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August 31, 2009

German First-Half Rail Cargo Traffic Declines Most on Record

Bloomberg: Aug. 31
By Cornelius Rahn

Germany’s rail cargo traffic dropped the most on record in the first half as the recession curbed orders for goods made in Europe’s largest economy.

The German railway system transported 147.3 million metric tons of goods in the first six months of 2009, down 22.4 percent from the year-earlier period, the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden said today on its Web site. That was the biggest drop since records began in 1950.

“The impact of the economic crisis on demand for transport via railways has been felt since November 2008,” the statistics office said.

Germany’s economy unexpectedly expanded 0.3 percent in the second quarter, emerging from its worst recession since World War II. The country’s exports fell 1.2 percent in the April-June period after dropping 10.5 percent, the most since reunification, in the first three months of the year.

The quantity of goods transported abroad declined 30.5 percent, and imports by train fell 29.7 percent, while inland traffic of goods declined 17.8 percent.

August 28, 2009

Network Rail Maintenance Job Cuts

RMT: August 28, 2009

The union has received reports that Network Rail Maintenance managers have been briefing staff on plans to cut 1,800 jobs by April 2010.

I can inform you that this is the first your union has heard about these plans.

I can also inform you that meetings are taking place between your union and the company next week at which our policy will be that we insist on no compulsory redundancies and that all PT&R agreements are honoured in full.

Further information will be sent out to members after the meetings planned for next week.

Bob Crow
RMT general secretary

Network Rail to cut 1,800 jobs

Guardian: 27 August 2009
Dan Milmo

Move to axe 5% of workforce likely to bring accusations from RMT union that public's safety is being put at risk
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A commuter train passing the sign at Clapham Junction railway station in London. Photograph: Frank Baron

Network Rail is preparing to cut up to 1,800 jobs, or 5% of its workforce, as part of a cost-saving programme.

The owner of Britain's rail infrastructure has opened consultations with trade unions about removing 1,800 jobs from its maintenance workforce, in a move that is likely to reignite a safety row at the company.

The RMT union warned this year that cutting Network Rail's maintenance budget could threaten the company's strong safety record. The cuts are being made in response to demands by the Office of Rail Regulation that Network Rail reduce its costs by 21% over the next five years.

"We have a clear commitment to the British people to reduce the costs of running the railway," said Network Rail. "Our plans to restructure our maintenance teams will improve the way we operate the network. We are discussing our plans with our people and their union representatives and no final decisions have been made."

The RMT was not available for comment tonight. Earlier this year the union claimed that it had uncovered nearly 200 examples of Network Rail deferring "essential" track work. "The simple fact is that Network Rail is under massive pressure to save money, but it is shocking that it is prepared to defer essential works on this scale and cut the frequency of track inspections and signals maintenance in order to do so," said Bob Crow, the RMT's general secretary.

Network Rail has admitted that its five-year works programme, from 2009 to 2014, is "significantly in excess" of its budget, prompting it to shelve track replacement this year while it waits for new equipment to arrive. Network Rail plans to close the funding gap in the £35bn programme to £52m with multibillion-pound cost cuts and the introduction of new technology.

The British rail network's safety record has improved significantly since Network Rail took over from Railtrack in 2002. The last serious crash was at Grayrigg in Cumbria two years ago, when a faulty set of points was missed by a track inspection team and a Virgin Trains service was derailed at high speed, killing one passenger.

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Network Rail puts 1,800 maintenance jobs on the line in quest for savings

The Times: August 28, 2009
Susan Thompson

Network Rail has revealed plans to cut 1,800 maintenance jobs the day after it unveiled proposals for a £34 billion high-speed line between London and Glasgow.

The rail operator told staff that it was preparing to shed more than 15 per cent of its maintenance staff. “We are discussing our plans with our people and their union representatives and no final decisions have been made,” a spokesman said.

Cuts would take place between now and April 2011 and the group would attempt to redeploy as many affected staff as possible. Network Rail, which runs Britain’s rail network and its largest train stations, employs 33,000 people across the country.

The proposed cuts come after the RMT union claimed earlier this year that it had discovered nearly 200 examples of Network Rail deferring “essential” track work. Bob Crow, the RMT’s general secretary, said then: “The simple fact is that Network Rail is under massive pressure to save money but it is shocking that it is prepared to defer essential works on this scale and cut the frequency of track inspections and signals maintenance in order to do so.”

