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November 30, 2007

5 critically injured in Amtrak crash in Chicago

Chicago Tribune: November 30, 2007
By Jon Hilkevitch, Dan P. Blake and Ryan Haggerty

An Amtrak train coming into Chicago from Michigan slammed into the back of a freight train in a South Side rail yard today, injuring dozens, including at least five Amtrak employees who were reportedly in serious condition.

The slow-moving double-decker passenger train struck the back of a Norfolk Southern freight train that was sitting in a rail yard near 52nd Street, just west of Shields Avenue, around 11:30 a.m., officials said.

At a news conference, Chicago Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco said that of the dozens taken to hospitals, five were reported to be in critical condition and nine were in serious condition. He said another 30 were taken in good condition, meaning they had only "bumps and bruises," and were able to walk off the train on their own.

Amtrak train accident

Orozco said he expects the number of injured to increase to about 50 by day's end. Amtrak officials said that the train's engineer and assistant engineer were among the five employees who were injured. Officials had to use hydraulic cutting tools to get at people trapped inside the locomotive, which had run up on top of the back car of the freight train.

The rest of the Amtrak train was upright and on the rails.

At least 187 passengers and six crew members were on train No. 371, also known as the Pere Marquette, which was to arrive at Union Station at 10:30 a.m. after leaving Grand Rapids, Mich., at 7:35 a.m.

Norfolk Southern officials said the freight was waiting for a signal to move forward

"The freight train was on the track it was supposed to be on waiting for its signal," said spokesman Rudy Husband. "The Amtrak train went into the rear of it."

The freight train, consisting of 17 loaded cars and three empty cars, began its trip in Elizabeth, N.J., Husband said. It was destined for a rail yard in Chicago, he said.

It was not immediately clear whether one of the two trains missed a signal. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to investigate, officials said.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor said a heightened emergency response was called for the crash and firefighters initially were having trouble getting to the accident site. Passengers were being brought out on stretchers to a triage area near 52nd Street and Princeton Avenue, where some were lying on tarps and others were sitting down. One woman was wearing a neck brace.

A passenger on the train, 60-year-old Coert Vanderhill of Holland, Mich., said he was on his way to Chicago to help his children close on a condominium sale. The train was traveling about 15 to 20 m.p.h. when the crash happened, he said. Before the collision, he said, there was no braking or any other warning that something was wrong.

Vanderhill, who had a small cut to his nose, said most passengers were thrown forward into the seats. His wife was thrown to the floor.

After the crash, he said, many of the passengers had bloody faces and some were missing teeth. Langford said earlier in an interview with WGN-TV that firefighters were attempting to gain access to a conductor who may be in the train's front car. Langford said most of the injuries would be in the front car and the first passenger car.

Some of the injured were taken to Stroger Hospital, including 24 who were transported in a CTA bus, hospital spokesman Sean Howard said. All were thought to have injuries that were not life-threatening. An undetermined number of passengers was expected to be treated at Northwestern Memorial and Mercy hospitals, among others.

Meanwhile, at Union Station, Shigeru Yokoyama of Boise, Idaho, was waiting to hear again from his wife, who had been in Michigan to visit her parents. The couple was planning on meeting back in Chicago today before flying out to Boise.

He had called to see how close she was, and she told him their train had crashed. "I called, and she was talking, and she said the train crossed something. She was upset and I couldn't tell what she was saying," Yokoyama said.

He said he heard talking in the background, but no screaming or crying. He said his wife had later text-messaged that she has "a bloody face."

By mid-afternoon, emergency personnel were cleaning up diesel fuel that spilled from the Amtrak locomotive and off-loading remaining fuel from the engine, officials said.

Dozens of investigators were on the scene preserving evidence while waiting for the NTSB to arrive from Washington. Other agencies involved are the Federal Railroad Administration and the Illinois Commerce Commission, as well as Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Specialized teams were being set up to focus on mechanical issues, rail operating practices, track signals, engineering and human factors, officials said.

Rhondda station re-opens after 40 years

News Wales: 29/11/2007

A new train service for Llanharan will be open for passengers next week. It will offer hourly services between Cardiff, Bridgend and Maesteg on Mondays to Saturdays, together with three return journeys to Cardiff on Sundays.

Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and Arriva Trains Wales have been working with Network Rail and contractor Galliford Try to deliver the new station on the site of the former station that closed in 1964.

The station will be officially opened in February when the car park and other minor works are fully completed but the station will be open to the public on December 9, well in time for people to carry out their Christmas shopping.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council's Cabinet Member for Better Public Services and Transport Cllr Eudine Hanagan said: "We have been working together with the community on this much needed station and are delighted to see that the work is sufficiently advanced to enable trains to stop in the village before Christmas.

“This is a clear statement of intent and whilst the station is not yet fully finished, we wanted to enable local passengers to use their new rail service at the earliest opportunity."

The new station will feature the latest technology, such as electronic passenger information displays, CCTV coverage, public help points and well-lit platforms and footpaths for security. There will also be a new passenger car park.

Trains will stop at the station from 9 December 2007 to coincide with the railway timetable change date, with the first trains being at 0948 to Pencoed and Bridgend (and onward to Milford Haven) and at 12.13 to Pontyclun and Cardiff (and onward to Manchester).

November 28, 2007

14% rail fares rise 'shock' on way

Press Association: 28 November 2007

A row over rail fares is raging as passengers brace themselves for "rip off" rises in the New Year of up to 14%.

An announcement about fare increases is expected in the next few days, with the new prices due to be introduced across the UK in January.

Average rises are expected to be around 4.8% but some commuters will face rises of more than 14%, it is understood.

See also:

Commuters facing 14pc rail fares rise

Daily Telegraph: 28 November 2007
By Ben Farmer

Rail passengers will be hit by fare increases of up to seven times the current rate of inflation in the new year.

Some commuters face rises of up to 14 per cent when train companies bring in the rises in early January, while the average rise will be 6.8 per cent.

A train pulls into a busy commuter station. Commuters facing 14pc rail fares rise
Passenger groups and unions accused the operators of lining their pockets

The worst affected routes are run by train operator Southeastern running from Kent and south east London into major London stations.

The company announced yesterday that commuters from Hayes in Kent will face a rise of 14 per cent where a weekly, rail-only season ticket will jump from £24.80 to £28.50.

Rail fares for standard returns and season tickets across the company’s routes are set to rise by an average of 6.8 per cent, while consumer price inflation in October stood at 2.1 per cent.

Other fares including those operated by Southern Railways and South West Trains, are expected to rise by an average of 4.8 per cent.

Companies elsewhere in the country are also expected to reveal price increases above inflation today or tomorrow when the Association of Train Operating Companies makes an announcement on fares.

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: "These increases are unfair and unjustified.

"Hard-pressed commuters are paying above-inflation increases because the Government has given the green light for rail companies to rip off their customers.

"We should be investing in a not-for-profit railway instead of increasing profits for the rail companies and providing income for the Treasury."

A spokesman for Southeastern said the 6.8 per cent hike was an average and some fares had gone down.

He said: "The company recognises that no one likes having to pay more, and naturally fare increases are unpopular.

"But Government policy is to recoup more of the cost of the rail service from those who use it, rather than relying on the taxpayer to subsidise it."

He said the increases were in line with a Government fare formula stating tickets can increase by three percentage points more than July’s retail price inflation each year.

He added that the worst increases in and around London were because the company had to bring fares and tickets into line with the London Underground zones.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said another round of "rip-off" rail fare increases would drive more people off trains and into cars.

General secretary Bob Crow said: "Talk about the need to reduce carbon emissions is just hot air if the private train operators are allowed to impose another round of rip-off fare rises.

"The private franchises are only interested in lining their shareholders’ pockets, yet the failure to impose a sensible fares policy is having a direct effect on the environment as more and more people who should be on trains take to their cars.

"The Government promised to take fares policy in hand, but the privateers have once more been given the green light to fill their boots with passengers’ and taxpayers’ money."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent rail watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers will be shocked. We were expecting some price rises, but not of the magnitude of 14 per cent.

"Passengers will be wondering where this extra money is going and what it’s for.

"There are more trains on time, which is good, but that does not justify these kind of fare rises when passenger numbers are going up as well."

The price rises will come in to effect despite widespread frustration with overcrowding on commuters routes which means passengers pay high fares with often little hope of a seat.

Figures released in September showed that rail travel is at its highest level for 60 years.

Passenger demand has risen by 42 per cent over the past decade, but seat capacity has increased no more than 20 per cent since 1997. At the same time, the train fleet has grown by only five per cent.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said the fares formula was a cap and Southeastern was not forced to raise them that much.

She said: "Where fares do rise, they are helping to pay for record investment in a growing railway - in new trains, refurbished stations and more reliable services. As a result of this investment, passenger numbers are at record levels."

Rail Cargo Austria buys Hungary's freight operator Mav Cargo for 102.5 billion forint

AFX News: 11.27.07

BUDAPEST - Rail Cargo Austria has won the tender in the privatisation of Hungarian rail freight business MAV Cargo with a bid of 102.5 billion forint, in line with earlier press reports, government officials announced today.

MAV Cargo, touted as a key logistics asset in the heart of the European Union's fastest growing region, went on the block earlier this year as part of government attempts to reorganize the inefficient rail system.

Rail Cargo Austria, the freight unit of Austrian railways company OBB, secured MAV Cargo in a joint bid with local state-owned rail operator GYSEV.

The consortium fended off rival bids from Slovakia's Slavia Capital, which bid 86 billion, and British-American consortium Cargo Central Europe, which bid 57 billion forint.

The highest bid of 103.16 billion forint from US-Dutch investor New World Resources was disqualified because the company attached conditions to the tender including altering a share agreement for workers, MAV Chairman Miklos Kamaras said.

Economy and Transport Minister Janos Koka said the winning bid was 35 times MAV Cargo's earnings in 2007. He added that the new owners have agreed to sell 5 pct of the stock to workers at half the market price before purchasing it back at full market price.

See also:

Rail Cargo Austria to buy cargo unit of Hungary's MAV

CargoNews Asia: 28 November 2007

A consortium made up of Rail Cargo Austria and Hungarian firm GYSEV has successfully tendered to buy MAV Cargo, the cargo unit of state-owned rail operator MAV, Hungarian Economics Minister Janos Koka said.

The consortium presented a bid of US$589 million for 100 percent of the Hungarian firm.

The sale is Hungary's biggest privatisation deal this year, and the Austrian-led bid exceeded expectations.

Koka said the winner offered 35 times MAV Cargo's 2007 profit, versus the customary 10 to 15 times the annual profit.

Hungary will use the proceeds from the sale to pay the debts of state-owned railways MAV.

The government won't use the proceeds to pay off sovereign debt but leave it with the railways for its consolidation. The amount isn't included in Hungary's 2007 budget figures. GYSEV, which is owned by the Hungarian state, holds a nine percent stake in the consortium.

Rail Cargo Austria-GYSEV won the bid ahead of Slovakian consortium of Sped-Trans and Slavia Capital Group, which offered to pay 494 million, and Cargo Central Europe, a consortium of a US transport industry firm and a UK financial investor, which offered $328 million.

New World Resources Transportation, a consortium comprising a Dutch financial investor and a Czech transport industry firm, was also among the four final bidders submitting a bid but its bid was invalid. New World's bid was invalid despite submitting the highest offer at $592 million.

November 27, 2007

Time to end rip-off fares hikes - says RMT

RMT: November 27 2007
fares fair.jpg
ANOTHER ROUND of rip-off rail-fare increases will drive more people off trains and into cars, Britain’s biggest rail union says today.

“Talk about the need to reduce carbon emissions is just so much hot air if the privateer train operators are allowed to impose another round of rip-off rail-fare rises,” RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said today

“The private franchises are interested only in lining their shareholders’ pockets, yet the failure to impose a sensible fares policy is having a direct effect on the environment, as more and more people who should be on trains take to their cars.

“The government promised to take fares policy in hand, but the privateers have once more been given the given the green light to fill their boots with passengers’ and taxpayers’ money.

“We need substantial investment in greater capacity and new lines, yet the private sector is allowed to drain £1 billion a year from the railway industry.

“The private sector has proved over and over again that it is incapable of running the railways as a public service, and the franchising system stands as a barrier to the growing, affordable railway that the environment and the economy need.

“We need a fares and ticketing structure designed to encourage people out of their cars and onto trains and a joined-up transport policy capable of delivering extra capacity to cope with growing demand

“Ultimately that means we need a public railway run in the interests of the public, and the time has come to start bringing the franchises back into the public sector in a single, coherent public body,” Bob Crow said.

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

November 26, 2007

Demonstration - End Tube Privatisation

Reminder from Bob Crow – End Tube Privatisation Demonstration
13th December, City Hall, London, commencing 11.00 hrs

I am writing to remind you of the forthcoming demonstration to protest at the privatisation of the East London Line.

As you will be aware the union has been fighting proposals to privatise the East London Line.

The London Underground East London Line is to close for refurbishment on 22nd December and once reopened in 2010 its operations are to be handed to private operator MTR Laing as part of the new The expanded London Overground franchise which began running last week.

The demonstration has been called to protest at the death of the public service ethos on the East London Line. For the first time for more than seven decades the passenger operations of part of the world’s most successful metro system are to be handed to an organisation for which profit comes first.

It is vital that we take a stand against any creeping privatisation of Tube operations. Even more so following reports this week that Crossrail, which as you know will have connection with existing London Underground Lines and stations, will be operated by private company, when there is no reason why it cannot be operated in the public sector.

The demonstration is important to all grades working on London Underground and the Mainline Railways.

This is because the Privateer consortium MTR-Laing, which took over the franchise from National Express on Sunday to run the new London Overground franchise was invited to bid on the basis of operating driver-only operated trains on the North and West London lines from December 2011. RMT exposed the secret plan earlier this year after the union obtained the invitation to tender for the London Overground under freedom of information laws

Giving MTR-Laing a free hand to remove guards from busy commuter trains just in time for the Olympics is a further attack on Guards and the demonstration will also be challenging TfL to assure us that it will not happen

Please mobilise for 13th December and bring your flags and banners.

Yours sincerely

Bob Crow
RMT General Secretary

November 25, 2007

Friday - Day 10 of French railworkers' strike

SUD-Rail logo.jpg
SUD-Rail Union: Nov 22, 2007 - No. 20
17 boulevard de liberation 93200 St Denis
Tel’: 00.33.(0) - www.sudrail.org

The strike

Even when the unions don’t call for it,
The strike continues.

For several weeks a dynamic of unity incorporating almost all trade union federations has led a formidable strike at SNCF [the French National Railway Company]. Only FGAAC [the Independent General Federation of Train Drivers – representing a minority of train drivers] put itself outside the movement from the start: as a reward, management reserved it exclusive mentions in the announcements it prepared to meet the strike threat.

These crumbs from the bosses’ table failed to create any illusions amongst the workforce: on 14 November the strike began very strongly. When CFDT [the French Democratic Labour Confederation – a social liberal trade union close to the ETUC] abandoned the strike after day three it did not have too negative an effect, especially since many of their local branches stayed in solidarity with the strike.

The situation became more difficult from Tuesday 20, when the CGT [the General Confederation of Labour – the largest union at SNCF] began to call for resumption of work at several locations, breaking unity with SUD-Rail [Solidarity, Unity, Democracy – a militant anti-neoliberal trade union, the second largest at SNCF] and FO [Workers’ Strength – a minor union at SNCF, with national negotiating rights] to deal only with UNSA [the National Alliance of Independent Trade Unions – a loose alliance of ‘non-political’ union branches] / CFTC [the French Christian Labour Confederation – a minor union at SNCF linked to Catholic social teaching and social dialogue] /CGC [the General Confederation of Supervisors & Managers – a white collar union]. On Wednesday, even before the start of discussions with the government and the SNCF Board, "signals of a resumption of work" were given, in accordance with ministerial diktats. Then, inexorably the resumption of one location ensured the resumption of others since "the number of strikers is declining”.

For all that many CGT activists and collective bodies opted to continue the battle, coming to the same conclusions as the SUD-Rail and FO federations: we decided jointly to support what we knew would probably be a long movement, because we didn’t want to give way on the issues of increased duration of pension contributions, cuts in benefits, de-linking of pensions from wages and two-tier pension status.

This is what numerous strikers’ General Assemblies confirmed even on Thursday.
Even amongst those who decided to go back to work, there were numerous interventions to say: "we’re not satisfied!"

The union federations have been invited to attend 11 meetings between now and 18 December. SUD-Rail will be present: the strikers’ demands will be defended, railworkers will be informed of the government/management dual proposals.

2007-11-22 SUD-Rail La grève 20.jpg
Gallows humour: End of the conflict - “What’s that?” – “Err, well, it’s for suspending the strike.”

The strikers know how much we could yet achieve were unity maintained:
* for railworkers,
* for all workers with special pension schemes,
* for all workers in this country, now directly under the threat of an increase to 41 years pension contributions in 2008, then 42 and so on.
Without unity, the situation is much more difficult!

SUD-Rail supports all railworkers on strike.

November 24, 2007

Report predicts 35% rail rise in Cardiff and Valleys

Transport Briefing: 23/11/07  

The Welsh Assembly Government should plan to fund the necessary infrastructure to accommodate additional growth on Wales’ railways, according to a new report from the Enterprise and Learning Committee of the National Assembly for Wales.

In its report on future rail provision for Wales, the committee looked at all aspects of rail provision including rolling stock, stations, rail freight and infrastructure. Evidence was collected from several organisations and the study group considered the implications for Wales of the UK Government’s White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway and the Wales Rail Planning Assessment, both published in July 2007.

Passenger numbers could rise by up to 35% by 2016 on some services, the report says. It also found that there would need to be extra investment in new train carriages.

The committee said that estimated growth in passenger demand in Wales, and particularly in the Cardiff area to 2014 and beyond, is likely to exceed the levels used by the Department for Transport and therefore the Welsh Assembly Government will need to supplement the DfT’s investment to meet demand.

The report also says that the Welsh Assembly Government should give more priority to encouraging a shift from road to rail freight, but that this should be carefully planned to ensure it does not impact on passenger travel.

Other recommendations include improving services running through Cardiff Queen Street; producing a rolling stock plan outlining how new and refurbished rolling stock can increase capacity; improving car parking provision for rail passengers; and improving the quality of stations in Wales.

Chair of the Committee Gareth Jones said: “Although this inquiry was a relatively short one, we examined many issues during our evidence sessions. It became clear to us that the Department for Transport has underestimated the growth in the number of rail passengers in its High Level Output Specification and that therefore extra investment from the Welsh Assembly Government will be essential if Wales is to get the rail service it needs to help economic growth and combat climate change.”

Professor Stuart Cole, of the Wales Transport Research Centre at the University of Glamorgan, said: "We have also seen people switch from the A470 and driving into Cardiff to the train into Cardiff. There's a doubling in passenger numbers every seven years on the Valley Lines."

See also:

Assembly will have to give more funds to keep train travel on the rails

Western Mail: Nov 22 2007
Tomos Livingstone,

Extra cash will have to be found by the Welsh Assembly Government to cope with a rise in the number of people travelling by train, a committee of AMs has concluded.

A new report from the Enterprise and Learning Committee says the Department for Transport is underestimating the projected growth in rail travel.

That will leave a black hole in funding which WAG will have to plug, the report says.

During their inquiry into rail services the committee found that passenger numbers were likely to rise rapidly in the years to 2014, particularly in and around Cardiff.

The inquiry was set up to consider the impact on Wales of the UK Government’s Rail White Paper and the Wales Rail Planning Assessment, both published in July 2007.

The report also says that the Welsh Assembly Government should give more priority to encouraging a shift from road to rail freight, but that this should be carefully planned to ensure it does not impact on passenger travel.

Other recommendations include improving services running through Cardiff Queen Street, improving car parking provision for rail passengers and improving the quality of stations in Wales.

The chair of the committee, the Plaid AM for Aberconwy, Gareth Jones, said, “Although this inquiry was a relatively short one, we examined many issues.

“It became clear to us that the Department of Transport has underestimated the growth in the number of rail passengers in its High Level Output Specification and that therefore extra investment from the Welsh Assembly Government will be essential.”

November 23, 2007

Invest for rail growth and bring renewals back in-house, says RMT

RMT: November 23 2007

More cuts in spending targets means corner-cutting, union warns

NETWORK RAIL'S renewals contracts should be brought back in-house to deliver efficiency savings that will not undermine growth or compromise safety, Britain's biggest rail union said today.

Britain's railway network needs a massive investment in new capacity if it is to play its key environmental role in bringing down the level of carbon emissions, and simply squeezing budgets will only undermine safety as well as growth, RMT said.

Improved punctuality figures published today had been achieved thanks in no small part to bringing most maintenance back in-house, and the organisation should build on that success by taking full control of capital projects as well, ending the damaging 'contract culture', the union said.

"Network Rail doesn't need a financial squeeze, it needs massive investment in new capacity, not only to meet the expected growth in demand, but to generate even more rail use to get people out of cars and aeroplanes," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Spending targets have already been pared to the bone, and looking for further efficiency savings by squeezing from the top and seeing what comes out at the bottom is wrong-headed and dangerous.

"Network Rail's own investigation into the Grayrigg disaster has already highlighted problems caused by budget cuts, lack of resources and the imposition of increasingly unrealistic workloads on the people who get out there and do the work.

"Failure to stem the steady stream of runaways operated by a myriad of private contractors has also highlighted the need for Network Rail to take proper control of all railway assets.

"Reducing the number of main contractors doing renewals work was a nod in the right direction, but the clear benefits of bringing most maintenance functions back in-house need to be rolled out across the piece.

