridge or walk the half-mile (0.8km) through the railway station's car park.

Critics say the route is too difficult for disabled or elderly people or passengers with pushchairs.

The Disability Rights Commission had said earlier that while the situation was not ideal, Network Rail may be within the law as it is providing access via the taxis.
kevin fitzpatrick.jpg
Kevin Fitzpatrick said passengers seemed to be treated "second class"

However, Dr Fitzpatrick is now seeking legal opinion on whether the platform, as a new development, is breaking disability discrimination laws.

"What's driving this is the needs of golfers, not the needs of ordinary customers," he said.

He added: "Throughout Wales there are lots and lots of people who'd travel by train if they could.

"It certainly ignores them and excludes them and means that they are second class in terms of any provision that the station is going to be able to give to them."

Network Rail has said that building a lift now will cause disruption, but there will be one in another redevelopment when the city hosts golf's 2010 Ryder Cup.

When the problem first emerged a Network Rail spokeswoman said: "The taxi service is there as and when needed and can be accessed via a help-point on the platform.

"Lifts will be put in a new station development by the time of the Ryder Cup in 2010.

"To do so now would require a lot of development work and we did not want to delay the extension."

Regional pressure mounts for release of Iranian bus workers' union leaders

BBC News: 17 August 2007
freeosanloo.jpg
Despite worldwide protests Osanloo remains in prison

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looked set to face criticism of his government's human rights record this week when he attended the annual summit meeting of the intergovernmental Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reports that its affiliated national trade union organisations in a number of SCO states (which comprise China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) have renewed pressure on Iran to release the two detained labour leaders, Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi.

The Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan yesterday wrote to the president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiev, asking him to "make President Ahmadinejad aware of the serious concern of Kyrgyzstan workers" about the two imprisoned Iranian trade unionists and to "insist that Iran follow the rules of international law, since these rules are the basis of any international co-operation".

According to the ITUC, Russia's 28 million-strong trade union confederation FNPR protested in similar terms last week to the Iranian authorities, while the country's two other ITUC affiliates, VKT and KTR, reiterated these demands on the occasion of the SCO summit.

Similar trade union action has taken place in India and Pakistan. Iran, which is seeking full membership of the SCO, takes part in the Bishkek Summit in an observer capacity, as do Mongolia, India and Pakistan.

The ITF and ITUC have welcomed the fact that Tehran bus workers’ leader Mansour Osanloo, who is detained in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, was reportedly allowed to make a phone call to his wife and to meet his lawyers this week.

Mahmoud Salehi, former president of the Bakery Workers' Association in Saqez (Iran's Kurdistan Province) and co-founder of the Coordinating Committee to form Workers' Organisations, is being refused medical care in the prison of Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Province.

West Midlands rail franchise gets £164m new trains boost

Birmingham Mail: Aug 17 2007
By Jon Griffin

RAIL commuters across the Midlands today received a £164 million boost - with a deal to bring 37 new 100mph trains for the Birmingham to London route.

Porterbrook Leasing Company Limited, a subsidiary of Abbey National plc, announced it had signed a contract to purchase 37 x 4 Car Siemens Class 350 Desiro Electric Multiple Units for the new West Midlands franchise.

The franchise, to be known as London Midland, was awarded to Govia on June 21 and will run from November until September 2015.

It marked a double transport boost for the region today, for the train deal was announced as the Birmingham Mail revealed a scheme to introduce a fleet of 'super buses' on six major routes across the city.

The new trains will be built by Siemens and deliveries are expected to commence in October 2008.

The AC units will be capable of 100mph and will operate the London to Birmingham services on the West Coast Main Line.

Paul Francis, managing director of Porterbrook, said: "Porterbrook is delighted to have completed this £164 million transaction to purchase the Siemens Class 350 EMUs to operate on the London Midland franchise.

"Introducing this new rolling stock will give us an opportunity to build on our already excellent relationship with Govia.

"Porterbrook has already worked successfully with their project team to deliver 700 new vehicles to the Southern franchise and these trains are now providing reliable, comfortable services to Southern's passengers."

Tom Smith, Govia's managing director - rail development, said: "We are looking forward to taking delivery of these new trains.

"They will transform the travelling experience of passengers using the longer-distance routes on the new London Midland franchise and play a key part in enabling us to meet our targets for continuous improvement in punctuality and reliability."

Rail Minister Tom Harris said: "Delivering new rolling stock was a key element of the new West Midlands franchise and I'm sure these new Desiros will prove very popular with passengers."

Ullapool standoff ship is arrested

International Transport Workers' Federation: 17 August 2007

International labour union body the ITF has announced that the Enxembre - the St Kitts flagged fishing vessel at the centre of a standoff between owners and crew in Ullapool - has been arrested. This means that it is now detained while legal claims are settled.

ITF inspector Norrie McVicar explained: “At the crew’s request we have helped them have the ship arrested by the Scottish High Court. This took place at 12:15 today. It is a major step but one they felt they had no choice but to take when told by the owners that a new crew was on its way from Portugal to sail the vessel away today, and that they would be flown home unpaid. With no guarantee that they would be paid their owed wages once they’d got home they fell back on the only tangible safeguard they could – the ship.”

The Enxembre has recently changed flags and name, at which point the crew called in the ITF, alleging that they hadn’t been paid for several months. Negotiations between the ITF and the owners to secure them this money and flights home broke down yesterday.

The crew will remain onboard the ship following its arrest, and will be visited around 15:00 today by members of the STUC, RMT and Nautilus union who will bring them food.

ENDS

For more information contact ITF press officer, Sam Dawson.
Direct line: + 44 (0)20 7940 9260.
Email: dawson_sam@itf.org.uk

International Transport Workers' Federation - ITF:
HEAD OFFICE
ITF House, 49 - 60 Borough Road, London SE1 1DS
Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7403 2733
Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7375 7871
Email: mail@itf.org.uk
Web: www.itfglobal.org

August 17, 2007

‘One’ strikes to go ahead on Saturday and Monday

RMT: August 16 2007

RMT reports ‘massive and growing anger’ over sacking of guard

MORE THAN I00 RMT guards, revenue-protection inspectors and retail staff at 'One' railway in north Essex will strike on Saturday (August 18) and Monday (August 20) in support of an unfairly dismissed colleague, after voting by a massive margin for action.

The dispute is set to escalate as the union's 800 members at 'One' have begun voting in a ballot over the sacking of guard Paul Yarwood and the company's failure to support others involved in an incident with a fare evader on June 7 at Colchester North station. The ballot will close on August 29.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow will join the picket line at Colchester Station from 07:00 on Saturday, and will be available for interview. A picket line will also be mounted at Clacton station.

"There is massive and growing anger among our members at 'One' over the company's total failure to support its own staff, and I am confident that our members will return a massive vote for strike action across the company," Bob Crow said today.

"Our members are furious that a guard with an exemplary record has been dismissed over an incident involving an abusive fare evader who refused to stop smoking, assaulted a platform supervisor and threatened a passenger and other staff.

"Rail workers face the threat of verbal and physical assault every day, yet 'One' has not only failed to put in place systems that provide adequate protection and support, but has effectively turned its back on staff when they most needed that support.

"If 'One' wants to earn the trust of its workforce it must start by re-instating Paul Yarwood.

"It is our members who have asked for a ballot across the entire company, and rather than waste time and effort in trying to face them down, the company should start working with them to put adequate protection and genuine support in place," Bob Crow said.

See also:


Rail staff to strike over sacking

BBC News: 16 August 2007

Guards on services between London and Essex will strike

More than 100 rail guards will strike for 24 hours on Saturday and Monday in support of a sacked colleague.

Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members at One Railways will walk out.

Picket lines will also be mounted at stations between London and Essex, including Colchester and Clacton, a union spokesman said.

The union will also ballot 800 more staff for further strikes over the sacking of a guard following an incident with a fare evader in June.

Union general secretary Bob Crow said: "Our members are furious that a guard with an exemplary record has been dismissed over an incident involving an abusive fare evader who refused to stop smoking, assaulted a platform supervisor and threatened a passenger and other staff."

The company said the strikes will involve workers based at locations between Clacton, Manningtree and Chelmsford.

One said it expects to operate a full timetabled service on these days despite the industrial action.

UK venture capitalists to run Georgian railways for 89 years

RIA Novosti:16/ 08/ 2007
georgian ford steam loco.jpg
TBILISI -- Georgia will transfer the management of its railway network to UK-based Parkfield Investment Funds for 89 years, the country's Economic Development Minister Giorgi Arveladze said on Thursday.

The Georgian Cabinet approved draft government instructions earlier in the day on transferring the government's 100% share in the Georgian Railway company to attract investment.

Arveladze said at least $1 billon would be invested in the project in the first decade, the bulk in the next three to four years. The minister said the project could help enhance the capacity of the railway network.

"The government would be unable to invest such large sums in the sector in such a short period," the official said.

Arveladze said an agreement with the investor was nearing completion and would be signed within the next two weeks.

Georgia's railway network stretches over 1,575 kilometers (1,000 miles) and includes 45 tunnels and 1,714 bridges.

See also:


Georgia Hands over Railway to Investment Fund

Civil Georgia: 2007-08-16

Tbilisi -- Management rights of the Georgian Railway company will be handed over to “a British investment fund, Parkfield, for 89 years,” Giorgi Arveladze, Georgia’s economy minister, said on August 16.

“We did not sell the railway; we have chosen to hand over management rights, instead,” Arveladze said.

He said that the company had pledged to invest USD $1 billion to rehabilitate railway infrastructure within the next ten years. “Most of these funds will be invested within the next three or four years,” Arveladze added.

It will be, Arveladze said, Parkfield’s first investment in the railway business.

No other information about this investment fund was available at the time of writing this report.

Arveladze also said that Parkfield would delegate management responsibilities to a separate company. The government, he said, would not interfere in the selection process. The selected company, however, Arveladze added, “should be a leading international company with experience in railway management.”

Existing passenger and cargo tariffs will be maintained until 2009, Arveladze said, and for five subsequent years tariffs will be determined jointly by the state and the company.

See also:


Parkfield Capital LLP is a specialist investment management firm established in September 2005 by Nigel Wightman, Adam Parkin and Andrew McDonald. Parkfield Capital LLP is the investment adviser of ACDS Parkfield Investment Funds ICVC.

Parkfield nigel wightman.jpg
Nigel Wightman - Managing Partner, Parkfield. He served on the investment committees of the Royal institute for International Affairs and Brasenose Collage Oxford. Received an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Brasenose College Oxford and M Phil in Economics from Nuffield College Oxford

Parkfield adam parkin.jpg
Adam Parkin - Partner, Parkfield. He has been a Managing Partner of Parkfield Capital since 2005. he holds a BA degree in Economics from Warwick University and MPhil in Economics from Worcester College Oxford.

Parkfield andrew macdonald.jpg
Andrew McDonald - Partner, Parkfield

The General Director of Georgian Railways, David Onoprishvili, a former economist at Vanderbilt University in the US has already restructured management, dismissed 2,445 workers and seen a dramatic rise in ticket sales - a rise he attributes to having more ticket sales being officially recorded instead of pocketed by low-paid cashiers. Salaries increased by 17 percent and the minimum salary by 28 percent in 2004. The company's budget for 2005 was GEL 260 million Georgian Lari (£75 million).

His long-term goal has been to privatise the railway. To this end, Onoprishvili appealed to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for assistance - for the financial year 2006 USAID provided $43.36 million to Georgia, out of total foreign aid of $66.18 million. USAID in turn selected Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct a pre-privatisation analysis of the railway and assist it in restructuring. The company conducted similar pre-privatisation consultations for all of Algeria's state-owned industries, Saudi Arabia's state-owned telecom and Latin America's largest telecom company, the Brazilian government's Telebras.

USAID and Onoprishvili signed the agreement in November 2004 under which ExxonMobil announced that over the next five years it will export 10 million tons of oil from the Caspian Sea by rail via Georgia and Batumi, thereby by-passing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

The annual railway subsidy to the passenger service was GEL 35-40 million (£10 million) in 2004. According to Onoprishvili the board of directors has agreed to create a separate company for passenger transport in order to cut costs.

Georgian Railway revenue earnings from freight for eight months in 2006 amounted to GEL 206 million (£60 million). Passenger traffic from January to August 2006 amounted to GEL 10.43 million (£3 million).

Irakly Ezugbaya, from Georgian Railways said that the company's current turnover compared with 2005 had increased by 18%, the volume of transported goods reached 19-22.3 million tonnes. A 25% increase in revenue was recorded, so that instead of GEL 150 million (£43 million) end of the year, company earnings will be approximately GEL 200 million (£57 million). Net profit for Georgian Railways increased by 116% and operating profit by 54%.


See also:

History:

Georgian railway is a vital artery linking the Black and Caspian Seas and important part of the Euro-Asian Transportation Corridor - the shortest route between Europe and Central Asia, the north and south. The concept of a rail-link originated back in the 1830's, but construction began only in 1865. In 1871 railway operations on the Poti- Kvirila (now called Zestafoni) section were opened and on 10 October 1872 the first passenger train from Poti arrived to Tbilisi. This date is regarded as the "birthday" of Georgian railways.

georgian dock railway 2.jpg
Poti, ferrying across the Black Sea

Since then the construction of Georgian Railways picked up pace. The following railway branch lines were built: Rioni-Kutaisi (1877), Rioni-Tkibuli (1887), Zestafoni-Chiatura (1891).

On 16 September 1890 the construction of the double-lined Tsipa tunnel was completed. For that period this tunnel was a unique construction.

The Tbilisi-Baku railway was part of the second stage of Georgian railway construction. This line was put into operation in 1883 and the transportation of Azerbayjani oil through Batumi port to the world market began.

georgian dock railway 3.jpg
Batumi, the ferry across the Black Sea

In 1899 the railway connection between Georgia and Armenia was opened.

Borjomi Gorge has always been the matter of great interest as far as its rare woodland species, resorts and the well-known "Borjomi" mineral water are concerned. The Khashuri-Borjomi railway was built in 1984 and in 1902 the Borjomi-Bakuriani narrow-gauge line, which serves skiing, leisure and tourist resorts.

georgia syrami tunnel.jpg
Syrami tunnel construction

The Kaheti railway line, the construction of which was completed in 1915, covered regions producing the outstanding Georgian wines: "Mukuzani", "Tsinandali", "Rkatsiteli", "Gurjaani", "Manavis Mtsvane", etc.

In 1923 the first "Ferli" class steam engines were replaced with "F" and "SU" class steam engines.

Alongside the electrification of the Surami pass the "S-10" series locomotives built by "General Electric" were put into operation.

In 1932 the first locomotive depot was built in Khashuri, where the first Soviet locomotive was tested. Today, this locomotive is placed on the pedestal in Khashuri station.

One of the prominent days in the history of Georgian railway was 16 August, 1932. For the first time in the former Soviet Union electric traction was introduced and the first electric locomotive climbed Surami pass.

georgian freight train.jpg
Double-track on Surami pass

From this day onwards all railway lines gradually turned to electric traction. In November 1967, this process was completed - all Georgian railway lines, Borjomi-Bacuriani narrow-gauge included, were electrified.

From 1974 Tbilisi Locomotive mill modern "VL-1O" and "VL-11" series locomotives began functioning.

The rapid development of the leading industrial and agricultural sectors, such as tea-growing, citrus-growing, gardening, wine-growing, was followed by new railway constructions: Natanebi-Ozurgeti (1924), Brotseula-Tskaltubo (1934), Senaki-Ingiri-Gali (1930), Gali-Ochamchire-Sokhumi (1938), Gori-Tskhinvali (1940).

The construction of the Sokhumi-Adler line, connecting with Russian railway network, began during the World War II, was in progress in spite of the war actions, and was finished in 1946.

On 31 December 1986 the construction of the new Marabda-Akhalkalaki railway line was completed.

The beginnings of the communication, automation and telemechanics era goes back to 1946-1949. The automatic blockage, switches and mount electric centralizing systems, train and maneuvering radio communications.

The construction of the Black and Caspian Sea railway link was finished on 10 October 1872. After this, it was possible to begin Azeri oil shipments to the world markets via Georgia and Black Sea.

In 1899 the railway connection between Georgia and Armenia was opened.

The complicated geographical relief of Georgia stipulated construction of the artificial engineering structures, of which there are more than 3,700 with a total length of 108 km. In 1967 full electrification of Georgian railway was completed.

See also:


Azerbaijan gives Georgia initial 40 mln usd loan to begin planned railway

AFX News Limited: 08.14.07

BAKU (Thomson Financial) - Oil-rich Azerbaijan has sent 40 mln usd to neighbouring Georgia to start construction of a strategic railway linking the two countries with Turkey, Azerbaijani officials said.

The payment was the first instalment of a 220 mln usd loan to Georgian railway builder Marabda-Kartsakhi Railways, the Azerbaijani transport ministry said in a statement.

The three countries agreed in February to build a rail line linking the Azerbaijani capital Baku, the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the Turkish city of Kars.

The railway, expected to cost 420 mln usd, is seen as a major step in linking the strategic ex-Soviet Caucasus region south of Russia to the West. It should be completed by the end of 2008.

Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey have already cooperated to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines to deliver oil and gas from energy-rich Azerbaijan to Europe.

August 16, 2007

Regulator takes on government over rail fares

Guardian Unlimited: August 16, 2007
Dan Milmo, Transport correspondent

The rail regulator has raised concerns about the government's policy on fares after a public outcry over ticket price increases.

The Office of Rail Regulation said it had questioned the Department for Transport about fares amid a series of high-profile fare increases. Bill Emery, ORR chief executive, told the rail user watchdog, Passenger Focus, that protection of consumers from excessive fares was an issue.

"There remains the question as to whether the department's policy on fares provides the appropriate level of protection for the consumer," he said.

He added: "We have raised these issues with the department. We believe that it is important for the department to set out clearly the objectives underpinning its current and proposed fares policy and to explain why it is in the wider public interest, taking into account the desired balance between the funding provided by tax payers and fare payers."

Mr Emery's comments were made last month in a letter to the Passenger Focus chairman, Colin Foxall, two days after the government published its five-year railway strategy which proposed a near-doubling of the fare payers' contribution to the cost of running trains. By 2014 passengers will foot three-quarters of the bill, rising from £5bn currently to £9bn, while the government reduces its annual subsidy from £4.5bn to £3bn.

In an earlier letter to the civil servant in charge of rail, Mr Emery raised concerns that a policy of raising fares while reducing government investment might lead to a competition law breach by encouraging excessive increases. In the letter to Dr Mike Mitchell, head of rail at the DfT, he said: "We would like to discuss with you future tensions which may exist between a franchising policy that seeks to minimise subsidy/maximise premia [payments] at a TOC [Train Operating Company] level and competition law."

An ORR spokesman said Mr Emery had not received a response from Dr Mitchell, who drew criticism from Passenger Focus this year after he told MPs that people paying £5,000 for a season ticket should tolerate standing for 30-minute journeys.

The ORR contacted him following an outcry over a 20% fare increase by South West Trains. Ian Dobbs, head of rail at SWT's parent group, Stagecoach, said today the rises were in effect dictated by the government's franchise requirements. "As a train operating company and as an owning group we will bid [for franchises] on the specifications laid down by the DfT. And if that has rules pertaining to price rises and fare structures, we will bid on that basis," said Mr Dobbs.

The ORR, which has no direct power over train operators but could launch an anti-monopoly inquiry into pricing, said before it sent the letter to Dr Mitchell that there were no grounds for opening a competition inquiry. It had been urged to open an investigation by Passenger Focus, while the TSSA union said it had lodged a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading.

Six out of 10 fares sold on the railways are not price-capped. Regulated fares such as season tickets are limited to price rises to no more than 1% above inflation. ORR statistics show the average ticket price rise last year was 7% including inflation.

A DfT spokesman said: "We are aware of concerns around unregulated fare increases, which is why we will give passenger representatives more of a role in the franchising process."

Bidders line up for £4bn train contract

Guardian Unlimited: August 16, 2007
Mark Milner

The government today announced a shortlist of companies that will compete for the contract to build a new generation of inter-city express trains. The contract could be worth up to £4bn.

The new trains, which will be able to operate on electrified lines or using their own diesel power, will be lighter and more environmentally friendly, according to the Department for Transport.

The three shortlisted bidders are Alstom-Barclays, Express Rail Alliance - a consortium of Bombardier, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown - and Hitachi Europe.

The new trains will be used initially on the East Coast and Great Western main lines, but the decision to equip them to use both diesel and electricity is designed to allow them to be used more broadly across the rail network.

The contract will cover the design, construction and maintenance of between 500 and 2,000 carriages. No cost has been put on the deal but industry estimates suggest each carriage could cost between £1m and £2m.

The speed of the new trains has yet to be decided. Virgin's pendolino trains, which operate on the West Coast main line, are capable of a speed of up to 140mph but are restricted to a maximum 125mph because of limitations in the signalling system. In order to be allowed to travel faster the new generation of trains would have to be fitted with in-cab signalling, a system that was deemed too expensive when the West Coast main line was upgraded.

The rail minister, Tom Harris, today said: "Last month's Delivering a Sustainable Railway white paper highlighted the importance of increasing capacity in a flexible manner. We are developing a flexible train that can be deployed on different lines, in different lengths, and with different sources of power."

An initial batch of the new trains is expected to be in operation by 2012 and the full fleet is expected to be deployed by 2015.

The government said the new trains would be in addition to the 1,300 new carriages that have been promised in an attempt to reduce overcrowding on the rail network.

The invitation to tender for the contract will be issued in the autumn and the contract is expected to be awarded in the winter of 2008/09.

See also:

Government shortlists for £1 billion trains

Times Online: August 16, 2007
Joe Bolger

The Department for Transport has selected three groups to bid for its flagship contract to build hundreds of intercity trains

The Department for Transport has drawn up a shortlist of bidders for its flagship £1 billion programme to supply hundreds of new long-distance intercity trains, in what will be the country's most significant investment in rolling stock for more than 30 years.

The three groups shortlisted to tender for the contract include Hitachi Europe, Alstom-Barclays Rail Group, and Express Rail Alliance, a consortium comprising Bombardier, Siemens, Babcock & Brown, and Angel Trains, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland.

The InterCity Express Programme, announced in March, will result in the manufacture of a new design of train that will carry "significantly more" passengers than existing trains and will be lighter and more environmentally friendly.

The DfT plans to buy between 500 and 2,000 new vehicles depending on the tenders it receives.

Although the department has not put a figure on what it expects to spend, reports suggest it will be close to £1 billion.

Tom Harris, the rail minister, said: "We are developing a flexible train that can be deployed on different lines, in different lengths, and with different sources of power — so this train can operate wherever we need it to in the future."

The new trains will replace the older intercity trains run by Midland Mainline and First Great Western, as well as the faster trains run by GNER on the East Coast Main Line.

The new trains will initially be introduced from 2012 between London and Scotland on the East Coast Main Line, which is being taken over by National Express.

A full rollout will begin in 2015, with the first trains introduced on the East Coast Main Line and the Great Western line between London and the West Country.

The trains must be able to run on electricity, diesel power or both. They will replace stock that has been used, in some places, for more than three decades.

Shortlisted parties will receive an "invitation to tender" in the autumn, containing more details on what is required.

They will have until next summer to make their proposals, with the contract scheduled to be awarded next winter.

August 15, 2007

Metronet drags Balfour Beatty into the red

Times Online: August 15, 2007

A £100 million writedown on the London Underground contractor left the group nursing £52 million losses at the half-year stage.

Balfour Beatty, the engineering and construction group, swung into the red in the first half of the year, after writing down the value of its stake in Metronet, the London Underground maintenance group, to nothing.

Balfour reported pre-tax losses of £52 million for the six months to the end of June, after it booked a £103 million writedown on the value of its Metronet stake and on related business.

Last year the group made pre-tax profits of £35 million in the same period.

Metronet was put into administration in mid-July, weeks after the company wrote down the value of its stake, after the arbiter of public-private partnership schemes said that the company would be able to claim back only a small portion of the extra costs it was claiming from London Underground.

Metronet has filed for administration, putting a huge question mark over the future of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme

Metronet was seeking £992 million from London Underground for work completed.

However, the arbiter proposed a cash injection of only £121 million in an interim ruling.

Balfour Beatty had a 20 per cent stake in Metronet. However, the value of that stake was reduced to zero in late June, when it decided to take a one-off £100 million charge.

Metronet dismissed its chief executive in April, after acknowledging that its £17 billion investment programme to upgrade nine London Underground lines had fallen badly behind schedule.

Balfour Beatty said that it was working closely with Metronet, London Underground and Metronet's administrator to ensure that the company's daily operations remained unaffected by its present status.

"We do not anticipate any negative impact on the UK PPP [public-private partnerships] market as a whole to arise as a result of Metronet's administration," it told investors.

The company also said today that its recently acquired US business had signed four new contracts worth $730 million (£367 million), including its first piece of business under the US Army's $30 billion Base Realignment and Closure programme.

The full programme is expected to include more than 800 projects at 200 US bases, involving "extensive modernisation and expansion" of facilities.

Balfour Beatty's pre-tax profits before exceptional items rose by 36 per cent to £76 million, underpinned by growth across all its businesses and a first-quarter contribution from Balfour Construction US, formerly Centex Construction, which it bought in late March.

Ian Tyler, the chief executive, said: "With our workloads continuing to increase, projects progressing well and a full six months' contribution from Balfour Beatty Construction US, we anticipate further good progress in the second half of the year."

He said that the group was developing a plan for the long-term development of Exeter airport, which it bought in January for £60 million as part of a push to invest in infrastructure assets not linked to PPP programmes.

The group is paying an interim dividend of 4.6p, up from 3.9p in the first half of last year.

You can track Balfour Beatty's shares here.

East Coast rail deal could mean above-inflation fare rises to 2015

The Times: August 15, 2007
Sam Coates, Political Correspondent

Passengers using the London to Scotland rail network face above-inflation fare rises every year until 2015 as part of a deal announced yesterday by the Government to hand the franchise to National Express.

The coach and rail company will take over the running of the East Coast Main Line from mid-December after beating opposition from First Group, Arriva and a partnership between Virgin and Stagecoach. But the company was immediately warned by MPs to maintain the standards of service set by GNER, the existing operator, which ran the service from 1997.

GNER’s contract ended early after it paid £1.4 billion for a new licence in 2005 but lost revenues because of the London bombings in July that year, higher energy and fuel costs and the prospect of increased competition. Its parent company, the Bermuda-based Sea Containers, filed for bankruptcy protection in the US last year.

Under the new deal, the operator will be expected to deliver faster journey times, with London to Leeds services taking two hours, as well as more London to Edinburgh trains, with journeys lasting four hours and twenty minutes.

But the announcement immediately prompted concern from the customer watchdog over the level of above-inflation fare rises. National Express said unregulated fares were likely to rise by 2.1 per cent above inflation a year during the franchise. The Government currently limits annual rises in regulated fares to 1 per cent above inflation.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, the customer watchdog, said: “The commitment to improving services is a key passenger concern but represents a significant challenge for the new operator and for Network Rail to get from where they are today.

“The longer-term plans to provide more seats and more services should be pursued with vigour. However, we remain concerned at the cumulative effect of year-on-year unregulated fare rises way above inflation.”

Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, said yesterday that fare rises were significantly less than those announced recently by other franchises.

“Provided that National Express are committed to and deliver the performance improvements written into this contract, I do not think most passengers are going to have much to complain about,” he told the BBC. “I don’t buy this idea that people are being priced off the railways; the very opposite is happening: more people are choosing to use the railways because we do have an improving system.”

Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat MP for Aberdeen, warned National Express not to try to downgrade the service. “GNER set a standard which I sincerely hope will be maintained, if not improved upon, by National Express,” he said.

As part of the contract, the company is committed to providing wi-fi internet access free in standard class, and full dining services on the 87 week-day trains. National Express is also committed to ensuring that nine out of ten trains run on time; to reducing fuel consumption per passenger kilometre by 28 per cent over the life of the franchise; and to investing in four “green” stations.

Franchise battle

Feb 2005 GNER awarded 10-year, £1.3 billion franchise to continue operating East Coast Main Line railway but struggles to meet repayments amid rising energy costs and trouble at its parent company, Sea Containers

July 7, 2005 Terrorist attack on London hits passenger numbers

July 28 GNER loses court battle with a rival operator on East Coast Main Line

Oct 16: Sea Containers enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Dec 15, 2006 Government announces that it will relet the East Coast franchise

Jan 15, 2007 Expressions of interest from new bidders

Aug 15, 2007 National Express beats the challenge of three other bidders to run franchise from December until March 2015, at a cost of £1.4 billion

See also:

High fares feared on east coast rail line

The Guardian: August 15, 2007
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

· National Express pays £1.4bn for franchise
· Government to reduce subsidy by £1.5bn a year

Passengers on the London-to-Edinburgh line face above-inflation fare increases every year into the next decade after National Express won the franchise with a record £1.4bn bid.

The government windfall comes less than a year after GNER, the previous holder, defaulted, admitting it could not meet payments totalling £1.3bn over the 10-year contract. National Express has agreed to pay £100m more over seven and a half years. Some ticket prices will rise by 15% above inflation across the life of the franchise as the government seeks to make fare payers contribute more to railway costs while state funding is slashed. The rail passenger watchdog warned that the fare rises, the latest in a series of increases announced in recent franchise awards, would price people off the railways.

"The government puts a lot of emphasis on access for all and doing something about the equality gaps that are opening up in society. The railway should not be excluded from that. If you keep pricing up tickets, it will have long-term consequences," said Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus. The fare increases apply to unregulated tickets, such as any off-peak fare that is not a saver ticket, which will rise by 2.1% above inflation annually until the franchise ends in March 2015. Increases in regulated fares such as season tickets and advance bookings will be pegged at 1% above inflation. Passenger Focus said the increases would equate to a 45% rise in unregulated fares once inflation is included, with a York to London standard open return rising from £179 to £259 by 2015.

National Express said the steep franchise pledge, the biggest since privatisation, was "ambitious but deliverable." Adam Walker, finance director of the rail, coach and bus group, said there would be no aggressive fare increases on the new service otherwise people would be driven away from the railway. "We will keep fares as low as possible and stimulate demand. That is what we have done with our other businesses on the rail network."

Rail minister Tom Harris said the award reflected the government's ambition to "grow and develop" the rail network. The government said last month that the vast majority of that development will be funded by the fare payers over the next decade, more than doubling their contribution to the cost of running the railways while the state funding falls. Passengers will foot three-quarters of the operating costs, rising from £5bn a year to £9bn by 2014 while the government cuts annual subsidy from £4.5bn to £3bn.

National Express said the new franchise, which starts in December, will provide 14,000 extra seats every weekday, add 40 more carriages and run nine out of 10 trains on time. A new website will also highlight the cheapest tickets available. GNER carries 18 million people a year and its successor is aiming to attract 28 million passengers by 2015.

National Express said it had no plans to cut jobs from the 3,100-strong workforce it will inherit from GNER. Rail industry sources said it would be difficult to meet the premium payments without slashing hundreds of jobs. It is understood that the Department for Transport had urged GNER to consider redundancies during talks about keeping the franchise going.

National Express said the franchise was in a stronger position than in 2005, when the impact of the July 7 bombings and higher than expected electricity costs derailed GNER's revenue expectations.

Mr Walker said: "GNER put a lot of investment into the franchise two years ago when it won the contract and we will benefit from that, as well as the growth rates we are inheriting. We are inheriting a different franchise."

Thousands of migrants stranded after U.S. rail company pulls out of southern Mexico

Associated Press: August 14, 2007

MEXICO CITY: Mexico has sent federal police to clear out thousands of Central American migrants stranded near the Guatemalan border after a U.S.-run railway shut down operations there late last month.

Undocumented migrants — who for decades have hopped the freight trains heading north toward the U.S. border — apparently were unaware that on July 29 trains stopped running along the Chiapas-Mayab railway, the only lines linking the border area with other railways in central Mexico.

They wound up without shelter and fearful in small rail towns like Tenosique, in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

"It's terrible: Here in town there are about 4,000 people stranded," Franciscan brother Juan Pablo Chavez Vargas, who runs a shelter for migrants in Tenosique, said Tuesday when police were called in to bus away migrants. "They can't get out. They would have to walk more than 300 kilometers (160 miles) to get to the next working railway line."

Unable to walk that far and fearful of stepped-up immigration inspections on local highways, many migrants have waited in vain, hoping the trains — normally packed with stowaways — would pull into view again.

Smugglers, vendors and others who profited from a steady flow of migrants may have encouraged migrants to keep coming, two weeks after Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc. ceased operating the rail lines.

"They are telling them, 'The train will come, just wait. The train will come,'" said Chavez Vargas.

The government says it hopes the railway will be running again under another operator by mid-2008.

In the meantime, many of the migrants took to sleeping in fields or under trees on the outskirts of rail towns.

"But they started to invade the center of town," Tenosique police officer Guadalupe Juarez said.

That is when the government started to act.

Tabasco Gov. Andres Granier said there were still about 2,000 migrants in Tenosique, and he ordered state police there to help put them on buses and send them back to their homelands.

"We know about the poverty and poor conditions that exist in their countries," Granier said. "We can't allow them to risk their lives to reach the United States."

Migrants also piled up at another now-unused terminus of the rail line at Arriaga, in Mexico's southernmost Chiapas state, located a shorter, but still-daunting, walk away from the nearest working rail head.

The railway closure broke up a long-established route for migrants, who would pile hundreds at a time atop freight cars laden with fuel oil, corn and cement.

Chiapas-Mayab spokeswoman Jeanette Rosado said the migrants made running the lines more difficult.

Rail workers were injured in assaults by migrants or gangs of thugs that preyed on the migrants, she said. And rail-riding migrants also delayed operations and cost the company money.

"It is not the same, pulling a normal train or pulling it with 300 people riding on top," Rosado said.

In the end, however, it was deteriorating railroad tracks — many stretches damaged by a hurricane in 2005 — that led Genesee & Wyoming to pull out of its 30-year operating concession.

RMT wins guarantees on TfL ill-health pensions

RMT: August 15 2007

LONDON UNDERGROUND’S biggest union has won the guarantees it was seeking from companies covered by the Transport for London Pension Fund that no attempt will be made to undermine the pension rights of people forced to leave their jobs through ill-health.

RMT members last month voted by a 15-to-one margin to strike against moves that would dramatically affect qualification for ill-health pensions, but the principal employers have now confirmed that they will not attempt to alter the existing arrangements.

Ill-health pensions are granted to workers in the TfL fund whose ill-health makes them unfit to do their particular job. Proposed changes would have meant that anyone capable of earning an income, regardless of how small, would probably not qualify for or retain an ill-health pension. (see notes below).

"Our members showed with a massive majority that they were prepared to strike to defend their hard-won ill-health pension rights, and they have won a significant victory," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"We have now received the guarantees we were seeking that no attempt will be made to introduce cost-cutting changes that would deprive most people who leave work through ill-health of their pensions.

"We still believe that the fund rule that allows annual review of ill-health pensions should be scrapped, but we now have written confirmation that it will remain suspended.

"Our members have shown once more that collective strength can successfully defend pension rights when they come under attack," Bob Crow said.

ends

Notes to editors: In the ballot that closed on July 25, 3,141 (93.7 per cent) voted for strike action, and 212 (6.3 per cent) against. The employers involved were: London Underground, TfL, Metronet, Tubelines, Cubic Transportation, REW and EDF Energy.

TfL Pension Fund - Ill-health pensions now:

At present if medical evidence indicates that a member is unfit to do his or her own job, an ill-health pension would be granted. That pension is based upon length of fund membership, plus up to ten additional years' service. The pension may be suspended if the individual recovers to 100 per cent fitness, or revised to reflect an income. Where an income is earned, if the income plus TfL pension is greater than that of their previous job, the pension is reduced so that the individual's overall earnings are not greater.

What the proposed changes would have meant:

Ill-health pensions would have been split into two parts: a basic pension and an additional ill-health supplement. If the individual recovered, the ill-health supplement would have been withdrawn, which would mean that individuals under 50 (or 55 from 2010) would be unable to continue drawing their basic pension.

Crucially, the test for receiving an ill-health pension would have been changed to an 'all-work' test rather than the current 'own-job' test, which would left the majority of those leaving employment due to ill-health facing the prospect of their pension being stopped because they would not be totally incapacitated.

A train operator who developed eyesight problems, for example, would have been unable to continue in employment as a train operator but would not receive an ill-health pension under the proposed changes if he or she remained fit for some other form of work.

The employers had sought to exploit inconsistencies between the TfL Pension Fund Office's Guidelines on ill-health pensions and the existing Scheme Rules. However, the union has proposed that the Scheme rules be amended in line with the Fund Office Guidelines (which also reflect members' conditions of service), and that the current rule, 19 (5), which allows review of ill-health pensions, simply be abolished.

The transformation of Ghana's rail

The Statesman: 15/08/2007
Suleiman Mustapha

The Railway System in Ghana is set to undergo some tremendous transformation in the next few months after being abandoned to rust for so long.

This follows the historical pact between the Government of Ghana, Peatrak and Kampac Group of Companies to develop the country's railway infrastructure to link the three Northern Regions of Ghana.

This is a landmark success in view of the fact that the country's railway system had gradually diminished in its role as a major transporter, accounting for only four percent of the country's bulk haulage activity.

The Harbour and Railway Ministry, which was fashioned out of the Roads and Transport Ministry in April 2003, is developing and revitalising the infrastructural, services and capacity of the rail sub sector in facilitating and enhancing domestic and international trade for socio-economic development.

True to the sector Minister Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi’s words in 2003, when the Ministry was couched out  of the Roads and Transport Ministry that " The railway sector will be revived under my watch and we are determined to see it through as instructed by President Kufuor” in answer to a question.

Kampac Project

The first phase of the $1.64 billion project which involves the rehabilitation of the existing railway line from Takoradi to Kumasi will be completed in 18 months, while the construction of the new line from Hamile to Takoradi will be completed in five years time.

The projects, known as the 'Western Railway Project,' is being financed through a build-operate-and-transfer concession agreement with Kampac Group of companies, which will see the group manage the country's railways for the next 35 years after completion. Forward-looking ambitious

More than 15 top international companies are involved in different aspects of the job at the various railway points in the country.

Group Chairman of Kampac companies Charles Ampofo told The Statesman in an interview that the groups working on the project have been divided into five teams, each stationed at different locations for the construction of a new standard gauge line connecting Takoradi through Manso, Tarkwa, Huni Valley, Dunkwa Awaso, Nyinahin, Sunyani, Techiman, Bole, Sawla, Wa through to Hamile in the Upper West Region of Ghana.

Among the reputable global companies involved in the project include R&H railway from South Africa, who are the project consultants, Manferoster from Germany will oversee the building and maintenance engineering of the project.

Other companies engaged in the project include the Industrial Development of South Africa, Old Mutual Investment Group of South Africa, DEG Invest of Germany and the Standard Chartered Group and the Stanbic Bank of Ghana proposing to finance the project.  

Sector Minister Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi who on Tuesday retained his portfolio and promised to push his sectorial agenda, assured Kampac that their investment will be well protected.

"We welcome you, and hope you deliver this project to the good people of Ghana" he said."The project is for Ghanaians and it is our wish that it could be undertaken at a much faster pace", said the former Education Minister.

He assured that "once the President has tasked us to revive the railway line, we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that Ghanaians see the revival of their treasured asset."

The Peatrak Project

The Ministry has signed a  concession agreement with M/S Peatrack, which covers the design, building, operating and transfer for the construction, expansion and operation of a modern rail network between Accra-Tema and Paga for a period of 35 years.  

The scope of project:-

Phase I of the project involves the rehabilitation of the existing Tema - Accra – Nsawam suburban railway and Tema – Accra – Nsawam (suburban).

Other rehabilitation works will  be on the Tema – Nsawam – Nkawkaw – Ejisu – Kumasi main line through to the Kumasi suburban to the Inland Port  of Tema and Kumasi Corridor from Bususo to the  Kibi Branch Line

The Ejisu corridor will see an unprecedented linkage to Paga in the Upper East Region.

The same line will connect Ejisu to Mampong to Nkoranza up to Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana.

From Techiman and Kintampo, it will connect to Tamale and Bolgatanga to Paga after linking the Yendi and Sheini Branch line.

Cost of Project

Phase I

USD – 1,400,000,000 ($1.4bn)

Phase II

Cost will be determined by feasibility study.

Concession Company’s Obligations

Among several obligations:

* The Concession period is 35 (thirty-five) years, with the option for extension for delays due to Government, or inability to amortise within that period.

* The project is to be wholly financed by the Concession Company after paying an entry fee of $27,000,000 part of which will be used for severance payments of current staff of the Ghana Railway Company and for the acquisition of the corridor.

* The Concession Company is expected to create new avenues for local industries.

* It will also pay an annual concession fees of up to 3% of turnover to Government during the operation phase

* The construction and operation shall be undertaken in line with acceptable safety standards while posting performance bonds of up to US$4,000,000 for the construction and operations phases of the project.

* The railway network shall be handed over to Government of Ghana at the end of the Concession period without any encumbrances.

Government of Ghana’s Obligations

Government will acquire the right of way (corridor) for the rail network; financing shall be provided by the concession company and expected to hand over physical possession of the corridor and project site together with all necessary rights of way and way-leaves.

To ensure peaceful occupation and use of the Project Site by the Concession Company, exemption from Customs and Excise duties shall be made on all imports of plant, machinery, equipment, spares and bitumen, fuel, lubricants and other materials intended to be used in connection with the Project.

Development of Accra Tema sub-urban rail network

The rapid expansion of the population of Accra and Tema has resulted in the development of outlying suburbs to accommodate the increasing population. It has also led to the increase in the working population of these two cities.

These situations have brought about traffic congestion in the two metropolis, lateness to work resulting in low productivity, increase in fuel consumption, high road maintenance cost, increase in environmental pollution and road accidents resulting on loss of lives and property.

To address this condition, the Government of Ghana proposed to introduce the commuter rail transportation services within the Accra/Tema metropolis.

The project, which began in 2005, would see the upgrading of the existing rail lines and construction of new rail lines.

The overall investment cost of the project is estimated at US$5,5000 with the OPEC fund supporting with US$5 million grant with US$500,000 counterpart fund coming from the Government of Ghana.

The existing lines are the Accra-Nsawam and Tema-Achimota-Accra. Whilst the proposed rail lines are the Accra-Dodowa, Accra-Kasoa and Accra-Dansoman.

Rehabilitation works on the Accra-Tema rail line from Achimota to the Hotel Shangri-La area is completed.

Also construction of the broken bridge at Baatsonaa, and Nungua has been complete. It is expected that by the end of next month a trail test would be runned on the rehabilitated Accra-Tema rail line.

The commuter services would be runned using the Diesel Multiple Units. Each unit or train would consist of a diesel engine with normal transmission to the wheels for traction and trailing coaches which may be three or more depending on the requirement.

The DMUs have certain inherent advantages over the ordinary locomotives and coaches such as the built in system to allow frequent stoppage at short intervals, provision of quick acceleration and deceleration which is vital due to the frequent stoppage at short intervals.

Whilst expecting work to progress on the Kampac 800km rail line from Takoradi to Hamile, another engineering firm from the United States, Atlantic Companies, Inc have also expressed interest in the suburban Railway System in the Metropolitan areas of Accra-Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi under a Public-Private Partnership agreement.

Under the terms, Atlantic Companies would construct, supervise and operate the Suburban Railway System in the Metropolitan areas.

August 14, 2007

Just what Britain's longest-suffering rail commuters needed ... a platform poet

London Evening Standard: 14.08.07
trainpoet sally crabtree.jpg
Shall I compare thee to a summer rose?: Sally Crabtree has been chosen as the first ever official Poet on the Platform by First Great Western

It's been called the UK's worst-performing train company and commuters must have been longing for bosses to do something to relieve the misery of late and overcrowded services.

But instead of promising more carriages or fare cuts, First Great Western has provided a platform poet.

A performer known as the "pinkwigged pocket Venus from Cornwall" has been hired to soothe stress levels and keep passengers entertained as they wait for their trains.

Armed with her copper 'Poetree' and mock tickets inscribed with poetry to give to passengers, Sally Crabtree will sing and recite over the noise of passing trains.

Rail bosses believe that the poetry tour of eight stations starting today will inspire passengers' creativity.

Commuter groups have described the idea as "completely ridiculous".

The announcement comes as a passenger watchdog is threatened with legal action after complaining that First Great Western is the UK's worst-performing train company.

Official figures published in July for the first three months of this year show that only 75 per cent of its long-distance trains ran on time.

London TravelWatch had written to the Government suggesting First Great Western's franchise be terminated. The company has demanded the group withdraw its complaints.

paddington commuters.jpg
Waiting lines: Stressed commuters will be entertained by verses from poet Sally Crabtree

An Oxford commuter group yesterday urged the company to invest in improving services instead of wasting money on a platform poet.

Susan Westlake, a spokesman for Ox Rail Action, said: "It made me laugh when I heard about this. If trains are delayed when this poet is performing, I don't think passengers will be too impressed."

Miss Crabtree, 42, who has performed at the Edinburgh Festival and has worked in libraries and schools, is due to stage two performances a day at each station.

The mother of two will not be paid but she will receive a free travel card to journey between the stations and her home in Cornwall.

"To be the first official poet on the platform is a dream come true," she said. "I am inspired by the reasons for our rail journeys - the human connections and stories involved. The response is usually very positive. A lot of people are very stressed and I don't interrupt passengers who want to get on their way."

As part of the act, she will set up a copper tree decorated with objects on station platforms, inviting passengers to choose a hanging decoration which will form the inspiration for her poem or song.

The tour of Reading, Oxford, Bath, Bristol Temple Meads, Exeter, Barnstaple, Paignton and Plymouth stations is due to last until Friday.

Elaine Wilde, of First Great Western, said: "This is an exciting project which we think is fun and inspiring."

National Express wins East Coast Mainline rail route with £1.4 billion bid

BBC News: 14 August 2007

The transport group was awarded the contract to run the East Coast Main Line franchise by the Department for Transport after a bidding war.
gner_route.gif
National Express has won the battle to operate the main London-to-Scotland rail route.

National Express beat off opposition from Arriva, First Group and a joint venture between Virgin Trains and Stagecoach to win the contract.

The group will take over the operation from troubled GNER in December.

The franchise comprises high-speed services connecting London to Edinburgh and also serves other key destinations including Leeds and Aberdeen.

The franchise was put out to tender last year after GNER was struck by financial troubles and could not afford to pay the £1.3bn it had promised the government for the right to run the service.

"The whole deal is very good news, not only for passengers but for the taxpayer," said Transport Minister Tom Harris, speaking to the BBC.

Under the terms of the deal, National Express has agreed to pay the Treasury £1.4bn in total to operate the franchise until the end of March 2015.

The group, which also operates the Gatwick and Stansted Express and the inter-city services between Yorkshire, the east Midlands and London through Midland Mainline, has also pledged to invest in extra services, stations and on-board services.

See also:


National Express wins UK's East Coast rail deal with £1.4 billion sterling premium

Thomson Financial: 14 August 2007

LONDON - National Express Group PLC has won the race for the UK's prestigious East Coast inter-city rail franchise with a pledge to pay the government £1.4 billion over the life of the seven year deal.

The premium payment is more than the £1.3 billion that the incumbent operator, Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), agreed to pay. GNER was forced to give up the franchise before the end of its 10-year term because it was unable to meet the payments.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the National Express bid vehicle, NXEC, had said it may wish to raise unregulated fares by an average of 2.1 pct above inflation each year over the course of the franchise. Regulated fares will continue to rise by inflation plus 1 percent per year.

East Coast runs services from London King's Cross to Peterborough, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The new contract will begin on December 9 and last until March 31 2015, with the last 17 months conditional on set performance levels being reached.

National Express was favourite to win the deal, which was the last to be awarded in the current round of franchises.

It gives the company a total of three rail franchises, with the others being London-Essex operator C2C and Anglia operator 'One', otherwise known as London Eastern Railway.

Analysts had said National Express needed to win the franchise in order to boost its rail portfolio, which had taken a hit in recent times from the loss of a number of deals due to bid failures and reorganisation of franchises.

The group lost out to Stagecoach Group PLC in its bid for the East Midlands franchise, which is replacing its high-performing Midland Mainline contract.

It also failed to win the Cross Country franchise and will hand over its Gatwick Express contract to Go-Ahead Group's Govia unit next year.

National Express said in a statement that it had won the contract with a bid that is 'ambitious, deliverable and structured to generate shareholder value'.

The DfT said the franchise includes provision for up to 25 extra train services from December 2010 and up to 40 more carriages will be brought into use to deliver increased capacity.

There will be new, two hourly, faster services between London and Lincoln and London and York and more London-Edinburgh trains.

Other improvements will include an updated catering offer, a simpler website highlighting the cheapest tickets available and the expected seat availability on each train, introduction of smart cards by 2010, £7.4 million to upgrade stations and provision of up to 2,000 more car parking spaces by the end of the franchise, with half of these expected within the first two years.


See also:


National Express awarded contract for growth on InterCity East Coast

Department for Transport: 14 August 2007

Department for Transport Stock Market Statement / Press Notice:

The Department for Transport today announced that NXEC Trains Ltd, a subsidiary of National Express Group, has been awarded the contract to operate services on the InterCity East Coast rail franchise.

The franchise comprises of services connecting London with Scotland via Peterborough and the north of England. It will start on 09 December 2007 until 31st March 2015, with the last 17 months conditional on set performance levels being reached.

£1.4bn (NPV) will be paid over the life of the franchise in premium as a contribution to DfT's rail budget.

The contract will deliver:

* The current (May 2007) timetable, which includes Leeds half-hourly services, until 2010. From December 2010, there is provision for up to 25 extra train services - around 14,000 seats - each weekday. Up to 40 more carriages will be brought into use to deliver increased capacity

* Included within this, a new London - Lincoln service will operate at 2 hourly intervals. A new London - York service will also operate at 2 hourly intervals and will call at intermediate stations

* Faster journeys: London - Leeds services in 2 hours, London - York in 1 hour 45 minutes, and more London - Edinburgh trains taking around 4 hours 20 minutes

* Better performance, so that 9 out of 10 trains run on time. NXEC is committed to reducing its delay minutes by 29% by the end of the franchise

* Environmental benefits, including a commitment to reduce fuel consumption per passenger kilometre by 28% over the franchise term, designate four 'green stations' and £400, 000 invested in reducing energy use at station and depots

* A simpler website that will highlight the cheapest tickets available and the expected seat availability on each train. Smartcards introduced by 2010

* £7.4m to upgrade stations. Up to 2000 more car parking spaces to be provided by the end of the franchise with half of these expected within the first 2 years

* On board trains, Wi-Fi will be free in Standard Class and full dining services retained on 87 weekday trains

Rail Minister Tom Harris said:

"We want to grow and develop our rail network. In our White Paper we set out plans deliver increased capacity, better performance and improved connections between key towns and cities. Franchise awards are already delivering these benefits.

"Passengers travelling on the East Coast Main Line will see similar enhancements. There is provision in this contract for extra services and fewer delays. NXEC will also invest in stations and on-board services."

Overall, regulated and unregulated fares together are likely to rise by RPI + 1.6% each year throughout the course of the franchise.

The Government will continue to limit annual rises of regulated fares - which include season tickets and saver fares - in line with national policy, which is currently RPI+1%.

As with all franchises, unregulated fares will be the responsibility of the operator. NXEC have indicated
that they may wish to raise unregulated fares by an average of 2.1% above inflation each year over the course of the franchise.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. The Net Present Value of the premium is £1.414bn. The premium profile is available for download here: Download file

- Please note that the full set of tables are available from DfT website: http://www.gnn.gov.uk

Note:

1 Franchise Payments are taken directly from the Franchise Agreement and represent the sum of the fixed, RPI and AEI related payment elements in 2007/08 prices.

2 Nominal Franchise Payments are determined by applying DfT's forecast of RPI and AEI to the Franchise Payments in the Franchise Agreement.

3 The Present Value (PV) of Nominal Franchise Payments are calculated using HM Treasury's real discount rate (3.5%) adjusted for inflation.

2. Revenue Share/Support:

* Revenue Share - If actual revenue out-turns between 102% and 106% of target revenue, then 50% of the excess between 102% and 106% will be shared with DfT. If it out-turns above 106%, then 80% of the further excess will be shared with DfT.

* Revenue Support - If actual revenue out-turns between 98% and 94% of target revenue, then DfT will provide support equivalent to 50% of the shortfall between 98% and 94%. If it out-turns below 94%, then DfT will provide support equivalent to 80% of the further shortfall. Revenue support arrangements only apply after the first four years of the franchise.

3. Timetable - NXEC has worked closely with Network Rail during the preparation of their bid, and will continue to work with Network Rail and the Office of the Rail Regulator to put in place extra services from December 2010, based on the conclusions of Network Rail's East Coast Route Utilisation Strategy. The new timetable could provide:

* An increase in the number of weekday trains from 136 to 161, including five trains in each off-peak hour from King's Cross - two to Leeds, two to Newcastle (with half of those trains extended to Edinburgh, and some to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, as happens today), and a fifth train running in alternate hours to Lincoln and to York;

* An additional 14,411 seats each weekday over and above the current timetable

* A new two hourly direct service between London and Lincoln and a new two hourly London to York service, calling at intermediate stations, giving good connectivity whilst enabling trains between London and Leeds, York, Newcastle and Scotland can be accelerated.

4. Trains - Existing Inter-City East Coast rolling stock will be retained, with HST powercars re-engined to reduce fuel consumption.

* Additional services will be operated on rolling stock previously used on the West Coast Main Line

* DfT is in the process of procuring the next generation of intercity trains (the Inter-City Express Programme) to be introduced across the network from 2014. A pre-series batch of the new trains will be introduced on the East Coast Main Line from 2012 before production of the full fleet begins

5. Stations - NXEC will continue to manage 12 stations across the franchise, and will invest in improvements to lighting, toilet facilities, better signing, lounge and waiting facilities, seats, cycle facilities and cleaning, painting and decorating. Stations that will receive improvements include: Newcastle, Grantham, Retford, Doncaster, Durham, Dunbar, Darlington, Wakefield, Peterborough and York.