The cuts are partly attributable to Network Rail’s new funding agreement with the Office of Rail Regulation, which has asked the group to make savings of 21 per cent, or £4 billion, over the next five years.

“We have a clear commitment to the British people to reduce the costs of running the railway. Our plans to restructure our maintenance teams will improve the way we operate the network,” the Network Rail spokesman said.

“A common structure, new technology, improved standards and better track information will allow us to focus our efforts even more on preventing faults and eliminating delays while providing a safe, efficient and reliable railway fit for the 21st century.”

The bad news follows Wednesday’s announcement by Network Rail of plans for a high-speed link that could transport passengers from London to Glasgow in just over two hours.

The proposed high-speed link, it claimed, could generate almost £55 billion in revenue and benefits as well as dramatically reducing domestic air and road travel.

Network Rail will submit a detailed route proposal to the Government by the end of this year for a line from London to the West Midlands, with options to extend the line to the North of England and Scotland.

Britain’s only existing high-speed route is the track that takes Eurostar trains from London to the Channel Tunnel.

There has been little let-up in large-scale corporate redundancy announcements this month, despite hopes that the economy is stabilising.

Fujitsu, the computer giant, is cutting 1,200 jobs — one in ten of its workforce in Britain.

Lloyds Banking Group is shedding a further 200 posts in a fresh round of cuts that takes its total job losses this year to 7,500.

About 850 jobs were lost with the closure of 142 Allied Carpets outlets by administrators.

GKN, the engineering group, announced that a further 1,200 workers would be made redundant, in addition to the 2,500 jobs already cut.

In the three months to June, unemployment climbed to 7.8 per cent – its highest level in 13 years. Economists are predicting that job-less numbers will soon pass three million to rival the worst levels of the 1980s.

Danish railways and FirstGroup win Sweden rail deal

Reuters: Aug 28, 2009

COPENHAGEN - Danish state railway DSB and British bus and rail operator FirstGroup (FGP.L) won an eight-year deal worth about 2 billion Danish crowns ($385.9 million) to provide commuter services for Gothenburg, Sweden, DSB said on Friday.

The service will be provided from December 2010 by a joint venture called DSBFirst Vast in which DSB has a 70 percent stake and FirstGroup 30 percent, DSB said.

The contract runs for eight years with an option to extend it for two years, DSB said. "The tender is one of the largest in Sweden with annual passenger basis of more than 15 million, which from 2012 is expected to rise by 30-40 percent when new lines are introduced," DSB said in a statement.

DSB said that with the new contract it is the second biggest passenger operator in Sweden, accounting for over a quarter of total traffic.

The Gothenburg regional transport system consists of 11 lines, used by about 60,000 people daily, DSB said.

In 2008, the system registered around 15 million journeys totalling about 8 million rail kilometres, DSB said.

With the addition of this contract, DSB will drive 22 million kilometres annually in Sweden, or about equal to the amount in the whole Danish regional rail system, DSB said.

It said the Gothenburg contract would also boost it above its goal of serving more than 40 million passengers per year outside Denmark.

FirstGroup shares traded up 0.7 percent at 379.8 pence on the London Stock Exchange at 1245 GMT.

August 23, 2009

On-track rail works to doubletrack Cotswold line

Berrow's Worcester Journal: 22nd August 2009

ENGINEERING work to prepare the Cotswold Line rail route between Worcester and Oxford for the reinstatement of 20 miles of double track next year is running on time and enters its final phase today.

The line will be closed from Monday, with buses replacing trains, while track and signal engineers finish off a six-week programme of work over the summer, which has seen all or part of the route closed since mid-July. Normal rail services will resume on Tuesday, September 1.

In Worcestershire, track has been renewed and repositioned between Evesham and Aldington, and east of Honeybourne, clearing the way for 16 miles of extra track to be laid next year to Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire.

Among the finshing touches being carried out next week is the repacking of stone chippings which support the track, to allow trains to run at full speed when the line reopens. Engineers will also be completing renewal of signalling equipment.

Work in and around Chipping Campden tunnel, in Gloucestershire, the key element of this summer’s work, is almost complete, with new double track laid through the tunnel, three kilometres (1.8 miles) of new drains installed, 11,500 tonnes of old stone from the trackbed removed - much of which has been reused - and 7,500 tones of new stone chippings laid to support the tracks.