"As matters stand we still have a dangerous muddle of huge contractors, subbies, agencies and one-man-and-a-dog outfits raking it in at the public's expense, and if we're looking for efficiency savings, that's where they are to be found," Bob Crow said.

See also:

Network Rail Profit Gains 13% on Funding, Cost Cuts

Bloomberg: Nov. 23
By Tracy Alloway

Network Rail Ltd., the government- backed owner of Britain's railways, said first-half profit increased 13 percent after it received more state funding and ended contracts with outside consultants and engineers.

Net income for the six months ended Sept. 30 rose to 591 million pounds ($1.2 billion) from 523 million pounds a year earlier, the London-based company said in a statement today. Sales gained 3.5 percent to 2.98 billion pounds.

Passenger numbers on trains are at their highest in 60 years and lines face "significant capacity constraints,'' according to the company. Train punctuality in the past six months was the best in a decade, with 91 percent of services running on time, and 4,000 more trains a day.

"You've got more trains, you've got new trains and you've seen them all running at high levels of punctuality,'' Chairman Ian McAllister said on a conference call. "The punters are actually saying the system is working, I'll use the train.''

Network Rail wants to spend 9.6 billion pounds, more than double its current amount, to upgrade the U.K.'s overcrowded railway system in the coming five years. Adding more train carriages and lengthening platforms would be the best way to add capacity, McAllister said today.

Demand for rail travel has grown faster than supply over the past decade, according to the U.K. government. It predicts numbers will increase by another 30 percent in the next decade.

Thameslink, Crossrail

The government is planning to add 1,300 carriages and expand Thameslink services connecting north and south London to meet some of the demand. Crossrail, a 16-billion-pound project to link London Heathrow airport with east and west London, was also approved last month.

"The government are putting more money into the railways than ever before,'' McAllister said. "Obviously they want us to be an efficient provider of rail services.''

Network Rail took over railway maintenance from private contractors in 2003 and since then has been bringing more work in-house to minimize spending.

The Office of Rail Regulation, which oversees Network Rail, wants the company to reduce operating costs by 31 percent over the five years ending in April 2009. Network Rail has so far cut costs by 26 percent.

The company inherited the U.K.'s 21,000 miles (33,800 kilometers) of railway more than 4 1/2 years ago after Railtrack Plc, its predecessor, was forced into administration, a type of receivership allowing the network to continue operating, because of rising debt and poor performance.

Safer Railway

Key safety indicators, such as broken rails and drivers passing red signals, are at record low levels, Network Rail said in today's statement.

Executive bonuses at the company were cut 63 percent after a train traveling between London and Glasgow derailed Feb. 23, killing one person. An investigation concluded the crash at Grayrigg in northwest England was caused by a fault in a railway switch, one of Network Rail's responsibilities.

The track operator was also fined 4 million pounds in March over safety failings in a 1999 crash that killed 13 people. Network Rail admitted that Railtrack had failed to fix a signaling problem.

Profit at Network Rail is used to reinvest in the railway or reduce debt.

The extra yield, or spread, that investors demand to hold Network Rail's 1.25 billion pounds of 4.75 percent bonds due Nov. 2035, compared with similar maturity government bonds, was unchanged at 24 basis points, or 0.24 percentage points, according to Royal Bank of Scotland. The bonds are guaranteed by the government.

Network Rail pays out bonuses it withheld

The Times: November 24, 2007
Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

Network Rail has paid out hundreds of thousand of pounds in bonuses that were withheld in the wake of the fatal Cumbria rail crash in February, it emerged today.

In May, under pressure from passenger groups and unions, the company deferred bonus payments to executives worth £300,000 and suspended bonuses of £400 each to 119 workers being investigated over the crash.

It emerged yesterday that it has now paid a total of £286,074 to senior executives and up to £100,000 to front-line staff and their managers. The remuneration committee took the decision to make the awards in October, after the completion of the company’s internal investigation into why a Virgin train crashed at 95 mph. A British Transport Police investigation is continuing.

Iain Coucher, chief executive of the rail group, received a £79,200 bonus for the financial year to March 2006, a 63 per cent cut in what he received the previous year. Track workers saw their bonuses cut by 40 per cent.

News of the bonus payments emerged as Network Rail reported its best punctuality levels for a decade, with passenger numbers at a 60-year high. In an upbeat statement, the not-for-dividend rail infrastructure group said that 90.87 per cent of trains ran on time over the first six months of the year, which does not include the critical autumn leaf-fall period.

The rail group, which returned to the black last year for the first time since it was formed in 2002, reported an interim pretax profit of £780 million, an increase of 4 per cent on last year’s figure. Ian McAllister, chairman of Network Rail, said: “The rail industry has never seen anything like this. We are seeing modal shift and massive passenger growth, not just in London, but in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle.

“It’s due to a combination of efforts by us and the train-operating companies. It’s partly because there are more trains available, new trains that are attractive, a remarkable improvement in punctuality and the congestion on the roads,” Mr McAllister said.

He added that Network Rail was prepared for various growth scenarios, as increases in passenger numbers outstrip all expectations.

Network Rail has invested more than £1.7 billion over the past six months, up by £243 million on the same period last year. Savings of £1.7 billion, or 26 per cent, have been taken out of the cost of operating and maintaining the infrastructure in the past three years, it said.

Hungary rail strike ends, more protests expected

Reuters: November 21 2007
By Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto

BUDAPEST - Thousands of people will demonstrate outside Hungary's parliament on Wednesday against economic reforms by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany after the end of a six-hour rail strike which crippled the network.

Up to 50,000 demonstrators, backed by unions and the main opposition Fidesz party, will protest outside parliament at 1700 GMT, Hungarian media said.

Police said they were expecting tens of thousands of people.

"We generally do not give prior estimates about the number of demonstrators expected at any event, however, we are prepared to handle a sizeable crowd, up to several tens of thousands of people," Budapest police spokeswoman Eva Tafferner said.

Weeks of protests against Gyurcsany last year attracted backing from mainstream political parties although protests led by far-right groups in October this year fizzled out.

Analysts said the protests may push the government into concessions but not into a major policy change.

"The government's measures had very negative impacts but reversing its policy can be equally risky," Attila Gyulai of Political Capital told Reuters.

Gyurcsany's measures to cut Hungary's budget deficit and reform the rigid state sector have divided the country of 10 million people and caused tensions between the government and various groups.


Although the rail strike is over, the network will not be working fully until Thursday.

The influential rail unions, whose strike affected 1,300 trains on Wednesday, want to halt rural line closures by the state rail company MAV, which is losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

In talks with the unions on Tuesday the government promised rural lines would stay in the timetable next year. The unions said they saw no guarantee the lines would not be closed.

Other workers want to halt reforms to the state health insurance system. Hundreds of schools were closed and there was a brief strike at Budapest Airport, owned by Germany's Hochtief.

Bus drivers at two regional firms held strikes to protest against new pension rules and civic groups partially closed some main roads to support the strikers.

Gyurcsany's tax and price rises, as well as some cuts to the bloated state sector, have slashed the budget deficit from 9.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 to 6.4 percent this year and it is estimated it will fall to 3.2 percent by 2009.

Gyurcsany, who has won the praise of markets and the European Union for slashing the budget deficit, is also facing a possible revolt among his Socialist MPs over reforms.

The Socialists have been panicked by a plunge in their popularity ratings to just 15 percent and are embroiled in a row with their coalition partners over health reforms which aim to bring private money into the ailing system and to cut costs.

Only two of Hungary's six main trade union groupings took part in Wednesday's strikes and rallies although other groups expressed solidarity with the goals of those on strike.

"The unions are unlikely to rush into the large-scale (strike) action which we can see in France," said Gyulai. "The unions remain divided along political lines and their confidence rating within the society is relatively low."

Strikes spoil German rail chief's grand design

Reuters: November 21 2007
By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN -- Hartmut Mehdorn spent eight years turning loss-making Deutsche Bahn into a profitable rail company and readying the state-owned colossus for the stock market.

But the chief executive's handling of a train drivers' strike has tarnished his reputation and a last-minute political hurdle dashed his dream of an initial public offering next year.

Mehdorn's blunt style helped Deutsche Bahn out of the red after he took over a company in 1999 struggling to cope with the merger of former West German and East German railways.

His drive into the profit zone -- Deutsche Bahn expects operating profits of 2.4 billion euros ($3.6 billion) in 2007 -- also earned the man with the high-pitched voice many enemies.

"I'm goal-oriented," Mehdorn once told Reuters. "Zig-zagging is not my style."

Mehdorn slashed staff levels to 230,000 from 310,000 with surprisingly little protest thanks to union cooperation -- no small feat in Germany. He also won praise for retooling the railways as a service-oriented enterprise with motivated staff.

Everything was rolling his way in July when Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved plans for a flotation of a 25 percent stake of Deutsche Bahn the government valued at 3 billion euros ($4.44 billion).

Mehdorn, who is married to a French woman and spends his holidays in France, was scheduled to retire by his 65th birthday in July before his contract was extended by three years to oversee the IPO, which he expected to complete in 2008.

"All the naysayers have now gone quiet," he said at the time, a claim that was rather premature.


Things quickly started to unravel after that.

The railway's three unions, which had for years fallen into line with what Mehdorn wanted, demanded big pay rises.

Mehdorn managed to limit the rise agreed with the two main unions Transnet and GDBA to 4.5 percent but the GDL train drivers union, until then a little-known grouping with 34,000 members, refused to accept that level.

Its members compared themselves to airplane pilots, and demanded 31 percent more pay and a separate labour contract.

Their periodic strikes of up to 62 hours have paralysed the country of 82 million yet the GDL union enjoys wide public backing, in part due to Mehdorn's abrasive style.

"I don't need a diplomatic pass," is one of his favourite lines.

Mehdorn wanted to crush the union ahead of the privatisation to impress investors, analysts said. That plan backfired.

"He thought the public would turn against the union over the strikes and then, as a conquering gladiator, he would be free take the railways on to the bourse," said Wolfgang Schroeder, political scientist at the University of Kassel.

"But the public has largely stuck with the strikers, something you rarely see in German disputes."

Adolf Rosenstock, economist at Gebser & Partner Asset Management, said the IPO was all but killed off after the Social Democrats, partners in Merkel's grand coalition, insisted it be open to small investors.

Mehdorn rejects that idea because he fears insufficient capital would be raised for his expansion plans.

"Mehdorn's privatisation is still twitching but it's only a question of time before it is pronounced dead," said Rosenstock. The SPD veto was not related to the strikes yet the messy dispute created unwanted turbulence.

"Its failure has damaged his reputation. Some might admire him for the hard line but his public comments really hurt his cause. He came across as brash and arrogant."

See also:

Deutsche Bahn faces new strike threats by Transnet, GDL considers deal

Thomson: 22 Nov, 2007

LONDON -- German Railway operator Deutsche Bahn is facing new strike threats from railway union Transnet which has demanded the inclusion of all trade unions in pay talks, according to a report in German newspaper Die Welt.

The walkout threat comes after the train drivers' trade union GDL announced it is considering a wage agreement with the railway operator which could end in a deal without the union staging a strike.

In a letter to Deutsche Bahn's chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn, Transnet's head Norbert Hansen said the trade union will not accept its pay demands to be 'held back' while the demands of other working groups are addressed, the newspaper reported.

'If it became necessary to regain respect and attention, we could also call workers to strike,' the letter seen by the Welt warned.

Transnet has so far called for talks featuring all the trade unions representing Deutsche Bahn employees to negotiate a new reward system across the company.

In a statement published on its website, Transnet has reiterated the need for a united front among all the trade unions operating within Deutsche Bahn, but it has also suggested a right to veto for the GDL in matters regarding train drivers.

It also called for a suspension of labour disputes until February.

Austrian railways leads bid for Hungarian rail freight firm MAV Cargo

Thomson Financial: 23 Nov, 2007

BUDAPEST -- An Austrian-Hungarian consortium combining Rail Cargo Austria and regional rail operator GYSEV have offered over 100 billion forint in the privatisation of Hungarian rail freight operator MAV Cargo, reports the daily Nepszabadsag, citing unnamed sources.

The offer is the highest on the table and represents a doubling of the consortium's initial bid in the first round of the tender, writes the paper. Rail Cargo Austria is the rail freight arm of Austrian railways OBB.

According to sources, US-Dutch investor New World Resources Transport has bid 90 billion forint, putting it in second place in the bid for the key logistics asset in the European Union's fastest growing region.

There is no information concerning the bids of Slovakia's Slavia Capital, who had the highest bid of 81 billion forint in the first round, or Cargo Central Europe, a British-American consortium, which bid 47.1 billion in the first round.

November 22, 2007

EU proposes €5.1 billion to help build new rail, highway, canal links across Europe

Associated Press: November 21, 2007

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union proposed a spending package Wednesday of over €5.1 billion (US$7.6 billion) to help pay for construction of new high speed rail, highway, and canal links across the 27-nation union.

The package also includes funding for the EU's planned Galileo satellite navigation system.

Most of the money would subsidize cross-border projects such as a high speed rail link between Lisbon and Madrid, or Rail Baltica, a railway project to link the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with Warsaw and Berlin.

EU officials outlined 30 priority projects, the largest share of which is rail projects. An additional 40-some smaller projects, including bridges and tunnels, were also included.#

If the plan is approved by EU governments and the European Parliament, money will also go to railroad traffic management systems and air traffic systems across the EU.

Another €190 million (US$282 million) from the EU budget is planned to help build and launch 30 satellites as part of the Galileo project, which is struggling to find funding after private investors were forced out due to delays.

The €2.4 billion (US$3.6 billion) costs of salvaging the project are to be shared by EU governments, some of which remain reluctant to shoulder the burden.

The European Commission said it expected a final decision on funding the projects early next year.

See also:

AHN News: November 21, 2007
Gerlie Anobong

Brussels, Belgium -- The European Union offered on Wednesday a spending package of over $7.6 billion to assist the payment for construction of new high speed rail, highway and canal links across the 27-nation merger.

The proposed package also carries the financing for the E.U.'s planned Galileo satellite navigation scheme.

Large part of the package would back up cross-border projects like the Rail Baltica, a railway project to link the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with Warsaw and Berlin or a high-speed rail link between Lisbon and Madrid.

Thirty top projects are the main concern of the proposal as outlined by the E.U. officials, giving the most share of it on rail projects.

Also included are some 40 smaller projects like bridges and tunnel construction.

If the approval is given by the E.U. governments and the European Parliament on the proposal, it will also finance the railroad traffic management systems and air traffic systems all over the states of the union.

Meanwhile, another $282 million budget proposal is set up by the E.U. to help establish and launch 30 satellites for the Galileo project's recent financial crisis.

In previous reports, Germany had disagreed on the European Commission proposal to use $3.4 billion in unspent E.U. agricultural and administrative funds after private finance for Galileo suffered when eight companies opposed on how to share the work.

November 21, 2007

Break-up auction for company behind Channel Tunnel could fetch up to £6bn

The Times: November 21, 2007
Miles Costello

The company behind the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link will be broken up and sold off in three separate parts, the Government said yesterday as it paved the way for a keenly anticipated auction that could fetch more than £6 billion.

Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, told MPs that London & Continental Railways would be restructured into three businesses and sold to the highest bidder in 2009.

The decision comes less than a week after St Pancras International station, owned by LCR, and a high-speed rail link from London to the Continent were opened.

Sale proceeds will go to the Treasury, which underwrote the private sector debt for the high-speed rail project. LCR won the contract to design, build and run the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in 1996.

Mr Harris said that the sale would be “an open, competitive process”. It is expected to attract a string of bidders, from infrastructure funds run by Macquarie, the Australian bank, and Goldman Sachs to sovereign funds from the Middle East, Dubai and Singapore.

The biggest element of the auction will be LCR’s infrastructure, comprising the track and mainline stations including St Pancras, Ashford International, Kent, and Stratford, East London. LCR’s land interests, which include the site of the athletes’ village for the 2012 Olympic Games and a big retail park in Stratford, will form a second unit to be sold. The third asset is LCR’s stake in Eurostar, saved from financial collapse this year.

Final valuations for each LCR business will be determined by factors such as bid interest, the price of commercial property and the financial health of Eurostar at the time of the sale. It is thought that an earlier valuation of the property interests of £1 billion is conservative. Transport industry sources said that LCR could double that figure.

It is not thought that Sir Adrian Montague, the former deputy chairman of Network Rail, is considering bidding for LCR assets.

See also:

Eurostar line sell-off confirmed

BBC News: 20 November 2007

The High Speed 1 line hosts the new Eurostar route

The UK rail line carrying Eurostar trains to the continent is to be sold off, the government has confirmed.

It was always the intention to sell off the track and stations - known as High Speed 1 - after the line to London St Pancras was completed.

It is currently managed by the London and Continental Railways consortium, which also owns the accompanying land and the UK's stake in Eurostar.

Network Rail may make an offer, although foreign buyers could also bid.

'Uniquely British'

LCR is wholly privately-owned by eight shareholders made up of civil engineering and banking companies.

However, their shares are effectively worthless as the company is entirely funded by debt which is entirely underwritten by the government.

This means that the proceeds from the 2009 sale of the line will be returned to the government - and by extension, the taxpayer.

LCR shareholders will receive a £60m payment which was agreed to be paid once the rail link was completed.

"Those planning to bid for High Speed 1 will effectively be bidding for the physical assets, the debt that paid for it, and the revenue from train services which will eventually pay off the debt," the BBC's transport correspondent Tom Symonds explained.

Transport minister Tom Harris said that High Speed 1 - which officially launched last week - had "slashed" journey times from London to mainland Europe.

"Government investment will always be needed to fund major rail projects, but given the investment made by taxpayers, we now need to get the best possible return.," he said.

He said there would be an "open, competitive process for any sale to secure best value for the taxpayer".

Shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond described the new line, which has cut about 20 minutes off the time of a journey between London and Paris, as a "unique British achievement".

Germany's Bahn makes offer to rail strikers says Transnet

Reuters: November 20 2007

BERLIN - German rail operator Deutsche Bahn has made a new wage offer to train drivers embroiled in a months-long dispute, the head of the country's largest rail workers union said on Tuesday.

Norbert Hansen, head of the Transnet union, told reporters that progress had been made in secretive discussions between Deutsche Bahn and renegade train drivers' union GDL, which last week staged the biggest rail walkout in German history.

"There is a new offer but the talks are not over yet," Hansen said.

Neither Deutsche Bahn nor the GDL have confirmed that a new offer is on the table.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, who late on Monday said he had ordered Deutsche Bahn to make a new wage offer, said however, that an end to the talks was not yet in sight.

"There is a large gap between the positions of both sides," he said during a break in the talks. The head of the GDL, Manfred Schell said talks were "still open."

Rail strikes are extremely rare in Germany, where five million people use the usually efficient, high-speed network each day. A quarter of the nation's freight also moves on rails.

The series of strikes lasting up to 62 hours has caused widespread chaos and cost the nation at least 75 million euros ($110.9 million), according to a study by an economic think tank.

"The wage negotiators have exchanged details on where they stand (in this conflict)," Chancellor Angela Merkel told Bild newspaper in an article to be published on Wednesday.

"We need both sides to fully concentrate now so that they can reach a deal. The wage dispute must not carry on until Christmas," she added.

The GDL had been demanding a pay rise of up to 31 percent. But Schell said on Monday it was unlikely his union would turn down a deal of 10 percent or more.

Schell on Monday indicated that the union, which has 34,000 members in the company of 230,000, would jettison its other central demand for its own wage contract if the pay raise was substantial.

The railway's other 195,000 other workers, many represented by Transnet, accepted a wage deal in July which gave them a 4.5 percent pay rise.

November 20, 2007

French Civil Servants Join Rail Workers in Nationwide Strikes

Deutsche Welle: 20.11.2007

Pressure against French President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform program has intensified as hundreds of thousands of state employees went on strike on Tuesday, Nov. 20, joining a week-long stoppage by rail workers.
France is being crippled by industrial action

The nationwide protests, which are over issues ranging from pension reform to the cost of living, had disrupted hospitals, schools, trains, postal services and airports. They are seen as the biggest threat to Sarkozy's planned reforms since he was elected president in May. According to a new CSA survey, Sarkozy's approval rating has fallen five points this month alone, to 51 percent.

Asked if the transport strike, now in its eight day, could hurt the economy, Public Accounts Minister Eric Woerth said on Tuesday: "Not over several days. But if it lasted longer, it could obviously have consequences."

"When you decide not to work, when you prevent goods from circulating in a certain way, when you prevent people from getting to places, obviously that can be a problem at some point," Woerth told France Inter radio.

The strikes are a test for Sarkozy

The rail workers oppose Sarkozy's plan to scrap some public sector pension rights. They voted to continue the strike they began on Nov. 13 so that it overlapped with Tuesday's one-day walk out by civil servants.

Opinion polls show the rail strike is unpopular with most French voters, but a majority sympathizes with the civil servants' strike.

One-day civil servant walk-out

The striking public-sector workers oppose Sarkozy's plan to cut 23,000 jobs in 2008 -- half of them in education -- by not replacing retiring civil servants. Some 58 percent of high-school teachers were participating in Tuesday's walk-out in Paris, a union official said.

Unions representing 5.2 million state employees -- around a quarter of the entire workforce -- also said their spending power had fallen by six percent since 2000 and were demanding pay rises.

Air transport is also distrupted

France's postal service, La Poste, said about 15 percent of its mailmen and women were on strike, while meteorologists, bank workers and hospital staff were also among those downing tools.

International flights were cancelled and delayed as air traffic control staff at some airports went on strike. Paris' two airports reported average flight delays of around 40 minutes, and services at Marseille airport, in the country's south, have also been affected.

Tuesday's walkout is the third nationwide civil servants' strike this year.