6. Environmental: NXEC will also:

* appoint an Environmental Manager with specific responsibility for coordinating environmental activity within the franchise;

* conduct an annual environmental audit

* trial the installation of an electricity consumption meter to enable energy efficiency of trains to be monitored

* reduce waste disposal, water consumption and hazardous waste levels throughout the course of the franchise

7. Car Parking - NXEC will seek to increase car parking capacity by up to 33% over the life of the franchise with an additional 2000 spaces; half of these are dependent on a development scheme at Peterborough, but other stations for which capacity is planned include Retford, Dunbar, Newcastle, Newark Northgate, York and Wakefield Westgate

8. Catering - NXEC will provide a buffet and trolley service throughout First and Standard Class, and an at-seat service to standard class customers enabling them to order hot food which will be delivered to seat. NXEC will provide a full restaurant service on 87 train services Monday to Friday with an improved range of full meals. Currently, a full restaurant service operates on 88 train services Monday - Friday.

9. Performance - NXEC is committed to achieving 90.1% PPM by January 2010. A 29% reduction in delay minutes attributed to the TOC will be achieved by the end of the franchise

10. Delay/Repay compensation arrangements - As with recent franchise awards, a single compensation policy for all passengers will be introduced. Discounts on renewal for season tickets valid between one month and one year in compensation for poor punctuality and reliability will be replaced by compensation based on delays to individual journeys, known as Delay/Repay. Under the new system, all passengers will be entitled to claim compensation for all delays, whatever their cause.

* 50% of the price paid for a single-leg journey delayed by between 30 and 59 minutes;

* 100% of the price paid for a single-leg journey delayed by between 60 and 119 minutes; and

* 100% of the price paid for a return journey delayed by more than 119 minutes

* The changes will also start to standardise disparate compensation arrangements for single, return and weekly season ticket holders on different train operators.

11. Further details from the franchise competition are available on the DfT website http://www.dft.gov.uk

Note:

1 Franchise Payments are taken directly from the Franchise Agreement and represent the sum of the fixed, RPI and AEI related payment elements in 2007/08 prices.

2 Nominal Franchise Payments are determined by applying DfT's forecast of RPI and AEI to the Franchise Payments in the Franchise Agreement.

3 The Present Value (PV) of Nominal Franchise Payments are calculated using HM Treasury's real discount rate (3.5%) adjusted for inflation.

Call to double rail spending in Wales after astonishing growth in travel by train

Western Mail: Aug 14 2007
by Martin Shipton

THE body charged with improving public transport in the busiest part of Wales has called for a doubling of its budget after figures showed a huge increase in rail travel.

Between 1996 and 2005, passenger rail journeys in Wales surged by 37% to an astonishing 29.8m – the equivalent of 10 trips a year for every man, woman and child.

Now Sewta – South East Wales Transport Alliance – wants the Welsh Assembly Government to more than double its budget from £40m to £85m a year.

Sewta, a consortium of 10 councils between Bridgend and Monmouthshire, is responsible for devising strategic transport plans for the region it covers and securing funding for improvements from the Assembly Government. Around 70% of Welsh rail journeys take place in Sewta’s area.

Sewta secretary Bob Brierley said, “The big increase in rail travel reflects the fact people are travelling further to work, and that they see rail travel as a realistic option.

“It also reflects the booming economy of Cardiff, with people using the local rail network that is a fortunate legacy of the coal industry.

“At present we get about £36m a year in core funding from the Assembly Government.

“Other income, including some from the European Objective One aid programme, pushes the total up to around £40m.

“We believe that for us to be able to make a real difference, our annual budget should be increased to around £85m.”

Sewta chairman Tom Williams, a Caerphilly Labour councillor, said, “We have regular meetings with Assembly Government officials, where they want us to do this, that and the other.

“We say to them, ‘give us the money, and we’ll do it.’

“It’s true that a lot of money has been ploughed into public transport, but much more is needed if we are to meet the increasing demands of the public.

“Establishing better public transport links is absolutely essential for the economic future of the Valleys.

“And with car parking charges going through the roof in Cardiff, there are likely to be more and more people opting to use the trains in the future.

“At the moment we are doing what we can to increase the frequency of trains running down the Valleys lines into Cardiff, but if the demand is there I would like to see services running every 15 minutes.

“We also want to improve the bus services so they link in better with trains. What we’d like to have is a system where people can jump on a bus to the station just in time to catch a train.

“We also want to improve park- and-ride schemes.”

The long-promised railway line linking Ebbw Vale with Cardiff is now due to open in December, although trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport are not likely to be running until 2014.

In the meantime, every southbound train will be met at the Rogerstone station by a “rail line” bus to take passengers to Newport.

Sewta also plans to increase the frequency of trains between Cardiff and Abergavenny by installing a loop at the latter station which will enable trains to turn round there.

An Assembly Government spokesman said, “The growth in passenger numbers for public transport in Wales has been higher than in the rest of Great Britain.

“This is a real success story for Wales and has been made possible by a record level of investment and commitment from the Assembly Government.

“We are now waiting for each of the regional transport consortia – Sewta, Swwitch, Tracc and Taith – to submit their respective regional transport plans for next year, so that the Minister for Economy and Transport (Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones) can decide his priorities for all modes of public transport across the whole of Wales.”

This year, the total spent on all public transport by the Assembly Government is around £250m.

Seven bidders invited for second round of Hungary's MAV Cargo tender

AFX News Limited: 08.13.07

BUDAPEST (Thomson Financial) - The board of Hungary's state-owned railway MAV decided at a meeting on Friday to invite seven bidders, instead of the originally planned five, to make offers in the second round of a tender for MAV Cargo, its spun-off freight division, the group said.

MAV said the board selected two more bidders for the second round because the offers were very close. Twelve bidders submitted offers in the first round of the tender, ended July 23. The deadline for bidding in the second round is October 19.

MAV said the seven bidders were Cargo Central Europe consortium; Grampet S.A., Bucharest; Magyar Rail Cargo Vagyonkezelo Kft. Budapest; MC SOLUTION consortium, comprised of CER Central-European Railway Transport, Trading and Service Co. Budapest, International Railway Systems S.A. Luxemburg, TIARA Gazdasagszervezo es Tokebefektetesi Zrt. Budapest and Babcock and Brown Ltd. London; NEW WORLD RESOURCES TRANSPORTATION BV Amsterdam; a consortium of Rail Cargo Austria AG and GYSEV Zrt, Budapest-Sopron; and SPEDI-TRANS s.r.o, Praha.

August 13, 2007

Rail firm’s legal threat to silence passenger watchdog

The Times: August 13, 2007
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Britain’s worst-performing train company tried to silence the official passenger watchdog by threatening to sue it for libel for making a complaint about its poor performance.

London TravelWatch had written to Tom Harris, the railways minister, to ask whether First Great Western (FGW) was in breach of its franchise agreement because almost a third of its commuter trains in the Thames Valley were late.

FGW has a target in its contract of 92 per cent of trains on time but managed only 68.3 per cent on its peak services. Its long-distance services are also the least punctual in the industry, with only 75.6 per cent on time compared with a national average of 85.2 per cent.

The letter stated that the number of complaints from passengers received by the watchdog had more than doubled and that overcrowding was more than twice as bad as for the average operator in London and the South East.

Brian Cooke, chairman of London TravelWatch, held a series of meetings over several months with FGW to discuss its performance and had repeatedly urged it to take action to improve its service.

When the situation failed to improve, Mr Cooke wrote to the minister setting out the problems and telling him that the watchdog’s board had unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to “consider terminating the franchise”.

Mr Cooke gave a copy of the letter to The Times and also sent one to Moir Lockhead, the chief executive of First Group, FGW’s parent company.

Mr Lockhead passed it to the company’s lawyers, Slaughter & May. They wrote to London TravelWatch demanding that it withdraw the letter, which they described as “defamatory”. They also ordered Mr Cooke to reveal the names of everyone who had received a copy.

When Mr Cooke refused to back down, Slaughter & May wrote again, saying: “Your continued failure to address and remedy the damage being caused by your defamatory remarks is plainly unacceptable . . . Our client feels compelled to reserve its position against you.”

The Government knew about First Great Western’s attempt to silence the watchdog, but took no action. Mr Harris has acknowledged Mr Cooke’s letter but has yet to answer any of the questions that it contains despite receiving it more than three weeks ago.

First Group, Britain’s biggest bus and train operator, has formed close links with senior Labour figures. It employs Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spokesman, to advise on “strategic communications” and has engaged David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, to chair a commission that is expected to give strong backing to the company’s yellow school buses. First Group has refused to say how much the two are paid.

The Government’s rail budget is highly dependent on First making almost £2 billion in payments over the next ten years for the right to operate two franchises, FGW and First Capital Connect. The DfT can take enforcement action against train companies that breach their franchise agreements by failing to deliver minimum service levels. But it is unclear exactly what would constitute a breach.

Mr Cooke’s letter said: “If a breach has occurred, appropriate sanctions should be applied, and this should be stated publicly. If it has not, then the travelling public at least deserves a clear explanation of how much worse things will be allowed to become before the operator feels any pain.”

Mr Cooke told The Times that London TravelWatch had a duty to alert the Government to potential franchise breaches. “It was outrageous to threaten to sue us in order to keep us silent when we were only performing our statutory duty in reporting these matters to the Secretary of State,” he said.

“We were surprised that the DfT did not attempt to dissuade First from bullying the public watchdog.”

Yesterday a First Group spokesman said: “We had made clear to London Travelwatch repeatedly that certain things they were saying had no basis. We are within our rights to defend our reputation.”

A DfT spokesman said: “FGW’s performance has not been satisfactory for the passenger. Joint action plans are in place between Network Rail and FGW to address this.”


See also:

Rail watchdog 'amazed' by threat

BBC News: 13 August 2007

A rail passenger group said it was "amazed" its complaints about the UK's worst-performing train company had led to threats of legal action.

London TravelWatch wrote to the government about First Great Western (FGW), asking it to consider terminating the rail franchise.

The train operator said the group's facts were incorrect but the watchdog refused to withdraw the letter.

FGW has been in talks with London TravelWatch and will now not sue.

In the latest train performance figures - for the first three months of this year - only 75.6% of FGW's long-distance trains ran on time - the worst figure for any company.


"It is simply astonishing that we should be threatened for performing our statutory role" - London TravelWatch chairman Brian Cooke

London TravelWatch chairman Brian Cooke said: "We were amazed when we heard from First Group's solicitors and still believe our letter to the Department for Transport was entirely accurate and based on the most recent confirmed data available.

"It is simply astonishing that we should be threatened for performing our statutory role.

"However, subsequent meetings with FGW have proved valuable and we believe they are now putting in place actions that should bring about an improvement for passengers very soon."

First Group spokesman Paul Moore said FGW acknowledged that its train performance could improve, but it was wrong to say that it was not delivering on its franchise commitments.

He added: "We defend the right for London TravelWatch to look after passengers, but we also have a right to defend our reputation.

"While we clearly accept TravelWatch's right to criticise performance when it has gone wrong, it also has an obligation to get the facts right. Some of the things they were saying were simply not right."

August 12, 2007

The man who saved time

The Observer: August 12, 2007
Robin McKie, science editor
st pancras clock.jpg
A railwayman rebuilt St Pancras's shattered clock. Now it's a proud model for a new one.

As garden clocks go, 91-year-old Roland Hoggard's is a record breaker. Its dial, 10ft in diameter, dwarfs every sundial in the neighbourhood - as well as many trees and outhouses in the village of Thurgarton in Nottinghamshire.

In fact, the device, stuck on the side of the barn in his garden, is one of the nation's most important industrial relics. It loomed over the platforms of London's St Pancras station for a century. Then, some time in the 1970s, British Rail accidentally reduced it to a pile of rubble.

Mr Hoggard, a retired rail worker, bought up the debris and painstakingly put together the great timepiece - a restoration that has brought joy to London and Continental Railways (LCR), the new owner of St Pancras. Its architects and engineers have expended enormous effort to restore the station so that it will become a grand international terminal for Eurostar train services to Paris and Brussels later this year. But they were stumped about the great clock that had once provided travellers with the time and a meeting place.

Then they heard about Mr Hoggard's restoration and found that he had repaired the timepiece with such care and precision that it could act as the blueprint for an exact replacement. This is now under construction, right down to the same Welsh slate numerals, cast-iron hands and gold leaf ornamentation that once adorned the original.

'We are extremely grateful to Mr Hoggard,' said LCR's Ben Ruse. 'If he had not saved and repaired the station's clock so lovingly, we wouldn't have had a model on which to base our reconstruction.'

St Pancras, built in the mid-19th century, was once one of the greatest stations in the country and was linked to a lavish hotel that could accommodate hundreds of travellers. By the 1970s St Pancras had fallen into disrepair and only narrowly survived a plan to have it demolished.

Then British Rail decided to sell off its great timepiece - built by Dent Clocks, manufacturer of Big Ben's clock - and arranged a price of £250,000 with a US collector. But as workmen were taking the clock down, they dropped it. It was smashed to pieces and would have been dumped and buried had Mr Hoggard not bagged it up and placed it on a train to Nottingham. Then he dumped it in his garden. For 18 months he worked on the clock, and it has even kept good time for most of its stay in Thurgarton. But LCR engineers have deemed that the clock was too badly smashed by its original accident for it to be safely returned to St Pancras. Hence the replacement.

The company has invited Mr Hoggard to a royal ceremony, on 6 November, when St Pancras will be officially reopened before train services restart on 14 November. Hanging above the dignitaries will be the exact replica of his clock.

Eurostar 'abusing its monopoly' on rail services

Kent News: 12/08/2007
eurostar.jpg
Eurostar has been accused of abusing its monopoly on international train services by cutting the number of trains stopping at Ashford.

Former Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman, the MP for South Thanet, attacked the firm's decision to axe trains to Brussels and reduce the number of services to Paris when Ebbsfleet International opens in November.

In an article in last week's Kent on Sunday, Eurostar's chief executive Richard Brown said the company was running at a loss and claimed too few passengers would use the services from Ashford.

Eurostar says it needs 36 passengers to get on each train, but predicts there will be just 15 per service once Ebbsfleet opens.

But Dr Ladyman said: "That doesn't make any sense. Stopping at Ashford increases the number of passengers at no extra cost. The train's going to be going past Ashford anyway."

The MP added: "They have a monopoly for the time being because that was the way Eurostar was set up. By taking the decision they are about Ashford they are abusing that monopoly."

A Eurostar spokesman said that it would cost £1 million a year to make services stop at Ashford once on the way out of England and once on the way back each day. He said that was the cost of manning the station and "lost revenues", but would not give a breakdown.

He said: "Even if we were 100 per cent out in our analysis, which we don't remotely think we are, it's still not enough to make a direct Ashford to Brussels service commercially viable."

But the spokesman said that if demand for existing services from Ashford is higher than expected Eurostar would consider stopping there more often.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport admitted that it was powerless to intervene.

"The Government has no formal powers over Eurostar's operations," she said.

"However, ministers have had discussions with Eurostar and MPs on this issue and passengers' views will be passed on to Eurostar."

Eurostar UK Ltd recorded a loss after tax of £123.7m in 2005 and £276.7m in 2004.

National Express leads East Coast rail line bids

The Sunday Times: August 12, 2007
Dominic O’Connell

BRITAIN’s most prestigious railway, the east coast main line, will get a new operator this week when the Department for Transport names the winner of a keenly-contested battle between four of Britain’s largest transport groups.

National Express, the quoted bus and rail company, was last night tipped as the winner. It would take over from GNER, a subsidiary of Sea Containers, which has run the blue-riband route since the privatisation of British Rail in the mid1990s.

But industry sources said last night the result was still open. Four names are in the frame - National Express, Arriva, Virgin/ Stagecoach and First Group - and the sources said all the companies believed they still had a chance of clinching the prize.

The east coast line, home of the Flying Scotsman, has long been prized. It carries express trains between London and Edinburgh, and serves other key destinations such as Leeds and Aberdeen.

GNER has in the past won plaudits for its handling of the franchise, but the company has become mired in financial trouble. Its parent company, Sea Containers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in America last year.

GNER hung on to the east coast franchise in 2005, beating rivals with an ambitious bid that would have seen it pay £1.3 billion to the government over 10 years. But the company was unable to keep up with its forecasts for revenue growth, and last year struck a deal to relinquish the franchise at the end of the year.

If National Express is successful, it will be a coup for Richard Bowker, chief executive. As an executive at Virgin group, he made a bid for the line earlier, only to beaten by GNER. His plan then included a proposal for a TGV-style line alongside existing tracks.

Sir Richard Branson has long coveted the east coast line. He is bidding jointly with Stagecoach, and has given a small stake to GNER. Virgin and Stagecoach run trains on the other main intercity route, the west coast main line, and a win on the east coast would give a near monopoly of London-Scotland traffic.

Industry executives were this week wondering how close the successful bid would come to matching GNER’s. One rail analyst said: “The route is still experiencing very strong passenger growth, and the government has made it clear it is happy to see fare increases above the rate of inflation, so the company that wins is going to have promise to give back a lot to the Treasury.”

August 11, 2007

Rail scammers jailed

Wimbledon Guardian: 9th August 2007
By Daniel Knowles

A pair of scammers who used cloned credit cards to steal more than £150,000 worth of rail passes to sell on the black market have been jailed.

Jucius Marcinkevicius, 22, and Ruslan Dymarchuk, 21 part of a gang used the fake cards at south London rail stations including Streatham, Sutton, Crystal Palace and Wandsworth Common over nine months, buying weekly travel passes and handing them to their bosses to sell on the black market.

The scam cost rail operator Southern Trains £156,000 and forced the company to change its customer policy by limiting purchases to those with chip and pin cards.
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Stations targeted by the thieves included Streatham, New Cross Gate, Forest Hill, Sydenham, North Dulwich, East Dulwich, Peckham Rye, Tolls Hill, Sutton, Crystal Palace, Norwood Junction, West Norwood, Chipstead, Gypsy Hill, Wandsworth Common and Purley Oaks.

Lithuanian Marcinkevicius and Ukranian Dymarchuk were arrested when police caught them redhanded at Honor Oak Park station on April 28 this year.

The pair, both of Burgess Road, Stratford, east London, admitted conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court.

Marcinkevicius claimed he was given a pound for every travel card passed on to his gang master - earning up to £2,000 by the time of his arrest.

He was jailed for 21 months while foot soldier Dymarchuk, who only been involved in the fraud since February, received 15 months.

Judge John Price recommended that both men be deported once they had served their sentences.

"This caused the travel company very real problems, and eventually they tried to solve it by inconveniencing the public, limiting those who did not have chip and pin to withdrawing a maximum of £20 per day," Judge Price said.

"They were part of a sophisticated fraud. The loss was substantial."
A statement issued by Southern said: "Southern is pleased that the fraudsters have been caught and sentenced but regrets that it has become necessary to inconvenience some law-abiding passengers who are now unable to use non chip and pin' cards."

Rail crash bill tops £500,000 - and rising

Cambridge Evening News: 10 August 2007

A HUGE operation to replace the rail bridge at Ely damaged by derailed EWS wagons has cost £500,000 so far.
ely EWS crash.jpg
A bird's eye view of the derailed wagons before the cranes moved in

Engineers working for Network Rail in Ely have had to build a 1.3km temporary road across marshland to allow a 1,000-tonne crane to remove 11 wagons left dangling over the River Great Ouse, along with the bridge itself.

The river, which has been closed since an EWS freight train derailed between Ely Dock Junction and Soham on June 22, was set to reopen this afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail, which is part funded by the Government, confirmed that £500,000 has been spent so far, mainly on building the temporary road from the A142.

But she said the final cost of the repair project could not be estimated until a design for the replacement bridge is finalised.

An inquiry into the cause of the crash by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch is still in progress.

The passenger rail route between Ely and Bury St Edmunds is expected to remain closed for another four months until the new bridge is in place, with a replacement bus service in operation.

Network Rail has worked with the Environment Agency to clear the Great Ouse of between 20,000 and 40,000 tonnes of building aggregate pitched into the river in the crash.

That means boaters attending the Inland Waterways Association festival in St Ives later this month will have a clear route, instead of having to negotiate the trickier New Bedford River.

Patrick Hallgate, Anglia route director for Network Rail, said:

"We're very happy that after several weeks of incredibly hard work by all involved, we're able to reopen the river. We thank local businesses for their patience and understanding whilst we deal with this difficult and complex incident. We are now focused on finalising the design of the new bridge and its construction. This is likely to take a number of months. We will have a more definitive timeframe once the design is complete.

"We appreciate, and share, rail passengers' frustration and are working to get the railway open as soon as we can. We promise to keep all those involved informed of the progress."

Network Rail says the river will not close when construction of the new bridge starts - a pontoon will be used like a swing bridge to transport equipment while allowing boats past.

French team to build Indian high-speed rail corridor

The Hindu: August 11, 2007

New Delhi, (PTI) - An expert team from the French Railway is coming to India to carry out technical feasibility studies of a high-speed rail corridor this month.

The team arriving on August 26 would visit some of the proposed sites for the high-speed corridors to prepare a detailed study report suggesting possible measures for going ahead with the project.

If everything goes well, the team is likely to sign an MoU with the government to assist the Indian Railway in the project, a senior Railway Ministry official said.

The high-speed corridor, also known as bullet train proposal, comprises four routes and is estimated to cost about 25,000 crore Rupees (£3 billion) [1 crore = 10 million, 25,000 crore = 250 billion] for each route.

The proposed routes -- Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, Mumbai-Baroda-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore and Howrah-Asansol-Patna -- were announced in the current Rail Budget. The corridor aims at reducing the travel time drastically.

Besides carrying out the feasibility study by the French team, the Railways would also form a high-speed commission to expedite the project on a public-private participation basis.

Earlier, a preliminary study was conducted by the RITES for 492-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad route. "However, we need a more detailed study to go ahead with the ambitious Rs 1-lakh crore project," said the official involved with the project.

The French team is expected to provide more detailed inputs focusing on technicalities, financial implication, traffic pattern, funding plan, stakeholders' view, fare structure and other related issues before beginning the work.

"Besides France, we are also seeking help from Japan in the bullet train project," said the official adding, the basic research done by Japan and France in high-speed trains are essential ingredients in the project.

The study on bullet train project is required for the involvement of financial institutions and the industry while the government is for viability gap funding.

Since the corridor is expected to cost about Rs 50 crore per km, state governments and civic bodies have also been approached for sharing the expenditure.

"Many states like Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab have agreed to part-fund the project," said the official.

The Rs 1-lakh crore investment in the bullet train project is over a third of the entire Rs 2.5 lakh crore allocation for the Railways under the 11th Plan.

German train drivers commit not to strike until at least Aug. 27

The Associated Press: August 10, 2007
db train.jpg
NUREMBERG, Germany: A union representing German train drivers has committed to refrain from staging more strikes until at least Aug. 27 while mediators attempt to defuse their pay dispute with the national railway, a court said Friday.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn AG agreed in return not to impose any strike-related punishments, the labor court in Nuremberg said.

The court earlier this week issued an injunction blocking plans by the drivers' union, GDL, to target freight trains for a walkout on Thursday.

It also prevented strikes against long-distance passenger services, and the union appealed against that ruling. Friday's agreement between the two sides followed a four-hour court session.

GDL drivers on Thursday staged a two-hour strike against the Berlin and Hamburg commuter networks — the only parts of the railway system that were not covered by injunctions preventing walkouts.

The union and Deutsche Bahn later Thursday agreed to call in two veteran conservative politicians as mediators. GDL then said it would call off further walkouts, but it did not say on Thursday how long that commitment was valid.

GDL is seeking a pay increase of up to 31 percent for its members, and has rejected a 4.5 percent raise that railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG agreed to last month in talks with two other unions representing rail employees. The union wants a separate agreement for drivers, or engineers, a demand the railway rejects.

GDL says the drivers currently earn about €1,500 (US$2,050) per month after taxes, an amount it calls inadequate. It and other unions also have pointed to healthy earnings at Deutsche Bahn, which is preparing for partial privatization next year.


See also:

German train strike threat lifted

BBC News: 10 August 2007

The two sides in Germany's rail dispute are set to restart talks after unions ruled out further strike action until the end of August at the earliest.

Some drivers briefly walked off the job on Thursday. The two sides seem far apart.

The GDL union agreed to respect a court ruling banning more stoppages until 27 August to help facilitate a settlement.

Drivers at state operator Deutsche Bahn staged brief walkouts in Berlin and Hamburg on Thursday over a pay dispute.

Deutsche Bahn obtained an injunction preventing drivers of freight and long-distance trains from striking.

Mediation efforts

The injunction, lasting until 30 September, was granted because of the potential economic damage that a prolonged strike could cause.

The union appealed against the legal judgement and a Nuremberg court on Friday approved a compromise date of 27 August before which any strike action would be illegal.


"The decision to hold off on the strike is an important signal to the German economy" - Norbert Bensel, Deutsche Bahn

Two senior politicians from the ruling Christian Democrat Party have been appointed to head efforts to mediate a deal.

GDL is seeking a 31% pay rise for its members, arguing that they should benefit more from the recovery of the German economy.

This improvement has boosted freight and passenger traffic.

Deutsche Bahn has already agreed a much smaller deal with two other unions which will see workers receive a 4.5% rise in wages.

Deutsche Bahn welcomed the fact there would be no disruption in the immediate future.

"The decision to hold off on the strike is an important signal to the German economy and allows users of the rail network to plan their trips," said Norbert Bensel, the company's head of transport and logistics.

See also


German rail conflict shows rebel unions' power

Financial Times: Aug. 13, 2007
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin

The prospect of Germany's first all-out rail strike may have faded but the boldness of a rebel union's challenge to the management of the state-owned operator Deutsche Bahn has underlined the rise of the country's militant splinter unions.

The rise of GDL, the engine drivers' union, which represents only 6 per cent of Deutsche Bahn's employees and yet threatened Germany's most bitter labour conflict in years, is part of the broader trend towards more decentralised wage negotiations in the country.

For decades, Germany's trade unions, set up after the war along industry lines, have sat down with the relevant business federations at regular, highly scripted gatherings to hammer out deals that set pay and working conditions for entire sectors of the economy.
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But since 1996, the number of employees covered by these "blanket tariff agreements" has sunk rapidly. Statistics from the Federal Labour Agency's research institute show only 34 per cent of all companies and 56 per cent of workers are now subject to such deals. While companies have been leaving the business federations in droves in order to negotiate deals with their own works councils, trade unions have seen their membership steadily eroded.

Partly in reaction, unions have changed tactics, accepting low or no wage increases in return for job guarantees. Escape clauses giving individual businesses some latitude to diverge from the headline agreements also became standard in blanket wage deals.

The result was 10 years of real income stagnation. For economists, wage moderation was key to the radical restructuring German companies undertook in the period to recoup the competitiveness lost in earlier decades. But it caused frustration among workers and it is now boiling over as the economy powers ahead.

"We have a situation where despite strong unions, wage agreements are no longer working," says Gerhard Bosch, trade union expert at the Institute for Labour and Technology. "Groupings that represent special interests are aware of this, they observe the trend towards decentralisation and see a chance to challenge this wage stagnation."

Smaller and more militant unions, such as Cockpit, which represents 8,200 airline pilots and is now striking for a 6 per cent pay rise at LTU airline, are the main beneficiaries.

Seen in this light, the support the free-market Free Democrat party offered last week to GDL's eye-popping demands makes sense. The FDP sees rebel unions as a weapon against blanket wage agreements and the Tarifeinheit, a legal principle which states that different wage agreements cannot co-exist within one company.

It also explains the lukewarm, occasionally hostile, reaction of mainstream trade unions, whose power lies in their ability to dictate pay for large parts of the economy.

Some people close to business, however, warn against encouraging a trend that could backfire. "The problem with splinter unions is that they represent those workers with the highest potential to inflict damages by striking," says Thomas Ubber, the partner at Lovells LLP law firm who represents DB.