An icon of European rail travel is finally killed off

The Independent: 22 August 2009
Simon Calder

As an announcement of a momentous death foretold, it is remarkably economical. "Train 468/469," reports the September edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable "Strasbourg to Wien [Vienna] will finally be withdrawn."
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Last stop: a scene from the film of Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express'. The train service that inspired it ends in December

Between those two phrases is the most momentous pair of words in European rail travel: Orient Express. Seventy-five years after the publication of Agatha Christie's bestselling crime novel, Murder on the Orient Express, the train that epitomised trans-European travel for more than a century is finally being killed off.

Lest you have set your sights on a luxury rail trip aboard vintage rolling stock to Venice, allow me to put your mind at rest: the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express – the up-market private train – will continue to run. But the service that provided intrigue and inspiration for generations of travellers is to be axed with barely a whimper.

"Death by a thousand cuts" sums up the demise of the Orient Express. Since it first ran, on 4 October 1883, from Paris to the Danube city of Giurgiu, its trajectory has changed many times as frontiers and alliances in Europe have shifted. But the core route, which began 120 years ago, linked Paris with Istanbul.

The journey began at Gare de l'Est, still the most atmospheric of the termini in the French capital, and raced through the Champagne region, Lorraine and Alsace, crossing the Rhine at Strasbourg – where the current, much-truncated service begins. The last abbreviation of the Orient Express, two years ago, coincided with the opening of a new high-speed line from Paris to the Alsatian capital, rendering the old "classic" train between the Seine and the Rhine redundant: travellers are invited to travel at 200mph on the stretch from Paris, and change trains to the Orient Express.

The diminished service still has 113 days to run. Board by 12 December and soon after leaving Strasbourg you will pass the village of Appenweier in western Germany. Here, a self-aggrandising plaque announces this little halt to be the rail crossroads of Europe: where the line of the Orient Express crosses the line from Hamburg and Cologne south to Switzerland and Italy. Travellers sleep their way through southern Germany, arriving at Vienna's Westbahnhof – a station that retains a sense of style – at 6.40am.

For Orient Express passengers up to 1977, Austria's capital was just the beginning: Budapest beckoned, then Belgrade and Bulgaria, before the train brushed the Bosphorus and arrived at Sirkeci station in Istanbul – far from the most stately station in Europe, but handy for a boat to Asia, just 10 minutes away.

Who is to blame for the demise of Graham Greene's Stamboul Train? We travellers are, of course, abetted by low-cost airlines. They effortlessly undercut the longest rail trips in Europe. A one-way ticket on easyJet from Gatwick to Turkey's largest city the day after the demise of the Orient Express costs under £50, barely enough for a train from London to Paris.

Strange as it may seem, at a time when a glamorous trans-European train faces closure, "middle-distance" rail travel is enjoying a revival thanks to accelerated journeys; the new Trainseurope desk at St Pancras International in London is already extending its opening hours to cope with the demand for journeys deeper into Europe than the usual Paris/ Lille/Brussels trio.

As one travel icon faces extinction, another is coming to Britain. Greyhound plans to start low-cost, high-quality bus links from London to Portsmouth and Southampton next month. Any new service is good news for travellers. But while Greyhound and America's endless freeways make a perfect match, "Riding the Dawg" down the A3 to Hampshire lacks the romantic resonance of Interstate 80 from New York to San Francisco.

Life for the US bus traveller is not so rosy. Thomas Cook's new Overseas Timetable says of the new Greyhound US schedule: "As usual, there are even more reductions in services." Paul Moore of Greyhound's owner, First Group, says revenues are down by one-fifth, so "It does not make economic or environmental sense to run the same number of services that we did previously. We still link 3,000-plus destinations across North America." And soon New Hampshire will be joined by the original.

Airports play the name game

More evidence of the airports' need to attract traffic: Oxford airport's rebranding as the capital's sixth airport. London is still the world hub of aviation, with around 125m travellers likely to use its five "real" airports this year – many more than Paris, New York or Tokyo. No surprise, then, that the Oxfordshire airport should want to capitalise on the capital's desirability. But will it work? Plenty of other airports have attempted to manipulate geography in order to enhance their appeal. When the owners of Tees-side airport wanted a more distinctive name, they avoided the obvious contenders – the adjacent towns of Darlington and Middlesbrough – and opted for "Durham Tees Valley". And had the management of Coventry airport taken my advice to rebrand as "William Shakespeare Stratford International", the Warwickshire airport might not now be moribund.