The 24-hour strike coincided with student protests, which disrupted classes in half of the country's 85 universities in a campaign against a law giving faculties the right to raise money from private companies.

The French also awoke to find their newsstands empty of papers as distributors began a one-day strike over planned restructuring that is expected to lead to job losses. Striking energy workers cut 5,500 megawatts (MW), or about 8.7 percent of production capacity, at EDF nuclear plants earlier in the morning, the leading energy union said.

Public transport in disarray

State rail operator SNCF has said the number of people involved in the rail strike, which affected national trains as well as Paris subway and bus services, had fallen since it began last Tuesday, but public transport continued to be disrupted.

The rail strike is becoming increasingly unpopularBildunterschrift: The rail strike is becoming increasingly unpopular

As many commuters changed from trains to cars, traffic jams stretched over more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) across France on Tuesday morning.

SNCF said about half its high-speed TGV trains would run on Tuesday and the Eurostar link with London would run normally.

Talks with rail unions were due to start on Wednesday. The government has dropped its demand that the strike end before the talks get underway and instead said there simply should be a "back-to-work dynamic."

The walk-out was over plans to increase contribution periods for the 500,000 workers -- mainly in the rail and energy sectors -- who enjoy "special" pension systems and can retire on full pensions as early as age 50.

And more strikes are expected: Tobacconists are due to shut up shop on Wednesday to protest against new anti-smoking laws, and French judges and lawyers have planned a strike on Nov. 29 to protest plans to cut the number of local tribunals.

French Civil Servants Strike Adds to Transport Disruptions

Bloomberg: Nov. 20
By Helene Fouquet
French teachers, doctors and other civil servants went on strike today, protesting President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to cut government jobs and tie wages to performance, adding to the disruption caused by the longest transport strike in more than a decade.

The walkout by civil service workers coincided with student protests over greater autonomy at universities and the seventh day of strikes by public transport workers that have disrupted train and bus services nationwide.

The strike widens what has been the most-disruptive stoppage since 1995 as unions protest a plan to align transport worker pensions with the rest of the country. The walkouts pose the biggest challenge to Sarkozy's efforts to keep campaign promises to deregulate labor and pensions. His approval rating fell 5 points this month to 51 percent, the lowest since he took office in May, a CSA survey showed yesterday.

"The climate is marked by worry about worsening strikes and doubts about the president's ability to solve the country's biggest problems,'' Stephane Rozes, a director at pollster CSA, said in a statement yesterday.

Air-traffic controllers, mail workers at La Poste, weathermen at Meteo France and Bank of France employees are among public sector employees walking off the job today. Strikers plan demonstrations in Paris and other French cities. Unions are seeking to defend civil servants' standard of living, said Jean-Marc Canon, a representative of the Confederation Generale du Travail union.

Transport Strike

Sarkozy's budget includes cuts in civil service jobs by 22,900 next year to curb spending and reduce the deficit to 2.3 percent of gross domestic product. The government said last month it will spend an extra 230 million euros ($337 million) to boost the pay of some public-sector workers. About 20 percent of France's 5 million civil servants will benefit from the plan.

Transport unions said yesterday they're willing to start talks on Sarkozy's plan to roll back their pension privileges. The reform would require them to work 40 years instead of 37.5 before getting a full pension.

The CGT, UNSA and SUD, along with other unions, said they'd take part in talks on Nov. 21 with management of state-owned railway SNCF, and possibly with government representatives.

"If SNCF's management wants to advance this meeting, the railway workers are ready,'' Christian Mahieux, the union leader at SNCF for SUD-Rail, said in an interview yesterday.


Transport workers are among 500,000 state employees who escaped the first round of pension changes for the 5 million people employed by the public sector in 2003.

"I believe there are no more reasons for services to be blocked,'' Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement late yesterday. "This strike represents a minority within the companies and an extreme minority in the country. I am calling on each one's responsibility. The negotiations are about to start, service has to resume progressively and users' rights have to be respected.''

RATP, the operator running Paris's 16 metro lines, commuters trains and buses said traffic will be ``very disrupted'' today, with one out of four or five metros on 14 of the lines and almost no trains to Charles de Gaulle airport.

SNCF, the national railway company said 330 out of 700 high-speed trains will run and the regional traffic will remain very disrupted.

Counting Costs

RATP estimates the strike's cost at 24 million euros, Pierre Mongin, the head of the company told RTL radio on Nov. 18. Anne-Marie Idrac, president of the SNCF said the cost for her company after 5 days of strikes was above 100 million euros.

It's very difficult to assess the cost of the strike, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said yesterday in a press conference. She estimated the cost at about 300 to 400 million euros a day, said her press officer, declining to be identified.

The SNCF strike may extend into Nov. 21, said Daniel Lapluie the deputy secretary general for the UNSA union's railway workers' branch.

"You don't just stop a strike that works well,'' he said over the telephone yesterday.

CGT, the biggest union at Electricite de France SA and Gaz de France SA, called for a ``day of action'' today.

"It won't be a full strike day for utilities workers,'' Claude Pommery, a representative of CGT, said over the telephone. "I have no information on whether there will or will not be power cuts.''

French university students continued to disrupt more than a third of the nation's campuses as of yesterday. Thirty-five universities out of the country's 82 faced disruptions. Students will demonstrate, joining teachers in the civil servants' strike said Juliette Griffond, the spokeswoman for the Unef, the biggest students' union.

November 18, 2007

French rail unions call for extension of rail strike

AFP: 18 November 2007

PARIS — French commuters will face another day of hardship at the start of the work week after rail unions Sunday called on members to continue their strike over pension reform for a further 24 hours.

Six of the seven unions who launched the protest last Tuesday met in a Paris suburb and agreed to issue the extension call, ignoring pleas from the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy for an early resumption of work.

The decision raised the prospect of the strike continuing into Tuesday as well, when a separate protest by state employees including teachers and hospital workers is planned.

However the unions also said they will attend round-table negotiations with government and the management of the state-owned SNCF rail company planned for Wednesday afternoon.

The government has said it will not take part in talks unless the strike is called off first, and it was not clear if the unions intend to wind down their protest in time for Wednesday's negotiations.

Unions are striking over government plans to reform so-called "special" pensions systems enjoyed by some 500,000 workers mainly in the rail and energy sectors.

Sarkozy pledged in his May election manifesto to end the anomaly under which these workers can retire two and a half years earlier than the rest of the population. Polls show that most French support the reform.

The stoppage has caused widespread havoc -- with massive traffic jams every morning around Paris -- but the number of strikers has been steadily decreasing, giving rise to hopes that a negotiated end could be in sight.

Several thousand people demonstrated through central Paris on Sunday afternoon to demand an end to the strikes.

"The strikers are privileged people compared to the rest of the population. This is a strike by people to protect their particular advantages and we have all had enough of it. They have been holding back the country for the last 30 years," one demonstrator told France-Info radio.

SNCF said that traffic will remain disrupted on Monday, though with a noticeable improvement on last week. Some 300 TGV fast trains will run. The RATP Paris metro operator said only one in five trains will be in service and 40 percent of buses.

Sarkozy, who has kept a low profile throughout the strike, held talks Sunday afternoon with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand.

The government has said it will not yield on the central points of the reform, but it has suggested inducements such as pay rises. Bertrand has set out the format for a month of round-table discussions once the strike is called off.

Business leaders warned the strike is beginning to have a serious effect on companies and called on unions to take up the offer of negotiations.

"Private sector employees have made major sacrifices over their pensions. Justice demands that people in a privileged position in regard to pensions at the very least agree to align themselves with the rest of the public sector," said the Confederation of Small and Medium Businesses (CGPME).

It was shaping up to be a delicate week for the government, which is anxious to avoid the various protest movements coalescing.

Apart from the rail workers and state employees, it also faces a growing campaign among students, who on Friday had forced the closure of nine universities.

They are demonstrating against a law which allows the country's under-funded and under-performing universities to raise money from private sources.

In addition magistrates and lawyers are protesting against a reorganisation of the justice system which would lead to the closure of some small local courts.

See also:

French postal and telecom staff to join Nov. 20 strike

Reuters: November 18 2007
By Nick Antonovics

PARIS - French postal and telecoms unions said on Sunday they would join a planned public sector protest on Tuesday as a transport strike headed into a fifth day amid a warning the action could start to hit factory output.

"In the absence of (freight) trains, factories, notably in the chemical and car manufacturing sectors, are going to be unable to work," Guillaume Pepy, an executive with state-owned rail company SNCF told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview.

Parisian shops and restaurants have already complained the rail strike has cost them lost business, although analysts say the macroeconomic impact of the strike has so far been limited.

The railway unions, who are protesting at planned pension reforms, are due to announce their next steps late on Sunday.

Despite a tentative offer of talks from SNCF and the government, the rail strike is expected to continue until Tuesday, when civil servants and teachers are due to march in cities across the country in their own protest over pay and conditions.

Opinion polls show the rail strike is unpopular with most French voters, but the government struggling to meet growth goals knows it cannot afford to let the protest drag on too long or risk a wider social conflict.

Twenty six universities remained blockaded by students on Sunday in a separate protest over education funding.

The CFTC union representing staff at La Poste and France Telecom said on Sunday it would join Tuesday's day of action, as has one union at airline Air France.

An opinion poll for Le Parisien newspaper on Sunday found most French people believe President Nicolas Sarkozy was best placed to tackle the strike, but the majority was slim.

Another poll for Journal du Dimanche found political support for the president down to 55 percent, a drop of four points in the month and his lowest score since being elected in May.

Union leaders are in a dilemma too, because their members have so far signalled little willingness to negotiate.

"It's a strike that not many really wanted and, therefore, no one really knows how to get out of," Le Journal du Dimanche said in an editorial.

The SNCF said 250 fast TGV trains were due to run on Sunday compared with 700 on a normal day. Paris metro operator RATP said one train in five would run on most lines, while trains serving the capital's airports would be "very irregular".

The rail unions oppose plans to scrap special pension privileges that allow some 500,000 public sector workers to retire on full pensions after paying contributions for only 37-1/2 years, instead of 40 years for other workers.

All out German rail strike looms, threatens economy

Reuters: November 18 2007
By Dave Graham

BERLIN -- Germany faces the prospect of unlimited rail strikes this week that could inflict serious damage to Europe's largest economy and even hurt neighbouring countries.

Locked in a long-running pay dispute with Deutsche Bahn, Germany's GDL train drivers' union has threatened to launch strikes that will last indefinitely over the coming week if the national rail operator does not improve a wage offer for the union's 34,000 members.

Germany experienced the biggest rail strike in its history last week when GDL staged a 62-hour walk-out that left millions of people battling to get to work on time, and brought goods transport to a standstill across large swathes of the country.

According to German media reports at the weekend, Deutsche Bahn is preparing to make the drivers a new offer, but GDL boss Manfred Schell said he had received nothing so far. GDL has given the company until Monday to come up with a better deal.

GDL argues the train drivers are underpaid compared to their European counterparts and wants a separate pay contract from other rail workers, plus a raise of up to 31 percent.

Deutsche Bahn has offered a pay increase of up to 10 percent but has resisted granting the drivers a separate contract, arguing it would encourage other professions to try to exploit their economic leverage to secure excessive raises.

Politicians in Germany have so far refused to take sides in the dispute, calling only for a quick resolution.
On Sunday, the European Union weighed into the debate, with EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot telling newspaper Bild am Sonntag a long strike could be dangerous for Europe.

"(It) could damage the economy, not just in Germany and France, but also in neighbouring countries," he said. "I hope the two sides reach a deal via quick and fair negotiations -- without waiting for the state to intervene."

The total cost of the stoppages so far, first staged in July, was at least 75 million euros ($110 million), according to data from Germany's DIW economic think tank, Bild am Sonntag reported.

Karlheinz Schmidt, managing director of Germany's freight transport and logistics federation (BGL), told German radio his lobby had calculated that after about a week an unlimited rail strike would cost the economy 500 million euros a day.

"If it's allowed to go on for two or three weeks, this sum could easily rise to two billion. That would mean if the strike went on till Christmas we'd have no growth this year," he said. Using emergency measures, Deutsche Bahn has so far tried to ensure its main clients -- like the automobile, chemicals and shipping industries -- were not affected, he added.

"You need to remember that the Bahn makes roughly 80 percent of its turnover from only 300 clients," Schmidt said.

The strike coincides with efforts by the government to finalise a plan to partly privatise Deutsche Bahn. The ruling coalition wants to list the company by 2009, but has not been able to agree on what model to use for the privatisation.

See also:

German train drivers union threatens to launch new strikes this week

Thomson Financial: 11.18.07

FRANKFURT - German train drivers union GdL, which ended a 62-hour nationwide strike on Saturday, has threatened to launch further industrial action this week if Deutsche Bahn AG does not submit a new wage offer by tomorrow, Die Welt newspaper said, citing GdL deputy Claus Weselsky.

Der Spiegel magazine, without citing sources, said the state-owned railway company plans to present a new offer in order to avoid open-ended strikes.

Focus magazine, citing company insiders, said Deutsche Bahn will make a new compromise proposal 'soon'.

Deutsche Bahn has officially declined comment on any of the reported new proposals.

GdL has rejected Deutsche Bahn's last offer to increase wages by 4.5 percent plus a one-time payment of 600 euros.

See also:

German rail strike: report from Berlin and Frankfurt-Main

WSWS: 17 November 2007

Suburban trains in Berlin, which normally run every few minutes, were running only every 20-40 minutes due to the strike. Many passengers had adapted themselves to the strike and taken to other forms of transport. The stations were relatively empty. Strike pickets by the drivers’ union (Deutsche Lokführer—GDL) were also absent due to the ban on their activities by the Deutsche Bahn (DB, German Railways) management.

At the main east Berlin station, Ostbahnhof members of the GDL were forced to leave their rest room and the entire station area at 5:00 a.m. The train drivers had withdrawn to a small restaurant near the station, which had made a room available for the use of the strikers.

Train drivers were very sceptical with regard to the media. A reporter for the sensationalist daily Bild Zeiting was unable to find anyone who would give him an interview and drivers explained that they did not give interviews to this “lying rag.”

“Transnet is simply a tool of [DB Chief Executive] Mehdorn.”

- Andreas von Rappard, train driver and former member of Transnet

Andreas von Rappard is 35 years old and has been active as a train driver in the GDL since May 2006. He was previously a member of the trade union Transnet, but felt let down by the organisation. “Transnet is simply a tool of [DB Chief Executive] Mehdorn.” He explained. Rappard had got up at 3:00 a.m. and was due to have started work at 5:00 for a shift involving driving through the entire country and ending at 17:47. “I only rarely see my wife and two children,” he said.

He stressed that the GDL was not only striking on behalf of train drivers but for railway personnel as a whole—on-board technicians, wagon supervisors, catering personnel, up to and including cleaning staff. The GDL was therefore intending to change its name in future to the “trade union for train personnel.”

"With our strike we want to prevent the privatisation of the railways which would then hit those workers involved in profit-yielding areas of the company.”

- Andreas von Rappard

It was not the union that was responsible for the splitting of the railway workforce, Rappard stressed. “In reality, we have long since been beaten and divided. Goods traffic runs under its own organization as Railion, regional traffic as Railway Regio and long-distance transport as DB long-distance. Altogether a total of around 60 private firms were currently active in Deutsche Bahn. With our strike we want to prevent the privatisation of the railways which would then hit those workers involved in profit-yielding areas of the company.”

When asked for his opinion on the significance of the French protests for striking train drivers, he explained that he welcomed the strikes across the border. In future, international cooperation will become even more important. “Over the next few years the European transportation system is due to be opened up to the free market. That means that train crews from all countries will be permitted to drive in Germany under their own conditions. It is even more important that we be successful now. We have already received solidarity greetings from many foreign railway workers.”

When asked about the role of the government, Rappard said that he continued to hope that the coalition will intervene in favour of the train drivers. Economic damage would be considerable if the strike continued. In this respect he believed that the strike could be successful if it were continued in a consistent manner. “If the colleagues continue to stand firm then we can take on the combined front of the companies, government and the the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB).”

Wolfgang Mielke is 50 years old and has worked on the railways for 33 years. He is critical of the role of the government. “They described us as blackmailers, as if we were criminals.” He hoped, however, that the coalition would back down in face of the strike pressure. “This railway executive committee must be replaced,” he said. “If the government really turns on the train drivers, it will face broad resistance. In relation to the increase in executive committee salaries our wage demands are just peanuts.”

“We are not backing down”

Frankfurt, Thursday, November 15. Large parts of the railway network had been brought to a halt by the strike. In Hesse, nearly half of all suburban and regional trains failed to run. An emergency plan had been established for main line and express trains that was operating on a sporadic basis and goods traffic had been hit by strike action since noon on Wednesday.

Reporters visited the strikers in the GDL strike headquarters opposite Frankfurt’s main station. The offices, corridors and stairways of the building were full of good-humoured and militant train drivers, who when asked said they were prepared to go on strike for an unlimited period.

Bernd Hauptmann, Monique P. and some colleagues confirmed this. “It is difficult to say how it will continue,” Bernd says, “but there is no way we will back down.” His colleague adds, “It could well be that it develops into an unlimited strike; that depends on the railway executive committee—whether it makes an offer or not.”


The four once again explained what was at stake in the strike: Train drivers earn no more than €1,500-1,600 per month, depending upon Sunday work or nightshifts. “It can be even less, if one has taken a vacation and receives no extra payments,” said Monique. Bernd rebuffed rumours in circulation of a higher wage for train drivers: “It is a disgrace when the public are continually told we would get 2,200 euro take home pay; that figure is at most gross pay, and for the highest salary bracket.”

For this money train drivers carry out arduous work involving a complex shift system. The work calls for a high degree of responsibility, with drivers taking charge of hundreds of passengers in high-speed trains driving at times at maximum speed in difficult weather conditions.

“The salary is just enough to pay all one’s bills,” Bernd explains, “but there is nothing left over.” He explained that many drivers had come to Frankfurt from the east of the country following the reunification of Germany 17 years ago. Most are forced to commute and maintain a second home—but face the problem of how they can possible pay for two dwellings. “That is already difficult under conditions where such ordinary purchases as new glasses, or dentures involve auxiliary costs. And the health insurance companies pay less and less.”

“Strike together with France”

When asked their opinion about the strikes carried out by French railway workers the strikers responded very positively, and were greatly in favour of pan-European action. When one colleague asserted that the railwaymen in France had their own problems a lively discussion developed over the increasing trend to privatisation, encouraged by the European Union authorities in Brussels.

“In France, privatisation was no longer an issue following the long strike in the nineties,” one train driver remarked. “Now, however, everything is coming up again. One should really organize the strikes jointly.”

Several of the drivers expressed their view that the planned privatisation contained enormous dangers and was the principal reason for the unyielding and stubborn stance adopted by the DB executive. “With privatisation all that is important is the market value and profits,” Monique said. “In order to achieve their ends they want to prevent us obtaining our own contract agreement—whatever the cost. Just consider what this strike now costs: it must reach into the millions. They could have increased our salaries for much less money long ago.”

Her colleague Bernd confirmed that the railway executive was being backed by a united front involving economics interests and government parties: “It is not just the DB management but also the employers’ associations; and none of the political parties are any better. When I heard leading politicians such as Peter Struck (Social Democratic Party) saying, ‘It is important for the DB to remain absolutely firm,’ then that is inexplicable. After all they should be on our side.”

Monique then stressed the high level of support for the strikers on the part of the population at large: “It is disgraceful when the media claims we are a small minority. That is not correct. The GDL has 35,000 members, of which 80 percent are train drivers. One can see now that we are not a minority, but in the near future this will become even clearer. We not only have the support of the train drivers, but also the population at large. Many have sympathy for our cause because they know they are in the same situation as us and are glad to see that someone is giving a lead.”

See also:

German train drivers intensify their strike

WSWS:17 November 2007

Early Thursday morning, German train drivers expanded their strike action to include the country’s regional and, for the first time, long distance rail network. The current strike, which has broadly impacted travel across Germany, is planned to last until Saturday morning. The work stoppage is the biggest strike in the history of the German rail system (Deutsche Bahn).

The strike has hit the east of the country particularly hard. In that region, many more train drivers are organized in the Deutsche Lokomotivführer (GDL) union. According to a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn in Berlin: “Only about 15 percent of regional trains were operative in the states of former East Germany.”

Some 50 percent of regional trains were operative in the west of the country, but this was largely due to an emergency schedule implemented by the DB management.

The responsibility for the intensification of the dispute lies squarely with the executive committee of Deutsche Bahn, which has repeatedly refused to make a new offer, insisting that train drivers accept a deal already agreed to by the rail unions Transnet and GDBA. This sellout involves a wage increase of just 4.5 percent, plus a single payment of 600 euros.

Such an agreement for the train drivers would mean a net decline in real wages, since their wages have stagnated for years and actually dropped by 10 percent over the past two years. At the same time, the drivers’ workload has risen enormously.

The GDL’s demand for a starting salary of 2,500 euros gross, rising over a long period to 3,000 euros, together with a reduction in the work week from 41 to 40 hours, is entirely justified. The claim that such an increase exceeds the budget of the railways is false.

According to its own figures, meeting the wage demand of the GDL would cost DB an extra 250 million euros. This is exactly one tenth of the surplus of 2.5 billion euros which the company notched up last year at the expense of its workforce.

That a lack of money is not the issue is also apparent when one examines the salaries of DB management. Last year, management salaries rose by a total of 70 percent, pensions for the acting and former executive board members rose by 15.3 percent, and the combined incomes of all supervisory board members rose by 269 percent. (Source: End-of-year report on the situation of Deutsche Bahn AG, 2006).