The result, he says, will be not just a widening of Germany's flat pay structure – the difference between a company's lowest and highest earners – but "a situation as in pre-Thatcher Britain, when unions in the same companies competed against each other for the most ridiculous demands".

August 10, 2007

German Firms Bracing for Steep Losses if Rail Strike Goes Ahead

Deutsche Welle: 07.08.2007

Experts warn that a rail strike could even put a dent in Germany's economic recovery.
db container freight.jpg
Containers are loaded to trains in Duisburg, Germany

German industry says it stands to lose millions of euros if a planned strike by a German train drivers' union goes ahead, causing mass disruptions to passenger and freight traffic throughout the country.

After weeks of wrangling over a pay dispute, the German train drivers' union (GDL) and Germany's state-owned Deutsche Bahn on Tuesday agreed to allow mediation to solve the long-running conflict, raising hope that a planned strike that could cause widespread economic damage may yet be averted.

Manfred Schell, head of the GDL union, said he was prepared to accept an outside negotiator suggested by the federal government to iron out the row. But the planned strikes, he said, will go ahead. The GDL had planned a four-hour work stoppage on Thursday on cargo trains. Deutsche Bahn has warned that the strike would also cause massive disruptions to rail passenger traffic.

Relying on the rails
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Delays are expected

The possibility of a strike has caused great concern among German companies who rely on rail to transport their goods to market. These industries would be set to lose 100 million euros ($137 million) if the strike goes forward, according to estimates by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW.)

It's unlikely that the striking conductors would allow other traffic to go around them, said Arthur-Iren Martini, the head of Network Private Railways. The association represents private rail freight companies from several European countries.

The railway "is like a water pipeline," Martini told the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel newspaper. "If you insert a barrier somewhere, the whole system stops."

A strike could threaten the existence of some private companies, if they can't find another way to get goods to market.

"When our train conductors can't drive, we don't get any income," Martini said.

Some sectors would be harder hit
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Freight trains also won't be going anywhere

The steel industry, car manufacturers and bulk chemical companies would be the worst affected, experts said.

That's because those important industries have fewer transportation alternatives. Food transportation would be less disrupted since produce can easily go by truck.

A spokesman for Volkswagen, which has 11 factories in Germany, said it was "taking the strike more than seriously."

Volkswagen was setting up a "crisis unit" to consider alternative ways to transport its cars and warned it could lose millions of euros.

BMW said it was seeking additional capacity from road haulage firms to transport its cars. Some 55 per cent of the 3,500 cars made a day by the company in Germany were normally carried by rail, a spokesman said.

"A goods train can take 200 cars, and a truck just eight," he noted.

The steel industry is also worried.

"Of course, the traffic volume by rail for the steel industry is enormous, and therefore disturbances have important effects," said Wolfgang Leese, chairman of Salzgitter, one of Europe's leading steel and technology companies.

90 percent of the company's product travels over the rail system.

Agreements reached with other train unions
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Deutsche Bahn gets a red light from its train drivers

GDL chief Manfred Schell said he would be prepared to call off the strike if a "reasonable offer" was placed on the table. Any deal for the drivers would have to be separate from agreements made last month with other rail staff, Schell said.

Last month, two larger unions representing 134,000 workers launched a series of small strikes. Deutsche Bahn eventually agreed to give them an inflation-beating 4.5-percent increase.

The salary hike will be spread over 19 months starting in January 2008 and will include a bonus of 600 euros.

The GDL broke ranks with the two other rail unions and rejected the deal. The union wants a separate labor contract and a pay rise of up to 31 percent.

Deutsche Bahn Human Resources Director, Margret Suckale, suggested appointing an independent mediator, which has been a sticking point between the two sides.

German Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee on Tuesday appealed to both sides to return to the negotiating table. Tiefensee added that the government would not become "involved directly in the conflict" in line with long-standing policy in Germany, but urged both sides to remember their responsibilities to rail users and to the general economy.

August 9, 2007

German rail strike disrupts Berlin, Hamburg trains, union faces pressure

AFX News Limited: 08.09.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - Striking train drivers disrupted rush-hour rail traffic in two major German cities today, as union leaders faced growing pressure to end a pay dispute.
db_picket.jpg
A GDL member protests against Deutsche Bahn boss Hartmut Mehdorn - the banner reads: "For Job Losses Choose www.mehdornbahn.de"

A two-hour walkout by drivers halted many suburban commuter services in Berlin and Hamburg, with east-west and north-south routes into Berlin heavily affected, although services in outlying areas of the capital fared better.

State-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) said services were not completely paralysed, with more than half of routes in Hamburg running normally and fewer commuters travelling due to the August holidays.

DB repeated calls for the unions to enter talks, and German companies facing production outages as a result of the strike warned union bosses that they may claim damages.

The GdL train drivers' union announced this morning's strike after a court in Nuremburg blocked a four-hour stoppage by freight train drivers planned for today.

DB has dismissed as 'ridiculous' the GdL's demands for a 31 pct pay rise for drivers and their own collective agreement.

The union has refused to negotiate, saying the pay hike is needed to push its members' salaries into line with those of train drivers in other European countries.


See also:

Berlin, Hamburg Commuters Delayed as Union Strikes

Bloomberg: Aug. 9
By Jeremy van Loon and Andreas Cremer
db_station_dispatch.jpg
RED Card - A Deutsche Bahn employee at Berlin train station

Travel for commuters in Berlin and Hamburg was disrupted today as the GDL train drivers' union, barred by a court from interrupting German freight and long- distance services, went on strike to reinforce its pay demands.

S-Bahn, or commuter rail, services were affected from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. local time in both cities as the union pressed its case for Deutsche Bahn AG to award raises of as much as 31 percent for 20,000 drivers and 10,000 ticketing staff. Together, the capital and the northern port city have more than 5 million inhabitants.

Commuter delays in Germany's two biggest cities are the opening salvo in a dispute between the state-owned railway and GDL that the Berlin-based DIW economic institute said might cause revenue losses of 500 million euros ($690 million) a day.

"German train drivers are at the bottom of the pay scale in Europe,'' Hans-Joachim Kernchen, a union member who organized the strikes in Berlin, said in an interview today. "Even the Italians earn a few hundred euros more.''

The industrial action comes a day after a labor court in the southern city of Nuremberg dashed the union's plan to stage the first open-ended rail strike in Germany in 15 years. It barred strikes until Sept. 30, though not on local passenger services. GDL yesterday appealed the court ruling.

Show of Strength

Berlin and Hamburg are the only two "white spots'' where the union is allowed to strike, Bernd Weiler, a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn, said in an interview. "Clearly they wanted to show us their strength.''

The two sides are talking and trying to find an arbiter they can both agree on to mediate further talks, said Weiler.

The GDL favors Heiner Geissler, a one-time chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who has since joined anti-capitalist group Attac, N-TV television reported. Geissler acted as mediator in a pay dispute last year at Deutsche Telekom AG, Europe's biggest phone company.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who previously mediated a Bahn dispute, would also be a suitable candidate, Kurt Bodewig, a former transport minister, said in an interview yesterday.

GDL rejected a 4.5 percent pay rise accepted by two other rail unions, Transnet and GBDA. An offer providing for "better wage prospects'' beyond the 4.5 percent proposed, along with improved career opportunities, might form the basis of a compromise, Margret Suckale, Deutsche Bahn human resources director, said yesterday.

Change of Tactic

GDL's decision to disrupt commuter services marks a change of tactic after the union initially said it would provide 24 hours notice for any action affecting passenger services. It only announced the action last night.

"It was important that we do this at short notice so that it could have the maximum impact,'' said Kernchen. "At least we've given people a chance to get to work.''

At Berlin's main train station, only two commuter trains, operated by non-unionized drivers, collected passengers between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., according to Ingo Hoffmann, a 34-year-old S- Bahn driver who has worked for Deutsche Bahn in the capital since 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.

"This strike has been a huge success and we've been able to disrupt things more than we expected,'' he said. Hoffmann and another colleague wore white plastic tops inscribed with GDL's logo and handed out leaflets outlining their demands to the few passengers waiting on platform 13 at the Hauptbahnhof, Europe's biggest multilevel station.

Wage Comparison

Train drivers earn about 1,500 euros a month net on average, less than their counterparts in neighboring France or Switzerland, according to the union.

Many passengers were unsure why the trains were delayed and most waited patiently for one to arrive.

"I've been waiting for about 25 minutes,'' said Fabio Dentella, a 34-year-old Italian filmmaker living in Berlin trying to make his way to the western part of the city. "Can you tell me what's going on?''

The union wants "to make clear to the board of Deutsche Bahn that we expect a negotiable pay offer,'' Manfred Schell, GDL chairman, said in a statement on the union's Web site.

GDL, established in 1867, is Germany's oldest union, and has seen out the Weimar Republic as well as the Nazi and communist regimes of last century, according to Kernchen.

"Deutsche Bahn management hasn't been taking us seriously,'' he said.

See also:

German train drivers back away from pay demand, threaten weekend strike

AFX News Limited: 08.09.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - A German train drivers' union threatening to bring the national rail network to a halt over a pay dispute reportedly played down its demand for a 31 pct wage hike, but warned of a possible freight train walkout over the weekend.

The demand would 'in any case never become reality' and none of the union's members expect to get it, the website of financial newspaper Handelsblatt reported GdL union chief Manfred Schell as saying in an interview with television news channel N24.

Schell suggested the union would consider reducing the pay demand made to state rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) in return for other improvements such as a reduction in working hours or better pensions.

'What finally comes out of this must be clarified at the negotiating table,' he said. 'The question is, do we take extra pay on its own, do we take a company pension scheme on its own -- that will all be taken into account proportionally.'

Schell also confirmed the union's willingness to enter into mediation by suggesting the former general secretary of Germany's conservative CDU party, Heiner Geissler, as a mediator in the dispute.

Earlier, the GdL had maintained its hardline stance by saying freight train drivers could strike at the weekend if they succeed in overturning a court's decision to block a stoppage on economic grounds.

The union said it was not ruling out a walkout sometime over the two days if it wins its appeal against the ruling by the labour court in Nuremberg.

'This would catch the employers at a crucial time, because freight traffic on Saturday and Sunday is also high,' deputy union chief Claus Weselsky said.

The court decided to block a four-hour stoppage of DB's goods trains that the GdL had planned for today, due to the damage it could cause to companies and the country's economy.

The union appealed against the ruling, but said it will delay any decision on further action until the outcome of the appeal is known on Friday.

Industrial action affecting passenger trains is not planned until Monday at the earliest, following today's two-hour walkout during the rush-hour in Berlin and Hamburg, which was not covered by the Nuremberg court ruling.

The action halted many suburban commuter services in the two cities, with east-west and north-south routes into Berlin heavily affected, although services in outlying areas of the capital fared better.

State-owned DB said services were not completely paralysed, with more than half of routes in Hamburg running normally and fewer commuters travelling due to the August holidays.

DB repeated calls for the unions to enter talks, while German companies facing production outages as a result of the strike warned union bosses that they may claim damages.

DB has dismissed as 'ridiculous' the GdL's demands for a 31 pct pay rise for drivers and their own collective agreement. It has agreed a pay deal with two other unions, Transnet and the GDBA, under which workers will get a 4.5 pct rise in wages and a one-off 600 eur bonus payment.

The GdL has refused to negotiate with DB, saying the pay hike is needed to push its members' salaries into line with those of train drivers in other European countries. DB claims drivers are paid more than 2,000 eur net per month, compared with the union's contention that drivers only get 1,500 eur.

Economic damage and wage inflation caused by the industrial action could damage prospects for a planned part-flotation of DB in 2008, experts said.

See also:


Mediators named in German rail wage dispute

dpa: August 09, 2007

Berlin - German rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the train drivers' union GDL have agreed to enter mediation to be led by two former leading conservative politicians, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports.

The sources said that Heiner Geissler and Kurt Biedenkopf, both former leading figures in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, had been accepted by both sides as mediators in the wage dispute.

Later, DB chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn confirmed that the two men had been agreed on with the GDL and said he was "very pleased that two experienced moderators and recognised personalities had declared their readiness to accept such a sophisticated task."

Geissler, 77, is a former general secretary of the CDU, while Biedenkopf had previously served as CDU premier of the eastern German state of Saxony.

The development came amid an increasingly heated war of words between DB and GDL in the train drivers' wage dispute, with the union accusing the company of unfair tactics.

See also:

Rail strike may hit Germany's car producers

Gulf Daily News: 8th August 2007

BERLIN: Germany was yesterday bracing for a rail strike that could cause chaos during the holiday season and hit the economy, with car producers warning they might be forced to scale down production.

The GDL train drivers' union on Monday balloted its members on a strike after rejecting a pay offer of 4.5 per cent, saying it wanted 31pc.

The union said the drivers would not stop work before tomorrow, giving rail operator Deutsche Bahn more time to scramble to put in place contingency plans.

An estimated 28,000 passenger trains and 5,000 cargo trains could be affected each day by the strike.

Germany's car industry - one of the mainstays of the European Union's biggest economy - warned that a strike could prevent raw materials being brought in and would prevent its products being moved around the country.

A spokesman for Volkswagen, which has 11 factories in Germany, said it was setting up a "crisis unit" to consider alternative forms of transport and warned it could lose millions of dollars if the strike bit.

Porsche said production of its popular Cayenne model might have to be halted at its site in the eastern city of Leipzig if the strike takes hold because parts for the model are imported by rail from a Volkswagen factory in Slovakia.

"We estimate that production at the Leipzig site might have to be stopped from Wednesday next week," a Porsche spokesman said.

After being hit by a series of strikes, Deutsche Bahn reached agreement last month with the Transnet and GDBA rail workers' unions under which employees will receive a 4.5-percent salary hike spread over 19 months from January 2008 as well as a bonus of $829. GDL however broke ranks with the two other unions.

Stink over dirty rail station

South Wales Evening Post: 09 August 2007
NINO.WILLIAMS@SWWMEDIA.CO.UK

Rail users arriving in Swansea are being greeted by something a lot more unsavoury than leaves on the track.

Passengers travelling to and from the city have reported human excrement all over the rails and sleepers near the station's entrance.

And they say the faeces stays there all day without any apparent attempt to clear it up.

Shelah Eakins, aged 63, from Cwmdonkin, Swansea, said: "It was absolutely horrendous.

"We were waiting for our trains at 8.30am in the morning, and the tracks were covered in human excrement.

"There were millions of flies and the smell was disgusting."

Ms Eakins, who had been travelling on a day trip to Shrewsbury with her two sisters, said the mess had still not been cleared up more than 12 hours later when they returned home.

"This was just yards from the entrance," she said.

"There are all sorts of public health issues, apart from the impression it gives to people arriving in Swansea."

One of the most distinctive features of Swansea railway station is the slogan Ambition is critical, which is embossed into the paving just outside the entrance.

It was immortalised in cult 1997 film Twin Town, which also famously boasted an arguably more apposite description of Swansea as "a pretty s****y city".

Network Rail, which is responsible for maintaining the tracks, blamed the problem on rail users who had used train toilets while in the station, contrary to signs instructing travellers not to do so.

A spokesman added: "The tracks are due to be cleaned this week, and will be jet-washed later in the month.

"We cannot clean the tracks every day because we would have to close the railway and stop the trains.

"The problem lies with people flushing the toilets when the train is in the station, which they should not be doing.

"It is not a nice thing for us to be having to clean, and even though it is unsightly, there is no danger to the public and there are no significant environmental problems."


Reader comments

The entrance along the tracks coming into swansea is a disgrace and gives a bad first image to travellers and tourists. The worst part is the rubbish that has been thrown over the back of a Garage and now looks like a scrap yard. First impressions last, so c'mon network rail and Arriva, clean it up and impose fines on the Garage or other business' who use the tracks as a dumping ground
Andy, Burry Port

I didn't realise that train toilets still flushed straight out on the track. How backward is that.
Paul, Llangennech

You might ask why in this day and age we still have trains that flush straight onto the rails. Is this the third world? And Swansea station is out of date, dark and covered in grime and is an absolute embarrassment to the city. As is the bus station.
James, Swansea

How absolutely revolting that this should be happening AT ALL!!! WHY are people using the toilets on the train at a terminus?? People either arriving or departing from Swansea High Street station should be using the toilets at the station. Does this station have toilets for travellers to use?? Or, perhaps, this is just another examples of people's bad habits which, unfortunately, we all seem to have to tolerate in this 'anything goes' society.
Marilynn Osment, Somerset

August 8, 2007

German rail strike on hold

Financial Times: August 8 2007
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin
deutschland.jpg
The threat of a crippling railway strike in Germany receded on Wednesday after Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned operator, secured a last-minute court order preventing stoppages nation-wide.

Strengthened by its court victory, DB reached out to the union on Tuesday, offering to appoint two mediators to help both sides resume their talks.

DB’s legal coup came less than 24 hours before GDL, a rebel engine-drivers trade union, was scheduled to launch an open-ended strike, the first in 15 years, initially by targeting freight trains. Economists and business organisations warned this week that a prolonged strike would cost the German economy hundreds of millions of euros if it paralysed the country’s railway system.

The court order, however, which GDL said it would appeal, does not mark the end of what is shaping up as a protracted labour dispute. Union and management have yet to sit down for talks and GDL is expected to seek ways to circumvent the injunction.

“The Nuremberg labour court has upheld our arguments and issued an injunction preventing strikes in both freight and passenger transport until September 30,” a DB spokesman said.

DB had argued that the strike was disproportionate because it only had the backing of 8,300 out of the company’s 240,000 employees yet could still cripple the country’s entire rail infrastructure.

The injunction is a temporary ruling and can be lifted again as the court reviews the substance of DB’s complaint. Manfred Scheel, chairman of GDL, told a television interview his organisation would appeal the order, which applies to long-distance freight and passenger services.

The court could not be reached for comment while GDL did not return calls to its Frankfurt headquarters.

DB is seeking a similar injunction protecting its regional train services against stoppages. A court in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, banned a strike in the state earlier this week.

GDL has broken rank with the company’s two main trade unions, which secured a 4.5 per cent pay rise last month, effective from January, and a one-off €600 payment for this year. GDL is demanding a 31 per cent rise for engine drivers and a separate wage agreement.

DB is adamant that it will not grant GDL a separate wage deal, because it fears it would undermine the agreement reached with the company’s main unions and trigger a wage spiral.

A separate deal, which GDL has made a condition of it returning to the negotiating table, would also enshrine the union’s right to call a strike of its members. One of the two majority unions said it would rescind the 4.5 per cent deal if GDL had its way.

Margret Suckale, DB’s head of personnel, said a “wage window” for engine drivers could be accommodated with existing wage agreement, providing GDL members with “interesting perspectives.”


See also:

German Court Bans Rail Strike Scheduled for Tomorrow, FTD Says

Bloomberg: Aug. 8
By Andreas Cremer

A German court ordered Deutsche Bahn AG train drivers to scrap plans for a nationwide strike from tomorrow, the Financial Times Deutschland reported.

A labor court in the city of Nuremberg ruled today in favor of an injunction to prohibit strikes planned by the GDL engineers' union, the newspaper said, citing law firm Lovells.

Deutsche Bahn, Germany's state-owned railway, yesterday withdrew a legal petition filed at Frankfurt's labor court and resubmitted the procedure at the court in Nuremberg, southern Germany.

Members of the GDL union voted on Aug. 6 to stage the first unlimited rail strikes in Germany since 1992 to press demands for a pay rise of as much as 31 percent.

See also:

Cost of German rail strike ‘to be huge’

The Financial Times: August 7 2007
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin

A paralysis of German rail transport could cost the economy hundreds of millions of euros a day, economists said, as the country braced itself for the first open-ended strike at Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned operator, which begins Wednesday.

The warning came as DB and the GDL engine-drivers union toned down their inflammatory rhetoric of the past two days. Although they are unlikely to return to the negotiating table right away, both said they would consider involving a mediator to help put the talks back on track.

Economists are concerned about GDL’s decision to initially focus on disrupting freight transport, a softer target than passenger services in terms of public relations but possibly more costly to the economy.

Claudia Kemfert, transport expert at the Berlin-based DIW economic institute, said the total cost of an all-out strike at DB could be well in excess of €100m ($138m, £68m) a day. Although DB estimates the costs at €500m a day, even an average figure of €300m would translate to a 5 per cent drop in daily gross domestic product.

Transport is vital to Germany’s highly decentralised economy, whose robust recovery has been driven largely by exports. Although road has a higher share of the freight market than rail, Germany’s motorways and waterways are overloaded in the west of the country.

Sectors such as steelmaking and coal mining, which cannot use roads as an alternative and where production stoppages would result in disproportionately higher costs, would be most affected by the strike.

“Our reliance on rail is immense, which means any disruption could have dramatic consequences,” said Wolfgang Leese, chief executive of Salzgitter, the steelmaker.

Carmakers, which use trains to move half their product, would also be hit hard. Even businesses that use roads exclusively could face higher costs. The federation of road freight carriers in Hamburg, home to the country’s largest container terminal, has warned of rising prices if capacity became scarce. Its sister federation, in the state of Brandenburg, said the strength of the economy was already putting pressure on the network and several transporters were facing staff shortages.

DB’s competitors, which operate mainly in the freight and regional passenger markets, are concerned too. The federation of private-sector railway freight operators said it would sue the GDL for damages if DB’s competitors were unable to operate normally.

“You can make a convincing case that the total cost will be huge,” said Dirk Schumacher, economist at Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt. “It’s not just a matter of train tickets not being sold and freight not making it through. There are many multipliers.”

Nor will the cost be linear. GDL has said it would begin with isolated stoppages and gradually scale up in the hope that the government, owner of DB, will force the company to resume talks.

GDL has demanded a 31 per cent pay rise and a separate wage agreement from that struck between DB and the company’s two largest trade unions last month.


See also:


German rail strike to begin with four-hour freight train stoppage

AFX News Limited: 08.08.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - Germany's biggest rail strike for 15 years is to begin tomorrow with a four-hour walkout by freight train drivers, according to a report.

The GdL train drivers union plans to keep the timing of the action secret until just before it begins in a bid to maximise disruption, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported the union as saying.

Passenger train drivers are unlikely to begin their strike until Monday at the earliest, but the GdL said it could not rule out delays to services as a result of the freight train stoppage, the newspaper said.

The union and state railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) say they are open to negotiations and union boss Manfred Schell said he would not oppose the appointment of a so-called moderator to oversee talks, although he ruled out a conciliation procedure, the report said. DB's personnel director Margret Suckale was quoted as saying the company's constant appeals to the union were obviously having an impact.

GdL members voted by more than 95 pct in favour of a strike from Thursday unless DB agrees to their demand for a 31 pct rise and an exclusive collective agreement, which the rail operator's management described as 'ridiculous'.

See also:

The Right to Walk Off the Job

Der Spiegel: August 09, 2007
THE WORLD FROM BERLIN

Locomotive engineers in Germany want a huge pay raise, but judges kept Deutsche Bahn workers from walking off the job Thursday morning. Still, commuter trains in Hamburg and Berlin stood still for two hours. Is the right to strike sacred or not?

A looming German rail strike seemed to be averted on Wednesday afternoon by a last-minute ruling by a labor court in Nuremberg, which forbid the engineers' union from striking until after the summer tourist season. But the locomotive engineers sprang a surprise of their own on Thursday morning: commuter rail drivers (S-Bahn), who belong to the union, halted rush-hour service anyway in Hamburg and Berlin. Deutsche Bahn management and the engineers -- who had been squatting for days in opposite corners of the wrestling ring, refusing to negotiate -- now look ready to talk.

The engineers are pushing for a 31 percent pay raise from the national railway, the Deutsche Bahn. They have a small union in Germany -- only 30,000 members belong to the so-called GDL -- but they run a crucial sector of the economy, and a nationwide strike could be devastating. They also earn an average of about €2,000 ($2,565) a month, which the engineers argue is peanuts compared to the responsibility borne by an engineer at the head of a speeding train.

The heart of the struggle is whether the engineers should accept salaries in line with the other unions that serve Deutsche Bahn -- the majority of other Bahn employees recently won far more modest raises -- or negotiate a separate, and much higher, class of pay. "We won't let anyone touch the principle of a unified system of wage settlements," Deutsche Bahn CEO Hartmut Mehdorn said in an interview (more...) with SPIEGEL this week.

German papers on Tuesday -- writing for the most part before news broke of the morning strike -- sound almost unanimously sympathetic with the engineers.

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The right to strike is unquestionably sacred, and this also goes for the engineers' union, which has made fully understandable demands (even if the numbers are arguable). There are, of course, limits to the right to strike, namely wherever a strike would cause unacceptable damage ... But is damage to the national economy deep enough to justify rescinding the (engineers') right to strike? The judges in Nuremburg have said yes ... But this was far from the last word; higher courts will have to deal with the case."

"Deutsche Bahn must quit trying to halt the GDL in the courts, and the engineers need to come to the table. The tactics both sides have used so far will lead to nothing but chaos on the rails."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes, not without sarcasm:

"A ridiculously small fraction of employees is holding out for the lunatic demand of a 31 percent raise, thereby splitting the (Deutsche Bahn) workforce. Economic experts have estimated damages in the hundreds of millions of euros; the government has called for a settlement. But the two sides aren't negotiating -- in the absence of any grand hope for success, Deutsche Bahn has ordered its lawyers to grab the union by the neck."

"The showdown is about more than just one union vs. Deutsche Bahn. It's about the foundations of German economic organization. If the freedom to organize (and strike) isn't an absolute right, where and when does it start? ... Small but crucial labor groups will no doubt test this right more often in years to come, encouraged by recent actions by German doctors, pilots and possibly also locomotive engineers. A firm precedent would therefore be welcome."

The leader of Germany's Left Party, Oskar Lafontaine, argues in a signed editorial in the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung:

"The real earnings of Deutsche Bahn employees have been in free-fall since 2005. Taking into account a lengthening of the work day, wages have actually fallen by around 10 percent in the last year. The engineers' union has reported a loss of real wages over the past three years of nearly 30 percent. In this context the demand of a 31-percent raise doesn't sound at all shrill."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Germany sees some of the fewest strike days among European countries -- not least thanks to the fact that different labor groups can sign their own wage contracts. No one can keep Deutsche Bahn and the GDL from taking their dispute to the courts. But it would be advisable for them to sit at the table and keep the tradition of collective bargaining alive, instead of restricting it within a legal dossier."

The business daily Handelsblatt argues:

"CEO Hartmut Mehdorn won a grace period in the courts yesterday ... He should use it. Because his attempt to tame the recalcitrant GDL in the courts started off on the wrong foot -- both politically and legally."

"His case has no hope in the courts. The arguments used by the Nuremburg labor court to stop the strike will be toppled at the next opportunity, according to all legal experts who know the case. The reason is simple: If the courts take away the GDL's right to strike in the interests of its own members, the right to organize and strike guaranteed by the German constitution would no longer be worth a cent."

"Only the big unions in the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) can prevent more and more smaller unions from trying their luck with independent wage contracts -- namely by forging a politics of wage negotiation that accommodate special interests (within the union) rather than levelling wages out."

August 7, 2007

EWS Groundstaff strike 'solid' at Margam Knuckle Yard

RMT: 6 August 2007
Margam EWS2 060807.jpg
RMT members of EWS Groundstaff at Margam, Knuckle Yard depot by the huge Corus steelworks in south Wales took solid strike action on Monday, 6 August in a dispute over "absurd and highly dangerous" moves to make half of them redundant.