East Midlands airport tried for a couple of years to describe itself as Nottingham, much to the irritation of the equidistant communities of Derby and Leicester. But it has now returned to the original name, perhaps partly because Icelandair once referred to it on a map as "Nothingham".

Siemens, Deutsche Bahn target U.S. rail business

Reuters: Aug 22, 2009

FRANKFURT - German engineering conglomerate Siemens (SIEGn.DE) and rail operator Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL] plan a joint entry into the U.S. rail business, spokesmen for the two companies said on Saturday.

The two companies aim to profit from President Barack Obama's plan to expand U.S. rail infrastructure, which is part of the country's economic programme, the spokesmen said.

German magazine Der Spiegel also reported on Saturday that Siemens would supply high-speed ICE-3 trains and transport technology, while Deutsche Bahn would operate the rail links. The magazine said the U.S. government plans 11 projects to build out its rail system, including high-speed rail links between major centres such as Miami and Orlando or San Francisco and Los Angeles.

August 17, 2009

Race is on for Birmingham's high-speed rail line

Birmingham Post: Aug 17 2009
by Paul Bradley,

Eurostar and Virgin Trains both want to run direct trains from Birmingham to Europe on the Government’s proposed high-speed rail line.

The two companies have both mooted plans to bring international rail travel to Birmingham’s doorstep using the new high-speed link, which could mean rail journeys from Birmingham to Paris and Brussels in just three hours.

But both train operators said the idea could not be fully contemplated until more details about the private-public funding strategy and the proposed route were firmed up.

The high-speed line from London to the West Midlands could be built by 2020 with the £7 billion funding possibly coming from a public-private partnership.

Tony Collins, chief executive of Virgin Trains, said: “There are complementary opportunities here and one of those is to link Birmingham directly to the continent via the proposed High Speed Two route.

“Would Virgin be interested in running a direct service from Birmingham to Paris or Brussels? Without a shadow of a doubt. With the Channel Tunnel becoming an open access operation we would be very interested in expanding into Europe. Competition is vital in making these routes a success. In theory a link could be put in from Wembley to St Pancras before the introduction of High Speed Two.

“That would mean we could link into Eurostar’s service directly from Birmingham. Passengers would then avoid hauling luggage through London from Euston to St Pancras. We could create that market now then improve it when High Speed Two comes along.”

Eurostar also threw its hat into the ring, saying it was possible to link Brussels and Paris directly to the West Midlands. Simon Montague, director of communications for Eurostar in London, said: “We would love the opportunity to run high-speed services within the UK beyond London to the West Midlands, Birmingham and even to Manchester and Scotland.

“Obviously it needs someone to build the line first but then, of course, we will be gagging to run trains in competition with whoever else wants to run a service as well. There’s no doubt in Eurostar’s mind that if you are to build a high-speed line from London to Birmingham to Manchester and beyond then it will be extremely attractive.

“It will radically shorten journey times and if it connects to Heathrow it will transform the way in which people can connect to the UK’s biggest airport and then make their long haul journeys to other parts of the world.”

Sir David Rowland, chairman of the High Speed Two project, is advising Government on the best route for the new line, which is expected to run from central London to Heathrow, through the West Midlands to Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

There has been some debate about where the line should go, whether it should stop at a city centre station or at Birmingham International Airport.

Sir David has indicated he prefers a city centre location, although Virgin Trains said it would prefer to run trains to the airport as it believes extra business will come their way by the inevitable development of the land between the site and the city centre.

But Eurostar said passengers would prefer a city centre destination, even though it would probably make it more expensive.

The airport has launched a campaign to encourage the Government to look at having two high-speed stations in the region – one at Birmingham International and one in the city centre.

Sir David is expected to give his detailed plans to the Government in December.


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Eurostar and Virgin on Britain's high speed rail future

Birmingham Post: Aug 17 2009
by Paul Bradley,

As Sir David Rowland’s team of railway researchers devise a plan for Britain’s high speed rail future, reporter Paul Bradley spoke to two of the big players bidding to run services on the line. Here’s what Eurostar and Virgin Trains had to say for themselves.