Last year, the chairman of DB, Hartmut Mehdorn, awarded himself a 100 percent pay raise to 3.18 million euros, while his head of personnel, Margret Suckale, received 2.1 million euros.

The repeated claim that the strike represents an attempt to blackmail the railway executive committee turns reality on its head. It is Mehdorn and his executive committee who are doing everything they can to break the train drivers. They want to set an example and intimidate anyone who offers resistance to continuous wage cuts and the constant degradation of working conditions.

Mehdorn is prepared to invest much more money in breaking the strike than it would cost to meet the demands of the train drivers. At the same time as train drivers extended their strike, DB management put expensive full-page announcements in several daily papers. Under the heading “Stop This Insanity, Mr. Schell!” the GDL was accused of refusing to take part in negotiations “for months.” Mehdorn’s demagogic appeal ended with the words: “Give up at last your efforts to strike an entire country.”

The supervisory board of Deutsche Bahn has resolutely closed ranks with the company executive and issued the following statement: “With regard to the strike, the supervisory board supports the position of the executive committee to refuse to accede to the demands of the German train drivers trade union for a dissolution of the contract process, even if they continue with their strike.”

A leading figure in the company’s press department, Volker Knauer, said there had been no formal vote on the statement, but it represented a “unanimous standpoint.”

Under German industrial law, half of the seats on such supervisory boards are occupied by representatives of the work force and trade unions—meaning the workers’ delegates on the board had given their full support to the resolution.

A special meeting of the supervisory board had been called by the chairman of the rail union Transnet, Norbert Hansen, and his counterpart at the rail union GDBA, Klaus Dieter Hommel, both of whom are supervisory board members. The meeting was called to receive a briefing from representatives of the government on a proposal for the privatisation of the railways.

In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Transnet boss Hansen viciously attacked the striking train drivers. It was “completely unacceptable that all of Germany” was “being forced to suffer” because the functionaries of a small union were seeking to promote themselves, he said. For the GDL, according to Hansen, the issue was merely to establish “an enhanced status.” The strike was leading to “lasting damage to Germany as an industrial site” and had to be ended as soon as possible.

The German government also demanded a “rapid end to the dispute.” Government spokesman Thomas Steg said Wednesday that the rail strike was causing considerable economic damage and was a “burden to positive economic development.” He added that it would have even more severe consequences if it continued.

The economic speakers in parliament of the Social Democratic Party and of the combined faction of the conservative parties, the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, Rainer Wend and Laurenz Meyer, warned the train drivers against conducting a “struggle for sectional interests.” Wend called on the strikers to give up their struggle “for special rights at the expense of all working people.”

Indirectly, the SPD delegate admitted that it was above all necessary to prevent the strike from sending a signal to other sections of workers. The action being taken by the train drivers today could be repeated tomorrow by the maintenance engineers and service personnel in the stations, Wend stressed.

In view of the increasing pressure from all sides, it is vital to support the striking train drivers.

Dirty stations, slow trains: rail workers blame management

ABC News: 18 November 2007

Australian Railcorp employees have declared a vote of no-confidence in senior management to oversee the train system in New South Wales.

Rail staff from 171 stations have taken out a newspaper advertisement saying cuts to funding and resources by senior management are making it difficult for them to do their job.

The ad is part of a campaign to increase public support for rail workers.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union secretary Nick Lewocki says staff no longer believe senior management can deliver the leadership needed to meet commuter expectations.

"This is frustration by the frontline managers, who are charged with providing a customer service to the people of Sydney and they've had enough," he said.

Mr Lewocki says the cuts are leading to fewer services, overcrowding and safety concerns.

"The frontline staff are not to blame for overcrowding of trains," he said.

"They're not to blame for the dirty stations. They're not to blame for poor customer service. This rests with senior management."

He says it is the first time in his 40 years as a union official that staff at station level have taken this sort of action.

NSW Transport Minister John Watkins says he is disappointed by the advertisement.

He says it has arisen out of a rostering dispute that is currently before the Industrial Relations Commission.

"I'm really not interested in seeing any party engaging in a blame game because all sides - management, unions, workers - have a higher duty and that's to improve services to the travelling public and that's what we're concentrating on," he said.

November 17, 2007

The French railworkers' strike - Day 4

SUD-Rail Union Federation: November 16, 2007 - No 15
17 boulevard de liberation 93200 St Denis
Tel': 00 33 (0)1 42 43 35 75 www.sudrail.org

Fourth day of the strike:

The General Assemblies are renewing the movement.

te1.jpg [As the French railworkers' strike to defend their pensions enters its 5th day here is a translation of the latest strike bulletin from French rail union, SUD-Rail. You can download a bilingual version here. Download file]

After three days of strikes, according to management’s own statistics one railworker in every three is on strike across all grades taken as a whole … one in two amongst operational grades. We are well aware that these are management’s figures, because we see significant differences between the evidence on the ground and these ‘conservative’ figures! The General Assemblies are constantly growing stronger since the 14th (the first day of strike action), and are voting overwhelmingly for continuation of the movement.

Letter to the Minister

SUD-Rail is involved in an attempt at civic education.

The intemperate declarations of Mr. Bertrand [Xavier Bertrand, Minister of Labour & Social Affairs in the Sarkozy government], which go largely beyond the usual limits for a "publicly responsible" political figure, must be answered.

See below for our contribution to the civic education of a minister who evidently lacks training.

From: SUD-Rail Federation of Trade Unions
17 boulevard de liberation 93200 St Denis
01 42 43 35 75- www.sudrail.org

To: Mr. Xavier Bertrand,
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs,
127, Rue de Grenelle
75700 PARIS

November 16, 2007


For several days, you have said in the media that you refuse to communicate with SUD-Rail, which in your view, is not representative, and is the only trade union to refuse to negotiate on the implementation of your reforms.

The SUD-Rail Federation draws your attention to a number of items:

1. ‘Representivity’ is not yours to give. It has been defined over the course of 40 years, SUD-Rail gained recognition in 1997, following some hundreds of tribunal cases. What matters most to us, is the recognition given by the railworkers themselves, which for example made SUD-Rail the second largest trade union force at SNCF. At the present moment, ‘representivity’ is in the hands of the general Assemblies of strikers.

2. We are not the only union to refuse to negotiate on the implementation of your reforms. Exactly the same basis for the national, all-out strike call was given by all 7 union federations.

3. On the evening of the third day of the SNCF strike, we confirm that there is no question for SUD-Rail of negotiating, without having received a positive response to the strikers’ demands, confirmed by daily General Assemblies: it is necessary for you to renounce the extension of the length of pension contributions from 37.5 years to 40 years, then to 41 years, etc., the benefit cuts and the de-linking of pensions from wages. We want no two-tier conditions, which penalise young and future railworkers.

4. We are not refusing negotiations at all; we are refusing to allow you to fix the reform agenda! Saying the same thing to the strikers that we say to you, is also a SUD-Rail characteristic...

5. We are in a conflict; to get out of it through real negotiations, presupposes that everyone takes a step back. The strikers are organised to do so: through their daily General Assemblies, they are ready to consider all changes of position and to draw conclusions from them. It’s back to you, for your part, to create a level playing field and not to persist with wanting to impose your conditions before the negotiations.

It is very clear for SUD-Rail that negotiations must be undertaken with all parties to the dispute, not by entertaining organisations one after another ...

In anticipation of your response, we send you our Syndicalist greetings.

For the SUD-Rail Federation:
Stephane Leblanc – Alain Cambi – Christian Mahieux

The government and management are intent on provoking us.


Despite pressure from the media carried out to order, many transport users support our movement ... because they are workers and they share our demands to return to 37.5 years pension contributions for all.

Resentful because our strike is so powerful, those trying to silence us are changing tactics: from now on they are climbing into bed with the extreme-right ‘Freedom Association’ types, such as «liberté chérie» [Freedom darling], «alternative libérale» [Liberal Alternative], etc.

We will not make any concession, nor let them play in our stations or distribute their rubbish leaflets without a reaction… but without falling for provocations!

November 20: civil servants and teachers on strike!


Tuesday …. If the government has not given way there will no longer be only railworkers and Paris metro workers on strike! This great day will weigh in the balance of forces.

But for SUD-Rail this will not be the climax of the movement… unless we manage to get a satisfactory success.

After Bertrand, here’s Idrac* the copycat:

*[Anne-Marie Idrac, SNCF President] Two days ago we were told about the letter from Xavier Bertrand, which would allow us to end the crisis. We know what a flop it was!

On Friday evening, the SNCF management gave notice of a text it was sending to the trade unions at around 8 o’clock.

SUD-Rail is publishing this text. For us, it is really not likely to bring an end to the strike:

• Moving from 37.5 years pension contributions to 40, then 41 in 2008, …
• Introducing discounts.
• Pensions will no longer be indexed to wages.
• Introduction of a dual status once again penalising younger railworkers and future recruits.

None of this has been removed: the struggle continues!



This method document is intended to specify the method, content and timing of negotiations on the reform of the special pension scheme called to open up participation of State representatives. It is subject to approval by the government.
I. General framework and method of negotiation.
II. Scope and topics of negotiation
III. Timetable

SUD-Rail says: “We asked SNCF management to publish this document: initially they denied its existence.”

I-General methodology and framework for negotiation
I-1. The general framework

SUD-Rail says: “We are offered only to discuss the implementation of the reform!”

Two governmental guidance notes indicated the general framework of the reform. The guidelines of 10 October has clarified the principles of harmonisation of special pension schemes, as well as issues relating to negotiations in a business or industry. The Guidance Note of November 6 has made a number of clarifications and amendments. The note stated: "These latest governmental proposals apply in the businesses and industries concerned, consequently a significant number of trade union organizations, which have noted the general parameters of the reform and have made amendments, will be involved in the negotiations with the companies and thus will dialogue prevail on the conflict. "

The company will conduct these negotiations based on the guidelines outlined here
- On the one hand through the letter from the SNCF President to railworkers, dated November 8, 2007,
- On the other hand through the first stages of consultation undertaken on 6 and 9 November.

SUD-Rail says: “As we have shown it’s a lie, SNCF management has admitted having sent it to all trade union federations except SUD-Rail.”

I-2. The method
Negotiations will be held with the participation of one or more representatives of the State, in the form of preparatory round tables (see timetable), resulting in a conclusive roundtable, and a one-month deadline. Each roundtable will be preceded by sending a technical dossier, setting up a "one-stop shop" for trade unions to complete their information prior to their formal meetings, or to answer questions in order to preparation for plenary sessions.

SUD-Rail says: “Are we disturbing their arrangements?”

II-Scope and topics of negotiation

SUD-Rail says: “They reiterated it here!”

In accordance with the principles of harmonisation, concrete proposals from management and the trade unions to improve the situation and rights of railway workers will be examined.

II-1. Complementary pensions and worker partnerships extensions of activity:
This component could include various measures including:
• Taking into account elements of compensation that are not integrated today in calculating the pension
• Savings Account Duration
• Wage measures in connection with pension reform.

The company will open discussions on salary measures that plug into further reforms of the entire scheme. One possibility would be to allow, under conditions of seniority, the granting of a "remuneration complement" to negotiate compensation for all employees based on the latest position of their qualifications (B2-11, C2-15, D2- 18…).

• Repurchasing years of higher education.

II-2. Changing the rules of the special pension scheme:
• adjustment of the minimum pension
• adjusting the minimum age for membership in the scheme
• adjusting the rules for granting further pension reform.

SUD-Rail says: “Fortunately, even among management there are people disgusted by these mafiosa practices …”

II .3. Taking into account specific grades:
Today, specific trades are taken into account in the form of
- Specific rules of organization of working time (Planned rest breaks, compensatory rest breaks…)
- Specific allowances (compensation for night work, Sundays and holidays, 3X8… etc).

The grades in the negotiating company will be taken into account and also reflected in future in several ways:

- By means of an adjustment of working conditions on posts deemed high duress.
- By means of a gradual cessation of activity, or voluntary part-time working at the end of their careers. The company could, under conditions to be negotiated, taking into account the arduous nature of the job under the conditions of use of part-time (duration in part-time work, which may be "longer" for employees who have more than [x years] in night work or 3x8 [shift work]; variable by employer, pension contributions of the agent, part-time depending on the nature of the posts held during his career…).

- By means of an assignment, in the last few years of his career, on a post at a lower responsibility (sedentary jobs for traincrew, for example).

II-4. Implementation of new rights or improvement of existing rights:

1 ° - The 'new' family and marital rights: the main benefits for railworkers of an application of "public service" type rules would include:
- Increase in the length of service for children (career interruptions, for children born after 2008 would be taken into account and freely validated)
- Increase in the duration of insurance schemes for all discounts (2 quarters for each child born after 2008, and specific rules for handicapped children).

2 ° - Improvements in pension and disability coverage.

III - Schedule and organisation of the preparatory and conclusive round tables.
Business-level negotiations will be conducted over a period of one month.
The hearings will be held with the participation of one or more representatives of the State.
They take the form of 8 roundtables:
- 6 thematic roundtables
- 2 conclusive roundtables.

SUD-Rail says: “Lots of promised meetings … to implement the reforms!”

III-1. Roundtable themes (from November 21 to December 7) around 6 familial themes
1. Wage measures and accompanying career devices
2. Pension supplement and the creation of new rights
3. Adaptation of rules for special pension schemes
4. Marital and Family Benefits and handicap
5. Facilities for career development and improvement of working conditions
6. Precautionary measures

SUD-Rail says: “The General Assemblies must decide: do you agree that the strike ends, and that in exchange … reform is implemented?”

III-2. Conclusive roundtables (on 10 and 12 December).
Both sessions will be on the basis of a general text, combining all proposals for the company. All provisions will be negotiated when it is necessary to update the regulations governing the special pension scheme.

SUD-Rail says: “We, have a good idea of the answer …”

French rail strikes intensify, enter fourth day

Reuters: November 17 2007

PARIS -- French rail strikes entered a fourth day on Saturday with fewer trains running than a day before and no easing was expected before a planned public sector workers strike on Nov. 20.

Railway workers voted on Friday to carry on their protest against pension reforms until at least Monday, despite a call from one moderate union to return to work and a tentative offering of talks from the state rail company SNCF.

The SNCF said on Saturday it expected only 180 fast TGV trains to run compared with 250 on Friday and 700 on a normal Saturday. Regional and freight train operations and the Paris metro were also disrupted.

The SNCF offered unions late on Friday a procedure to examine their grievances, with a first meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 21, the day after the planned strike by civil servants and teachers.

Le Monde newspaper reported on Saturday the aim was to bring all unions together for "conclusive" talks on Dec. 10 and 12.

The government has insisted the strike must end before talks begin but an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday a "gradual" return to work could be enough.

"We don't have conditions. If there are people with good intentions the lines of communication won't be cut. There simply has to be a gesture of goodwill," Raymond Soubie, an adviser to Sarkozy on social affairs, told Europe 1 radio.

The open-ended strike which started on Tuesday evening, has developed into a trial of strength over one of Sarkozy's key economic reforms.

Unions oppose plans to scrap special pension privileges that allow some 500,000 public sector workers to retire on full pensions after paying contributions for only 37-1/2 years, instead of 40 years for other workers.

The government says the so-called "special pension regimes" are outdated, unfair and unaffordable. Unions say the benefits make up for often awkward and difficult working conditions.

Opinion polls show most French people support reform of the system, but with separate protests by students and civil servants brewing and widespread concerns over the cost of living, the protests could widen if the strikes drag on.

German rail strike ends but more walkouts loom

Reuters: Nov 17, 2007

BERLIN - German train drivers returned to work early on Saturday, ending the country's biggest rail strike, but the misery is far from over for commuters as the union has threatened more action next week.

The 62-hour strike over pay hit both freight and commuter services and raised fears about the impact on Europe's biggest economy.

Some companies, including car maker Audi, were forced to cancel shifts due to parts shortages and shipping containers piled up in Hamburg, Germany's largest port.

The wage dispute between the GDL train drivers' union and rail operator Deutsche Bahn has dragged on since March.

The two sides are not talking and there is little sign that either side is about to budge.

GDL deputy head Claus Weselsky on Friday threatened further strikes next week if Deutsche Bahn failed to come up with a new offer and talk is rife the dispute could run over Christmas.

Deutsche Bahn has said it will make no new offer.

Passenger trains will run on schedule again on Saturday after the strike ended at 1 a.m. British time, Deutsche Bahn said, but the company warned it would take some time to catch up with the backlog of goods trains left standing on the tracks.

The walkouts, which started on freight routes on Wednesday and spread to passenger trains on Thursday, brought 70 to 75 percent of trains in eastern Germany to a standstill but only 20 to 50 percent of trains in the western part of the country.

GDL argues its 34,000 workers are underpaid compared to counterparts elsewhere in Europe and wants a separate pay contract from other rail workers plus a pay rise of up to 31 percent.

Commentators say the sour, at times hostile, relationship between bushy-eyebrowed GDL head Manfred Schell and Deutsche Bahn chief Hartmut Mehdorn makes a deal even more difficult.

Politicians have urged both sides to go back to the negotiating table but pressure is growing on Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a more active role to resolve the dispute.

See also:

Will Train Drivers Steal Christmas?

Der Spiegel: November 16, 2007

The current strike hasn't come to an end yet, but German train drivers warn that the next work stoppage may be just over the horizon. Should no new offer be made, Tuesday might see rail traffic stop once again. That strike may be indefinite.

Call it a philosophical debate: On the one side sit the managers for Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway. They would like to have a single wage agreement governing relations with all 134,000 of their employees. In fact, this summer Deutsche Bahn signed a new contract with most of them -- an agreement which included a tidy 4.5 percent raise.

It's hard to make train connections in Germany these days.

On the other side are the train drivers. The mini-union they belong to, called the GDL, claims that train drivers in Germany make far less than their colleagues in the rest of Europe and have demanded a 31 percent raise. While they have grudgingly indicated that they may be convinced to accept less than that, the separate agreement has become something of a holy grail.

The result has become the biggest train strike in Germany's history with millions of Germans affected on Thursday and Friday. On Friday, commuters across the country struggled to get to work for the second straight day as regional and local trains came to a virtual standstill in many cities. Eastern Germany was once again especially hard hit, with 80 percent of regional trains cancelled. In western Germany, about half of regional trains were still limping along. Most large cities in Germany, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, suffered major cutbacks in the number of commuter trains operating.

Goods transport was also largely at a standstill again on Friday, though officials in Germany remained optimistic that it would not seriously harm the country's ongoing recovery. While the Audi factory in Brussels has been forced to cut production way back at least through Monday, other automakers in Germany said on Friday that they have experienced few inconveniences because of the strike.

But should the work stoppages continue, the effects could be immense. On Friday, the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce warned that Christmas shoppers could face empty shelves if freight trains were not available to transport wares to retail outlets.

A poll conducted on behalf of the tabloid Bild shows on Friday that the train drivers union may be losing the support of the German public. Just over half of those surveyed said they didn't back the strike. But that doesn't seem to have cut into GDL's resolve, even though union leader Manfred Schell said in a television interview on Thursday that he would, hypothetically, accept a 31 percent pay increase without a separate wage agreement for his union.

His deputy, however, was quick to put that statement in context. "A separate wage agreement is a prerequisite," GDL man Günther Kinscher told the AP. "Our members wouldn't agree to anything else."

The union has recently indicated that a pay raise of 15 percent might be acceptable. According to the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday, German train drivers earn an average net salary of €1,290 ($1,880) per month, as compared with €2,660 in Switzerland, €2,370 in France and €1,750 in Spain.

Deutsche Bahn remains confidently uncompromising as the labor disagreement intensifies. With the current round of strikes set to end on Friday night at 2 a.m., rail company head Hartmut Mehdorn continues to rule out the possibility of negotiating a separate wage agreement with the train drivers. The company's management board on Thursday went public with its support of his strategy and German rail likewise filed a €5 million lawsuit against the GDL for allegedly illegal warning strikes last month.

The union is unimpressed. Should German rail not come up with an offer to their liking, more strikes are likely, union leaders say. GDL officials said that if a new, satisfactory offer isn't on the table by Monday, an unlimited strike could start as early as Tuesday of next week.

November 16, 2007

Network Rail may cut investment if recession hits UK

The Guardian: November 16 2007
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

· Regulator expects plans to be shelved if demand falls
· Increased reliance on fares will complicate funding

Contingency plans are being drawn up that will allow Network Rail to scale back a near-£10bn pound expansion of the railway system in the event of a severe economic downturn.

The Office of Rail Regulation said it expected the infrastructure company to mothball engineering projects if passenger demand fell. The regulator's comments follow a warning this year from a leading transport consultancy that the government's railway strategy could be derailed if turmoil in the debt markets caused a wider economic depression.

Michael Lee, the ORR board member in charge of monitoring Network Rail's performance, said the regulator would ensure that spending could be scaled back if demand did not meet expectations. The ORR is reviewing Network Rail's business plan for 2009 to 2014, in which it is seeking £10bn for improvements as part of a £29.3bn funding package.

Lee said: "We need to have a process where, in consultation with the appropriate government funders, if it makes sense to change the plans, it can be done." He added that, although Network Rail would receive its funding up front, it would be expected to shelve projects if growth failed to meet government expectations of a 22% increase in passengers by 2014.

"We are hoping that Network Rail will come to regard itself as a public interest company with a responsibility to deliver the public interest through the railway.

"If some schemes are not necessary, we would not expect it to charge ahead with just its own interests in mind," he said.

Major Network Rail projects planned between 2009 and 2014 include: the £2.6bn upgrade of the former Thameslink route; the £455m redevelopment of Reading station; and a £234m fund for small improvements costing less than £5m.