Engineering staff at Margam Train Maintenance Depot are also being balloted for industrial action over cost-cutting redundancy plans to impose shunting duties on train repair and maintenance staff.

Margam EWS3 060807.jpg
EWS is reportedly on the verge of being bought out by Deutsche Bahn for about £300 million.

An EWS spokesman admitted there were to be redundancies at the depot, but said they were necessary so the firm could remain competitive. EWS currently has over 70% of the UK rail freight market hauling coal, steel, aggregates and shipping containers. EWS employs nearly 5,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £500 million.

However, the firm's claims that the union strike ballot was flawed, because the wrong grade of employees had been balloted were dismissed by RMT General Secretary, Bob Crow who confirmed that RMT has complied fully with all relevant legislation.

Margam EWS1 060807.jpg

Bob Crow said the union was eager to meet the company to discuss how to resolve the matter of the redundancies, but pointed out that the RMT was taking legal advice over EWS' supposed criteria for selecting people for sacking, which included levels of sick-leave, despite the fact that EWS management at Margam are well aware that there is a high level of absence due to injuries sustained at work.

"Selection benchmarks that include 'dynamism' are almost certainly unlawful and we have referred their selection policy to our lawyers to mount a legal challenge.

"It is time that EWS sat down with us and talked seriously about the issues, including our reps' counter-proposals which would save jobs and keep our members safe," Bob Crow said.

Margam EWS4 060807.jpg

"EWS's attitude to all its staff at Margam is nothing short of a disgrace, and our members are determined that these jobs will not be lost," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The company's plan to sack ten groundstaff is about cutting costs and maximising profits regardless of the risk, and no misleading business arguments can disguise that reality.

"The company intends to force the bulk of the shunting onto engineering grades who already have enough demanding work of their own to do, and they have now asked to be balloted as well to defend their safety and conditions.

Margam EWS6 060807.jpg

ends

Notes to editors: The 18 groundstaff involved voted by ten to four for strike action. The ballot of 31 engineering staff will close on August 14.

EWS is reported be on the verge of being bought out by Deutsche Bahn for around £300 million.

Hong Kong metro operator that won 'London Overground' bid suffers profit dive

The Standard: August 08, 2007
Victor Cheung and Stephanie Tong

Subway operator MTR Corp's underlying profit for the first half plunged 48 percent to HK$2.05 billion from HK$3.94 billion a year ago.

"The result is basically similar to our expectations, with underlying profit ranging from HK$1 billion to HK$2 billion," said CSC Securities analyst Sunny Chan Yat-san.

Including a revaluation gain of HK$2.02 billion from investment properties, net profit for the six months ended June 30 dropped to HK$4.07 billion, a decline of 21.2 percent from the same period last year.

Profits from property development, the company's major source of earnings, faced a 59 percent cut to HK$1.66 billion from HK$4.07 billion last year.

The earnings were mainly from deferred income of sales of residential units along Tung Chung Line, including The Elements at Kowloon Station, Harbour Green atop Olympic Station and several projects at Tung Chung Station.

Chan predicted the company will earn about HK$4.8 billion for the whole year from property sales.

MTRC recorded in the first half an incoming cash flow of HK$2 billion as downpayment for Le Pointe atop Tiu Keng Leng Station, which is to be booked in the fourth quarter.

Another HK$1.1 billion from other developments will be recognized within 18 months.

Total railway operator revenue rose 6.3 percent to HK$4.85 billion. Fare revenues from MTR lines and the Airport Express accounted for HK$3.24 billion of turnover, a rise of 3.5 percent due to increased patronage.

The MTR lines beat its keen competitors and boosted the total number of passengers to another record of 429 million, a 2.6 percent increase.

The Airport Express, linking the city center and Hong Kong International Airport, recorded a 7.2 percent growth in passenger volume at 4.8 million.

MTR Corp is the world's largest subway operator by market value.

Revenue from property investment grew 25.5 percent to HK$870 million, as the company's retail and office space is fully leased and the novel shopping arcade Elements fully pre-leased.

Updating on the rail merger, chief executive CK Chow said the company will seek approval from independent shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting, likely to be held in October.

He said the company's market share will then rise to 40 percent and become the largest public transport provider.

"Though fare concession will be provided, with extended railway network from KCRC, the number of passengers will rise and hence our profit," Chow said.

Chan said HK$450 million worth of synergies will be generated from the merger, with effects appearing gradually in three years.

MTRC's purchase of 12.6 million square feet of development rights for the property atop KCR stations will not contribute profit until 2009.

As for overseas expansion, MTRC's 50-50 venture with UK Laing Rail won the contract to run five existing lines of London's Overground on June 19.

Being awarded the concession is seen as international recognition for the firm's railway operation, Chan said.

Meanwhile, Beijing's Metro Line 4, a north-to-south railway in that city operated by MTRC together with two other Beijing companies, will begin operation in 2009. "Operating a subway system together with property development around stations is actually a good mode of running a business. With profits generated from the property side, companies don't need to inject much money on the railway business," Chow said.

An interim dividend of 14 HK cents per share was proposed, the same as last year, as the company will reserve more than HK$12 billion for the KCRC merger.

Crossrail delays ‘threaten London’s prosperity’

Financial Times: August 6 2007
By Alex Barker, Political Correspondent

London’s economic prosperity could be put at risk if the government holds back on funding Crossrail and further delays plans to build the multi-billion-pound rail link, the Mayor of London warned on Monday.

Ken Livingstone said that while he welcomed the government’s commitment to the infrastructure project, he was concerned that the Treasury would take “too cautious a financial view and put too much strain on the financial contribution London has to make”.

The comments came amid lengthy and as yet inconclusive negotiations between the government, the private sector and London’s transport authorities over how to pay for the rail project.

Crossrail – which would link Berkshire and Essex via Canary Wharf, Heathrow and the City – is the biggest and most costly infrastructure project being considered by the government. The transport proposal was first outlined about 18 years ago.

As the FT reported last week, plans to build and open the rail link by 2015 are likely to slip because of concerns over costs and protracted negotiations over financing. Government officials have stressed the need to make the project affordable and find “substantial” contributions from the private sector to help fund the scheme, which is estimated to cost at least £10bn.

“The current debacle at Heathrow, which has been building up for many years, is a warning,” Mr Livingstone wrote in the Evening Standard newspaper.

“It vividly reminds everyone that if we do not plan for London’s transport infrastructure needs well in advance then we cannot assume that our city’s economic success will go on indefinitely.”

Mr Livingstone said it was a “win-win” project that would “eventually return in tax to the Treasury whatever money it puts in”.

“My only concern is that the Treasury will take too cautious a financial view and put too much strain on the financial contribution London has to make,” he said.

End of line for boss of train firm as Australia's PPP follows Metronet

Sydney Morning Herald: August 8, 2007
Vanda Carson

THE $8 billion contract for Sydney's next generation of trains has descended into farce after the project's chief executive quit without explanation after just six months in the job.

Five days after the engineering company running the contract forced out its managing director, the boss of the Reliance Rail project, John Hopman, has also been pushed aside.

The company yesterday declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr Hopman's departure, saying only that it was unrelated to the resignation of Downer EDI's managing director, Stephen Gillies.

Sources close to the company said Mr Hopman had been sacked, claims a spokeswoman, Kate Burrows, did not rule out.

Mr Hopman had worked for Reliance Rail - a consortium of the engineering company Downer EDI, AMP Capital, ABN Amro and Babcock & Brown - since March. Reliance won the contract from the NSW Government last November.

Mr Hopman was previously the managing director of the tollway operator Hills Motorway, a senior executive with the engineering company GHD and a director of capital projects at the Department of Transport.

He has been replaced by Terry Kearney, who had held a business development position at the engineering company Transfield.

Downer EDI stunned investors last Thursday by warning of another profit downgrade, its third in a year and a move that forced the resignation of its managing director, Mr Gillies.

Reliance Rail yesterday described the profit downgrade as an upgrade. The drama has wiped more than $372 million from the company's market value, and its shares have fallen to levels not seen since last September, when it announced its previous downgrade.

Market observers said they were concerned about Downer EDI's ability to deliver on time and on budget.

Downer EDI succeeded in winning the contract to build 626 of Sydney's passenger rail carriages, to be used for 30 years, by beating its arch rival United Group.

It is the largest public-private partnership contract in Australia's history.

Analysts warned the price the consortium was willing to build the trains for was not reflected in the risks of such a large project.

The company, which also built the Millennium trains, has outsourced the construction of the carriages to a Chinese company with little experience of supplying passenger trains to a developed country.

The chairman of Reliance Rail, Alan Cameron, said in a statement yesterday that he wanted to "thank Mr Hopman for his contribution to Reliance Rail and the PPP project during his contract term".

He said he was being replaced by someone with " more direct rail experience to lead the PPP project".

Downer EDI said last week it was confident the consortium would meet its contract to deliver the carriages between 2010 and 2013 - and maintain them for 30 years.

Industry sources say the contract is about six to nine months behind schedule, even though it was won only nine months ago.

Congo hopes to get ageing railways back on track

Reuters: Aug 7, 2007
By Joe Bavier

KANANGA, Congo - Unused passenger wagons disintegrate on the rails beside box cars bearing the scars of daily derailments that plague Democratic Republic of Congo's decrepit and often deadly railway system.

In this dilapidated rail yard in Kananga, capital of Western Kasai province, engine driver Henri Mutombo points to the rusting skeleton of a diesel engine, picked clean long ago of any useful parts or removable scrap metal.

"This locomotive killed many people back in 1991," he says angrily.

Congo keeps no accurate statistics on the number of deaths caused by train wrecks, but Mutombo says the problems that caused that crash 16 years ago have grown even worse today.

A freight train overturned around 170 km (105 miles) northwest of Kananga last week, killing at least 100 passengers, mostly crushed between wagons or trapped beneath them.

Railroad officials blamed the wreck on a brake failure.

Small wonder. Congo's national rail company, SNCC, lacks new parts and proper materials, so to repair its aging locomotives, machinists must fashion improvised spares, even nuts and bolts.

Company employees are owed more than two years' back wages.

"The workers aren't motivated and the machines are worn out. The rails aren't repaired. The maintenance crews don't have materials to do upkeep. These are the factors that are handicapping us," Mutombo said.

"The result is the worst of outcomes."

DECADES OF NEGLECT

Decades of mismanagement under former ruler Mobutu Sese Seko and a 1998-2003 war have left the central African nation's transport infrastructure in ruins. Much of the rail network is little changed since Belgium gave Congo independence in 1960.

Air travel is both expensive and dangerous, with all but one of the dozens of airlines registered in Congo black-listed by the European Union.

And in a country the size of Western Europe, there are few paved roads outside of the capital, Kinshasa.

For most Congolese, the rail system is the only economically viable means of traveling or transporting goods across the vast interior.

But farmers hoping to take their produce to market are forced to watch their harvests rot on station platforms as they wait weeks or months for trains that never come -- and may be too packed to take on more passengers even if they do turn up.

Transport Minister Remy Henri Kuseyo, appointed after Congo's first democratic elections in more than four decades last year, hopes he can turn things around.

There are plans to privatize several of the country's poorly managed and cumbersome state enterprises, and Kuseyo expects to open bidding soon for a private-public partnership that will take over the running of SNCC.

"The rail lines will remain the property of the state, but there will be a sort of co-management with private investors," he told Reuters.

It is a plan that has already seen success with some of Congo's neighbors.

In November 2006, Kenya and Uganda jointly handed over their 110-year-old dilapidated railways to a private company known as Rift Valley Railways (RVR), for 25 years.

The safety record in Kenya has already improved, with derailments dropping to about 10 a month from 65 when RVR took over operations, while the number of trains in service have doubled to about 14.

Kenya and Uganda asked the South African-led consortium that won the concession to invest $6 million into operations annually.

The World Bank and a Germany bank gave RVR a $64 million loan to rehabilitate the railway.

However, that kind of investment is only a fraction of what will be needed to salvage Congo's mammoth rail system.
A study carried out by the Transportation Ministry earlier this year put the cost of bringing Congo's railways up to a normal functioning level at over $600 million.

Back at the Kananga depot, a freight train has just arrived and local merchant Elise Kayembe is offloading sacks of maize she plans to sell on the local market. Frustrated by delays and derailments, she says things must soon change.

"Here in Congo, it's only thanks to the trains that we eat and that we live," she says.


See also:

Congo mourns train crash

AFP: Aug 06, 2007
By Georges Tamba

Karenge - The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday declared three days of national mourning for victims of one of the country’s worst rail disasters, which killed at least 100 people.

A spokesman said flags would fly at half mast and radio and television stations would broadcast religious music until late today.

A high-level ministerial delegation arrived in the capital of West Kasai province in central DRC on Friday night to head the probe into the crash and visited the scene of the tragedy on Saturday.

Red Cross workers and families of the victims had buried 78 bodies on Friday at Kakenge, the railway station from where the derailed train had departed.

“According to the report by humanitarian organisations and the national railways, 78 corpses were recovered from the wagons but there are about 30 bodies still trapped between 11 derailed wagons,” Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean-Claude Muyambo told AFP.

Transport Minister Remi-Henri Kuseyo said authorities were waiting for a crane to arrive “to remove the overturned wagons.”

At least 100 people were killed and 120 injured when a goods train derailed as it rounded a bend on Wednesday night. Most of the victims were stowaways.

Eight tons of phamaceutical supplies needed by local hospitals to treat the injured were sent on the delegation’s plane from the capital Kinshasa.

The train was travelling the 300 kilometres (188 miles) between Ilebo and Kananga when it jumped the tracks as it negotiated a bend on the sloping flanks of the Luembe river, railway officials in Kananga said.

The director general of the state railway company SNCC, Medard Ilunga, told AFP that most of the victims were “clandestine” passengers who had hopped aboard the freight train.

Health Minister Victor Makwenge, part of the top-level delegation to visit the accident site, said: “We have taken steps to see that the seriously injured are transferred... for appropriate treatment.”

The disaster, the second accident on the 70-year-old stretch of track in West Kasai in three weeks, has thrown the spotlight on the dilapidated state of the country’s rail network, most of it built under Belgian rule a century ago.

The SNCC badly needs new rolling stock and locomotives. Most of the tracks need to be replaced and passengers regularly take their life in their hands when they travel on the train.

Deutsche Bahn privatisation threatened by planned rail strike

AFX News Limited: 08.07.07
db mahnwachewi.jpg
FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - Germany's biggest rail strike for 15 years may undermine plans to part-privatise the country's railways, said Claudia Kemfert, transport expert at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau.

The inevitable economic damage and wage inflation caused by the action could damage prospects for a partial flotation of state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB) in 2008, according to Kemfert.

The GdL train drivers union has threatened to strike from Thursday unless DB agrees to its demands for a 31 pct rise and an exclusive collective agreement, which the rail operator's management has described as 'ridiculous'.

The railway must be lean with low staff costs, and a pay round offering more than 7 pct a year would force DB to cut up to 1,500 jobs a year, 'which cannot be in the interests of the GdL', Kemfert told the newspaper.

German businesses should prepare themselves for 'substantial losses', with widespread strikes likely to cost up to 3 mln eur a day, she said.

While food companies could transfer relatively easily to road haulage, heavy industries such as steel manufacturers and metal processors are strongly dependent on rail, she said.

Elsewhere, the Federal Association for Stock Management, Purchasing and Logistics (BME) said that as well as the short-term impact on production, in the longer term, the strike could hit productivity by causing raw material supply bottlenecks.

The GdL train drivers union has given DB until 6 pm tonight to improve its offer following yesterday's announcement that more than 95 pct of its members had voted in favour of a strike.

DB, which has already negotiated an agreement with the other rail unions, Transnet and GDBA, for a 4.5 pct rise and a one-off bonus of 600 eur, has categorically rejected the GdL's demands.

Federal transport minister Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD) urged both parties to compromise. A solution is only possible 'if extreme positions are abandoned', he told the Saarbruecker Zeitung.

'We Refuse To Be Blackmailed' says DB boss

Der Spiegel: August 06, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH DEUTSCHE BAHN CEO HARTMUT MEHDORN:
Hartmut Mehdorn, the man in charge of Germany's restive train service, talks to SPIEGEL about privatising the nation's rail network -- and a potentially crippling strike by locomotive engineers looming this Wednesday.
db mehdorn.jpg
Hartmut Mehdorn, the CEO of Germany's soon-to-be privatized railway service Deutsche Bahn, says the strike is the work of "a small group of trade union functionaries."

SPIEGEL: Mr Mehdorn, you have just celebrated your 65th birthday. At your age, other managers retire or opt for a laid-back post on the board of directors. Are you the sort of boss who can't let go?

Mehdorn: (laughs) Not at all, I'm good at letting go. But I also like to follow things through. And since my board of directors took the view that the privatization of Deutsche Bahn, which has been underway since 1994, is progressing well but not yet fully accomplished, I keep going. Besides: You're only as old as you feel. And I don't feel at all like I'm 65.

SPIEGEL: The Union of Locomotive Drivers (known by its German initials, GDL) is preparing a strike under GDL leader Manfred Schell. They are threatening to bring the entire country to a halt. How great could the damage be?

Mehdorn: Our customers are already unsettled by the impending labor showdown. We're already losing revenue in the millions every day. A small group of trade union functionaries has seduced its members with illusory demands and is trying to create a split within Deutsche Bahn's workforce. The things that are happening here have crossed the limits of what is tolerable.

SPIEGEL: The locomotive drivers are demanding 31 percent more money and their own union wage contract. You have rejected both demands. Can the strikes be prevented?

Mehdorn: The demands are ludicrous. That will not happen. The locomotive drivers' union wants to compel us to agree to 31 percent even as it reaches agreements of two or three percent with our competitors. That's arbitrary. We will not put everything at risk just because of a few functionaries.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean you are no longer prepared to conduct talks?

Mehdorn: I am. We presented the trade union with a new and improved offer as recently as Friday and suggested to the head of GDL that he negotiate with us. Instead of calmly evaluating our offer, the GDL promptly rejected it. Such stubbornness is absolutely irresponsible.

SPIEGEL: Will you sue the trade union for damages in the event of a strike?

Mehdorn: We will demand damages for all strikes that violate the law. If Deutsche Bahn suffers losses in the millions due to illegal actions, then we will want compensation. In the end, though, the courts will decide.

SPIEGEL: Should striking locomotive drivers expect disciplinary measures?

Mehdorn: A strike does not mean that industrial safety can be violated. Stopping a train between stations in the middle of an open stretch of track -- which some locomotive drivers did during the recent warning strikes -- endangers everyone. If another train comes up from behind, serious accidents can result. We will hold locomotive drivers who act irresponsibly to account, and suspend them from work immediately. This has been done in one case already. The safety of train travel is sacred, and takes priority over strikes.

SPIEGEL: Even a small group of striking locomotive drivers can largely bring rail traffic to a halt. What can you do to prevent that?

Mehdorn: Well, not all locomotive drivers are organized in the trade union that's planning the current labor showdown. (Some count as civil servants, and) civil servants are not allowed to strike. This is why I expect only a third of all locomotive drivers to even be available for the strike. We must prepare for that, unfortunately. But we refuse to be blackmailed.

SPIEGEL: What is your plan?

Mehdorn: We will try to arrange our service schedules around the locomotive drivers who are prepared to strike. If they're not on the job, they can't strike. We will also start a special training program for people within the company and outside it, which will provide us with additional train personnel as quickly as possible. If the union strikes despite our new offer, and despite our efforts to reach an agreement, we will have to look around for alternatives.

SPIEGEL: You plan to fire the striking locomotive drivers?

Mehdorn: All our employees, including the locomotive drivers, enjoy layoff protection until 2010. So, no -- we want to negotiate. We've made offers. But what can we do against a union functionary who has promised this effort will be the "last shot" (of his career)?

SPIEGEL: Honestly, though: You would be on strike yourself if you were a locomotive driver earning €2,000 ($2,765) per month while bearing responsibility for 400 passengers per shift, chauffeuring them across Germany at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph). Wouldn't you?

Mehdorn: On average, we pay €33,000 ($45,620) a year before taxes. Locomotive drivers working for our competitors earn as much as 25 percent less. And the responsibility borne by those in our control center or in maintenance is no less heavy than the locomotive drivers'. Remember, we compete with highway traffic and other train services, which means we can't afford astronomical wage settlements.

SPIEGEL: But in a crisis, the man in the driver's cab has to make the decisions.

Mehdorn: All employees of Deutsche Bahn have their place within a single chain of responsibility. Everyone depends on the others to do his or her job. No one is better or worse. We won't let anyone touch the principle of a unified system of wage settlements -- not even the head of GDL, who thinks he has to initiate a completely unnecessary showdown just before his retirement -- during summer-holiday season -- and make all our customers nervous.

Part 2: The End of Regional Rail?

SPIEGEL: Until now, the "social partnership," or partnership between employers and workers, has been a cherished asset at Deutsche Bahn. It even featured in the story of your going public. Does the spat with GDL not deter potential investors?

db platform.jpg
Mehdorn -- and all of Germany -- faces a strike by locomotive engineers as of Wednesday, August 8.

Mehdorn: Of course an investor -- but also our current shareholder -- looks very carefully at how the management of Deutsche Bahn deals with trade unions, and what the work climate is like. No one invests in a company where a small group of functionaries is free to do whatever they want. French national railway company SNCF has about a dozen different trade unions, which means it is hard to control. I put a lot of stock in the fact that, during the past years, we have reorganized the company with a high degree of social compatibility -- cultivating a good dialogue with the trade unions. This is being put on the line needlessly. And because this issue has always been close to my heart, I refuse to accept a division between first- and second-class employees.

SPIEGEL: Apropos going public: You want to make Deutsche Bahn a world market leader in the logistics (transportation and shipping) sector. But how will the average German train traveler in the Swabian mountains or in Mecklenburg benefit from this?

Mehdorn: We are Europe's largest transportation company and have to be able to move on the capital market like our competitors from France and Great Britain. Polls repeatedly show that more than half of German citizens are allegedly opposed to the privatization of Deutsche Bahn. That is partly due, for example, to Hesse's State Transportation Minister Alois Riehl saying that the rail network would deteriorate and a large number of routes would fall out of service. These are untruths, which have been spread for populist reasons. The fact is that regional rail traffic is planned and commissioned by the German states. We are only coachmen for hire when it comes to that. Should the German states cease to commission certain routes because they have no money, then we will no longer service those routes.

SPIEGEL: So it's all just scaremongering?

Mehdorn: I'm tired of hearing the fairy tale about "locust" investment companies allegedly buying our shares and taking some route to Smallville out of service. Anyone who says such things is deliberately spreading untruths. No Mercedes shareholder decides how many red, white or yellow cars the company will produce next year. Neither we nor a future shareholder can just take routes out of service. We are not even capable of doing so legally. A future investor in Deutsche Bahn remains a minority shareholder by German constitutional law. As the owner of 51 percent of the shares, the German federal government remains the majority shareholder of Deutsche Bahn. So where is this terrible spectre of locust investors?

SPIEGEL: Last week the German states demanded more money and a greater say when it comes to investments in local transportation. They may manage to block the privatization law -- which has already been agreed on at the cabinet level -- in the Bundesrat. Could you live with their demands?

Mehdorn: Those are indeed issues one can -- and must -- talk about. We are in no way opposed, for example, to the states viewing the report on track conditions, which we've already presented twice to the federal government. Let me clear up another myth, by the way: The German rail system is not decrepit. It is one of the best in all of Europe, if not the whole world. If the German road system received as much attention as its rail system, there would certainly be fewer construction sites, potholes and traffic jams.

SPIEGEL: The states are also demanding that your track prices be regularly checked by the regulatory authority responsible for the railways, the Federal Network Agency.

Mehdorn: They are free to do so. We have no problem with that. But that is the federal government's affair, not that of Deutsche Bahn. We put 100 percent of what we receive as track prices back into the railway network. We don't steal any money, as some would have people believe, and we don't sneak it past the federal government and slip it into the pockets of "locust" investment companies.

SPIEGEL: But you could keep competitors off your back by drastically raising track prices.

Mehdorn: I am familiar with that argument. Another myth. Believe me, the Federal Network Agency is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for competitors in this market and they will watch what we do very carefully. Sleight of hand is not an option. Besides, if the prices are too high, we lose our customers to road transport -- where, by the way, no one checks if foreign companies are driving down truck drivers' salaries through wage dumping.

SPIEGEL: Are you not afraid that the demands by the German states will interfere with the time schedule for Deutsche Bahn going public -- and that Deutsche Bahn will become a campaign issue during the regional elections next year? That would be the end of your dream of going public.

Mehdorn: The danger exists -- and someone or other is certainly speculating on it. Some politicians may also think it will be a great victory to stop a railway reform that has been underway since 1994. There is just one aspect I will never understand: how even a Christian Democrat like (Hesse Transportation Minister) Alois Riehl can want to nationalize the rail network. The argument he uses is that competition is in danger. I wouldn't have expected something like that from a CDU economic expert. I continue to believe there is no alternative to a partial privatization in which Deutsche Bahn operates the railway network. We've seen the state fail to do otherwise before (in Germany), in the case of the Bundesbahn and the Reichsbahn.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps the politicians critical of Deutsche Bahn's plans of going public only want to prevent those plans from being realized on the backs of the taxpayers. The German Finance Minister would receive about €5 billion ($6.9 billion) for 49 percent of Deutsche Bahn's shares, but the federal government would have to continue paying Deutsche Bahn about €37 billion ($51 million) for the maintenance of the railway network during the next 15 years. Not a good deal.

Mehdorn: But that's wrong -- and Deutsche Bahn is certainly worth much more. And: If the federal government does not want to pay the annual €2.5 billion ($3.5 billion), which are exclusively for replacement investments, it could raise the track fees and thereby let the market pay for the necessary investments in the network. But that would not work, as cargo transportation by rail would then no longer be cost-effective, for example, and even more trucks would congest the roads -- not to mention being a disaster for our climate.

SPIEGEL: That does not yet answer the question of why the citizens should pay for an investor's improved return.

Mehdorn: Hold on, we're not talking about just any investor here. The federal government is always in the boat as the majority shareholder with 51 percent of the shares. If it does not want to pay the €2.5 billion ($3.5 billion), then there will just be less rail traffic. The question is: Do we want that? In any case we simply cannot maintain the quality of our 34,000 kilometer (21,127 mile) rail network in every corner of our country without this money.

SPIEGEL: You're just picking out certain details. On top of everything, the taxpayer will compensate the investor in the billions after 15 years, if the rail network happens to be returned to the federal government because Deutsche Bahn has ruined it economically.

Mehdorn: But that would only happen if Deutsche Bahn perfoms badly, which is not something we plan to do. No one is ruining the network economically. We operate more than 35,000 trains every day and have the greatest possible interest in the network, more than any state administration. Moreover, Deutsche Bahn invests its own money in the network -- more than a billion euros ($1.4 billion) annually over the past several years. That a potential shareholder should want a kind of compensation for his own investments in case he loses the network is something I find understandable.

SPIEGEL: What do you want to do with the revenue gained from going public?

Mehdorn: We need to increase our own capital to begin with. We're considering about €2 billion ($2.8 billion). But in the end, that is the shareholder's affair. The rest of the sum stays with the federal government. And if the politicians mean well, they will invest a little of it in new routes for us.

SPIEGEL: So you won't go on a shopping spree in the logistics sector?