Eurostar believes European travel is on the precipice of something huge. With potentially enormous profits up for grabs it is backing the High Speed Two project full tilt.

“We are genuinely on the verge of a revolution in the way we travel in Europe and that includes bringing high speed rail to Britain, beyond London, into the West Midlands and Scotland,” said Simon Montague, director of communications for Eurostar in London.

“No matter how many more motorways you build the journeys will still take the same amount of time and the roads will still fill up.

“When it comes to aviation, the journey will still take as long no matter how many terminals you have.

“We, the railways, can reduce journey time significantly and bring cities closer together. We believe high speed rail will become the mode of choice for short haul journeys in the next 20 to 30 years.”

Birmingham Airport and its carriers will have a say on that matter and so, the question of which station arises again.

“From the point of view of any passenger the most convenient station is a city centre station.

“Clearly that is more expensive but at the same time there are more benefits to having it there than outside the city.

“Ultimately that is something for the planners to work out but from Eurostar’s point of view that is what passengers want. Our experience from London, Paris and Brussels tells us this.”

Virgin’s views on which Birmingham station should host the HS2 trains will not please Eurostar.

Tony Collins, chief executive at Virgin Trains, said: “I think it will be phenomenally advantageous for Birmingham International Airport to have the high speed trains stopping there.

“I think you will see a surge of activity from the South to Birmingham.

“The city centre will be dragged out towards the airport as well and the wasteland that lies between the two sites will be ripe for business and residential development.”

He added: “I think we have to get away from the idea of engineering-driven projects and start to look at things in terms of demand. But I also think there needs to be more competition from the private sector and this is where there is a huge opportunity.

“When you have a monopoly supplier such as Network Rail then you won’t necessarily get the best value for money. Why not bring in a toll system like we have on the roads.

“Private companies could finance sections of the track and then charge a fee to rail operators for using it.”

With the building of the line little more than a proposal at present, Virgin says that development work must be carried out now so the rail network is in good shape for HS2’s introduction in 15 years time.

By 2025 Virgin hopes to link the West Coast with St Pancras and Heathrow, reduce track times to Scotland to three hours 45 minutes, and extend all of its Pendolino fleet to 11 carriages.

“The need for rail travel will grow extremely quickly over the next few years and there will be a demand for both high speed and classic lines.

“They key is that we build a strong and reliable network around the High Speed Two project.

“And the fact that passengers won’t be on these trains for a good 15 years means now is the time to get to work.”

Late deal averts crippling Bay Area rail strike

Associated Press: 17 August 2009
By TERRY COLLINS

OAKLAND, Calif. — A commuter rail strike that threatened to cripple the San Francisco Bay Area was averted Sunday as management and a union reached an agreement hours before the strike deadline, officials said.

Representatives from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Bay Area Rapid Transit negotiated through the weekend in a last-ditch effort to avoid a walkout affecting some 330,000 riders who use the nation's fifth largest rail system on weekdays. The pact still must be ratified by BART's 900 operators and ticket agents.

"We've worked to an agreement that we believe is equitable," union president Jesse Hunt said. "We're pleased to announce this tentative agreement. Our members will be working tomorrow. Trains will run."

Hunt said the agreement calls for a four-year contract, but he would not discuss details. He said he was confident his members would approve the deal in a vote next week.

While both sides reported progress in talks throughout the weekend, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and BART vice president James Fang told reporters there was a tentative deal several hours before the strike was to start at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

"It puts us in a position where people are able to get to work tomorrow," said Newsom.

Transportation agencies in the region were preparing to increase service in the event a BART strike would overwhelm the area's freeways and public transit services.

"I'm happy it's resolved, but we had contingency plans in place, just in case," said Randell Iwasaki, director of the California Department of Transportation.

Facing a $310 million deficit over the next four years, BART is seeking $100 million in labor cost savings, including $38 million from Local 1555. The union announced that its members would strike Monday after BART's board of directors imposed work terms that the union says amount to a 7 percent pay cut.

Experts said a BART strike had the potential to severely disrupt the area's busy freeways and batter its already-bruised economy. BART board member Lynette Sweet said it would have cost the agency more than $1 million a day.

The strike reprieve was welcomed by BART riders.