Funding of the Network Rail business plan is underpinned by the government's railway white paper, which outlined the spending formula for the network up to 2014. Under the Department for Transport proposals, government subsidy will fall over the period while the contribution from fares will nearly double.

By 2014, passengers will be paying for 75% of the cost of running the rail network. The reliance on passenger growth - a factor closely linked with the health of the UK economy - led to the TAS consultancy warning in its Rail Industry Monitor report in August that there was little room for error in the government's calculations.

Chris Cheek, the report's author, said yesterday that the outlook was gloomier amid downbeat statements from the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, about the state of the UK economy. "If we had another recession like in the early 1990s, where the south-east was badly hit and demand for services fell significantly, then obviously there would be a serious problem for the funding outlook."

A Network Rail spokesman said it was "extremely unlikely" that it would scale back its expansion. He said: "The growth estimates in the white paper are, if anything, on the conservative side ... it is more likely that the growth will be higher rather than lower. The last economic downturn that we had, after September 11, saw rail passenger growth continue unabated."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are confident that the demand forecasts we used in the white paper are the best available figures."

The Association of Train Operating Companies said the government should expect far stronger growth on a network that carried 1.1bn passenger journeys last year. It expects growth of 40% from 2005 to 2015, while Network Rail implicitly criticised government forecasts in its business plan, stating that passenger growth was 8% last year and showed no sign of slowing. The government expects a rise of just 3% a year up to 2014.

In figures

The amount that Network Rail is seeking for improvements to 2014 £10bn

The proportion of the railways' costs passengers will be paying by 2014 75%

Industry predictions of passenger growth - above government figures 40%

November 15, 2007

French Transport on Strike for 2nd Day

Associated Press: 15 November 2007

PARIS — Transport workers shut down most rail traffic in France for a second day Thursday, frustrating passengers forced to postpone trips and Parisians who had to walk, bike or skate to work.
'37.5 Years For All!' - SUD-Rail union pension rally yesterday in Paris

The government awaited a response to its offer to negotiate a way out of the strikes — the first major challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to modernize France with vast reforms.

Sarkozy wants the strike to end "as quickly as possible," his spokesman said Wednesday night, and offered company by company talks in the presence of a government representative to find a solution.

Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand, in a letter to seven union chiefs, said negotiations should commence "rapidly" and be completed in a month.

However, authorities made clear that the core principle guiding a plan to reform special retirement benefits for transport and utilities workers, in place for more than 60 years, could not be touched.

"The president of the Republic has always considered that there is more to be gained for all parties in negotiation than in conflict," presidential spokesman David Martinon said. The strikes "must end as quickly as possible in the interest of passengers."

But the head of the Workers Force union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said that was not good enough. "Everything must be on the table," he said Wednesday night.

Sarkozy's call to get out of the strike quickly suggested that he did not want to risk seeing his reforms unravel. Paring down the system of special retirement benefits is emblematic of his bid to sweep away what he sees as obsolete practices.

Both the state train authority, the SNCF, which began its strike Tuesday night, and the Paris transport system said conditions had improved on the second full day of the walkout.

The SNCF said that 150 fast trains out of 700 were running Thursday, compared to 90 the day before, while the RATP which governs Paris public transport said that only one subway line was fully shut down and traffic on other lines varied from one train in five to one train in two.

Still, the streets of Paris were clogged with pedestrians and those on bicycles making their way to the office. The city's new rent-a-bike service was a popular means of locomotion.

Authorities have said the Eurostar train between Paris and London was not to be affected by the strike.

"I support the idea of strikes, but not this strike," said 25-year-old Xavier Michel, who skated 5 miles to his advertising job. This strike, he said, hurts "the little guys like us" who are "basically taken hostage."

The government as well as unions are seeking a compromise in the standoff over Sarkozy's bid to do away with an exception that allows a certain workers to retire after 37.5 years on the job, instead of the usual 40. The moneysaving device that would affect a half-million workers is meant to spur growth and put all the French on the same footing.

Utilities workers and employees of opera houses — whose curtains stayed closed Wednesday — are among those who would lose special benefits.

Sarkozy has agreed to a proposal by powerful CGT union boss Bernard Thibault for company-by-company talks with a member of the government present.

Though Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the heart of the reform was "not negotiable," Martinon, the presidential spokesman said "concrete proposals" from all sides "will naturally be examined."

This is the second transport strike in less than a month, but an Oct. 18 walkout — more crippling than the current one — was meant as no more than a warning. The current strike — with daily votes on whether to continue — is meant to wear the government down

See also:

Paris crippled by rail strikes

Press Association: 14 November 2007

Transport workers shut down the Paris rail network with an open-ended strike that President Nicolas Sarkozy said he wants to end "as quickly as possible."

Faced with fresh strikes on Thursday and the first major challenge to his bid to modernise France via vast reforms, Sarkozy called on unions to enter talks.

"The president of the Republic has always considered that there is more to be gained for all parties in negotiation than in conflict," presidential spokesman David Martinon said.

See also:

French militants force second day of strikes

The Independent: 15 November 2007
By John Lichfield in Paris

A strike by French transport and power workers will rumble into a second day today, despite signs that President Nicolas Sarkozy and some union leaders are anxious to negotiate a settlement. The prospect of a prolonged and bitter confrontation between unions and the government over pension reform appeared to recede yesterday as ministers and one of the most powerful trades union federations, the Confédération Gé*érale du Travail (CGT), abandoned their entrenched positions to permit new industry-by-industry talks on special pension rights.

The more militant union leaders, including the head of the railway section of the CGT, pushed successfully for the strike to be extended into a second day. However, the government and most unions appear to want to prevent the dispute from turning into a symbolic battle over M. Sarkozy's wider reform programme.

Much will depend on how many railwaymen, Paris Metro and power workers obey the call for a second day of stoppage today. Only one in seven high-speed trains and one in five Metro trains ran yesterday. Just over 60 per cent of railway staff and 40 per cent of Metro and power workers failed to turn up for work – enough to disrupt services but substantially fewer than obeyed a one-day strike last month. Tens of thousands of rail and power workers, and sympathisers, marched through Paris and other large cities.

Some strikers are still determined to extend their walkout to the weekend and beyond, merging with other public-sector industrial action over pay and job cuts which is planned next week. With many students already boycotting lectures and blocking campuses in protest against M. Sarkozy's mild university reforms, France could yet be plunged into a classic battle of wills on the streets: right v left, reform v status quo.

On the whole, however, it seems that both President Sarkozy and the more moderate unions are prepared to give ground.

The transport and power strikes were called to protest against M. Sarkozy's attempts to reform the special privileges which allow 500,000 public-sector workers to retire early on full pensions. The issue has achieved symbolic importance. The last attempt to reform these rights in 1995 produced three weeks of strikes which almost brought France to its knees.

The government has made some concessions, allowing rail, Metro and power workers to retire at 50 or 55 –if they accept reduced pensions. However, M. Sarkozy has insisted that, to qualify for full pensions, all workers must work for at least 40 years – instead of the 37.5 years usually worked by those in special pension schemes.

The CGT had previously insisted it would only take part in new national negotiations with both the government and industry leaders. The government said it was up to each state industry to negotiate with the unions individually.

The head of the CGT, Bernard Thibault, broke this log-jam yesterday by suggesting there should be industry-by-industry talks, but they should also include government representatives. Ministers agreed and efforts were being made last night to get the talks under way.

Beyond the technicalities, symbolic points have been conceded on both sides. Most union leaders are no longer dismissing out of hand the main lines of the Sarkozy reforms. Their concessionary attitude, including that of M. Thibault, may have been influenced by polls showing more than 70 per cent of the French people back pension reform.

German rail drivers escalate severe strike

Reuters: November 15 2007
By Sylvia Westall

BERLIN -- German train drivers escalated a 62-hour strike on Thursday, adding passenger service disruptions to a freight stoppage in a long-running dispute with rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

The strike, which has raised fears about the impact on Europe's biggest economy, is the worst in Deutsche Bahn's history. The freight stoppages started at 1100 GMT on Wednesday and brought goods trains in east Germany to a standstill.

The passenger train strike began at 0100 GMT. Both strikes will end at 0100 GMT on Saturday.

Roads were clogged on Thursday with heavy traffic in Berlin and many cities as commuters turned to alternative transport.

But Deutsche Bahn said many long-haul trains were running. German railways transport some five million passengers each day.

Economists say the strike on freight routes costs the economy 50 million euros ($73.3 million) a day and could rise to 500 million euros if the strikes last more than a week.

Deutsche Bahn said it drafted in 1,000 workers to help provide replacement services and it wanted to keep many international and long-distance passenger trains running.

The company says it expects up to 50 percent of regional trains will run. Around 20 percent of urban trains will run in Berlin and 40 percent in Hamburg, Deutsche Bahn said.

"If we were to cave in now, the damage to the economy would ultimately be far greater," Deutsche Bahn executive Karl-Friedrich Rausch told German television.

"They're trying to force us to an unconditional surrender. That's not going to happen."

The railways tried to raise the pressure on the union with full page adverts on Thursday addressed at GDL leader Manfred Schell: "Stop this madness, Herr Schell."

The GDL, which says its workers are underpaid compared to drivers in other European countries, is demanding that Deutsche Bahn makes a new wage offer.

The smallest of three rail workers' unions, the GDL has staged a series of strikes over the last few months, mostly on local and regional services.

It has raised the prospect of open-ended strikes if it sees no new offer. Deutsche Bahn says it is not prepared to make another wage offer.

The union wants its own wage deal for its 34,000 drivers, separate from one agreed by the railway's other 195,000 workers in July which gave them a 4.5 percent pay rise.

The GDL has said it could negotiate its initial demand for a 31 percent wage increase if it gets its own contract. Deutsche Bahn wants to keep its employees under a sector-wide agreement.

Economists say that if GDL gets its own contract, it could fragment Germany's unions and push up labour costs by encouraging other workers to push for separate wage deals.

See also:

Biggest German rail strike in history starts to bite

AFP: 14 November 2007

BERLIN — German train drivers began a new strike on freight services on Wednesday, scheduled to last 62 hours, which the national rail operator Deutsche Bahn said was the biggest in its history.

The government said it feared the strike could have a dramatic impact on Europe's biggest economy and made an urgent appeal to the train drivers' GDL union and Deutsche Bahn to return to the negotiating table.

The stoppage started on freight services at 1100 GMT, with passenger train drivers to join in from 0100 GMT on Thursday.

Services are not expected to resume until 0100 GMT on Saturday.

Deutsche Bahn board member Norbert Bensel said the strike, "the biggest in our history", was costing the operator 50 million euros (73.4 million dollars) a day.

The strike over the union's demands for a 31-percent pay rise represented a new peak in a dispute that has lasted three months.

GDL said it believed its campaign of strikes -- the one starting Thursday was the sixth national stoppage in the three-month dispute -- was starting to wear down Deutsche Bahn.

"We have increased the pressure so much in such a short space of time that we believe we will receive a new offer," the union's deputy leader Claus Weselsky told Suedwestrundfunk radio.

But Bensel said Deutsche Bahn was standing firm in its refusal to grant the drivers either a pay rise above the 10 percent it has offered or a separate contract from other rail workers.

"A division within a single sector is not the right road to go down, it would destroy the solidarity (of Deutsche Bahn) and we cannot accept that," he said.

Bensel said the operator had "prepared as much as possible" for the start of the passenger traffic strike on Thursday and expected two thirds of trains to run on inter-city lines and half of all commuter services to be maintained.

Government spokesman Thomas Steg called for negotiations, saying the strike was "a burden for an economy that is otherwise doing well."

If it continued after Saturday, "it could have far-reaching and dangerous consequences," he said.

A 42-hour strike last week affected about 90 percent of German freight services and cost the economy millions of euros.

The northern port of Hamburg, a key arrival and departure point for shipping containers, said there had been a knock-on effect from last week's strike.

"We are expecting disruption, not least because we have been unable to clear the backlog from the last strike."
German television showed dozens of freight trains parked in sidings near the port as the strike began.

Wednesday's action coincided with a nationwide train strike in neighbouring France over pension reform.

November 13, 2007


Railworkers’ Trade Union Federations: November 6, 2007


[below is the joint union public leaflet published by the French rail unions (above) outlining the reasons for the national rail strike starting today]

The President of the Republic and his government have ignored the exceptional scale of the one-day strike and the united, industry-wide mobilisation of 18 October.

The government is spreading the story in the media in an attempt to give credence to the idea that it’s ready to listen to trade unions and give their proposals a fair hearing.

What is it exactly?

Since the launch of special pensions reform plans by the President of the Republic on Sept’ 18 the government has declared their framework is non-negotiable. That’s to say that the almost 100 hours of face-to-face discussions which Labour Minister, Xavier Bertrand likes to talk about, were used primarily to divide the unions. That’s the government’s great ambition!

That's why the trade union organisations involved in the reform are demanding a GOVERNMENT/UNION round table.

Why does the government claim to champion transparency when it refuses to agree to a real ROUND TABLE?

Is it afraid that its reform might appear in broad daylight for what it really is? Namely a device that results in a reduction in real terms of the level of pensions already paid due to the weakness of railworkers' pensions? This was precisely what was massively rejected by the rail workers strike on October 18!

With the reform of special schemes, the government is creating double jeopardy for railway workers:
- By a system of a (graduated) discount, which would decrease pensions by 25% for the same working life contributions,
- By pensions indexing on prices instead of wages (this same measure applied to the General scheme has led in 15 years to a gap of 20% between the increase in active workers’ purchasing power and retirees at the latter’s expense).

How could the government say that these provisions, which would create a fall in the level of pension payments are measures of fairness? We are for fairness in retirement starting at the top!

That’s why we are opposed to playing off the elderly against the young with a reform that entails introduction of two or even three tier standards placing generations of railworkers at risk of a precarious future.

It is our choice!
What kind of society do we want?

Other choices are necessary and feasible for sustaining special schemes, improving the General Pension scheme and that of the Civil Service and ensuring the future of the social solidarity, Pay-as-you-go Pension system.

Our special scheme is justified by the continuity of Public Service. It must also be remembered that railworkers’ special pension rights are in no way funded by taxpayers or insured by the general scheme. It is funded by railworkers themselves with a Contributions rate to pension 12 points higher than that of the general scheme.

Secondly, the increase in purchasing power and full employment are essential to sustain and upgrade Pay-as-you-go Pension schemes. With the creation of a million jobs that’s 12 billion additional euros for funding pensions.

For true equality, we must put an end to the policies that are robbing the welfare state of additional revenue. These include exempting stock options from social contributions (3 billion euros a year of which 1 billion is for pensions), incentive and free share schemes, payroll saving …

The Court of Auditors has estimated at 10 billion euros shortfall for the general welfare generated by these devices.

Convergence of interests

Nobody’s fooled, the government is attacking special schemes the better to impose new cutbacks on the rights of the general pension system for all employees.

The proof of this, the National Commission on Guaranteeing Pensions announced on 29 October last year, the increase from 40 to 41 years contributions for all employees in the private and the public sectors between 2009 and 2012. The Prime Minister is already warning that this will not suffice and that we need to think quickly about a new perspective of 42 or 43 years contributions as MEDEF (the French Employers federation) is demanding. This is an extension of contributions without end!

You as users of transport and SNCF, are also faced with the social issue posing questions about Environmental and Spatial Planning, the Public Service future of the SNCF railway, and in particular the threat to rail freight.

The government and SNCF management must stop the break-up of rail freight, which constitutes an economic, environmental and social nonsense, which means the opposite of the government’s published policies in the area of the environmental railway. The Plan to close 262 stations to freight traffic in single wagon loads must be abandoned. Resources must be given to the Public Service SNCF to maintain and develop the Infrastructure, stations and jobs.

For all these reasons,..

Railworkers will be on strike From Tuesday, November 13 to 20 h 00, For a renewable 24-hour period

Pensions, Rail freight, Public Service, Jobs and Wages will be at the heart of our demands.


Paris, November 6, 2007

French Strike Starts Tonight to Protest Sarkozy's Pension Plan

Bloomberg: Nov. 13
By Helene Fouquet

Public transport is set to begin grinding to a halt in France tonight, utility workers are threatening to curb electricity production, and theaters will go dark as the nation girds for its second strike in a month.

The protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to roll back pension privileges is due to widen next week when teachers and civil servants are set to walkout in opposition to his efforts to deregulate labor and services markets.

Public-service unions oppose measures aimed at bringing transport and energy workers' pension systems in line with others. The plan seeks to ensure that they work 40 years instead of 37.5 to earn a full pension. Seven unions called for a strike of unlimited duration at RATP, operator of Paris's metros, buses and tramways.

"We want to keep this strike as short as possible,'' Christian Mahieux, a union leader at SNCF, the national rail company, told Europe 1 radio today. "The government has no other choice but to give in.''

Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand is planning a meeting with Bernard Thibault, the head of Confederation Generale du Travail, the nation's second-biggest union, later today. A 2003 pension reform "is already the rule for 25 million workers,'' Bertrand told Le Parisien newspaper yesterday. "How could we tell them that 500,000 of their fellow workers can escape it?''

In some of the biggest strikes that brought French transport to a standstill in 1995 for about three weeks, unions rallied a 50 percent support at least.


All but one union at SNCF will begin strikes at 8 p.m. French time tonight. Public workers at Electricite de France SA and Gaz de France SA utilities will start cutting output tonight. The Paris Opera may cancel the premiere of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker'' tomorrow night. The Comedie Francaise, the national theater, is scrapping its Nov. 14 performance and may cancel more if the strike expands.

Eurostar Group, which runs high-speed trains from the U.K. to continental Europe, said the strikes won't stop the first day of service from London's refurbished St. Pancras rail station. No trains have been canceled between tonight and tomorrow, Gareth Headon, a spokesman for the London-based rail operator, said over the telephone. The company doesn't expect delays or cancellations, he said.

Thalys, the Franco-German-Belgian railway company that runs high-speed train in Northern Europe, said 10 of the 50 trains between Paris and Brussels will be canceled and others may be delayed about 30 minutes. Lines to Amsterdam, Koln and Rotterdam will suffer delays.

"We believe the disruption will continue through the 15th and almost certainly the 16th of November,'' the Brussels-based company's spokeswoman Patricia Baars said over the phone.

More Strikes

SNCF said in a statement only 90 out of its 700 high-speed TGV trains will run tomorrow. The operator advised passengers "to limit their journeys,'' and said train services will be "highly disrupted'' until Nov. 18.

Only one out of every 10 metro trains will run in Paris, with no service to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport and virtually none to Orly airport. The last strike cost SNCF 50 million euros ($73 million), it said. A strike can cost 20 million euros a day, including disruptions in the freight service, the company said.

"The reform the government decided is unavoidable,'' Anne- Marie Idrac, president of the SNCF told RTL radio today. She wrote to all 160,000 employees of the railroad to outline the latest proposals, which include pay increases for those working beyond 55 years, the SNCF's current retirement age.

Electricite de France's workers plan to start power cuts as soon as 9 p.m. Paris time tonight, Maurice Marion, a spokesman for the CGT union, said over the telephone. He did not give further details.

Velib', the free bicycle service operated by JCDecaux SA in Paris, expects to almost double rentals tomorrow, said a spokeswoman who declined to be identified. During the last strike on Oct. 18, Parisians used 180,000 Velib's to get around.

Civil servants, teachers and other public workers have called for a strike on Nov. 20 and judiciary employees plan a Nov. 29 walkout.

Sarkozy faces Thatcher moment as union showdown looms

AFP: 12 November 2007

PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy, elected six months ago on a promise of radical change, faces his Thatcher moment this week as railway workers spearhead the biggest challenge from the street against his programme of economic reform.

From Tuesday evening the country's train network is set for major disruption as trade unions launch an open-ended strike against plans to end historic pensions privileges enjoyed by some 500,000 rail and energy employees.

The strike, which will also bring the Paris metro to a near standstill, could extend at least to the week's end in what is increasingly seen as a trial of strength between unions and Sarkozy's centre-right government.

With other protests by students, lawyers and civil servants also brewing -- and amid growing public disquiet about the cost of living -- commentators said the president could be set for the kind of epoch-making showdown pioneered by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s.

"Mrs Thatcher warned that things would be hard. Some found her reforms odious, but she had the courage to be unpopular. The question is, does Sarkozy have the same courage to be unpopular?" asked Eric Brunet, author of "Being Rightwing -- a French taboo."

Sarkozy can find comfort in a survey published Monday showing 55 percent of French believe Wednesday's strike is "not justified."

The findings by the BVA polling institute show French opposition has mounted two points since the previous transportation strike October 18, when a similar poll was taken.

The last time a government tried to reform the so-called "special" pensions systems was in 1995, when three weeks of strikes and demonstrations forced the government under newly-elected president Jacques Chirac into a humiliating climbdown.

Monday's BVA poll showed some 68 percent of French fear the latest pension reform efforts risk unleashing the same paralysing strikes as in 1995.

But this time ministers say the situation is different, because the climate of opinion has changed -- a majority supports the pensions reform -- and because Sarkozy clearly spelled out his intentions in his May election manifesto.

"What is at stake is people's faith in politics," Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said Monday.

The "special" systems are enjoyed by 16 separate categories of workers, who can retire after 37.5 years instead of 40 and have their pensions calculated on the basis of final salary rather than an average over their whole career.

Invoking social equity, Sarkozy has moved to bring the "special" regimes in line with the rest of the population -- and the ensuing confrontation has become a symbolic battle of wills over the whole of his reform agenda.

The left-wing opposition accused Sarkozy of actively seeking a confrontation to deal a defeat to the unions.

"Rather than using the remaining time to seek a way out from the conflict, the government and the president want maximum tension," said Socialist Party national secretary Bruno Le Roux.