Mehdorn: Enough of such fairy tales! Ninety percent of our investments go into the railway in Germany. We will continue to finance new acquisitions with profits from our day-to-day business, which is what we've done up till now.

SPIEGEL: What if the privatization project fails at the last minute? Will you hang up your hat?

Mehdorn: The privatization project will not fail. It's the right thing to do. There is no alternative -- so don't worry. Besides, I don't have a hat.

SPIEGEL: Mr Mehdorn, thank you for this interview.

See also:

'Fighting Cocks' Pushing Germany Into Railway Chaos

Der Spiegel: August 07, 2007

THE WORLD FROM BERLIN
Hartmut Mehdorn, who heads Germany's national railway, evidently can't stand the chairman of the train drivers' union, Manfred Schell. The feeling, apparently, is mutual. That's partly why Germany faces a railway strike this Thursday. Media commentators say it's high time for the men to kiss and make up to avert transport chaos in Europe's biggest economy.

schell mehdorn.jpg
Smiling for the cameras: Deutsche Bahn AG Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn (r) and train drivers' union chairman Manfred Schell after fruitless talks last month.

Germany is bracing for transport chaos at the height of the holiday season after train drivers' union GDL voted overwhelmingly (more...) in favor of a strike in defense of a 31 percent pay claim and a demand for a new wage contract that separates drivers from the other railway employees.

When the strike begins on Thursday, freight trains will be the first to be targeted, but the work stoppage is expected to spread to passenger trains as well in the following days. German media commentators say the wage dispute has come this far partly because of the personal emnity between the two stubborn adversaries, GDL chairman Manfred Schell and Hartmut Mehdorn, the energetic and outspoken chief executive of rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

Mehdorn has accused the train drivers of trying to "terrorize" the country and tried to halt warning strikes in recent months with a flurry of court injunctions. Schell for his part has called Mehdorn "Rumpelstiltskin" (the fairy tale dwarf character).

German media commentators say public sympathy with the train drivers, who do indeed seem to be badly paid compared to drivers in other European countries, is going to wane rapidly once the strike leaves thousands stranded.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"However this wage dispute ends, one thing is certain: The train engine drivers unfortunately won't get the wage hike they have failed to clinch in previous wage negotiations. Thirty-one percent more pay, or 20 or even 15 -- that won't happen. The stated goal of this strike is to get a separate wage contract for the drivers, but that always means more money. Now is the time for a more realistic demand. Or the engine drivers will very soon not just have the railway against them, but the whole public."

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"This conflict has a personal dimension: Railway chief Mehdorn and train drivers' chief Schell are facing each other like fighting cocks. This could lead to a major strike. The country could come to a standstill on Thursday."

"The railway shouldn't bow to the pressure. Mehdorn has time. The more holidaymakers are stranded on platforms, the angrier they will become. Passengers will become increasingly unsympathetic towards the engine drivers, partly also because they know that they will have to pay for the exaggerated loan demands in form of higher ticket prices further down the line."

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The GDL with its 30,000 members is one of Germany's smallest trade unions but has more power to disrupt the country than even garbage collectors or pilots."

"Millions of railway users should brace themselves for the worst in Germany in the coming days and even weeks."

"One has to ask whether this dispute is about the interests of rail employees or about massaging egos. Schell is 64 years old and will retire next year. He himself has said he has 'just this one shot left' regarding the wage demand."

"The €2,500 ($3,440) gross salary an experienced train driver earns at most per month isn't generous. But demanding 31 percent more money -- including shorter weekly working hours -- is impudent."

"It's totally unreasonable that Schell isn't prepared to make any compromises. It's the duty of the GDL and the railway employers to sit down and negotiate a deal acceptable to all sides."

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The strike isn't dramatic for the German economy -- it won't leave big traces in the 2007 national accounts. Forecasts that the dispute could cause €500 million in damage each day are absurd."

"The gross domestic product figures don't register discomfort and chaos. The economy won't grind to a halt. Taxis and car hire firms, budget airlines and private railways will keep up passenger transport; private freight rail operators and hauliers will profit in the cargo sector."

What's going on at Deutsche Bahn?

RMT Bristol: 7 August 2007

Deutsche Bahn: growth through cuts and privatisation
With its announcement last month that it is snapping up EWS (UK’s largest rail freight operator) and Spanish rail freight operator Transfesa, Europe’s biggest rail freight operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) continues to fill the “blank spots” in its pan-European network, as chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn puts it.

He also confirmed DB was “sniffing around” the rail freight division of Hungary’s Máv, due for privatisation later this year.

The purchase of EWS will give DB 70% of the UK rail freight market hauling coal, steel, aggregates and shipping containers. EWS employs nearly 5,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £500 million.

Transfesa operates trains in Spain in competition with Renfe, the national train operator, but is also a logistics company. Its sales last year were almost £200 million.

Mr Mehdorn said DB’s western European strategy had now taken a big step forward.

EWS will run DB’s freight operations in the UK and France, where EWS subsidiary Euro Cargo Rail started operation in late 2005 and runs 30 trains a day. Owning EWS International will enable DB to penetrate the lucrative French rail freight market.

DB is first in Europe in tonne-kms, while DB’s logistics subsidiary ‘Schenker’ is number two in the world in terms of revenue behind DHL and ahead of Nippon Express.

Railion, another DB’s rail freight subsidiary, already owns the former national freight operators of Netherlands and Denmark. DB also has a 30% shareholding in Rail Traction Company, an Italian open-access operator.

In February 2007 DB formed an alliance with PCC Rail, a private freight operator in Poland, owned by Germany's Petro Carbo Chem and transferred 50 locomotives to PCC Rail for the new venture.

Monika Heiming, Secretary General of the European Rail Freight Association told the Rail Freight 2007 conference in London on June 5 this year, “I think in the long term what we will see is a closing down of the European market, meaning everything that can run will be German. For me this move is no good”.

Hartmut Mehdorn denies he was able to purchase EWS because of German government funding. He claims such funding was earmarked for new construction projects and DB does not receive any subsidy.

According to Mehdorn DB’s bid for EWS and Transfesa has been paid from DB’s 50% share of the £1 billion sale of the Scandlines Baltic ferry business.

Vorsprung Durch Privatisierung

The German government has agreed to sell a quarter of DB shares by 2009. "With this decision, we've taken a huge step toward implementing the government's rail reform program," German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said.

But many Germans believe local rail services will suffer. The German constitution requires the state to retain a majority holding as part of its duty to provide rail services.

The government values 25% of DB would bring in £2.02 billion but critics point out the company’s total value today is around £121 billion. The reason for the ludicrously generous offer is that the DB needs money for expansion abroad. Deutsch Bahn is Europe's largest rail company with almost 1.9 billion passengers and 300 million tons of freight annually. Last year it made £1.14 billion profit.

The government also decided DB would keep control of track and signaling infrastructure for 15 years, which has not pleased the European Union Commissioners in Brussels.

DB privatisation is by no means certain to go ahead. Regional governments fear severe cuts to local services, job losses and a higher financial burden and could challenge the plans in the upper house of the German parliament. DB plans to increase network fees it charges for regional trains by 2.4% a year, about €882 million by 2011.

"We're afraid the Deutsche Bahn will cherry-pick the profitable, long-distance routes between the big cities," said the head of the German Association of Cities and Towns, Gerd Landsberg. "That would also endanger the necessary expansion of jobs in rural areas. That's unacceptable."

But one union representing rail workers, who have staged strikes recently for better pay, said it welcomed the partial privatisation.

Norbert Hansen, leader of the Transnet union, issued a deadline last October in a dispute over plans to privatise the rail network. He was dismayed the government planned to sell only the train operations and keep infrastructure in public hands!

DB was converted from a public service into a commercial business in 1994 (still entirely state-owned). The consequences were devastating for wages and conditions. Productivity increased by 180% while wage costs decreased by 28%. DB has shed nearly half its workforce since 1994 - approximately 150,000 workers. At the same time those who remain are working increasing levels of overtime - 14 million hours in 2002 alone.

Making workers pay for privatisation

All this has taken place with the cooperation of Transnet, as well as two other unions GDBA and the GDL train drivers union. In 2003 Transnet and GDBA signed a 24-month pay deal giving an annual average pay increase of 1.6 %.

In 2005 Transnet, the GDBA and DB agreed the “Future Program for Efficiency and Jobs.” The program meant a reduction in the wage bill of 5.5 % through unpaid overtime, increased flexibility and lump sum payments with a two-year pay deal. The latest deal stuck between Transnet, GDBA and the company in July 2007 amounts to an increase of just 1.9 % above 2005 wage levels.

A “job guarantee” until 2010, which DB promised two years ago, only gives protection against redundancy for workers with a minimum five years service. This allows DB to make further job cuts through early retirement and sacking employees on short-term contracts.

The 2005 “future program” was meant to transform loss-making DB into a highly profitable company and prepare for its launch on the stock exchange. It certainly worked. In the past two years the DB has notched up big profits.

Both Transnet and the GDBA support privatisation. In October 2006 they drew up a joint paper, in which they wrote, “Transnet offers the federal government its advisory services with regard to the definition of the content of the privatisation law… The economic stability of the DB and its competitiveness in Germany, Europe and worldwide are just as relevant for job protection as securing existing contract rights.”

On this issue Transnet chairman, Norbert Hansen, stands well to the right of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB). At a meeting of the DGB executive, Hansen was the only trade union leader to vote against a resolution opposing privatisation of the railways.

Unsurprisingly Transnet and the GDBA are now playing the role of strike-breaker in the train drivers’ dispute and have denounced GDL’s wage claim of up to 31 % for its members.

Transnet and the GDBA came to an agreement with the DB on a 4.5 % wage increase in July. Transnet chairman Norbert Hansen hit out at DGL, saying that any better deal would "jeopardize labor relations in the company." Hartmut Mehdorn maintained that this was the highest pay increase agreed by DB since the end of the Second World War.

In fact, his statement is incorrect. The contract covers 19 months. A one-off payment of €600 covers the period from July to December 2007 and the agreed wage increase only begins in 2008. The original claim lodged by Transnet and the GDBA was for a 7 percent increase over 12 months.

Average annual wage increases for their members have remained far below the rate of inflation in recent years.

Alex Gordon
2 August 2007

See also:


German rail strikes: Activism on the wage front but no united resistance against privatisation

Bahnvonunten: 16 July 2007

German rail strikes brought rail transportation to a halt in many areas of the country earlier this month and revealed the enormous frustration and discontent that has accumulated over the past years. The power of the working class was felt when locomotive engineers, signal box workers and others in key positions proved that they could paralyse Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany´s still state-owned railway company. In the railway stations most passengers affected by the stoppages that caused long delays and chain reactions for several hours showed sympathy towards the strikers. An opinion poll revealed that 71 per cent of all Germans supported the strikes.

The determination was overwhelming. Wherever union pickets turned up and called upon the railway employees to come out, the response was impressive, as though many workers had been waiting for such a call for a long time. This is not surprising as railway workers have suffered losses in living standards over the past few years.

DB boss Hartmut Mehdorn has been pressing for a privatization for a long time and keeps urging politicians to take a final decision to sell up to 49% of DB shares on the stock exchange in an initial public offering (IPO). DB management have done their utmost to squeeze the workforce and create an economic balance sheet with record profits in order to prove that DB is "marketable" and "fit for the stock exchange".

Yet cutbacks in staff and investment have made working life even more difficult. For example, they have reduced the staff and rolling stock in the freight section, Railion, to the extent that they cannot even cope with the present increasing demand for rail transportation and have to tell potential customers that they should rather go for road transportation.

All these cuts in necessary expenditure produce nice figures and profits on paper but are counter-productive from a social and environmental point of view. Once private shareholders are on board and demand an even higher return on capital employed, the situation will become worse and worse. The example of Deutsche Telekom (DT) serves as warning; DT is a higly profitable global player, yet as the recent 11-week-long strike there shows the attacks on the workforce are escalating.

In the run-up to this year´s wage round it was clear to the rail union leadership that something had to be done to channel the workers' discontent, let off some steam and prevent an explosion. Thus TRANSNET (the major rail union, DGB affiliated) and GDBA (a smaller, more conservative, traditionally civil servants' union) put forward the demand for a 7 per cent wage increase. This topped IG Metall's demand for 6.5 per cent rise. Yet after 3 days of short token strikes, TRANSNET and GDBA called off further strike action and entered fresh negotiations with the DB management.

On July 9, they announced a "breakthrough“ and new wage deal which includes a flat rise of 600 Euros for all workers for the rest of 2007 and a 4.5% pay rise from January 1, 2008. While this appears to be a high increase, it is clear that with more pressure from below a much better deal would have been possible.

This TRANSNET/GDBA deal, however, has not meant a return to normality as the third railway union, GDL, is still in conflict with the DB management. The GDL is a traditional craft union outside the DGB which organises the majority of DB's locomotive engineers and has set up an international organisation of similar craft unions all over Europe outside the major union federations and outside the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF).

They separated themselves from the common wage front with the other two unions in 2002 and are demanding a set of separate contracts for the train drivers and crew on rolling stock. They argue that given the special responsibility at work, locomotive engineers should get a pay rise well above the 4.5% deal – in effect up to a 30% increase. Since DB management says No, there is no quick solution of this conflict in sight. "We do not want to split the workforce“, argued DB personnel manager Margret Suckale.

This sounds quite cynical, as every boss would naturally like to rule over a divided workforce, but the thing is that DB management have in effect entered a united front with the TRANSNET and GDBA leadership to support an IPO as quickly as possible. At a special congress of his union last week, TRANSNET leader, Norbert Hansen (a right wing social democrat), and his apparatus pressurised delegates to endorse the line of "constructive cooperation“ with the government and DB management to bring about the parliamentary decision on an IPO as quickly as possible.

His major argument was that only by selling up to 49 per cent of DB shares, could the unity of DB be safeguarded and a British type rail fragmentation prevented.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, Minister of Transport in Angela Merkel's cabinet, likewise a right wing social democrat, told delegates that everything would be fine after the IPO and that DB needed "fresh capital“ to become the "No. 1 global player“ in the logistics sector.

Behind this stands the megalomania of DB Boss Mehdorn and Co. who wants to buy companies in the rail, road and air sectors all over the world. Already, they have bought the Dutch and Danish rail cargo companies, the British EWS, the US American Bax Global group and many others.

In a liberalised European railway network, there will be increasing competition and clashes between DB and the French SNCF as French trade unionists told us that SNCF, too, wants to become Europe´s no. 1 in the sector. Tiefensee told the delegates that it might be necessary and useful for Deutsche Bahn to take over the railway connection between Moscow and St. Petersburg!

Back to the GDL conflict: against the background of enormous discontent, most locomotive engineers at present regard the GDL as a tool to express their frustration, power, and militancy. GDL leader Manfred Schell is a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). He has raised many expectations and staked all their prestige on this conflict so he cannot easily get out of it without losing face and prestige. He threatens further strikes that could once again paralyse the railways.

The GDL's strength is an expression of the disappointment with the lack of militancy displayed by the TRANSNET leadership. Hansen's opportunism has obviously played into the hands of reactionary demagogues like GDL leader Schell. Meanwhile, TRANSNET leaders hope that the DB management will remain hard and break the GDL.

Yet left wingers must not have any illusions in the GDL since Schell himself is not in principle opposed to privatisation. Like the other rail unions, the GDL, too, has issued statements in favour of rail privatisation. The major difference with the TRANSNET leadership lies in the fact that the GDL would prefer the rail network to remain in public hands, with everything else privatised as in Britain. TRANSNET, however, insists on avoiding fragmentation and keeping DB together and privatising "only“ less than half of it.

Behind this difference lie the conflicting interests of investors groups. DB boss Mehdorn is reported to be negotiating with Russian Gazprom and Arab oil sheiks to fork out a few billion Euros to buy 25 or 49 per cent of DB shares. On the other hand, German industrialists around the BDI, Germany's CBI, and private railways already operating in Germany, would like to take over bits of the regional transport, rolling stock, maintenance and service companies. DB has been split up into over 200 subsidiaries, thus making a bit-by-bit sell out entirely possible.

British rail unions tell us that not a single subsidiary and not a single share should be passed into private hands. This fraternal advice based on the experience of their rail privatisation disaster over the past 12 years, is a book with seven seals as far as the leaders of TRANSNET, GDBA and GDL are concerned.

Railway workers – not only locomotive engineers – do deserve much better wages and working conditions and TRANSNET and GDBA should have increased the pressure instead of sending their members back to work after token strikes. Yet given the fact that the government is determined to get the privatisation bill passed in the Bundestag (German parliament) this coming autumn, the GDL's activism on the wage front also serves to divert the attention away from the real threat and challenge – the need to close ranks and stop the privatisation.

It is criminal that all the three union apparatuses do absolutely nothing to warn and mobilise their members on the issue. In TRANSNET, left wing critics around the rank and file pressure group "Bahn von unten“ who have argued against privatisation for years are now scandalously being branded as agents of the GDL and the apparatus has tried to remove critical left wing members from union positions in a number of cases. Hansen argues that the opponents of privatisation in the end will be responsible for the fragmentation of DB.

GDL's position is no better. They tell their members that given the present shortage of qualified locomotive engineers in Germany (quite a few have sought and found employment in Switzerland, Austria and Luxemburg) they have nothing to fear from privatisation. This is extremely short-sighted. After DB privatisation the dam will burst and a privatised DB may well move to take over Railways in Eastern Europe. Many highly qualified locomotive engineers from the East will then be sacked and try to find a jobs in Germany. Already there are reports of Polish and Roumanian train drivers employed by private rail cargo companies in Germany on abysmal terms and conditions with starvation wages, endless overtime work, sleeping on the locomotive etc...

The mood is there for a massive campaign to stop DB privatisation in Germany. When the DGB national committee took a decision against any sort of rail privatisation in March, it was only TRANSNET leader Hansen who said "No" to this resolution and criticised the DGB and other unions for interfering into TRANSNET's internal affairs (!!!!). Last month, half a dozen of important regions of the SPD voted against rail privatisation. Yet Tiefensee, Minister of Transport, told me last week that he isn't bothered and is certain that the SPD's national congress in October will endorse his line. A public campaign against rail privatisation recently produced a good documentary film on the issues, yet the rail unions and their media haven't even told their members that this film exists.

Wherever the union rank and file are informed, they are overwhelmingly against any sort of dismantling and sell-out. What is needed is a united front of all rail workers, allies in the left parties and other opponents of privatisation to stop this madness. Without the consent of the unions and the SPD rank and file an IPO would be impossible.

Global warming can be combatted by preparing for a hot autumn, not a single DB share is for sale! Prevent the sale of the century and fight for A United European Railway System – under public ownership, workers' control and democratic management run for the benefit of workers, passengers and the environment.

Hans-Gerd Öfinger,
16 July 2007


Note: The author is a member of a group of railway union activists in Germany, organised in the largest union, TRANSNET. Last year, they set up a rank and file campaign "Bahn von unten" (The Underground) to start a critical discussion about the consequences of privatisation.

Bahn von unten demands:

* A fighting union policy and common action to defend our interests

* Stop privatisation

* Defend the railways as a public enterprise in the interest of workers and passengers

* No dismantling and sell-outs of profitable sections

* No dumping of wages and social achievements

For contact and exchange:
Bahn von unten - Postfach 2112 - D 65011 Wiesbaden
Tel./Fax + 49 0611 406807
email to: bahnvonunten@aol.com
website: http://www.bahnvonunten.de/

August 6, 2007

Germany faces travel chaos in rail strike

Financial Times: August 6 2007
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin

Germany’s national railway operator is steeling itself for its toughest industrial action for 15 years after members of a rebel engine drivers’ union voted overwhelmingly on Monday in favour of open-ended strike action.

Deutsche Bahn says it has rejected an ultimatum by the GDL union for the company to come up with a new pay offer by Tuesday night. The union wants a 31 per cent rise for its 13,000 members.

Germany now appears poised for its worst transport chaos since the last nationwide strike in 1992. The GDL said it would begin its strike on Thursday by hitting freight traffic.

The soon-to-be privatised operator said a full-scale labour dispute involving passenger trains would cost it more than €10m ($13.8m, £6.8m) a day and put the daily cost for the German economy at €500m. Economists, meanwhile, worry that a generous settlement could fuel wage inflation.

“People are cancelling their trips from Wednesday onwards. The strike has not even started and we are already facing costs in the region of €1m a day,” said a DB executive who asked not to be named.

“The employer has chosen confrontation and is deluging us with lawsuits,” Manfred Schell, the union’s chairman, told reporters after unveiling the ballot result, showing 95.8 per cent of members backing a strike. “It is turning against its own employees.” Mr Schell said the GDL was likely to begin its strike with targeted stoppages concentrating on freight transport.

By breaking ranks with DB’s two leading unions – which last month secured a 4.5 per cent pay rise from January and a one-off €600 payment for this year – and adopting an unusually aggressive stance, the GDL is rewriting the rules of wage negotiations at large German companies.

However, DB is optimistic that it can withstand an all-out strike because of the GDL’s small size.

The company insisted on Monday that it would not grant GDL members a separate wage deal. While business, passenger associations and the government have called for talks to resume, the company has been honing a legal and logistical battle plan.

Executives said DB would make full use of Germany’s complex labour legislation. This could include various measures to declare strikes illegal – for instance, in areas where the union has omitted to cancel old local wage agreements.

On the logistical side, the company aims to have 80 per cent of long-distance and half of regional trains running. DB has also begun refresher courses for former drivers and licence-holders who currently have desk jobs. About 40 per cent of drivers, and only 13,000 out of DB’s 240,000 employees, are GDL members.

See also:

Train drivers threaten to derail the Merkel miracle

The Times: August 7, 2007
Roger Boyes in Berlin

Germans faced the prospect of summer holiday chaos yesterday as train drivers voted for an unlimited nationwide strike. It seems set to be the worst rail strike in 15 years and, along with a threat of industrial action by airline pilots, could bring the country to a standstill.

The timing is bad news for Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, who had hoped to crown Germany’s economic recovery with the successful privatisation of Deutsche Bahn, the German rail service. This would not only fill government coffers, it is also intended to cement her reputation as an economic moderniser in the run-up to the 2009 general election.

This left the train drivers’ union, GDL, unmoved yesterday, with 95.8 per cent of delegates voting to strike from tomorrow. The first target will be goods trains but unless Deutsche Bahn comes up with an offer, the train drivers will paralyse passenger traffic by the weekend — a time when Germans in some regions are setting out on their summer holidays and others are coming home.

The drivers’ immediate aim is to win a 31 per cent wage rise. A 40-year-old German train driver with two children earns about €1,800 (£1,200) a month, compared with €2,420 in The Netherlands, €3,140 in Spain, €2,770 in France and €4,800 in Switzerland.

“We’re already losing millions in revenue because of illegal stoppages,” said a plainly furious Hartmut Mehdorn, the head of Deutsche Bahn who has made it his life’s work to privatise the company.

The wage claim, he said, was “madness” and he threatened disciplinary measures against drivers if they threatened the safety of the rail service. “Any train driver behaving irresponsibly will be suspended immediately.”

This fighting talk was met in kind by the union leaders. “We will not be intimidated by Mehdorn,” said Man-fred Schell, head of GDL. “We are obviously not going to endanger passenger safety — in the case of a strike the driver will ferry the train into the nearest station rather than abandon it somewhere in the wilderness.”

Industrial relations, normally calm and consensual in Germany, are breaking down, partly because of the country’s strong growth. There is a widespread feeling in the German trade union movement that the time has come to squeeze higher salaries out of employers. The so-called Merkel miracle could thus soon start to evaporate.

“A rail strike will damage the economy and the standing of Germany in the world,” Michael Glos, the Economics Minister, said. First though, the strike could well derail the privatisation of Deutsche Bahn. The privatisation law is about to be presented in the second chamber of the German parliament and some powerful voices are expressing reservations about the way in which the country’s 35,000km (21,700 miles) of railtrack are to be handled.

Mr Mehdorn insists that the railtrack should stay part of the privatised concern, but critics from across the political spectrum argue that Germany must learn the lesson of what is widely seen as the bungled British privatisation of the rail system: that the track should stay in government hands or Deutsche Bahn will be able to slant competition in its favour.

The new law fudges the issue — effectively incorporating it as part of the privatised concern while giving the Government legal supervision for 15 years — and politicians are threatening a rebellion.

Having failed to get his way on the railtrack, Mr Mehdorn — denounced in the tabloid press as a “fathead” — is determined to make a stand on wages. He insists that there should be a comprehensive (and modest) settlement for all 400,000 rail workers, not just train drivers, or future bidders will be scared away from investing in Germany. The unions, by contrast, believe that the run-up to privatisation is exactly the moment to put in an ambitious wage claim.

Hitting the buffers

* Deutsche Bahn carried more than 119 million people on its long-distance rail services during 2005

* Last year Deutsche Bahn's net income tripled to €1.7 billion (£1.1 billion) as freight and passenger demand rose with the World Cup

* The GDL union can strike only with the approval of 75 per cent of its 12,000 members

* Its strike would be the first unlimited shutdown of Germany's widely used rail network in 15 years

* A nationwide strike would stop approximately 28,000 passenger trains and 4,780 cargo trains every day

* About 170 international rail routes to, from or through Germany would also be forced to close

* The Government has already reached agreement with two other rail trade unions representing 134,000 workers which the GDL refuses to accept

* Its aim of raising €4 million€5 million by floating a third of privatised Deutsche Bahn next year will be difficult if the company appears paralysed by poor industrial relations

Sources: RMT Bristol; www.railway-technology.com

See also:

Union Votes for German Railway Strike

Der Spiegel: August 06, 2007

RAIL ROW

Following a vote on Monday, Germany's train drivers' union is set to go on strike this week if it doesn't reach an 11th-hour deal with national railway Deutsche Bahn. The strike threatens to disrupt travel for tens of thousands during the holiday season.

db lokomotiv fuhrer.jpg
The locomotive driver of a high-speed ICE train: The GDL union is demanding a "fair deal."

Germany's GDL train drivers' union voted overwhelmingly on Monday to go on strike against national railway Deutsche Bahn, threatening to leave thousands of tourists stranded at the peak of the country's travel season.

GDL Chairman Manfred Schell said that 95.8 percent of the union's members had voted in favor of going on strike this Wednesday in what is expected to be the biggest work stoppage at Deutsche Bahn since 1992. The strike could stall thousands of trains and strand many thousands more passengers.

Schell said the strike could begin on Wednesday if Deutsche Bahn doesn't present a better offer by Tuesday evening. The union is considering stopping work on freight trains for two to three hours, and afterwards the strikes could spread to passenger service. However, the union said that no firm plans had been made for the start of the strike, though it did promise to provide passengers with a 24-hour notice period. The strikes are expected to start small but gradually grow in intensity if GDL's demands aren't met.

The 34,000 GDL-aligned train drivers and conductors have refused to accept the terms of a wage contract between Deutsche Bahn and two other railway employee unions -- Transnet and GDBA. Instead, the locomotive drivers are demanding their own contract, along with a 31 percent wage hike. Locomotive drivers in Germany currently earn about €2,000 ($2,765) a month, and many argue that is insufficient for the responsibility that comes with driving trains that can be carrying as many as 400 passengers and traveling at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour). GDL has rejected an offer by Deutsche Bahn for a 4.5 percent salary increase.

Economics institutes and consumer advocacy groups alike have criticized the strike plans, saying they could have a negative impact on the economy and strand millions of passengers. Deutsche Bahn's CEO, Helmut Mehdorn, has taken a hard line against the strike plans.