Rider Robert Pierce, 39, of Oakland said he was glad it was averted. He said the thought of a strike in this economy made him "mildly furious."

A strike also would have compounded a tumultuous year for BART, which has come under scrutiny after a fatal shooting of an unarmed passenger by a BART police officer on New Year's Day and a publicly criticized fare increase.

A strike could have put another 60,000 vehicles on the road and created hours-long delays on roadways, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said. Officials had encouraged commuters to leave an hour or two early and to use possible alternatives such as car pools, arriving and leaving work later and working from home.

BART had planned to provide limited bus service between stations in the East Bay and downtown San Francisco. Other transit agencies planned to expand ferry service from Oakland and Alameda County to San Francisco, as well as bus and streetcar service in San Francisco.

Lauren Wonder, spokeswoman for the state transportation department, said late Sunday contingency plans will not be carried out. "It won't be the commuter challenge had there been a strike," said Wonder.

The agreement's four-year contract is similiar to one accepted by two other BART unions. The operators and station agents earlier rejected a four-year contract and their union was seeking a shorter contract.

"With this agreement, the hundreds of thousands of Californians that rely on the services BART provides will be able to continue to conduct their everday business without interruption," Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

BART board president Thomas Blalock said discussions Saturday were focused on how to draw an acceptable four-year contract that would meet BART's target for cost savings. Blalock said the disagreements revolved around work rules rather than salary and benefits.

Sweet said that as talks resumed on Saturday it looked as though neither side was going to blink, but movement toward a deal came Sunday afternoon.

"Yesterday it looked dire, today it appeared better and tomorrow we'll be up and running," Sweet said.

August 16, 2009

San Francisco rail, union to resume negotiations

Associated Press: 16 August 2009
By MICHELLE LOCKE

OAKLAND, Calif. — Negotiators for the San Francisco Bay area's commuter rail system and one of its unions have one more day to hammer out a deal before a threatened strike strangles the Monday commute.

Officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Bay Area Rapid Transit talked into the night Saturday, but there was no word on whether much progress was made.

Local 1555 threatened to strike Monday after BART's board of directors imposed work terms that the union says amount to a 7 percent pay cut.

BART officials confirmed the talks Saturday but declined to give any specifics.

Other transportation agencies in the region are preparing to increase service. Experts warn the region's freeways and public transit options would be overwhelmed by the 340,000 riders who use BART each day.


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BART Train Operators Back Monday Strike

WSJ: AUGUST 15, 2009
By RYAN KNUTSON and BOBBY WHITE

Disruption of San Francisco Transit System Would Strand Hundreds of Thousands and Set Back Struggling Economy Further

SAN FRANCISCO -- The union representing San Francisco's train operators voted to go on strike beginning Monday, potentially stranding hundreds of thousands of riders and hurting the already-battered local economy.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents about 900 train operators and station agents for the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, called the strike Thursday after BART officials imposed a one-year labor contract that caps health costs, reduces paid holidays and levies a 7% pay cut. A strike by BART's second-largest union could be avoided if a deal is reached over the weekend.

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A BART train operator looks out the window during a stop Friday at Embarcadero station in San Francisco. Station agents and train operators are set to go on strike, starting early Monday morning, after union contract negotiations with the transit system fell apart. Getty Images

The nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system, BART moves about 340,000 people each day. A strike of even a few days would take an economic toll, hurting retail spending and possibly tourism, because people might decide to cancel trips to the area, said Harley Shaiken, a professor specializing in labor issues at the University of California, Berkeley.

A strike also would boost automobile traffic, delaying deliveries, and diminish productivity as employees arrive late or miss work, he said.

"The economic impacts would be significant," said Mr. Shaiken. "It goes beyond inconvenience and stops short of catastrophe."

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the local economy would be "negatively affected by at least $23 million a day."

Bay Area residents are bracing for the impact. Sandra Nelson, a 53-year-old legal secretary, uses BART to get to work in San Francisco from her home in Dublin, Calif., some 45 miles to the east. If the system is down Monday, she said she would have to find another way to get into work.

"I think under the circumstances of the downturn economy, a lot of the BART people should be happy they even have a job," she said. "The BART riders and the patrons are the ones that are caught up in this, and there's nothing to do but hope they'll find a way around it."