The atmosphere has been soured further by protests from students complaining about a university reform law, and from lawyers and magistrates angry at moves by Justice Minister Rachida Dati to reorganise the local courts system.

On November 20 a 24-hour strike has been called by civil servants against plans to cut the state payroll, and some union organisers hope this week's rail strikes can be extended so that the anti-government movements become one.

The rail strike, which kicks in at 8.00 pm (1900 GMT) Tuesday, is the second in less than a month, but the last one was only for a day. In Paris commuters were readying themselves for the inevitable chaos, with sports shops reporting a run on bicycles.

November 12, 2007

Chairman of French railway says planned strike would be like a gun to company's head

Associated Press: November 9, 2007

PARIS -- The chairman of France's national railway said Friday a planned open-ended strike against the SNCF would be like putting a gun to the company's head and could cost it €20 million (US$29 million) per day.

The strike, which is to begin Tuesday evening, would be the second serious transport disruption to hit France since October, when transit workers staged a wave of walkouts to protest plans by President Nicolas Sarkozy to cut special retirement benefits for some state workers.

Sarkozy pledged Friday not to back down, saying that France "has no choice" but to reform.

SNCF General Director Guillaume Pepy said the walkout would be like putting a "pistol to the temple," and he warned of the possible monetary and social costs.

There is "really the risk of a very serious disturbance for passengers who already suffered through (last month's) strike," Pepy told RTL radio on Friday. He said a massive walkout could cost the company about €20 million (US$29 million) per day.

With all but one union refusing the company's calls for negotiations, railway officials have tried to communicate directly with the company's 160,000 employees.

SNCF President Anne-Marie Idrac sent an e-mail Thursday to SNCF employees to try to dissuade them from walking out.

"The planned strike, costly for those who will take part in it, does not bring anything positive to the company or the railroads," the e-mail said.

Education Minister Valerie Pecresse also tried Friday to dissuade other French protesters — university students disrupting classes at about 10 campuses around the country.

The students were protesting a new law aimed at making France's public universities more market-friendly by giving them the right to raise tuition and accept private donations.

Pecresse told France Info radio she "vigorously condemns these disruptions" and called on student representatives to enter into talks with the government.

After a Paris march Thursday, student protesters briefly stopped traffic at the Gare du Nord train station. Some 300 demonstrators poured into the station, blocking traffic for about an hour before they were ousted by police, a Paris police official said. No violent incidents were reported, the official said.

See also:

'Invisible' PM takes centre stage with gaffe

Telegraph: 12/11/2007
By Henry Samuel in Paris

François Fillon, the French prime minister, has let slip that he is tired of being upstaged by President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a post-interview aside caught on camera.

While the president rarely misses a chance to travel in person to hotspots in France and abroad, Mr Fillon has barely been seen.

But asked by a journalist whether he sometimes felt like "going out" into the field, Mr Fillon replied: "Half the time, I want to go but it's too late: he's already left. And then often, the problem with him is, he (Mr Sarkozy) doesn't want me (to go)."

The informal comments were captured on film as Mr Fillon left a recording studio on Thursday.

As the filmed snippet was viewed by thousands on the internet and later on national television news, Mr Fillon tried to pass it off as a joke.

"I was reproached for being too absent from the media and today, by the magic of the internet, I'm a star!" he wrote on his blog. "Well yes, a prime minister can also have a sense of humour."

Mr Sarkozy has all but eclipsed Mr Fillon and his cabinet, insisting on being seen as personally handling almost all domestic and international issues.

Six months into his presidency, Mr Sarkozy faces his toughest test yet in the coming weeks, with a possibly lengthy nationwide transport strike over pension reforms kicking off late next Tuesday.

See also:

French government refuses to give way ahead of strike

Reuters: Nov 11, 2007
By Crispian Balmer

PARIS - The French government refused on Sunday to give ground in its battle with unions over a reform of generous pensions for some workers, opening the way for a strike that could paralyse public transport for days.

Unions representing rail, public transport, electricity and gas workers have said they will hold a nationwide strike on November 14, the second in a month, with some workers warning of staying indefinitely.

Union leaders accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of intransigence and of making reform of the so-called "special regimes" into a political battle of wills.

The pensions showdown is the biggest challenge Sarkozy has faced since taking office in May and his government fears its credibility would be destroyed if it gives into the unions.

"Our determination is not posturing, it's a demand for justice and fairness," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a newspaper interview.

"There is no other solution to save the pensions (system) other than reform. When one is carrying out one's duty, one isn't afraid," he told Le Journal du Dimanche.

Sarkozy was elected on a pledge to do away with the special regimes, which allow some state sector employees to retire after 37.5 years of work against 40 years for most other workers.

The government wants everyone to retire after 40 years of contributions from 2012 and have told unions to negotiate with the companies involved to see how to implement the measure.

Unions seek just one negotiating table, with the government involved in the talks, but this demand has been rejected.

"The government has clearly chosen a show of force," said Bernard Aubin, the secretary general of the rail arm of the CFTC union, which is viewed as a moderate labour group. "There are all the ingredients for a very tough conflict."


The government is hoping to split the union movement and one small train drivers organisation signed a pension deal for their members with the SNCF state railways on Friday meaning they will be the only one of eight rail unions working on November 14.

The other unions have said their strike is open-ended and some have indicated they want the stoppage to carry on until November 20 when civil servants and teachers have called a strike to protest about planned public sector job cuts.

Adding to the probable transport chaos, student activists said they planned to block train stations around France on November 13 to denounce a government reform of the university system.

The reform, which encourages private sector financing in universities, was introduced in July and the government accused students of trying to cash in on the pensions dispute.

A source close to the government said on Sunday that ministers thought the November 14 strike would carry on "without doubt for several days".

But with public opinion firmly behind Sarkozy, he saw no chance of the government backing down. "This is the moment of truth. If we can sort out the problem of special regimes, we'll have met all our objectives for 2007," he said.

The regimes cost the state about 5 billion euros (3.5 billion pounds) a year to finance and even leading figures in the opposition Socialist party say a reform is needed, but have accused Sarkozy of deliberately picking a fight with the unions.

"(Sarkozy) is capable of eating with everyone. Why doesn't he eat with the unions? Why doesn't he talk to them," senior Socialist deputy Julien Dray said on Sunday.

November 11, 2007

German Rail Drivers Threaten Wider Strikes in Contract Dispute

Bloomberg: Nov. 11
By Chad Thomas
German rail drivers threatened to extend their strike this week to commuter, long-distance and cargo services as they seek a new contract with higher pay and better working conditions.

Train drivers will decide tomorrow or Tuesday whether to call additional walkouts this week, the GDL union said in a statement on its Web site. The union ended a 42-hour strike on Germany's freight service yesterday morning.

Deutsche Bahn AG and the GDL have been in a stalemate for months. The union has said it's seeking a contract separate from one reached with the other two train labor groups, Transnet and the GDBA, while the state-owned railway has argued any agreement must be "within the framework'' of that accord.

The GDL rejected Deutsche Bahn's latest contract offer, which includes a one-time payment of 2,000 euros ($2,934) and a 10 percent raise. The railway agreed on July 9 to give the 134,000 members of the Transnet and GBDA unions a 4.5 percent pay increase.

German train drivers earlier this month gained the right to strike on Deutsche Bahn's freight and long-distance trains, after winning an appeal of an earlier court decision limiting walkouts to local trains. The railway, which had also appealed the original ruling, sought to block all strikes. Deutsche Bahn is now considering asking Germany's highest court to rule on the matter.

See also:

German gov't pushes for deal to end rail strikes

Reuters: November 11 2007
By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel and top ministers on Sunday urged striking railway workers and the national railways to return to the negotiating table to settle a wage dispute just days after she had refused to intervene.

Sounding a note of alarm after a paralysing 42-hour freight strike last week, Merkel joined Economy Minister Michael Glos and Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee in appeals on the GDL train drivers' union and rail managers to end their dispute.

With train drivers threatening new strikes this week to back their claim for higher wages after the 2-1/2 day walkout, the three leaders warned the strikes were harmful to the economy.

"I hope the strikes will be ended and further economic damage averted," Merkel told ARD television.
"As it's affecting the entire economy, I call on both sides to act responsibly.

"It won't help to bash your head through the wall -- because the wall will always win," she added, referring to the headstrong leader of the railways, Hartmut Mehdorn, and his union counterpart Manfred Schell.

"It's time to come together and stop battling each other."

Earlier Glos and Tiefensee had pleaded for a deal.

"We need a quick agreement once and for all," Glos told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"The robust economic upturn is already being burdened by the high oil price and a strong euro. In an environment like this, a strike that hampers freight transport is poisonous for the overall economy."

Tiefensee admonished state-owned Deutsche Bahn, which had tried in vain last week to get Merkel to intervene, to find a solution with the train drivers' union.

"The government can't be the referee nor interfere in wage talks," he told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper.

"But the two sides need to stick to the facts. Right now it's producing gigantic economic loss and damaging Deutsche Bahn's image."

Although rail strikes in Germany are rare, Deutsche Bahn said the freight strike was extremely damaging and it will take weeks until traffic returns to normal.

Previous strikes had inconvenienced only local commuters.

The train drivers' union has said it will decide on Monday or Tuesday whether to strike again on freight as well as passenger and long-haul services -- unless Deutsche Bahn presents a new offer in the months-long pay dispute by Monday.

The freight strikes paralysed around 90 percent of goods routes and cost the economy 50 million euros ($73 million) a day, according to economists. That can rise to 500 million euros a day if the strikes last a week or more.

The GDL, the smallest of three rail workers' unions representing some 34,000 workers, turned down a 4.5 percent pay rise agreed by other unions in July. It also rejected a later Bahn offer of a 10 percent pay rise.

See also

More Train Strikes Threatened After Goods Embargo Ends

Deutsche Welle: 10.11.2007
Deutsche Bahn's rolling stock is now back on the rails -- but for how long?

German train drivers threatened wider strike action next week after goods services resumed on Saturday morning, following a 42-hour shutdown.

Manfred Schell, chairman of the GDL union which called the strike, said passenger services could be hit from Tuesday if state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn fails to make a new pay offer.

The union said the strike that began at midday on Thursday paralyzed goods traffic in Germany's eastern states and also hit two-thirds of the trains in the west of the country.

Deutsche Bahn board member Norbert Bensel said it was "the worst strike we have ever experienced in the rail freight transport sector" and had a knock-on effect in neighboring countries.

"Several hundred trains are waiting at international borders to enter Germany," he said shortly before drivers began returning to work at 6 am.

"It is a terrible thing that 1,000 train drivers can threaten Germany's industrial base," he said, although most large manufacturing companies said production had not been seriously affected by the stoppage.

The union, which represents around 15,500 of Germany's 19,600 train drivers, is seeking a rise of up to 31 per cent in a separate wage contract to the one Deutsche Bahn signed with two larger unions.

The rail operator rejects this, fearing it could prompt other sectors of the company to demand their own pay deals, making collective bargaining more difficult.

Industry relatively unaffected by goods suspension
Car and steel production continued despite the strike

Carmakers VW and BMW said production was continuing as normal, while steelmakers ThyssenKrupp and Salzgitter also said they had been relatively unaffected.

Despite being one of the main targets, the north-eastern port of Rostock on the Baltic coast continued to operate.

GDL boss Schell claimed 3,500 goods train drivers had heeded the strike call and that around 1,000 of the 5,000 goods trains that DB runs daily had been halted.

Schell threatened to expand the strike next week to hit the commuter and long-distance passenger traffic used by around 5 million people daily.

According to an opinion poll taken by public television, 57 per cent of the population backs the train drivers, while 39 per cent are opposed.

Deutsche Bahn CEO considers stepping down if privatisation blocked

AFX News: 11.11.07

FRANKFURT - Deutsche Bahn AG chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn is considering stepping down should the planned partial privatisation of the rail operator fall through, magazine Der Spiegel reported without citing sources.

Deutsche Bahn's supervisory board chairman Werner Mueller has already found a potential successor for Mehdorn, the report said, without disclosing further details.

The Social Democrats last month decided they will only approve a rail privatisation, if only shares with non-voting rights are issued, threatening the coalition government efforts for an IPO.

Let Network Rail Run Passenger Services, says RMT

RMT: November 10 2007

THE RE-SHUFFLE of rail franchises set to take place on November 11 will not solve the structural problems blighting Britain’s railway network, the industry’s biggest union says.

On the eve of a massive shake-up of several rail franchises (see note below), RMT renewed its call for Network Rail to be given the opportunity to show that it can operate passenger services more efficiently than the franchising system.

“The continued failure of rail franchising stands in stark contrast to the improvements made by Network Rail as a publicly-owned and not-for-dividend company,” RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said.

“It is only a few months since the Transport Select Committee concluded that no amount of tinkering could resolve the fundamental flaws in the franchising system.

“Network Rail has delivered real improvements in efficiency and safety, the more so it brought most maintenance back in-house, but the franchise system offers only fragmentation, confusion, ever-higher fares and a squeeze on passengers, services and rail workers alike.

“It would make sound sense to extend Network Rail’s success story to passenger operations, and at the very least the government should allow it the opportunity to prove itself.

“Ending franchising would allow the huge sums currently being taken out of the industry by the private sector to be re-invested in the railway and ease the way to more affordable fares, and it would finally allow an end to the fragmentation imposed by the Tories.

“After imposing rail privatisation on us in the first place, the Tories are now proposing to do even more damage by breaking up Network Rail and dividing up the infrastructure among the privateers.

“They call it vertical integration, but in fact it is a recipe for more dangerous fragmentation, when what is needed is the re-integration of our railways into a sensible whole,” Bob Crow said.

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

Note to editors: The current Central Trains, Silverlink, and Midland Mainline franchises (all currently run by National Express), will be redrawn into the East Midlands, West Midlands, and London Rail franchises, which will be operated by Stagecoach, Govia and MTR-Laing, and the Cross Country franchise is to be transferred from Virgin to Arriva

November 7, 2007

FirstGroup Profit Doubles on Rail, Bus Ticket Sales

Bloomberg: Nov. 7
By Chad Thomas

FirstGroup Plc, the biggest operator of trains in Britain, said fiscal first-half profit more than doubled as sales of bus and rail tickets helped offset higher fuel costs.

Net income for the six months ended Sept. 30 increased to 56.1 million pounds ($117.5 million), or 12.8 pence a share, from 24.9 million pounds, or 6.3 pence, a year earlier, the Aberdeen, Scotland-based company said today in a statement. Sales rose 3.1 percent to 1.77 billion pounds.

FirstGroup operates six U.K. rail divisions and 9,000 buses in 40 British towns. The company gets more than half of its revenue from the U.S. after acquiring Laidlaw International Inc., the largest operator of the country's yellow school buses. The Laidlaw purchase also gave FirstGroup ownership of Greyhound Lines Inc., the U.S. intercity bus company.

"The first-half results were solid,'' Damian Brewer, an analyst with JPMorgan in London who has an ``overweight'' rating on the shares, said in a note to investors. "Going forward, we think that FirstGroup and its peers will need to carefully balance stimulating demand growth against a growing fuel cost burden.''

FirstGroup shares fell as much as 21.5 pence, or 2.7 percent, to 773.5 pence and were down 2 percent at 8:38 a.m. in London. The stock has gained 36 percent this year, valuing the company at 3.4 billion pounds.

FirstGroup is committed to "at least 10 percent annual dividend growth for at least the next three years,'' the company said in the statement. "Trading in the second half of the year has started well and is in line with our expectations.''

The completion of the Laidlaw acquisition in October ``gives us the scale and opportunities to generate increased value and returns and a robust platform for future growth in the large North American market,'' FirstGroup said.

EU conditionally clears Deutsche Bahn to takeover EWS and target France

Reuters: Nov 7, 2007

BRUSSELS - Deutsche Bahn, the German rail firm, won conditional permission from the European Commission on Wednesday to buy English Welsh & Scottish Railway Holdings.

English Welsh & Scottish runs railfreight services in Britain and France. Essentially, the EU executive was concerned that DB might back off on competing in France, but DB made commitments to resolve the problems.

The Commission noted DB is state-owned, while EWS is the successor of the freight business of the former British national rail monopoly. It said DB might lack incentives to compete in the French market, which EWS had recently entered.

To solve that, the Commission said DB "has committed to fulfil EWS's expansion plans in France in the next five years through investments in key assets (locomotives) and personnel as set out in the EWS business plan and to deploy these in France".

DB will also give access to EWS driver training schools and maintenance facilities in France for third-party rail operators, except the French incumbent, SNCF.

The Commission said that would lower potential barriers to entry and expansion for companies wishing to enter the French rail freight market.

See also:

EU approves German-British rail takeover - if it targets France

DPA: 07 Nov 2007

Brussels - The European Union on Wednesday approved a plan by the state-owned German railway to buy Britain's main rail-freight operator, but only if it continues expanding into the French market. Germany's Deutsche Bahn (DB) had asked EU clearance to buy English Welsh & Scottish Railway Holdings (EWS), the British former rail monopolist which operates rail-freight services in Britain and the Channel Tunnel, and which recently entered the French market.

The EU's executive, the Commission, ruled that the deal "would not significantly impede effective competition" in Europe - as long as DB promised to continue expanding EWS' freight business in France.

The Commission had feared that the deal would "weaken the competitive constraint exercised in France" by EWS' recent arrival, because "DB may not have the same incentives to pursue the rail freight transport business in France," a Commission statement said.

DB soothed those fears by promising to "fulfil EWS' expansion plans in France in the next five years through investments in key assets (locomotives) and personnel as set out in the EWS business plan, and to deploy these in France," the statement said.

The German operator also promised to give all companies except French national rail-service provider SNCF "fair and non-discriminatory" access to EWS driver-training schools "as an additional guarantee of maintaining competition in this market."

The EU is keen to strengthen the role of environmentally-friendly rail freight in Europe in an attempt to ease the burden on the continent's overloaded roads. Part of that plan involves attempts to open up national rail-freight markets to commercial competition.

However, former rail-freight monopoly holders in some countries, notably France, have fought to keep their privileges in place, leading to a very uneven development of competition across Europe.

DB is owned by the German state, but the government intends to sell off a minority stake to private investors. The British rail network was privatized in the 1980s in what remains a controversial and much-criticised move.

See also:

Deutsche Bahn buy of EWS Railway cleared by EU, subject to conditions

AFX News: 11.07.07

BRUSSELS (Thomson Financial) - The European Commission said it has cleared German state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG's (DB) proposed acquisition of English, Welsh & Scottish Railway Holding Ltd, subject to conditions.

The commission's decision is conditional upon the commitment of DB 'to fulfil EWS's expansion plans and to provide non-discriminatory access to certain EWS training activities and maintenance facilities in France', the EU executive said in a statement.

In light of this commitment, the commission said the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area.

DB is engaged in rail passenger and freight transport (through its unit Railion) in Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Denmark, as well as in freight forwarding, logistics and ancillary services worldwide (through its Schenker unit).

EWS is the successor of the freight business of the former UK national rail monopoly. EWS is active in rail freight transport and related services in the UK and recently, through its unit, in France. EWS also provides rail freight transport services through the Channel Tunnel.

November 6, 2007

Blaenau Gwent trains in time for Christmas

Gwent Gazette: Nov 8 2007
by Louise Dicks

RESIDENTS of Blaenau Gwent will be able to hop on the train to Cardiff for a spot of last-minute shopping when the new rail link opens a week before Christmas.

Blaenau Gwent Council leader John Hopkins last week confirmed trains will start running for public use on Monday, December 17, with a special celebration train laid on for the Friday before.

On that day, specially invited guests will travel the line, greeting schoolchildren who will gather at stations along the way.

“We want the children there because we want it to be a celebration of what this rail link could mean for their futures,” says Coun Hopkins.

“There will be last-minute Christmas shopping opportunities for the people of Blaenau Gwent.”

Coun Hopkins revealed there are plans to hold an official opening ceremony sometime in the spring and hinted it could even involve royalty.

It is hoped the multi-million-pound railway scheme, which was supported by the Gazette’s Back on Track campaign, will benefit the residents of Blaenau Gwent, who have waited patiently for many years for the link to be restored, enabling them to travel to the city to find work.

The new service will be run by Arriva Trains and it is hoped the line may be extended to Newport in the coming years.

Business analysts at Ebbw Vale’s Innovation Centre have predicted the area will become an economic hot spot within five years with the establishment of the rail link and the regeneration of the Corus site.

The Innovation Centre itself was built in 2003 by Corus subsidiary UK Steel Enterprise, to act as a catalyst for growth.

It is now home to 200 jobs, and a further 150 jobs have been created in start-up businesses through the UK Steel Enterprise Kickstart Fund, with the support of Blaenau Gwent Council.

“I believe Ebbw Vale will be able to reverse the trend of people having to leave to find work,” said David Hughes, regional manager of UK Steel Enterprise in Wales.

“The new town will enjoy a higher level of economic activity, will provide jobs for local people and will have better facilities.”

RMT welcomes news that TfL is sole bidder for Metronet

RMT: November 6 2007

Now bring Tubelines back in-house, says biggest Tube union

THE NEWS that Transport for London is the only formal bidder for failed Tube privateer Metronet was warmly welcomed today by London Underground’s biggest union.

RMT called for a speedy end to the unnecessary waste of administration – and for Tubelines’ contracts to follow Metronet’s back into the public sector as soon as possible.

The union also warned that it would be “unthinkable” to farm out any train maintenance to Bombardier, one of the privateer corporations responsible for the Metronet debacle.

“After the chaos, waste and uncertainty imposed on us by the part-privatisation of the Tube network, this is a welcome day for London and for our members across the Tube network,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

“It will be a relief all round that the administrator has abandoned any attempt to prop up Metronet’s corpse and pretend that there was some commercial life left in it.