Court Battles

German courts will have a say in the strike developments, at least at the regional level. On Monday, a labor court in Düsseldorf ruled against the strike, arguing it would endanger the future of unified wage contracts at the company. The court threatened €250,000 in fines if the union shut down regional trains in the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Other courts are also considering cases brought by Deutsche Bahn seeking an injunction against the strikes. A Frankfurt court on Monday came to an agreement with the parties that will keep Deutsche Bahn auto and night trains from striking.

"We will demand damages for all strikes that violate the law," Mehdorn said in an interview with SPIEGEL published Monday. "If Deutsche Bahn suffers losses in the millions due to illegal actions, then we want those losses compensated for."

Responding to the upcoming court rulings, GDL Deputy Chairman Claus Weselsky said his union would obey the rule of law. "If the courts prohibit measures in our labor battle as has happened in North Rhine-Westphalia with regional trains, then we won't go on strike there. Up until now, we have never carried out an illegal strike and we won't do so in the future," he said.

The German government is preparing to sell about half its shares in Deutsche Bahn through a number of channels, including an initial public offering. But there are concerns that increased wage costs could make the company less attractive to investors.

dsl/dpa/dpa-AFX/Reuters/AP/AFP

See also:

German companies fear disruption from rail strike

AFX News Limited: 08.07.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - German industry fears disruption to production from the biggest rail strike in 15 years, according to reports.

Companies expressed alarm that the train drivers' union GdL has not ruled out extending the strike, which is targeted to begin on Thursday for freight traffic, over a longer period if its demand for a 31 pct pay rise and exclusive conditions for drivers is not met.

Car maker Porsche AG (other-otc: PSEPF.PK - news - people ) told financial newspaper Handelsblatt it could face 'enormous economic damage' if the strike goes ahead, with its Leipzig plant dependent on rail for deliveries and facing a potential production standstill.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) is working on an emergency plan to cope with any disruption in the period after its annual summer shutdown, which ends in the middle of this month.

A BMW spokesman told Handelsblatt that the company would try to use road haulage contractors, but faces difficulties because other firms are doing the same. BMW uses rail to deliver to dealers 55 pct of the 3,500 cars that it builds daily in Germany.

The chemical industry has also forecast 'grave problems' if workers blockade goods yards and it is unable to transport goods, some of which can only go by rail for security reasons, Handelsblatt said.

The GdL, which said yesterday that more than 95 pct of its members had voted for the action, has given Deutsche Bahn's (DB) management until 6 pm on Tuesday to make an acceptable offer.

DB, which has already negotiated an agreement with the other rail unions, Transnet and GDBA, for a 4.5 pct rise and a one-off bonus of 600 eur, has categorically rejected the GdL's demands, which DB chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn described as 'ridiculous'.

An unidentified DB executive told the Financial Times that a fully-fledged labour dispute involving passenger trains could cost it more than 10 mln eur a day and the German economy 500 mln eur a day.

'People are cancelling their trips from Wednesday onwards,' the executive said. 'The strike has not even started and we're already facing costs in the region of 1 mln eur a day.'

August 5, 2007

RMT groundstaff at EWS Margam depot to strike over jobs

RMT: August 1 2007
ews_shuntergang.jpg
Engineering staff also to be balloted for action.

RMT GROUNDSTAFF at the EWS depot by the huge Corus steelworks at Margam in south Wales are to strike for 24 hours from 03:59 on Monday, August 6, in a dispute over "absurd and highly dangerous" moves to make half of their number redundant.

Engineering staff at the depot are also being balloted for industrial action over the cost-cutting redundancy plan, under which the arduous and dangerous shunting of heavy steel-wagons is proposed to be imposed on them.

"EWS's attitude to all its staff at Margam is nothing short of a disgrace, and our members are determined that these jobs will not be lost," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"The company's plan to sack ten groundstaff is about cutting costs and maximising profits regardless of the risk, and no misleading business arguments can disguise that reality.

"The company intends to force the bulk of the shunting onto engineering grades who already have enough demanding work of their own to do, and they have now asked to be balloted as well to defend their safety and conditions.

"Their supposed criteria for selecting people for sacking include levels of sick-leave, but they are well aware that there is a high level of absence due to injuries sustained at work.

"Selection benchmarks that include 'dynamism' are almost certainly unlawful and we have referred their selection policy to our lawyers to mount a legal challenge.

"It is time that EWS sat down with us and talked seriously about the issues, including our reps' counter-proposals which would save jobs and keep our members safe," Bob Crow said.

ews_60065_Abbotswood.jpg

ends

Notes to editors: The 18 groundstaff involved voted by ten to four for strike action. The ballot of 31 engineering staff will close on August 14.

EWS is reported be on the verge of being bought out by Deutsche Bahn for around £300 million.


See also:

STRIKE THREAT OVER RAIL FIRM'S GROUNDSTAFF REDUNDANCY PLAN

South Wales Evening Post: August 2, 2007

Workers at a Port Talbot rail freight depot are planning to down tools in protest at plans to axe more than half their number.Eighteen groundstaff at EWS Margam, next to Corus steelworks, are to strike in a dispute over a move described by the RMT union as "absurd and highly dangerous".

Meanwhile, another 31 engineering staff at the depot are being balloted about industrial action over the cost-cutting redundancy plan.

Bosses at the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) say the changes would lead to workers being forced to carry out arduous and dangerous shunting of heavy steel wagons.

An EWS spokesman angrily dismissed the claims as scaremongering. He also said the industrial action would be illegal, claiming it was based on a flawed ballot.

"EWS's attitude to all its staff at Margam is nothing short of a disgrace, and our members are determined these jobs will not be lost," said RMT general secretary Bob Crow.

"The company's plan to sack 10 groundstaff is about cutting costs and maximising profits regardless of the risk, and no misleading business arguments can disguise that reality.

"The company intends to force the bulk of the shunting onto engineering grades, who already have enough demanding work of their own to do, and they have now asked to be balloted to defend their safety and conditions.

"It is time EWS sat down with us and talked seriously about the issues."

EWS is reportedly on the verge of being bought out by Deutsche Bahn for about £300 million.

An EWS spokesman admitted there were to be redundancies at the depot, so the firm could remain competitive.

But he claimed the union ballot was flawed, because the wrong grade of employees had been balloted.

He said the company was eager to meet the union to discuss the matter.

"Any industrial action taken would be illegal," he said.

The spokesman also accused the RMT of scaremongering with its claims of an extra, dangerous workload.

He said: "Safety is at the forefront of all our operations. There will be no impact on operations at all. The RMT's comments are misleading and fundamentally inaccurate."

He added that, if there were a strike, it would not affect EWS's service to its customers.

See also:


Personnel Today.com: 02 August 2007

RMT union members at Welsh freight yard vote to strike in dispute over safety impact of proposed redundancies

Workers at English Welsh and Scottish (EWS) railway depot at Margam in south Wales have voted for a 24-hour strike in a dispute about redundancies.

Eighteen ground staff at the rail freight operator, members of the RMT union, voted 10 to four in favour of industrial action, citing a move to make almost half of them redundant as "absurd and highly dangerous".

Engineering staff are also being balloted for industrial action over a redundancy plan under which they will be expected to take on responsibility for the shunting of heavy steel-wagons.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said EWS's plan to sack 10 ground staff was a cost-cutting measure to maximise profits regardless of the risk.

He said: "The company intends to force the bulk of the shunting onto engineering grades who already have enough demanding work of their own to do, and they have now asked to be balloted as well to defend their safety and conditions.

"[The company's] supposed criteria for selecting people for sacking include levels of sick leave, but they are well aware that there is a high level of absence due to injuries sustained at work," Crow added.

EWS, however, said it believed the RMT ballot was flawed as different grades of staff were balloted outside of those involved in the dispute.

EWS said it believed that any industrial action undertaken by RMT would therefore be illegal. "We have informed RMT of this matter and are open to discussions with them," a spokesperson told Personnel Today.

German rail firm Deutsche Bahn is reported to be close to acquiring EWS for £250m.

Minister warns of economic damage from German rail strike

EUX.TV: August 05, 2007
gdl.jpg
Berlin (dpa) - Economics Minister Michael Glos warned Sunday of damage to the German economy if train drivers carry out their threat to go on strike this week.

"If the rail strike goes ahead it will harm the economy and the reputation of Germany," the minister told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

A last-ditch attempt to avert industrial action failed on Friday when the train drivers' union GDL rejected a new offer by the state-owned railways Deutsche Bahn (DB).

The union is due on Monday to announce the result of a strike ballot called by the union to underpin its demand for a separate labour contract and a pay rise of up to 31 per cent.

GDL chairman Manfred Schell said he expected that 90 per cent of the 12,000 members eligible to take part in the ballot would vote in favour of strike action.

Deutsche Bahn has offered an inflation-beating 4.5-per-cent increase, the same it agreed with two larger unions representing 134,000 workers, following a series of pinpoint strikes last month.

But the rail operator refuses to sanction a separate contract for the smaller GDL, arguing that such a move could prompt the other unions to make fresh demands.

The GDL maintains that train drivers, some of them piloting passenger trains at speeds in excess of 200 kilometres an hour, earn as little as 1,500 euros (2,070 dollars) a month in take-home pay.

DB claims that most drivers earn supplements that lift net pay to 2,100 euros.

The rail operator is drawing up contingency plans to cushion the impacts of the strike, including the use of buses for local services and drafting in administrative staff with train drivers' licences.

Deutsche Bahn chief executive Hartmut Mehdorf has warned that the dispute could cost the company millions of euros and threatened to sue the union for damages if their action is deemed illegal.

The union sought a series of injunctions to avert the stoppage but was successful only in Germany's biggest state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where a labour court outlawed industrial action in local services.

In 2005, DB carried a total of 119 million people on its long- distance routes.

The German government recently announced plans to part-privatize DB next year, retaining the rail network in state hands. The unions oppose the move.


See also:

German union GdL turns down Deutsche Bahn's offer for renewed wage talks

AFX News Limited: 08.03.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - German train drivers' union GdL turned down Deutsche Bahn AG's offer to resume wage talks on Sunday and is demanding that the company improve its wage offer, Die Welt reported, citing a spokeswoman for the union.

'We will not go to Berlin for the negotiations on Sunday,' the newspaper cited her as saying in an excerpt of an article to be published tomorrow.

The union expects the German rail operator to make an amended offer by Tuesday, it said.

Sources at Deutsche Bahn earlier today told news agency dpa the company plans to make a new wage offer to GdL and hopes to thereby avert strikes, which could begin next week.

GdL plans to announce on Monday the voting results of this weeks' balloting on industrial action.

The trade union said previously it expects 90 pct of workers to vote in favor of industrial action.

Wage talks between GdL and Deutsche Bahn collapsed when the union rejected Deutsche Bahn's proposal of a 4.5 pct pay increase last month. GdL is demanding the German rail operator increase its workers' wages by at least 31 pct.

See also:

Deutsche Bahn Faces New Strikes as Engineers' Union Shuns Talks

Bloomberg: Aug. 3
By Andreas Cremer

Deutsche Bahn AG, Germany's state-owned railway, faces new strikes as early as next week after a train drivers' union rejected an offer of fresh talks to solve a five-week impasse over pay.

The Frankfurt-based GDL engineers' union, seeking pay rises of as much as 31 percent for 20,000 drivers and 10,000 ticketing and other staff, said Deutsche Bahn Chief Executive Officer Hartmut Mehdorn had failed to address their wage demands in his offer of new talks in two day's time, made today.

"The way those talks were planned by Mehdorn offers no prospects for success,'' union head Manfred Schell said in a faxed statement. "We expect the Bahn to present a negotiable offer.''

Engineers at Europe's largest rail network, who are negotiating separately from two other main unions that represent Deutsche Bahn workers, already staged short walkouts on July 3 and again on July 10. The GDL needs at least 75 percent support in a strike ballot to approve unlimited industrial action -- a level Schell said the union is certain to reach. The ballot result will be announced on Aug. 6.

Berlin-based Deutsche Bahn's new offer implies "improved wage prospects'' beyond the 4.5 percent increase already agreed with other workers, Margret Suckale, the company's human resources director, said today in an e-mailed statement.

The proposal also spells out "improved career opportunities'' for train drivers, she said, criticizing the union's position as "completely irresponsible.''

'Worst Solution'

"We want to negotiate because strikes are the worst solution,'' the Web site of news magazine Der Spiegel cited Mehdorn as saying today.

Five weeks after a so-called peace period banning union strikes expired, the GDL is determined to push its pay demands. More than 90 percent of members back strikes, Schell said in an interview today, adding that passengers will be given 24 hours notice on when and where disruptions will be caused.

Over the past few weeks, the Bahn has sought legal injunctions through labor courts across Germany to block the walkouts. A Dusseldorf-based court ruled a regional strike in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous of the country's 16 states, unlawful on Aug. 1.

Schell said he was "very optimistic'' that Frankfurt's labor court will deem the strikes to be legitimate in a ruling next week. Verdicts on at least two of four strike-related cases the court is handling are expected to be announced on Aug. 6.

"We're not the ones deciding about strikes, we want to harass passengers as little as possible,'' Schell said in the interview. Deutsche Bahn could still evade industrial action and allow pay talks to resume if the company were to table "an acceptable offer,'' he said. The 4.5 percent raise won by fellow unions Transnet and GBDA is "a good result,'' Schell said.

The GDL has said engine drivers have been underpaid since 1994, with real wages declining 9.5 percent.

"For train drivers earning 1,500 euros net a month, that's not enough though,'' Schell said. The union is demanding 2,500 euros gross per month for drivers and 2,180 euros for train conductors.

See also:



Germany is set for a new round of rail strikes this week

Reuters: 4 August 2007

Germany is set for a new round of rail strikes this week, with the GDL train drivers' union expecting the vast majority of its members to back industrial action after the breakdown of wage talks.

GDL chief Manfred Schell expected more than 90 percent support for strikes in a ballot of members, the results of which are due on Monday. Strikes could begin on Wednesday and hit services across the country at the height of the holiday season.

GDL refused to accept a wage deal that rail operator Deutsche Bahn made with two other rail unions last month, instead making higher demands that Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn described as "ridiculous".

"We will strike longer than the Bahn board can stand," Schell told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Deutsche Bahn and the two other unions agreed on a wage deal that would give some 134,000 workers a 4.5 percent raise from next year. The GDL has demanded pay rises of up to 31 percent.

Last month, Germany was hit by big disruptions to rail travel as Bahn workers staged warning strikes.

Economy Minister Michael Glos told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "If it comes to rail strikes, that would damage the economy and Germany's reputation. You don't make any friends that way."

The government plans to partially privatise Deutsche Bahn by 2009. If approved by parliament, the initial public offering is likely to be Germany's biggest since Deutsche Post was floated in 2000 in an IPO that raised 5.8 billion euros ($7.95 billion).

See also:


Germany set for all-out rail strike

Financial Times: August 5 2007
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin

Germany could face its toughest industrial action in years after a rebel train drivers’ union said it would go ahead with an all-out strike on Wednesday despite threats of legal action and dismissals from Deutsche Bahn, the soon-to-be privatised railway operator.

The strike depends on the outcome of a ballot of trade union members, to be published on Monday. But stoppages seemed highly likely after the GDL trade union rejected a proposed settlement on Friday and DB ruled out another offer before a deadline set for on Tuesday.

In a sign that the dispute was turning into a tug-of-war, Hartmut Mehdorn, DB’s chief executive, hardened his tone at the weekend, warning GDL against taking illegal actions.

“If DB suffers damages from illegal steps, we will demand compensation,” Mr Mehdorn told the Spiegel weekly in an interview to be published on Monday. “We will immediately suspend train drivers who act irresponsibly,” he said and announced a fast-track training programme for non-unionised drivers.

Business has warned that an all-out rail strike – the first in 15 years – could dent growth. Steel producers, who depend on the railways for their raw material supplies, as well as logistics and transport companies could be among the most affected. A nationwide dispute could affect 28,000 passenger trains and 4,780 cargo trains a day and shut down 170 international railway routes.

In order to minimise disruptions, DB plans to dispatch 8,000 drivers with civil-servant status – civil servants are constitutionally barred from striking in Germany – and members of competing trade unions. Office workers with train-driver licences will also be recruited.

GDL had upset the traditional choreography of labour disputes by breaking ranks with DB’s two leading trade unions, which last month secured a 4.5 per cent pay rise from January and a one-off €600 ($827, £405) payment for this year. GDL demands a 31 per cent pay rise for train drivers.

A success for GDL would cause alarm among economists, already worried about a build-up of inflationary pressure in Europe biggest economy. Germany’s fast-growing economy has seen higher wage settlements this year and a sharp increase in food and energy prices in recent months.

A prolonged conflict, however, would be equally unwelcome for DB because of its imminent privatisation. The government said last month it would float up to 30 per cent of the operator for €5bn-€6bn next year, in the biggest initial public offering since 2000.

Manfred Schell, GDL chairman, on Sunday dismissed Mr Mehdorn’s warnings, saying the union would neither break the law nor put passengers in danger. “We will not let ourselves be cowed by Mehdorn,” he said.

DB obtained an injunction last month that suspended a warning strike by GDL. A labour court later overturned the ruling.

See also:

Deutsche Bahn industrial action from GdL union on Weds virtually unavoidable

AFX News Limited: 08.05.07

FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - Renewed strikes from Deutsche Bahn AG's train drivers' union GdL starting next Wednesday are virtually unavoidable, reported several German media reports, including one in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

GdL plans to announce on Monday the voting results of this week's balloting on industrial action.

The trade union said previously it expects 90 pct of workers to vote in favour of industrial action. A vote of more than 75 pct is necessary for strikes to begin.

Sources within Deutsche Bahn told the newspaper that it is preparing for strikes beginning on Wednesday.

Wage talks between GdL and Deutsche Bahn collapsed when the union rejected Deutsche Bahn's proposal of a 4.5 pct pay increase last month. GdL is demanding the German rail operator increase its workers' wages by at least 31 pct.

In a separate report, Speigel magazine quoted Bahn chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn as saying that the rail operator is considering suing for damages caused by the strikes.

'If the Bahn incurs millions of euros of extra costs caused by illegal actions, than we want to have compensation,' he told the magazine.

'Right now we are losing revenues in the range of millions of euro per day,' he added.

In addition, Mehdorn said Deutsche Bahn will take disciplinary action should any of the strikes threaten the security and safety of its operations.

'Whoever stops his train on the middle of a wide open stretch [of track], as some train drivers did during the most recent strikes, endangers everyone who travels by trains,' he said.

Mehdorn said that drivers who perform similar actions this time around will be suspended immediately.

The GdL union represents some 33,000 Deutsche Bahn workers including train drivers and restaurant car employees

Stuttgart Moves Ahead on Controversial Railway Plan

Deutsche Welle: 04.08.200

A newly approved, multi-billion-euro railroad rehabilitation project through downtown Stuttgart has sparked debate between German developers and citizens' groups.
porsche.jpg
A new station will make more high-speed travel possible via Stuttgart

The southern German city of Stuttgart, home to both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, has gotten approval for a railroad project worth 4.8 billion euros ($6.6 billion).

The plan will replace Stuttgart's main train station, built in the 1920s, with an underground station, and will drive a new main rail line -- including a nine-kilometer (six-mile) tunnel -- through the urban area. Smart new mixed-use commercial and housing developments will replace the old station.

Perhaps surprisingly, Germany's "motor city" sees no contradiction in using public funds to lure motorists away from busy roads onto fast inter-city trains. But after the plan was approved, some taxpayers began complaining that the project would be a gigantic waste. And conservationists and developers immediately faced off on the issue.

No more 'dead end' station

The scheme, which will replace a "dead-end" train station with a time-saving drive-through station, will be funded mainly by the state and federal governments and land sales. It will do away with a 19th-century rail line that runs through a valley between the steep, green hills that surround the city center. The new plan calls for drilling tunnels through the forest-clad hills that give the city so much charm -- but also hamper road and rail connections.

porsche.jpg
Stuttgart lives from auto manufacturing -- but is supporting rail travel

Stuttgart, in the state of Baden-Württemburg, is one of Germany's most prosperous cities and a main stop on the rail line between Paris and Vienna. It has always been an oddity because of its dead-end train station. As locomotives enter the station, they have to stop at buffers and be uncoupled. Another engine must be hitched at the other end to haul a passenger train on the next leg of the journey, or a special two-headed train must be used.

The plan is to avoid this by letting trains drive straight through the city, using a new train station that will be built underground. Planners say this will greatly improve travel times, shaving nearly an hour from the trip between Munich and the French city of Strasbourg, for instance. It would allow France's high-speed TGV train, which began services to Stuttgart in May, to sweep through and keep going as far as Hungary.

New housing is planned

A key aspect of the product is the plan to replace an enormous eyesore -- land currently covered with train platforms, sheds and sidings -- with upscale housing and offices, effectively creating a new neighborhood in pricey downtown Stuttgart.

If the plan is carried out, it would make Stuttgart the first German city to try building a rail line from scratch, as opposed to using the already existing lines.

Stuttgart Mayor Wolfgang Schuster stands behind the railway plan despite its high costs, citing an overall need in Europe for high-speed rail lines.

"What would be the alternative in central Europe?" asked Schuster rhetorically. "Either we expand the autobahn, which faces political opposition, or increase flights -- which is hardly possible considering how busy the airways around Paris and Frankfurt are. For me, the right answer is: high-speed rail."

Meanwhile, state environmentalists oppose the project, fearing it will suck up federal funds that could have been used to reduce car use by improving tram and train lines in other cities in the state.

Heribert Rech, the state's minister for transport, denies other communities will receive less, but the state's finance minister, Gerhard Stratthaus, says that is the logical consequence of locking a federal government grant into the station project.

The European Union will support the project with 250 million euros. The state of Baden-Württemburg will pay about a billion, and the federal government will chip in some 1.5 billion euros.

Even so, that leaves a shortfall, which planners have covered by agreeing to sell to a mixed palette of developers the land that will be freed up by the new underground routes.

Citizens' opposition

The city and state stand squarely behind the project, which aims for completion in 2019 and which goes by the name of Stuttgart 21.

But local opposition has arisen, mainly from a citizens' initiative called Stuttgart Living.

Gangolf Stocker, the spokesman for Stuttgart Living, considers the underground train station technically ill conceived. He also worries about the effects of so much construction -- the inevitable dust, noise and trucks -- on daily life over a long period.

Moreover, Stocker argues, the plan itself is faulty.

"Investors who buy this land want guaranteed return on their investment. The building will reflect that. There will be no urbane construction, or anything like it," he said.

And, he argues, a cold windstream runs through the east section of the train station area, mainly at night; that means high buildings should not be allowed, he said. "Even though the east section shouldn’t be built on, it will be. It's in the plans," Stocker said.

Opponents plan to start a petition drive to put a stop to the plans.

Critics also question why state premier Günther Oettinger promised 950 million euros in grants to the federally-owned rail company.

Even scarier for state taxpayers is a guarantee by Baden-Württemberg to pay up to 940 million euros if those digging tunnel discover unstable rock under the city and have to start again or use a more expensive building method.

The scheme requires 57 kilometers of new rail-bed through the city, including 33 kilometers of new tunnels. Another 60 kilometers of track for 250-kilometer-per-hour ICE bullet trains will be laid to the nearby city of Ulm, including a bridge across the Danube River.

UAE group signs Ghana rail deal

Gulf News: August 05, 2007

Dubai -- A consortium headed by Dubai-based Kampac Oil Company has signed a $1.6 billion (Dh5.8 billion) contract for a railway project in western Ghana.

Kampac yesterday announced the signing of a 35-year concession with the Ghana Railway Corporation.

The contract involves the construction of 800 km of new railway line and the rehabilitation of 400 km of existing line.

The construction of the new line between Takoradi and Hamile in the Upper West Region will begin in December.

The first phase of the contract - redevelopment of the present 400 km rail line - is scheduled to complete in 18 months, and the entire 800 km new line will be commissioned in 48 months.

Ghanaian Minister of Ports, Railways and Harbour Christopher Ameyaw Akumfi said this contract heralds a new era in cross-border investment and economic cooperation between the UAE and Ghana.

"The awarding of this contract marks the fulfilment of the government's policy to extend the country's rail network to the northern parts of the country," he said.

"It will also promote cross-border trade and economic activity through improved land transport linkages and improve air passenger and freight linkages across Africa's sub-region," the minister added.

Reducing congestion

Under the terms of the contract, Kampac Oil ME will design, build, operate and transfer the 800 km rail line from Takoradi to Hamile to the government.

Kampac has secured the mineral and mining rights for key proven reserves valued at more than $2 billion as part of the concession.

The new standard gauge line will start from Takoradi and run via Manso, Tarkwa, Huni Valley, Dunkwa, Awaso, Nyinahim, Sunyani, Techiman, Bole, and Sawla, Wa to Hamile.

The UAE organisations in the consortium are the Jebel Ali-based Gulf African Project Co Ltd and Dubai's Suresh Trading Co.

Other consortium partners are China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation, Trans-tech Engineering Corporation, Manferrotaal, Rail One of Germany, Pasiner Edustrial Tesisler Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. of Turkey, R.H. Railway Consultants, Consolidated Power Projects (Ptg), Geneva-based Optima Asset Management Co., and Smice International.

The project seeks to strengthen Ghana's freight corridor while stemming the railway network's traffic problems and revenue losses.

The project also envisages rehabilitating and maintaining the existing Western Line.

Part of the project is the opening of an inland port at Boankra Kumasi aimed at reducing customs clearance pressure at the Tema and Takoradi ports by redirecting freight inland, thus increasing rail traffic and revenue.

The financing of the project was done through the assignment of $2 billion worth of mineral and mining rights to the consortium on an exclusive basis.

Kampac plans to raise $2 billion to $4 billion by monetising a portion of the mineral property assets.

August 3, 2007

Mind the Crossrail funding gap

BBC News: 1 August 2007
By Bill Wilson, Business reporter

When Crossrail was first envisaged, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Liverpool were on the way to the football league championship and Jive Bunny was top of the pop charts.
crossrailengineers.jpg
Tests have already been carried out on sections of the Crossrail route

Since then, the planned rail link - designed to run through London on an east-west axis - has been repeatedly delayed or shelved, only to be dusted down and put back in motion.

Now, 18 years on, the £15bn scheme has once again made it off the drawing board and has been debated in a House of Commons committee, in the shape of the Crossrail Bill.

Yet despite this head of steam, the project for a proposed high-speed rail link from Berkshire to Essex via central London could well hit the buffers again, unless funding is forthcoming.

There has been renewed concern after the government's railways White Paper failed to mention how it will fund Crossrail.

'Very expensive'

Ministers and the Treasury have yet to indicate any firm cash commitment to the project, while it is also unlikely that London Mayor Ken Livingstone or Transport for London will be asked to pick up the bill.

"One of the biggest challenges for transport is Crossrail," Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling told business leaders last week.


A link between Heathrow and the City of London is desperately needed, both for business and the public
London Travel Watch

Crossrail route

The government was "committed" to the scheme, the ex-transport minister declared.

But he pointed out that the scheme was "very expensive and before we can make a decision, we need to make sure it's affordable".

"And that will mean substantial contributions from outside government as well as government itself," he added.

However, at present, all the Treasury will reveal is that it is trying to find a "funding formula".

crossrailengineers.jpg
The route would link firms in the City of London to Heathrow

As Mike Crowhurst of pressure group Rail Future, which campaigns for better rail services, says: "We don't know where the funding will come from. One gets the impression the government is anxious to avoid putting in any money.