“We hope there will now be a speedy end to the expensive charade of administration and that we can start drawing a line under the disastrous PPP.

“Two-thirds of London Underground’s infrastructure work will be coming back under public control where it belongs, and our Metronet members should be able to get on with the business of delivering a world-class Tube network in time for the Olympics.

“However, a third of the network’s infrastructure remains in the hands of Tubelines, whose sole reason for existence is to take as much money as possible out of the industry.

“We warned and campaigned against the PPP from the start, and we will continue to campaign for a return of all Tube infrastructure work to the public sector and for TfL to reverse its wrong-headed decision to privatise the operations of the East London Line,” Bob Crow said.


See also:

London Transport Takes Over Insolvent Rail Contractor

Bloomberg: Nov. 6
By Brian Lysaght

Transport for London, the government agency that operates the city's trains and buses, agreed to take over the insolvent contractor Metronet Rail next year to protect a 17 billion-pound ($35 billion) upgrade of the London Underground.

TFL made the only offer to buy Metronet, said Alan Bloom of Ernst & Young LLC, Metronet's court-appointed administrator, in an e-mailed statement today. There will be "no net additional cost'' to the city, he said, without providing details. Metronet collapsed in July after it ran up as much as 2 billion pounds in extra costs on a 30-year contract to rebuild the railway.

Mayor Ken Livingstone wants to break up Metronet, selling off some contracts and maintaining others as a city-run operation. The work of Metronet and another company, Tube Lines Ltd., is part of the biggest investment since World War II in the 144-year-old railway.

"We are now working with the administrator to transfer the Metronet companies to Transport for London's control in early 2008,'' Tim O'Toole, managing director of London Underground, said in an e-mailed statement.

TFL officials told the London legislative assembly in July that the agency would loan Metronet's administrators as much as 30 million pounds a week to run the failed company. Livingstone said acquiring and restructuring Metronet would be the fastest way to get the company out of administration and to maintain plans to expand and improve the railway, known locally as the Tube.

'Efficient Structure'

"We seek to put in place a stable, economic and efficient structure that is better able to deliver our investment priorities that will lead to increased capacity on the Tube in the future,'' O'Toole said.

London Underground, which carried 1 billion passengers last year for the first time, is straining to keep up with increased demand.

Metronet signed a so-called public-private partnership agreement in 2003 with the government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. The deal required Metronet to spend 17 billion pounds over 30 years in return for annual payments from the city, which are about 850 million pounds in the first seven-and- a-half years, according to Transport for London.

The company's banks froze its access to loans after Metronet disclosed the extra costs. The company was owned in a joint venture by WS Atkins Plc, Balfour Beatty Plc, Electricite de France SA, Bombardier Inc. and Thames Water Plc.

Metronet is responsible for the maintenance and renewal of the Bakerloo, Central, Victoria, Waterloo & City, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan and East London lines.

As publicly-funded St Pancras opens private equity ghouls gather round CTRL

Daily Telegraph: 06/11/2007
By Alistair Osborne

The company responsible for building the £5.7bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which today is formally opened by the Queen, has received a number of break-up enquiries in the last few days.
The Eurostar service begins operations from its new London St Pancras base on November 14

Rob Holden, chief executive of London and Continental Railways, said the looming opening of the high-speed line had generated renewed interest, mainly from infrastructure funds.

"With the publicity in the last few days, there have been one or two people on the phone asking what is happening," said Mr Holden.

Enquiries have come from similar parties to those who last year expressed interest in an auction of LCR, triggered by an approach from Sir Adrian Montague, one of Labour's favourite businessmen, in conjunction with Goldman Sachs.

At the time, Macquarie, Babcock & Brown, Deutsche Bank and Network Rail also registered interest. The Government pulled the auction after LCR management stressed a bid could jeopardise the second phase of the project, cutting the journey time to Paris by 20 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes.

The Eurostar service begins operations from its new London St Pancras base on November 14.

LCR has delivered the line, now dubbed High Speed 1, on time and on budget – after a shaky start.

In 1998, the Government was forced to rescue the project by controversially guaranteeing LCR's £6.1bn debts. LCR has a lease on the line until 2086, which Mr Holden sees as "the most valuable part" of its business, but also owns land around King's Cross and Stratford and a stake in Eurostar's management company.

Mr Holden said: "Arguably we have three very different businesses with very different risk profiles. One way forward is to split the business up."

He is working with officials from the Department for Transport with a view to making a joint proposal to ministers next year, but does not envisage an auction until 2009.

"One thing we want to demonstrate is that this railway is reliable so bidders shouldn't be pricing in risk which isn't there," he said.

Proceeds would be returned to the Treasury to repay debt. LCR's shareholders, including National Express, SNCF and Bechtel, have received £70m of preference shares and are due nothing more.

$17.3b Nigerian Rail Contract Crashes

Leadership: 6 November 2007
Ofem Uket, Abuja

The contract for the construction of the 1st phase of standard gauge rail line spanning over 1,325 kilometres from Lagos to Kano at the cost of $8.3 billion and the planned second phase extending from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri at the cost of $9 billion has been discontinued for lack of funds.

The contract was awarded last year to commence the implementation of the 25-year rail vision conceived by the last administration aimed at reducing the excessive use of roads and the attendant negative consequences of rapid deterioration of the roads.

The minister of transportation,Diezani Alison Maduekwe, stated this in Lagos during her facility tour of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), stressing that the contractors, Messrs CCEC, may be constrained to execute the job because of lack of funds.

In a press statement signed by her chief press secretary, Mr. Lawrence Ojabo, the minister disclosed that the planned modernisation programme is posing challenges to the current administration largely due to three basic factors recently identified.

The factors include the anticipated source of funding from excess crude oil account, which has constitutional limitations and is, therefore, considered inappropriate. Secondly, the anticipated $1.28 billion concessionary loan from China crashed for a number of reasons.

The press statement further disclosed that the rehabilitation phase within the 25-year plan, which would have offered a gradual and appropriate transition from the old to new lines, was circumvented in the 25- year vision, and in the face of all these the country still needs a decent rail transportation network to move a major part of its estimated 50-60 million tonnes of freight per annum before the new lines are ready.

Accordingly, she stated that President Umaru Yar'Adua had earlier established a high-powered presidential committee headed by the minister of finance to review the funding options for the new railway project, which report is yet to be considered by government.

Maduekwe further looked at certain variables of actualising the project, which include the rehabilitation of existing narrow gauge rail lines or market the rail facilities through concessions and recoup the investments over time under the public- private partnership.

Subsequently, she has ordered the Nigerian Railway Corporation to utilise internally generated revenue to focus within the next three months, on selective rehabilitation works on critical areas of the rail network, while urging the management to ensure targeted and visible performance to the public.

She also ordered for a complete and comprehensive audit of railway assets and property, stressing that a lot more should be realised from the assets to enhance the corporation's revenue profile.

See also:

Nigeria: Minister Unfolds Agenda for NRC

This Day: 6 November 2007 Eugene Agha, Lagos

Minister of Transportation, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, has promised drastic reforms in the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).

Alison-Madueke also promised to make NRC a more enterprising and result-oriented organisation that would command national pride and trust.

While addressing management of the NRC at the Corporation's headquarters, Ebutte Metta in Lagos, at the weekend, she said the ministry truly needs to resuscitate the nation's railway system.

According to a statement issued by her Chief Press Secretary, Mr Lawrence Ojabo, the minister said government wants to do it in the shortest possible time to allow the railway mode of transportation exert the desired impact in the on-going economic transformation of Nigeria.

"It is not enough for us to have just the roads as our major arteries of transportation. That will not do any longer. It is clear to everybody that the dilapidated and degraded state of our roads is as a result of the heavy volume of traffic and the increasing tonnage that they take, which they were never designed for in the first place."

It is almost impossible to find an engineering solution for our roads. And, believe me I am desperately looking for one right now that will continue to take these unexpected and unplanned-for volume and weight of traffic" it added.

It said that the minister recalled the contributions of the Nigerian railways to national development in its glorious heydays, and regretted that the railways within the last 20 years declined drastically, partly because of increased competition from road transport and the integral problems of management inertia, poor funding, aged and aging assets which have not been renewed.

"Operational statistics in terms of passenger and freight traffic, revenues, vis a vis expenditure ratio, daily availability rate of locomotives and rolling stock, all attest to the declining performance of the Nigerian Railway Corporation even by African standards. Statistical figures on the corporation's passenger and freight traffic showed that while in 1964 the corporation carried an average of 11,288,000 passengers and 2,960,000 tonnes of freight, by 1974 these figures had dropped to only 4,342,00 passengers and a dismal 1,098,000 tonnes of freight" it stated.

Passenger traffic, according to the statement, has gradually grew back to 6.7million in 1978 to 15.5million in 1984, but that it declined again to 3.0million in 1991 and as little as 1.6million in 2003. The same dismal performance was reflected in the freight traffic fluctuation from three million tones in the 1960's and 1970's to a really terribly dismal level of less than 10,000 tonnes in recent times.

November 4, 2007

Trade Union Freedom Rally

Thank you to all who supported and attended the National Rally for Trade Union Freedom on 18th October
tu freedom rally.jpg

I am sure you will agree the Rally and demonstration was a great success
with police estimates at 700 people and both the main room and the
overspill rooms full. The speakers emphasised the various aspects of the
campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill and were very well received with
several receiving a standing ovation.

Can we apologise for the length of time it took to get through security,
this is often a problem when a lobby takes place in parliament. As you
will appreciate, the focus of this event was a private members bill and
therefore it was appropriate to have it in parliament. However
consideration is being given to the next event being held outside

We have some fantastic images from the photo opportunity, which will
shortly be available to download from our website. If you would like any
copies to use in your union journal we would be happy to provide them,
please email info@unitedcampaign.org.uk.

In spite of the lack of progress on Friday in the Commons, the Trade Union
Rights and Freedoms Bill has not gone away and indeed we now have 131
signatures for EDM 532. The United Campaign will continue to campaign for
the Trade Union Freedom Bill and will be in contact soon with a new
newsletter and details of forthcoming events.

Again we thank you for your support and hope that you will continue to
fight to reclaim our rights.

Best wishes,

Steering Committee,
United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws

Lessons in building a railway

Sunday Times: November 4, 2007
Dominic O’Connell

John Prescott’s deal to underwrite £4bn of loans made the Channel high-speed link a reality.

IN the summer of 1998, John Prescott bustled into a press conference in the bowels of the Department for Transport’s unloved, asbestos-ridden and since-demolished headquarters in Marsham Street, central London.

He had been a hard-hitting spokesman on transport while Labour was in opposition, but now Prescott was facing his first crisis as minister in charge of the sector. The consortium building the high-speed rail line linking London to the Channel tunnel, a flagship project for Britain, had run out of money and was about to go bust.

As he faced the waiting journalists, Prescott wore a tight smile of triumph. The project that had looked doomed just a few weeks earlier had been kept alive by him.

The key to the deal was an agreement by the government to step in and underwrite nearly £4 billion of new loans, the first time a British government had agreed to give its backing to borrowing by a private company for a specific project. The deal was anathema to Treasury mandarins, who feared creating a precedent and a flood of similar fundraisings.

Nine years on, Prescott’s gambit is about to bear fruit. On November 14, the first Eurostar train will slide out of a renovated St Pancras station, race at high speed across north and east London, through Kent and the Channel tunnel, arriving in Paris just 2 hours and 15 minutes after it set off – 20 minutes faster than at present.

Thanks to the former deputy prime minister’s financial manoeuvring, Britain has made a belated entry to the high-speed rail club.

But amid the fanfare, difficult questions remain about the financing of the project, its ability to pay its way, and how the government accounts for and procures such large pieces of infrastructure.

If the lessons of High Speed 1, as the new line has rebranded itself, are not learnt, ambitious plans for new railways within Britain, such as the £14 billion Crossrail London commuter scheme, and a new line from London to the Midlands and the north, may suffer the same difficult birth.

The original plan for the high-speed link was for it to be financed and built by the private sector, a throwback to the days of Victorian railway building when individual entrepreneurs, rather than the government, were the driving force.

The billions of pounds needed to build the track and revive St Pancras would have been borrowed and then repaid from the revenues earned by Eurostar.

Unfortunately for LCR, the consortium that took on the project, its forecasts of passenger numbers turned out to be hugely optimistic.

The group, comprising Bech-tel, UBS, Arup, Halcrow, EDF, National Express and SNCF, reckoned that by 2004 about 21m people a year would be using the Eurostar service. The reality turned out to be a third of that. Last year the total was 7.85m, with a target of 10m a year by 2010.

LCR’s financing plan was shot to pieces, prompting Prescott’s rescue. The solution was novel – the company would issue bonds with an implicit government guarantee – and it was disliked in parts of the Treasury, which had a horror of “hypothecation” – the raising of government funds for a specific purpose.

The dodge was that they were funds that did not form part of government borrowing – they were merely government-supported. In total, LCR raised £6.1 billion, with the project likely to finally cost about £5.8 billion.

Rob Holden, the man brought in to run LCR after the funding crisis, said it was the right solution. “We needed the financial muscle to bring it to a close, and this allowed us to borrow at very keen rates, but without it being the state that was actually providing the funds. We were able to say to our contractors that this is the amount available – they were not dealing with a bottomless purse.”

When the deal was being hammered out, there were long negotiations with the Treasury over the best way forward, he said. Some argued that it would be cheaper simply for the government to raise the money by issuing gilts, rather than have it borrowed, at slightly higher interest rates, by LCR.

“On the narrow argument, that is correct. The loans would have been cheaper. But I am certain that in the end we would have paid more to complete the project because we would have got into poker games with contractors. It’s a bit of an illusion, but we pulled it off.”

The negotiations were also influenced by another big rail project that was having problems at the same time. An extension to London Underground’s Jubilee line, which was being managed and paid for by the public sector, was running seriously late and overbudget.

Holden said the detail of the rail-link agreement had permitted some innovative risk-sharing deals to be struck with individual contractors.

“I would say we have had £100m to £200m at risk for contractors on this project. It’s not a lot in the total budget, but it influences behaviour on the front line. Overall, I think we have come up with a new model for the delivery of large infrastructure in the UK.”

This has not prevented critics from harping on about the call on the public purse – particularly now that the Office of National Statistics has seen through the figleaf of government “support” and put LCR’s borrowings on the government’s books.

There have been critical National Audit Office reports, and the House of Commons public accounts select committee concluded last year that the economic case for the link’s construction was “marginal”.

Holden in turn is critical that the regeneration benefits of the scheme have not been taken into account in the National Audit Office or the select committee reckonings.

“The public accounting rules for these types of projects have allowed us to claim only £500m worth of regeneration benefits. But we can point to £10 billion worth, and that’s not a figment of our imagination.

“These are real schemes, at Stratford, Ebbsfleet and around St Pancras itself,” he said.

But as the finances are currently structured, it is not clear whether High Speed 1 will be able to pay back its debts. The full picture will become clearer once the project is refinanced with longer-term loans after it is completed.

Holden added that schemes such as High Speed 1 should not be expected to yield quick returns. “This is an asset that has a 90-year life. That’s the sort of period over which its finances should be judged,” he said.

Last week Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, floated plans for another high-speed line in Britain. It would link London with Birmingham at first, and then later be extended to Scot-land. Britain’s existing north-south lines were likely to run out of capacity in the middle of the next decade, she said.

Holden said the lesson of the Channel tunnel link was to proceed in stages, with the track from Birmingham to London being built first as a discreet project.

A question mark now hangs over the future of LCR. Shortly after the change of view at the Office of National Statistics brought it on to the public books, it was subject to a takeover approach led by Sir Adrian Montague, chairman of Friends Provident. The then transport secretary Alistair Darling said he would put the company up for auction.

The bidding was later called off, with LCR’s management insisting it was vital that all their energies be devoted to completing the work.

The government is now expected to make an announcement on the company’s future early next year. Insiders say a break-up is the likely option.

The property assets, which are likely to be worth several billion pounds, will be auctioned to developers. The concession to run the line itself is likely to prove attractive to infrastructure funds, such as Australia’s Mac-quarie. It will make its money from access charges paid by Eurostar and other operators, including, possibly, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, which has registered its interest in running its high-speed ICE trains to London.

More problematic is the future of Eurostar, which operates the cross-Channel rail service.

LCR has a 40% stake in the business, with the rest split between the French and Belgian national railways.

Efforts to unite the three divisions into a single corporate entity have failed in the past, but sources at LCR said it was likely that these efforts would be resurrected after a period in which the effect of the high-speed line on passenger numbers could be gauged. Passenger numbers have soared this year thanks to problems at UK airports and the stimulus of the Rugby World Cup.


HIGH SPEED 1, the first section of which opened four years ago, is Britain’s first new mainline railway in more than a hundred years.

Yet the real star of the show when the second half of the line opens in 10 days is likely to be a relic of the 19th century – St Pancras station.

The most visible sign of the work to date has been the restoration of the once-decayed Midland Grand Hotel, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s famous neo-Gothic pile on Euston Road.

But when the station behind the hotel reopens on November 14, travellers will be treated to another restored Victorian marvel – the St Pancras train shed built by William Barlow.

Barlow is less well-known than his contemporary, Brunel, but the train shed may change that. When it first opened, its 74-metre single-span roof made it the largest enclosed space in the world, and, with ironwork repainted in the original peacock blue and reglazed, it retains its “wow” factor.

Beneath the platforms is another Barlow gem, the station’s undercroft, originally used for storing Burton’s beer. It is now a passenger concourse, but the 900 original cast-iron pillars that support the platforms above remain in place – the spacing between them was reputedly dictated by the width of three beer barrels.

See also:

Mammon - Driver of Britain's fastest train set

The Observer: November 4, 2007
Tim Webb

The high-speed rail link from St Pancras to Paris has cost £6.2bn, but LCR boss Rob Holden says it will pay off its debts - in time.

On Tuesday at St Pancras station in London, three Eurostar trains will move forwards and backwards in a choreographed 'dance' to specially composed music played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It's a bizarre way to mark the opening of the final stage of the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The Queen will lead proceedings, assisted by a cast including Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins and former BBC Fame Academy singer Lemar, as well as Gordon Brown and political counterparts from France and Belgium. Some 1,500 other dignitaries will look on from a grandstand erected on one platform.

Amid the throng will be the man who made it happen, Rob Holden, chief executive of London Continental Railways, (LCR) which makes up the British arm of the UK-French-Belgian venture Eurostar. This week's opening - services from St Pancras to Paris and Brussels begin in a fortnight - is the culmination of a decade of government bail-outs, rows with shareholders and the French, and political shenanigans. Yet, as everyone at the company keeps repeating, the project has come in on time and on budget (it is another matter whose budget it is).

To signal the fraternity between the Eurostar partners, the train drivers performing the world's first railway ballet will be French and English. But, as with many other European business collaborations, such mutual respect has not always been so apparent. Admittedly, Britain hardly assuaged French sensibilities by picking Waterloo - named after the field of Britain's decisive victory over Napoleon - as the first UK terminus for Eurostar trains.

'Vacating Waterloo for St Pancras is a real bonus,' says Holden. 'The media made it more of an issue, but I guess some people felt a little uncomfortable.' Fortunately, St Pancras has no such anti-French connotations. 'Someone's looked into that. There were two St Pancrases I'm told. It's much more friendly.'

It's not just history that divides the partners but engineering. Holden says that the Eurostar trains are some of the most complex in the world because they have to be able to operate with different signalling and electrical supply systems on either side of the Channel. He says European Commission rules on harmonising rail infrastructure have made things easier. 'It's not as much of a nightmare now as it used to be,' he says, not altogether convincingly.

All drivers are multi-lingual, Holden adds, and have to speak the appropriate language as they emerge from either end of the tunnel.

The old British Rail culture also clashed with that of French state-owned counterpart SNCF. 'British Rail had their way of doing things, so did SNCF and neither recognised the other,' Holden says. 'But in the past four or five years the culture has changed. There is much more of a willingness to look at both countries and say, that is a better way of doing it, let's do that.'

Eurostar trains have been running between London, Paris and Brussels since 1994. But on this side of the Channel trains have mostly had to trundle along at a modest pace, while on the French side they have been able to hit 186mph since Eurostar's inception. The first part of the high-speed rail link in the UK, from Folkestone to Ebbsfleet in Kent, opened in 2003, shaving 20 minutes from journey times between Paris and London. This month's opening of the second part of the link - from Ebbsfleet to St Pancras via Stratford in east London - will knock a further 20 minutes off journey times between the capitals, reducing them to two hours and 15 minutes.

Holden, who has worked for LCR since 1996 and is also a director of Eurostar Group, denies he has ever felt embarrassed about having to wait a decade to get up to speed with the French and Belgians. 'I'm proud. We use that word a lot at the moment. I get the sense we've joined the high-speed club.'

The great - albeit belated - achievement has cost £5.8bn, which includes the overhaul of St Pancras station. The members of the Eurostar consortium originally claimed that the train service would recoup the outlay. But in reality, the government - and taxpayers - will foot the bill for now. Eurostar claimed that more than 15 million passengers would use the service each year but numbers are currently half that. Directors have since admitted they exaggerated the figures because they knew there was no political appetite for governments to pay for the project themselves. Without this claim, the project 'would never have happened', admits Holden.

When this funding black hole became apparent in the late Nineties, Railtrack agreed to buy the first stage of the link. When the precursor to Network Rail collapsed a few years later, the government promised to repay the entire debt in the likely event LCR could not, effectively nationalising the company. This led to the National Audit Office questioning if this was taxpayers' money well spent.

However, Holden points to the benefits of regeneration, worth up to £11bn, he claims, which he says will make good the investment. 'In an ideal world, the return on £5.8bn would come from [rail] users and access charges. But it's not an ideal world. We have to recognise the priorities for investment have changed.'

As well as owning the high-speed rail link, LCR also owns huge swathes of land around Stratford and other points along the route which are being redeveloped. If, as seems likely, the land is sold when the company is broken up next year, the government should get its cash back eventually, once the rest of the regeneration is factored in.

Daniel Roth, director at Ernst & Young, says the lesson for future private sector funding of such risky large rail projects is that the government must ultimately guarantee them. 'The financial community perceives a significant risk in these projects. They are very large and there is a risk of them going wrong. However, LCR demonstrates these delivery risks can be successfully managed.'

Last week, 4,000 people converged on St Pancras to 'stress test' the refurbished station. Among them were actors who pretended to be lost or aggressive to see how staff coped. Along with the dancing trains, it seems a surreal culmination to the project. But, as Holden knows only too well, rail rarely runs smoothly in this country; better to be safe than sorry.

The CV

Name Rob Holden

Age 51

Education BA in economics and financial control

Career Arthur Young (now Ernst & Young) 1977-1983; Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering, 1983-1996; LCR 1996-2007 (chief executive since 2004), executive chairman Eurostar Group

Family Married, two children

See also:

LCR to offload Channel link debts

The Observer: November 4, 2007
Tim Webb and Heather Stewart

London & Continental Railways (LCR), the UK arm of Eurostar and builder of the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link, is in talks with the Treasury to move its £5.8bn debt mountain off the government's books.

Rob Holden, chief executive, told The Observer that LCR could ape Network Rail, which has a £21bn debt pile. This controversially remains off the government's balance sheet despite being backed by taxpayers.

He also revealed that LCR's shareholders, which include Bechtel, UBS, National Express and EDF Energy, have recently sold their remaining shares in the consortium to the government for £50m, finally recouping the investment they made over a decade ago. This means they have no further liability to LCR.

LCR was set up to finance and operate the rail link but had to be bailed out by the government. With the completion of the link this month, the government is expected to sell off parts of the company but could wait decades to clear the debt.

Holden said: '[Reclassifying the debt] is one of the issues we're looking at with the Department of Transport and Treasury. If the government was seen to be standing behind the major income streams, it would be a bit like Network Rail.'

Green light for German rail strike

Financial Times: Nov. 3, 2007
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin

Germany's rail freight transport could be paralysed next week following a court ruling allowing a train drivers' trade union to launch nationwide strikes.

The industrial action would hit heavy industry in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and could cause damages worth €50m a day or more, economists said.

A regional labour court in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, ruled on Friday that the GDL train drivers' union was also allowed to mount strikes covering freight transport and high-speed long-distance trains.

The court ruling marks a big victory for the GDL and a turning point in the seven-month industrial dispute, in which the union is demanding a separate labour contract and wage increases worth up to 31 per cent.

In recent weeks strike action has focused on local and regional trains, disrupting transport links for millions of commuters, while politicians and business leaders have warned against the possible impact of a freight-sector strike.

Manfred Schell, GDL chair, said the union would consider strikes on freight and long-distance trains, but no industrial action would occur before Tuesday. He said strikes would be avoided if Deutsche Bahn was willing "to place a reasonable offer on the negotiating table".

The German rail operator last month offered train drivers a wage increase of up to 9.5 per cent and a €2,000 one-off payment, but this was immediately rejected by the GDL as insufficient.

A DB spokesman in Chemnitz said the company was "very disappointed" by the ruling, but refused to comment whether a new wage offer would be presented.

Industry leaders warned that a freight transport strike would cause "drastic damage" to Germany's economy, as the rail network plays a key role in the country's decentralised economy. Sectors such as steelmaking and coalmining, plus parts of the motor industry and container transport, would be hardest hit by a strike.

Claudia Kemfert, transport expert at Berlin's DIW economic institute, said a freight transport strike could cost companies €50m a day, rising above €500m a day if the strike lasted over seven days. Over 60 per cent of Germany's rail links for freight transport connect with routes elsewhere in Europe, so European business could also be affected. Last year 343m tonnes of goods were transported by rail, with coal and steel making up a third of this volume.

The GDL is the smallest of three rail unions. The other unions earlier this year agreed a wage increase of 4.5 per cent.

See also:

German Rail Service Stoppages Could Spread

Der Spiegel: November 02, 2007


A German court has ruled that the train drivers' union GDL can expand its strike on local train services to include freight and national long-distance passenger services.

Following Friday's court ruling, train driver strikes in Germany could soon hit the country's high-speed ICE network.

Recent German railway strikes in major cities could soon go national. On Friday, a Saxony state labor court in Chemnitz ruled in favor of the GDL train drivers union and overturned a lower labor court's Oct. 5 decision restricting it from halting service on freight and long-distance passenger trains.

Though it imposed significant restrictions -- saying nationwide strikes would be "disproportionate" to the union's claim -- lower court judges had expressed their sympathy for the strike efforts, giving the green light for union members to stop work on local and commuter trains (more...). Both GDL and Germany's national railway, Deutsche Bahn, appealed the decision.

Following Friday's ruling on that appeal, strikes on freight train services are expected in the next several days -- a move German business groups have warned would cause significant economic damage. GDL boss Manfred Schell, who described the ruling as a "total victory," said GDL needed time to think before it could make any concrete announcements about service interruptions.

GDL has long said that the next escalation of strikes would affect freight services and that it would only interrupt service on long-distance, intercity trains if it were still unable to reach a deal with Deutsche Bahn. But Schell hinted Friday that the country's ICE high-speed rail network was also part of GDL's strike "arsenal."

Meanwhile, officials at Deutsche Bahn expressed disappointment over the ruling, with a spokesman claiming it was "not a good day for our customers."

GDL and Deutsche Bahn have been locked in a wage dispute since spring. GDL is demanding its own wage deal and salary hikes of up to 31 percent as well as improved working hours.

November 2, 2007

Heathrow Express and RMT sign recognition agreement

RMT: November 2 2007

Heathrow Express, the non-stop rail service between London Paddington and Heathrow Airport, and Britain’s biggest rail union today announced that they have signed a recognition agreement.

The agreement, which came into force today, recognises RMT for consultation and negotiation.

Brian Raven, Managing Director of Heathrow Express, said: "The decision to recognise RMT ensures the integrity of our union representation process. As a growing number of Heathrow Express employees are RMT members, today's announcement demonstrates our commitment to ensuring appropriate representation.

"The signing of the recognition agreement signals the beginning of a productive working relationship with the RMT. I welcome their involvement and positive contribution to the ongoing success of Heathrow Express."

"This agreement marks a huge and positive step forward and allows us to get on with the business of negotiating on behalf of RMT's growing membership at Heathrow Express," said RMT general secretary Bob Crow.

"I would like to place on record my thanks to all those who have helped in getting us where we are today, not least our Heathrow Express members themselves.


Notes to editors:

About Heathrow Express

* Owned by BAA, Heathrow Express has a journey time of 15 minutes, running every 15 minutes throughout the day. The non-stop rail-air link between London Paddington and Heathrow Airport operates 150 services per day carrying on average 16,000 passengers.
* Heathrow Express has 340 employees.
* Heathrow Express has a recognition and procedural agreement signed with ASLEF, established in November 2003.
* The RMT/Heathrow Express recognition agreement will cover collective bargaining, negotiation and joint consultation.

About RMT

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is Britain's biggest railway trade union, with more than a century's experience and more than 75,000 members employed across the transport industry. Visit http://www.rmt.org.uk/.

We can’t cope with this many passengers, says Network Rail

The Times: November 2, 2007
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Demand for rail travel is rising much faster than government predictions, and the network risks being overwhelmed by extra passengers, according to Network Rail.

The modest increases in capacity announced by ministers in July fall far short of what will be needed if passenger numbers keep growing at the present rate.

Network Rail’s strategic business plan, published yesterday, says that overcrowding has spread across Britain’s railways and is a serious problem even on off-peak trains. More than 100,000 people have to stand, many for 45 minutes or more, on London-bound trains each morning.

Passenger numbers on commuter services into Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow also far exceed the trains’ capacity.

The plan suggests that the Department for Transport is ignoring record growth and clinging to outdated forecasts to avoid committing itself to a significant expansion programme. It says that the DfT’s estimate that passenger numbers will grow by only 3 per cent a year until 2014 is becoming increasingly less plausible.

It adds: “Demand for rail services has increased by nearly 45 per cent between 1996-97 and 2006-07. Last year alone total passenger demand increased by more than 8 per cent. The rapid growth appears to be continuing into 2007-08.”

The plan says that train companies believe that growth will be “6 to 7 per cent per year for some time”. They are predicting 40 per cent growth in passengers by 2014 while the Government is planning to add capacity for only 22 per cent.

In an interview with The Times, Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, said that the DfT was underestimating the scale of likely demand. “We can’t imagine growth is going to be as low as the DfT's forecast. There’s prodigious growth all over the country.

“When I began commuting from Banbury \ eight years ago, there were a dozen people on the platform. These days it’s 200.”

Mr Coucher said that key factors driving the growth were congestion on the roads, awareness of the environmental benefits of rail and an increasing willingness to commute long distances to avoid moving home.

Network Rail says that the network will require at least 200 more new carriages than the 1,300 the DfT is planning for England and Wales by 2014. It says that the DfT’s plan to expand commuter trains from eight to ten carriages may need to be changed to twelve, with platforms lengthened accordingly. But it adds: “In the past, it has often been possible to accommodate growth by running more trains, but the extent to which this is possible without enhancements to the network is becoming more limited.”

The plan even contains a brief reference to the possibility of reopening disused lines on crowded intercity routes. The Government has promised to upgrade the Thameslink route and expand Birmingham New Street and Reading stations. But other projects, such as lengthening West Coast Main Line trains, remain unfunded.

The plan says that the DfT’s goal of 92.6 per cent of trains arriving on time by 2014, up from the present 88.7 per cent, may be unrealistic because more passengers will mean trains spending extra seconds at each station. Network Rail has proposed a lower target of 91.6 per cent, saying that it would cost £400 million to achieve the extra percentage point.

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the TSSA rail union, said: “Network Rail are running hard just to stand still. We need a new North-South rail line which will give the network the capacity it needs to allow passengers to travel in the comfort they deserve.

“Ministers should commit to it as soon as possible if we are serious about tackling climate change and providing a first-class network which can compete with air and road travel.”

A DfT spokesman said: “We have no plans to revise our forecasts.”

Room for improvement

Standing passengers

Peak weekly trains that terminate at London stations between 7am and 9.59am, autumn of 2006

Southeastern 27,300
Southern 21,500
South West Trains 21,500
One 13,000
First Capital Connect 9,700
c2c 3,400
First Great Western 3,000
Silverlink 1,000
Chiltern 500
Total (excl. long distance) 100,800

Source: Network Rail

See also:

The Flying Scotsman?

The Times: November 2, 2007
Leading Article

Brown should approve a new strategy for the railways

More passengers are now travelling by train than at any time since 1946. Passenger numbers on Britain's rail network are growing faster than in any other European country - and, despite overcrowding, sharply rising fares and saturation on many main lines, there seems little sign of any slowdown in that growth. Network Rail yesterday published a long-term business plan that promised to increase capacity by extending platforms and adding more than 100,000 extra seats a day, doubling spending levels on expansion schemes, undertaking infrastructure projects such as the rebuilding of Reading and Birmingham stations, and expanding cross-London services. Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, suggested that these plans would boost passenger capacity by 22 per cent. But it is clear that the Government is underestimating future passenger growth and the need to expand the network. The time has come to commit the country to more than cosmetic improvements and to start planning much needed high-speed lines.

In the past couple of years Network Rail has done reasonably well in overcoming the long aftermath of the Hatfield crash, clearing the maintenance backlog, improving punctuality and controlling costs. But these overdue reforms have underlined the soaring demand in an industry only now addressing the problems of expansion rather than contraction. Network Rail's admission that more than 100,000 passengers in the South East have to stand each morning give statistical backing to the vocal complaints by commuters of unacceptable overcrowding and rising anger at the tardy response.

Network Rail in its politic way is implying that Whitehall is, purposefully or otherwise, under-estimating demand. The Department for Transport forecasts a growth of 25 per cent until 2014, but experts note that this is an implausibly, even ludicrously, low figure. Little consideration has been given to the need for rail companies to boost their business, the predictions of rapid population growth, congestion charging and the reduction of car and aircraft emissions. Network Rail, a quasi-nationalised company, has to tread carefully in contradicting the Government. But unless urgent steps are taken to accommodate the train operators' more realistic estimate of 40 per cent growth, the railways will soon be gridlocked to the frustration not only of individual passengers but the business community collectively.

The Government must embark on a programme of major enhancements. A flyover here or a connecting chord there may ease a few bottlenecks, but this is nowhere near enough.

A new East-West freight route is urgently required. Many bridges must be rebuilt and gauges enhanced to accommodate far larger containers. Above all, a start must be made on a high-speed North-South trunk route to relieve the East and West Coast main lines, already almost at capacity. Private money is available with the right incentives, a stable planning framework and political will. It is a costly, long-term project - but Britain is already lagging behind its neighbours on the Continent. Gordon Brown, as a Scot, should know the value of providing the infrastructure to balance the pull of the South East. Rail ticks all Labour's political boxes - environment, pollution, congestion, regional development. It is time to build a new route for the Flying Scotsman.

Rail link provider is on track for privatisation

The Times: November 2, 2007
Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

The company that built the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link may be heading for a multibillion-pound privatisation next year.

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, and Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, are expected to rule early next year on what happens to London & Continental Railways, two years after the Government shelved a quick sale that became mired in accusations of cronyism.

London & Continental Railways disclosed yesterday that a decision on its future would be taken soon after the long-awaited £5.7 billion high-speed line opens for business on November 14. Rob Holden, chief executive of LCR, said: “After November 14, the restructuring will be our No 1 priority. Probably in the first quarter of 2008, the Secretary of State and the Chancellor will make some decisions.”

The likely plan is that the company will be broken up into three parts: the railway lines, which would make money by charging Eurostar trains and local services to Kent; a share of Eurostar, the train operator; and land around King’s Cross and Stratford.

All or some of the three parts may then be auctioned off, with proceeds being returned to the Treasury, which has underwritten the private sector debt involved in the project to the extent of £6.1 billion.

The final valuation of the business will be determined by a number of variables including market interest, the state of the property market and levels of passenger traffic through the Channel Tunnel.

The property company alone is thought to be worth at least £1 billion because of the regeneration that the new railway line has brought to King’s Cross and Stratford.

The sale is already sparking interest among overseas infrastructure funds and private equity groups, which have been monitoring the company’s progress since a sale was put off last year. The likes of Macquarie, the Australian bank, Goldman Sachs and the sovereign funds of the Middle East and the Far East, could be potential bidders.

According to LCR, Sir Adrian Montague, who attempted to buy the company in 2006, has not been back in touch. In February 2006, Sir Adrian, a Treasury adviser, tried to acquire the company with backing from Goldman Sachs. However, the sale was called off after Mr Darling, then Transport Secretary, announced a sale would not take place until the high-speed link was completed.

Mark Bayley, finance director, said: “With the Department and the Treasury, we are looking hard at whether those three companies should stay together and will shortly make a joint recommendation to ministers about restructuring.”
LCR has said that it is in no hurry to carry out restructuring and will pick a time when the financial markets are more stable.

However, £1 billion of the company’s debt needs to be paid back by 2010 and the plan is to refinance the company and then spread this debt over a longer period.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will officially open the new High Speed 1 line and St Pancras International station on Tuesday.

UK railways boss plans prefabricated stations

Reuters: Nov 1, 2007
By Pete Harrison

LONDON - Dozens of prefabricated glass and steel stations and around 1,700 new carriages on trains running 7 days a week will shape Britain's future railways, says the chief executive of UK rail infrastructure company Network Rail.

The news is likely to be welcomed by UK passengers who make over a billion train journeys a year and have become used to overcrowded carriages, decrepit stations and closures each Sunday for maintenance.

Iain Coucher is the man tasked with overhauling and expanding the clogged system at a cost of more than 10 billion pounds over the next 7 years.

"Rail usage is at its highest level since 1946 and will soon be at its highest ever," Coucher told Reuters late on Wednesday on the eve of submitting to government Network Rail's plans for renewal and expansion to 2014.

"Lots of the stations are very tired and very old," added Coucher, who took over as CEO in July.

"We can produce a high quality, high tech station for about a million pounds, with 13 weeks for installation, so there's minimum passenger disruption. The first one's going into a station in south London, at Eastfields, in the next few weeks."

Traditionally, station renewals have cost over 4 million pounds each and led to lengthy closures, putting the system under even more stress, but Coucher plans to install around 25 of the new structures a year for the next decade.

"We're also looking at modular bridges and anything we can replicate," said Coucher, who is starting to make a name for himself through his hands-on style. "It's all about driving down the Railway's unit costs."

The focus on modularity is a new approach Coucher has brought to the job, but plans for a "seven day railway" predate his arrival as chief executive.

"At the moment, we do too much at the weekends and passengers hate it," he said. "Increasingly over the next two years, you'll see much less."

Working processes will be changed to fit into the eight- hour time slots available at night.

Network Rail has managed to cut the time taken to replace a set of railway points from 54 hours to 27 and aims to have that down to an 8-hour night shift by 2010.

But Coucher's biggest challenge will come from overhauling some of Britain's biggest and busiest stations, such as London Bridge, Blackfriars by the River Thames and Reading Station, which forms a bottleneck on Britain's main east-west artery.

"London Bridge will be a challenge and will take meticulous planning," he said. "Blackfriars will be about building a station on a bridge, which has never been done in the UK before. People will be able to exit on either side of the Thames."

And will all of this fit within the 10 billion pounds budget the government has allocated?

"It's there or thereabouts," he added.

November 1, 2007

Rail union members agree to end strike

Bangkok Post: November 01, 2007

Thailand State Railway (SRT) boss promises to look into all demands
Railway union members block a train scheduled to depart from Hua Lamphong station as part of their nationwide strike which brought passenger and freight trains to a halt yesterday. Thai Railway union members last night agreed to end their strike, clearing the way for the resumption of train services after the stoppage paralysed the rail network across the country.

State Railway of Thailand chairman Siva Saengmanee came out from five-hour talks with the union saying the SRT agreed to look into all demands put forward by the union.

Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um witnessed the signing of the agreement between SRT board members and union leader Riengsak Khaengkhan to assure staff the promise would be kept and that members who joined a mass ''sick leave'' would not be punished.

The union's demands involved Central Inter Pattana Plc's lease of a prime plot on Phahon Yothin road, part of the Buri Ram station compound allegedly encroached on by a politician, the corruption-plagued Airport Rail Link project, and the privatisation of its cargo service under the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement.

The union accused the SRT management of trying to favour Central Inter Pattana in the lease deal.

The railway agency agreed to look into all cases and guarantee union members that staff will be employed on the cargo services to be run by private operators. It will consult closely with the union on all matters to end its doubts, said Mr Siva.

The protest by the SRT union starting late Tuesday night caused chaos on the national railway network, as hundreds of train drivers and engineers took ''sick leave'' simultaneously to call for improvements and block attempts to privatise the loss-ridden agency.

According to the SRT chairman, 200 train drivers and 194 train engineers took sick leave for two days yesterday. The SRT has 1,112 train drivers and 1,108 train engineers.

The result was that 20,000 passengers and many freight trains were left stranded at main stations or mid-way through their journeys.

Transport authorities hurriedly arranged for passenger buses to serve passengers but nothing was done for cargo trains, including those carrying petroleum products and cement.

The stoppage began on Tuesday at stations such as Thung Song junction in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai station in Songkhla before expanding nationwide yesterday.

All southern trains came to a halt at stations in the region. Northern trains were blocked at Nakhon Sawan station while locomotives were left on the lines to block the northeastern tracks at Kaeng Khoi station in Saraburi and Nakhon Ratchasima station.

Trains from the East to Bangkok stayed running almost all day long yesterday but eastern bound services eventually stopped as union members at Hua Lamphong in Bangkok blocked return trips to the East yesterday evening.

About 100 union members gathered at Hua Lamphong to force all services to a halt, taking turns to air their complaints.

Union representatives highlighted the privatisation grievance in their rallies at major train stations nationwide.

Supichet Suwannachatri, head of the union's southern branch, said the government was pushing for amendments to the Thai Railway Act of 1951 and termination of the Railway Track and Highway Act of 1921 to allow the private sector to operate trains to comply with the Thai-Japanese free trade pact that takes effect today.

Representatives of the labour union complained that it would make the SRT a service provider in the business and the state was pushing for the change without consulting SRT employees.

See also:

SRT Union reveals demands

The Nation: 1 November 2007

The State Railway of Thailand's labour union has issued the first official statement, containing six points that drove them to stage the protest on Wednesday.

First of the issues is the SRT's plan to renew the land lease contract for Central Group, without calling for the general bidding under the Public/Private Joint Venture Act.

 Second, the SRT's board fails to prosecute a Buriram politician whose land title deeds are issued on top of the land of the SRT.

 Third, the board agreed to extend the construction contract of Airport Rail Link project, which means a loss of over Bt1 billion to the SRT.

 Fourth, the board extends the employment contract to SRT's chief financial officer, Arak Ratboriharn, despite his "incompetence".

Fifth, the SRT could not raise its fares or receive any compensations for its low fares, which has caused the accumulated losses of Bt23 billion.

 Sixth, the board proposed amendments to the law governing the SRT on without consents from the labour union.

 Notably, the statement did not contain the signature of the labour union's chief. It simply showed the SRT's union seal on top and the rubber stamp.