"It has been suggested that one form of funding may be in the form of a development land tax. But there is a great deal of confusion that needs to be cleared up."

He adds: "Another concern is that this proposal of a west-east connection through London has been about in various forms for more than 50 years, without ever getting built."

'Future problems'

The high-speed rail link from Berkshire to Essex is vital to keep London ahead of rival cities, business says.

The high-speed line, which would link Heathrow with the City and Canary Wharf, is seen by Mr Livingstone and business leaders as essential to keeping the capital moving.

Recently, Mervyn Davies, chair of international bank Standard Chartered, said that if London wanted to continue its recent success and compete with other cities as an international finance centre, then it needed "good communication links".

"There is no doubt that if we do not have it [Crossrail], we will have future problems," he said.

And Jo deBank at watchdog London Travel Watch agrees.

"It definitely needs to be built, as a link between Heathrow and the City of London is desperately needed, both for business and the public.

"However, at the moment, it is very confusing. The government says it is supporting it, but the funding is not there at the moment."

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Seven new stations in central London would be built

Industry insiders say the final funding may be a hybrid arrangement of perhaps one-third government funding and one-third business funding, with the final third raised through some sort of borrowing against future ticket revenues.

"Business in principle is agreed to the fact it will have to help towards the issue of coming up with funds," says Lauren Preteceille of London First, which represents 300 larger employers in the capital.

"We are very in favour of Crossrail, it is vital to London's continuing competitiveness.

"But we want to know what the final figure is before we sign any pieces of paper."

'Pushing government'

Meanwhile, Crossrail has to negotiate some more committee stages in the House of Lords and Commons before it can get Royal Assent.

If there are no major stumbling blocks, construction on the link could begin in late 2008. Engineers from Arup and Bechtel are already working out of the same offices as Crossrail.

"We have had the support of government and we hope that will continue," says an upbeat Ian Rathbone of Crossrail.

"It is just a matter of sorting out the funding."

Now all eyes are on the government's Comprehensive Spending Review in the autumn, which could well lead to the kind of detail on cost and funding for which all interested parties are waiting.

"We have been pushing government for a number of years now and we hope to see progress on this key issue," says London First's Lauren Preteceille.

After nearly 20 years, it may be that Crossrail joins the other major cross-capital route, Thameslink, in finally achieving financing.

CROSSRAIL FACTS
crossrail_route.gif
High-speed link
* Planned operational date 2015
* From Maidenhead and Heathrow in west
* From Shenfield and Abbey Wood in east
* Through central London tunnels
* New stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf


See also:


Crossrail crawling closer to green light

Financial Times: August 2 2007
By Christopher Adams and Bob Sherwood

It has been a long time in coming. Now, after years of wrangling over the route, its vast cost and who should pay for it, Crossrail is inching closer to fruition.

Political momentum behind the east-west rail route that would link Berkshire with Essex via Heathrow and Canary Wharf is growing. Ministers need no convincing of the economic benefits and the need to ease congestion on London’s overcrowded commuter networks. Moreover, approval for Crossrail could help Labour in next year’s London mayoral elections.

A bill is being debated in the Commons and is expected to clear parliament next spring, paving the way for a swift start to construction.

In theory, a green light could come by the autumn. In reality, this is far from guaranteed. Eighteen years on from its genesis, under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the biggest stumbling block to Crossrail remains its financing, where a deal is as elusive as ever.

As the government prepares for what one senior official called “tough discussions” with business, the London mayor and city transport authorities, it is the split between private and public funding that will be most difficult to resolve.

The drawn-out negotiations, and the need to keep the project affordable, means recent projections for an opening as early as 2015 look optimistic. Even assuming agreement is reached by the time departmental spending totals are pencilled in for the next three years, Whitehall insiders expect slippage in the project’s timetable. Services may be a decade away.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there are a number of reasons why a more protracted timetable could suit the government.

The institute says that an early start to Crossrail’s construction, well before building work on the 2012 London Olympic Games is complete, could contribute to a spending squeeze, in part because the two projects would be competing for similar suppliers. It says that a modest delay might allow the scheme to be built more cheaply.

There are, also, wider implications for the public finances, the IFS says. Were the extra demands on the construction industry from parallel work on the Olympics and Crossrail to inflate the rail project’s bill, the prospect of breaking one of Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules – to keep net debt at a stable and prudent level – may increase.

Public sector net debt was forecast by the Treasury in this year’s Budget to be 38.2 per cent of national income in 2007–08, rising to 38.8 per cent in 2009–10 and 2010–11, before dropping back to 38.6 per cent of national income.

Carl Emmerson, IFS deputy director, says that, assuming Alistair Darling, the chancellor, adheres to the 40 per cent limit on debt imposed by Mr Brown, then “significant new projects would be difficult” during the period covered by the pending review.

“It might not be possible for new significant projects to go ahead without squeezing other investment programmes,” he says.

Putting off Crossrail’s construction “might make it easier to deliver the project in a cost-effective way”. Staggering demand for suppliers could contain the expense.

Douglas Oakervee, Cross London Rail Link’s chief executive, insists that the timing of the two projects should dovetail. His team has completed modelling that shows workers could migrate to Crossrail.

This has allayed the concerns of some in government. And the Treasury has said nothing to suggest the fiscal rules are a constraint. Even so, it would be a brave man that banked on a 2015 start for train services.

Israeli and Palestinian transport unions make breakthrough agreement

ITF: 2 August 2007
itf israel palestine.jpg
Israeli and Palestinian transport trade unions yesterday reached a ground breaking agreement to work together at a meeting in Cyprus organised by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation).

The agreement was signed by Avi Edri, Chairman of the Histadrut Transportation Workers’ Union; Naser Yunes, President of the Palestinian General Federation of Transport Workers; and David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary.

Twenty Israeli and Palestinian transport union representatives met for two days to tackle common issues such as collective bargaining, delayed payment of wages, loss of union membership and the increasing outsourcing of work to contractors. They agreed to establish a joint liaison committee to deal with practical problems faced by transport workers in the region and build trust between Israeli and Palestinian transport unions.

The committee will also focus on the problems faced by Palestinian transport workers at military checkpoints - a major concern for Palestinian drivers. The Palestinian union will set up a hotline for drivers and cases will be handled in coordination with the Israeli union. It was agreed that the Israeli union would request the Israeli security services to participate in the committee’s work when relevant issues such as checkpoints and barriers are under discussion.

ITF President Randall Howard commented: “The participants were remarkable for their commitment to getting a job done which they believe will not only bring real benefits for transport workers, but in a small way set a direction for building wider trust and cooperation. People did not agree about everything, there were some raw and difficult moments, but they agreed to respect each other and try to work together. This joint declaration is, in my view, a remarkable achievement and a dramatic leap forward in defending and advancing the interests of Palestinian and Israeli transport workers.”

Naser Yunes added: “The priority was to deal with transport workers’ problems. We have to show our members that such initiatives can work. I believe that by working together we can really bring real and practical improvements for trade union members.”

Avi Edri added: “We are very serious about this cooperation. I believe we can make a real difference working together.”

Both men called on the ITF to maintain its role in supporting this initiative. Meanwhile David Cockroft committed himself to visiting the unions during the next 12 months. The declaration commits both unions to regular meetings of the joint liaison committee.

The meeting, held in Limassol, was hosted by the ITF-affiliated union the Federation of Transport, Petroleum and Agricultural Workers, whose General Secretary, Pantelis Stavrou, welcomed the delegates.

Photos and a video clip of the signing, along with the agreement, will be available online later today at www.itfglobal.org/index.cfm
ITF Video: View the signing ceremony

Summer of discontent at Deutsche Bahn

The Economist: Aug 2nd 2007

Looming strikes and local politics dog a controversial privatisation.

A STAND-OFF between two obstinate men close to retirement could determine the future of Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany's state-owned railway company. Hartmut Mehdorn, DB's chief executive, is determined to keep finances tight ahead of a partial privatisation planned for next year; Manfred Schell, the head of GDL, the most militant of three railway unions, is hell-bent on getting his train drivers a pay rise of at least 31%.

Mr Mehdorn needs an infusion of cash from private investors to continue his expansion of DB as a logistics firm that carries international freight by road and rail, as well as passengers in trains and buses. As he seeks investors, Mr Mehdorn is in no mood to offer fat pay rises. But GDL's 12,000 members, representing a mere 5% of DB's workforce, are threatening to strike after August 6th if he does not give ground.

Railworkers at the vast goods yard of Mainz-Bischofsheim near Frankfurt, who themselves oppose a strike, say that a few drivers abandoning trains at strategic points could paralyse the system. On August 1st a court in Dusseldorf ruled such a strike illegal, but other courts have upheld the drivers' right to strike. DB has already agreed on a pay increase of 4.5%, the highest in Germany this year, with the two other unions. But that is not enough for Mr Schell, a 64-year-old radical who wants to end his career next year on a high note.

A strike might cost the German economy up to €500m ($685m) a day in missed deliveries, extra transport costs and lost workdays, estimates DIW, an economic-research institute. DB itself would forgo up to €42m in daily revenue if none of its 5m passengers or 1m tonnes of rail freight was able to travel, DIW says.

But worse for Mr Mehdorn would be the alienation of potential investors in his company. He recently had his contract extended to 2011, when he will be 68, purely to see the privatisation through. On July 24th the cabinet agreed to a privatisation bill which foresees the sale of a maximum of 49% of DB. The bill also grants DB use of the rail network for at least 15 years, though the tracks will remain in state ownership. Without this provision DB would have no chance of doing an initial public offering of a 25% stake next year, which is Mr Mehdorn's preferred privatisation route. (An alternative would be to sell a stake to a single big investor; RZD Russian Railways is reported to be interested.)

Yet obstacles remain. The sale still needs approval from the Bundesrat, the upper house which represents the regional Länder. Some regional finance ministers oppose it outright. Others dislike giving DB control of the rail network: the Länder are expected to pay part of a €2.5 billion annual network subsidy, but worry that local lines will be axed in the drive for profit.

Mr Mehdorn has fought to keep the rail network under his control, arguing that DB is best qualified to run a system that integrates trains with track. That is despite the openness of Germany's network to competition. Some 350 companies operate competing passenger services, mostly on short regional routes, with a market share of some 15%; a handful compete with DB's freight and long-distance passenger trains.

DB is supposed to manage rail traffic and invest in infrastructure on a “non discriminatory” basis, overseen by a regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur. But there are many ways in which DB can skew things in its favour. “As a commercial company, it is bound to,” says Claudia Kemfert of DIW. The delicate politics mean that Mr Mehdorn wants to avoid a damaging strike. No wonder Mr Schell sees this as a good time to demand more pay for his drivers.

At least 100 dead in Congo train crash

The Earthtimes: 02 Aug 2007

Kinshasa/Nairobi - The United Nations sent emergency medical staff to a remote location in the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday after a train crash left at least 100 people dead.

The United Nations sent emergency medical staff to a remote location in the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday after a train crash left at least 100 people dead. More people were injured in the crash that occurred some 170 kilometres from Kananga, the capital of Western Kasai province in the southern central part of the vast country on Wednesday night, the UN mission in the Congo (MONUC) said.

"MONUC and other authorities are trying to provide the first emergency assistance to survivors. The provisional toll is 30 dead and several tens of seriously wounded," said Kemal Saiki of MONUC.

He said a helicopter ferried doctors, medical personnel and medical kits to the site.

The train was carrying cargo from Ilebo to Kananga when it derailed, but Saiki said he did not know what caused the crash.

"It was supposed to be a train with no passengers but in Africa people manage to travel on cargo trains," he said.

Decades of kleptocratic government and years of war left the central African country bereft of infrastructure, with dilapidated roads and railways left behind by Belgian colonialists still in use.


See also:

DR Congo crash toll 'passes 100'

BBC News: 2 August 2007
drcongo_kasai.gif
At least 100 people have died in a train crash in central Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said.

Scores more people have been injured, with some still trapped under carriages that overturned when the train's brakes failed late on Wednesday.

UN helicopters have transported medics to the crash site, 170km (105 miles) west of Kananga in West Kasai province.

Accidents are common on DR Congo's colonial-era rail network which has had little maintenance since 1960.


"We suspect there still may be people trapped under the wagons - we need heavy machinery to lift them" - UN spokesman Alexandre Esson

The Minister for Information, Toussaint Tshilombo Send, said at least 100 people had died, adding that bodies were still being discovered.

President Joseph Kabila was sending a high-level delegation including government ministers and medical staff to the scene to assess the situation and assist victims, Mr Send said.

He said an investigation would also be launched.

Fear

Rail officials said when the brakes failed, the train, which was carrying goods and passengers, picked up speed. Seven of the 10 carriages then overturned.

drcongo_afp.jpg
Accidents are common on DR Congo's colonial-era rail network

The UN peacekeeping force in Congo said the incident occurred about 2300 local time (2200 GMT).

"This afternoon we sent a helicopter with doctors, nurses, and local authorities. At the moment, they are on the ground there," Reuters quoted UN spokesman Alexandre Essone as saying.

"We suspect there still may be people trapped under the wagons. We need heavy machinery, though, to lift these wagons," he said.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says the driver of the diesel locomotive fled, fearing retaliation from villagers.

Disrepair

DR Congo's railway was built under Belgian rule more than 100 years ago.

Originally, trains were used to transport copper from the mines of the southern province of Katanga to the country's main port near the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then the copper route has changed, and the mineral is now transported to ports in South Africa.

No longer essential for the transportation of minerals, the rail network's refurbishment has not been high on the agenda of Congolese authorities, our correspondent says.

But in a vast country with less than 500km of roads, planes and trains are the only means of transport.

Lib Dems plan air tax to aid rail

BBC News: 2 August 2007

The Liberal Democrats say they would put an extra £10 tax per ticket on internal flights in Britain to help fund improvements to the rail network.

They are also proposing to put a toll on road freight, while encouraging private investment in railways.

The party says it would generate £12bn in five years and be a temporary measure, without specifying how long.

The proposals are part of a package aimed at making Britain's transport system carbon neutral by 2050.

The Lib Dems will discuss the proposals at their annual conference in September.


"Plans to improve the railways must not be scuppered yet again by public spending constraints" - Chris Huhne, Lib Dem environment spokesman

So-called "lifeline" air routes, such as links between the Orkneys and Shetland and the mainland where travel options are limited, would not be taxed.

The flight charge would generate £150m a year, and the freight toll could raise £600m annually to be put in a "Future Transport Fund".

Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne said the flight tax would curb the growth in the internal flights and shift freight from road to rail, potentially cutting the UK's carbon emissions by more than 2.6 million tonnes a year.

Private motorists would be spared in the near future, however, with Mr Huhne saying that a national road pricing scheme was not a practical option within the 10-year period in which experts say action must be taken to halt global warming.

Other environmental measures include higher taxes on gas-guzzling cars and a change in air duties to levy charges on flights rather than individual passengers.

European examples

Mr Huhne said the air market in France and Germany had been "killed" when high-speed rail alternatives were introduced, and he hoped the tax would prevent the expected growth in UK domestic flights.

The freight tax would follow similar schemes used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, with truckers paying on average 11p a mile, although the charge depends on vehicle emissions.

Mr Huhne said: "Plans to improve the railways must not be scuppered yet again by public spending constraints.

"The Future Transport Fund will provide ring-fenced funding for the improvements that future generations need if we are to cut our carbon emissions."

The fund would be used for high-speed rail links connecting London with Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Tyneside and Scotland in the north and Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter in the west.

It would be used to cut passenger fares; remove bottlenecks in the system at locations like Reading and Swindon; contribute to relief schemes like London's Crossrail; increase train lengths; and reopen some closed lines, such as the Oxford-Cambridge link.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly recently announced that £10bn would be invested by 2014 to increase rail services and lengthen trains.

See also:


Lib Dems tax plan a work of fiction, says minister

Guardian Unlimited: August 3, 2007

'The August silly season is well and truly under way.' - Andy Burnham

A Liberal Democrat spending pledge to raise £12bn and double investment in Britain's railways was branded "a great work of fiction" today, only hours after the party launched its new transport policies.

This morning the party announced plans to tax UK domestic flights an extra £10 and levy a toll on lorries, measures that would yield £750m in revenue.

The party's environment spokesman, Chris Huhne, predicted this could "potentially release £12bn for spending on rail improvements in the next five years".

But Andy Burnham, the chief secretary to the Treasury, tonight questioned how the cash would be raised. Mr Huhne said that the figure of £12bn would be arrived at by a process known as "securitisation". Securitisation creates a bond backed by payments, in this case from the income of the tax revenue.

In particular, Mr Huhne said, the £12bn would be arrived at by taking the net present value of the money and securitising it over 30 years at a rate of 4.5%.

Using this method, experts confirmed that it would indeed be possible for a future Liberal Democrat government to make the £12bn the party features so prominently today's transport announcement.

If the Liberal Democrats were to be elected they would be employing a financial mechanism not widely used by the government and at odds with the party's traditional hostility to the vagaries of the money markets.

Kale Brown, a securitisation researcher at Barclays Capital said: "There are no comparable examples of a government using current and future tax receivables to erase securitised debt."

However, he pointed to the government's involvement in an international scheme last year involving securitisation-type financing.

Many parts of the railway network in the UK, including Metronet and the rolling stock on the west coast mainline, have been securitised in the past.

Of western governments, Mr Brown pointed to Portugal's "corporate delinquent tax receivables scheme" which involved securitisation, but said there "really was no comparable example of an attempt to factor securitisation into a government's public spending commitments".

Mr Burnham said: "This story provides confirmation that the August silly season is well and truly under way.

"While Liberal Democrats' tax and spend plans wouldn't be everyone's choice of holiday reading, you cannot doubt the fact that they are excellent work of fiction."

August 2, 2007

More trains for Rhondda

News Wales: 1/8/2007

Plans for a 22.5 million pound scheme to improve rail services in Rhondda Cynon Taf go on display to the public later this month.

An exhibition in Abercynon will enable people to see for themselves the plans for the scheme and also to talk to Rhondda Cynon Taf staff and colleagues from partner agencies who are helping to deliver the improvements.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has joined forces with Network Rail and Arriva Trains Wales to improve the rail service from Merthyr to Abercynon, Pontypridd and Cardiff.

The scheme has been made possible thanks to Welsh Assembly Government and Objective One funding. It will see improved stations at Abercynon South and Merthyr Vale, with electronic passenger displays, CCTV, public help points and well-lit platforms and footpaths for security.

Signalling and tracks will be improved in the Abercynon area and a new two-mile passing loop introduced at Merthyr Vale to increase the frequency of trains for the benefit of residents.

From 2008, trains from Merthyr will increase from hourly to half-hourly and four trains an hour will run from Abercynon to Pontypridd and Cardiff.

A major park and ride facility at Abercynon also forms part of the improvements.

Cllr Eudine Hanagan, Cabinet Member for Better Public Services and Transport, said: "This is an important opportunity for local people to come along and see for themselves the exciting plans in place for the village and its railway.

"As well as seeing the plans, it gives people the chance to discuss and understand the works programme and the impact it could have, We are keen to be working together with the community as we deliver this important and valuable scheme."

The exhibition takes place at Abercynon Social Hall in Station Road from 10.30am to 7pm on Tuesday August 14 and 10am and 4.30pm on Wednesday August 15.

RMT calls strikes at ‘One’ after massive vote for action

RMT: August 1 2007

Union steps up dispute with company-wide ballot over unfair sacking of guard.

MORE THAN I00 RMT guards, revenue-protection inspectors and retail staff at 'One' railway in north Essex are to strike on August 18 and 20 after voting by a massive margin for action against the unfair dismissal of a guard.

Guards based at Colchester and Clacton, revenue-protection inspectors based at Colchester and retail members between Chelmsford and Manningtree voted by 83 to one to strike.

The union, which is in dispute over the sacking of guard Paul Yarwood and the company's failure to support other members involved in an incident with a fare evader on June 7 at Colchester North station, has now also called a company-wide ballot.

"The anger of our members over this issue should now be quite clear to One management," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Our members are furious that the company has failed to support staff who were left to deal with an abusive fare-evader who refused to stop smoking on a train, assaulted a platform supervisor and threatened a passenger and other staff.

"The company's decision to sack one loyal member of staff and suspend two others stunned their colleagues and left them feeling betrayed.

"Paul Yarwood should never have been sacked in the first place, but if the company wants to win back the trust of its workforce it must start by re-instating him and confirming that there will be no further disciplinary action in this matter.

"Our members face the prospect of assault and abuse daily, and the least they should be able to expect is support from their employers.

"The RMT executive has responded to the magnificent vote for action by calling two days of strike action, and has today also agreed to ballot the entire One workforce over the crucial issues involved," Bob Crow said.

Green light for PPM to pioneer new rail policy

Birmingham Post: Aug 1 2007
By Duncan Tift, Business Staff

New Government policy designed to encourage greener transport systems is expected to benefit Black Country-based Parry People Movers.

The company, based in Cradley Heath, supplies lightweight rail and tram vehicles. It has been boosted recently with the announcement that its railcars will run services on the Stourbridge Town branch line from 2008, under the new regional franchise awarded to Govia by the Department for Transport.

The Government's new White Paper and accompanying Rail Technical Strategy, published on July 24, give official recognition of the need for high-efficiency, lightweight, hybrid technology in future rail development.

This is an approach pioneered by the company since its formation in 1991.

It now expects that the supply of two PPM 60 vehicles to the London Midland franchise will increase revenue by as much as £750,000 starting in the current financial year.

The PPM railcars will provide all passenger services on the branch - the first conversion of a route to "lightweight rail" technology. It is hoped this will stimulate interest in the concept both in the UK and overseas.

PPM's rail vehicles are the first in service to feature lightweight construction, a hybrid power supply and a patented energy storage system which enables the vehicle to recover kinetic energy as it brakes and then re-use it to accelerate away from stops - a system known as regenerative braking.

Experimental passenger operation in 2006 revealed an 80 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions compared to conventional diesel trains, a 45 per cent reduction in operating costs, and considerable reductions in noise and pollutants.

The base technology, which uses propane gas as fuel, can also be adapted to use other energy sources including biofuels and hydrogen if these are preferred.

The Government's Rail Technical Strategy makes frequent reference to the need for carbon reduction by the use of hybrid technology, regenerative braking and lightweight vehicles, and to the potential for biofuel and hydrogen for powering rail systems.

PPM chairman John Parry said: "We welcome the views contained in the recently published Government White Paper and Rail Technical Strategy that recognise the substantial need for all future rail transport to be efficient, lightweight and environmentallyfriendly in performance.

"For many years, PPM has championed the merits of hybrid technology as the most efficient concept for the future development of rail transport. It is a thorough vindication to see Government policy now echoing these sentiments."

In the light of this, he said the firm was looking forward to the future with new confidence.

As PPM's rail vehicles remove the need for an electrical power supply, they offer excellent environmental performance and energy efficiency at lower costs than conventional technology.

Its technology can be used equally on railways and on urban tramways, and PPM's vehicles are fully compliant with accessibility regulations.

Twelve PPM vehicles have been built, ranging in capacity from two to 50 passengers and between them they have carried over 100,000 passengers.

PPM vehicles have operated in Bristol, Brighton, Barking, Swansea, Birmingham, Oswestry and elsewhere. Its PPM 50 Lightweight Railcar No 999 900 has run on the Chasewater Railway, the Great Central Railway, the Severn Valley Railway and the Wensleydale Railway since it was built in 2001.

From December 11, 2005, to December 17, 2006, this railcar operated more than 4,000 passenger services between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town stations on Sundays, run by Pre Metro Operations.

Network Rail's communications system will already be obsolete in 2013

IT Week: 02 Aug 2007
Dave Friedlos, Computing

Delayed GSM-R project already outstripped by consumer technology

Network Rail’s much-delayed £1.2bn driver communications system will be obsolete long before it is rolled out, says the government strategy on the future of the railways.

The Global System for Mobile Communications – Railways (GSM-R) project was established in 2003 to create secure voice and data links between train drivers and signallers. It was originally expected to be up and running by 2008, but budget constraints and technical issues have pushed the deadline back – first to 2010, and then to 2013.

GSM-R trials have already begun, but the Rail Technical Strategy issued last week says the technology will be out of date by the time it is deployed. Network Rail says it may never be able to install state-of-the-art IT across the UK.

Technology implementation is a genuine challenge for the rail sector, says independent expert Christian Wolmar.

‘The railway has a tradition of being slow to innovate because of the huge capital cost of introducing new systems across a vast network,’ he said.

GSM-R relies on the GSM mobile phone network technology first introduced to the consumer market in the 1990s and already left behind by the likes of 3G and WiMax.

By the time the project hits its extended 2013 deadline, the underlying technology will be more than 20 years old, says Datamonitor analyst Alex Kwiatkowski.

‘Network Rail says it is investing to build a modern railway, but this sends out the wrong signals,’ he said.

Network Rail defends its slow progress with the argument that choosing the right systems takes time.

‘I doubt we will ever be able to put in bang up-to-date technology across the whole network,’ said a spokesman.

The system will meet UK rail sector requirements and, because it is in use in other countries, obsolescence will not cause problems when sourcing spare parts, says Network Rail.

‘GSM-R will fulfil our needs for at least the next 20 years,’ said the spokesman.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) says the system will continue to be developed. ‘The technology will not stand still and there will be ongoing work to ensure it remains suitable,’ said an Atoc spokeswoman.

‘The diesel engine is more than 100 years old but is still used effectively on the railways.’

August 1, 2007

South African Rail Service Abandons Plans for European-style Privatisation Break-Up

Business Day: 1 August 2007
Khulu Phasiwe, Johannesburg

RAIL utility Transnet Freight Rail, formerly Spoornet, said yesterday it had abandoned earlier plans to vertically separate the company into operations and infrastructure divisions.

"We will keep the infrastructure and rolling stock in the company," Freight Rail CEO Siyabonga Gama told the Johannesburg Press Club.

Gama said although the policy regarding the future of the rail monopoly would ultimately be made by the government, its sole shareholder, Transnet Freight Rail, would not recommend vertical separation of the company.

He said rail operators in Britain and Sweden, whom Spoornet at the time was emulating, were also rethinking their strategies about the separation of infrastructure and operations functions.

In terms of the original plan, Freight Rail was going to focus solely on operating trains while an independent, preferably private, entity was going to be responsible for the maintenance and building of rail infrastructure.

The idea of vertical separation of operations and infrastructure in Europe came at the height of privatisation in the late 1980s. It was influenced by the belief at the time that the private sector was far more efficient and competent than the public sector.

The other objective was to encourage new entrants to participate in the freight and commuter rail markets.

But concerns about allowing the profit-focused private sector to run a rail infrastructure were raised after a train accident in Britain in 2000.

The accident was allegedly caused by lack of maintenance on the rail track and the rolling stock. There have subsequently been calls for the renationalisation of British railways by labour unions.

It was not clear if these developments, coupled with SA's labour unions' opposition to privatisation, had contributed to Gama's change of heart.

However, he gave hints the plan could have been cancelled as far back as 2005. He said at the time that: "Concessions are not a panacea. Just because assets and services are state-owned does not mean that they are inefficient. The private sector often only focuses on maximum profit and short-term gains."

Gama said yesterday his management team was confident Freight Rail would be turned around by 2012. The company would invest R35bn in the next five years to renew its fleet.