BART and its unions became embroiled in a labor dispute in April over cost-cutting. BART faces a $310 million deficit over the next four years amid an 11% drop in ridership, said James Fang, vice president of the BART board.

To make the cost cuts, BART asked its unions to trim their "fair share." Two BART unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Local 3933 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, ratified contracts earlier this month. But ATU Local 1555 declined to make similar cuts. In response, BART officials imposed the new contract on ATU.

Jesse Hunt, ATU's president, said the union "had no choice but to go on strike" in response to the imposed contract. BART's other unions said they would honor the picket lines despite ratifying contracts.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday urged BART and the union to return to the negotiating table. John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional planning agency, said alternative commuting options such as ferry boats and commuter buses couldn't replicate the capacity of BART trains.

August 15, 2009

S.African rail union says could strike next week

Reuters: Aug 15, 2009

JOHANNESBURG - A South African rail workers' union said on Saturday its members would strike next week if the state operator did not restart wage talks, the latest in a wave of industrial action in Africa's biggest economy.

The United Transport and Allied Union (UTATU) said a commuter rail strike seemed unavoidable after operator Metrorail broke off talks and agreed a pay deal with the larger South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU).

A series of strikes and strike threats in the past few weeks has led to several above-inflation settlements in South Africa, including agreements in the gold and coal industries, and raised investor concerns about rising union clout.

State power firm Eskom said on Thursday it had reached an agreement with unions over pay and a housing policy, averting a strike that could have led to power cuts and hurt the economy.

The unions helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power and want him to spend more on the poor, a policy that could be economically risky during a recession. Zuma said this week there was no "pandering" to labour.

Separately, the Communication Workers' Union ended a strike at phone firm Telkom after agreeing a 7.5 percent pay rise and a deal on salary scales. The union said more than 4,500 workers had joined the 9-day strike, which had no major impact on phone and Internet services. Telkom has over 23,000 workers.

UTATU said in a statement it was on the verge of agreeing a 9.5 percent pay deal with Metrorail when the operator broke off talks to broker an 8 percent agreement with SATAWU. It said that while SATAWU was the larger union, most drivers and technicians are members of UTATU, so a strike could cripple the rail system.

The union said it was pressing for a bigger wage increase after higher settlements in other sectors. The government gave council workers a 13 percent pay rise on July 31, nearly double the inflation rate of 6.9 percent for June.

No one at Metrorail could immediately be reached for comment.

FGW train fares to rise by up to 20%

BBC News: 14 August 2009

Many passengers using First Great Western (FGW) will see their fares rise by up to 20%.
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FGW said the price changes were designed to manage capacity

From 6 September FGW will introduce new restrictions on its cheapest off-peak return tickets for people travelling between the west of England and London.

This means some customers will either have to travel later in the day or pay more for their journey. Off-peak single ticket prices will be reduced.

The price rises have been criticised by groups representing passengers.

FGW spokesman Dan Panes said the price rises were needed to achieve a more even spread of passengers throughout the day.

"One of our challenges is to balance the need to encourage more customers to use our services while generating more income and managing capacity on our busy trains," he said.

'Legalised mugging'

Chris Irwin, the chairman of TravelWatch SouthWest, said: "We welcome the cut in the price of off-peak single tickets. But we deplore FirstGroup's decision to restrict the availability of the cheapest turn-up-and-go return tickets.

"Hard-pressed passengers will be priced off the trains. This is legalised mugging: the government must change its rules."

Under the changes which are due to come into effect in September, passengers travelling from Bristol to London who currently use the 0900 BST train at a return cost of £49 will have to pay £59.

Ashwin Kumar, Passenger Focus director, said: "Passengers who have to travel at these times will find it hard to believe they are being asked to pay such increases when inflation is so low.

"This comes on top of First Great Western increasing their car-parking charges by 25%."


See also:


Many face 20% Off-Peak fare rises on First Great Western

Passenger Focus: 13.08.2009

First Great Western (FGW) is set to introduce new restrictions on its cheapest Off-Peak tickets which will mean many passengers travelling into London in the morning and out of London in the afternoon will see their fares rise by 20%.

On Sunday 6 September, FGW will replace its Off-Peak ticket with a new Super Off-Peak fare at the same price but with much tighter time restrictions. A 20% more expensive Off-Peak fare will be introduced to cover times excluded by the new Super Off-Peak rules. Off-Peak single journeys and a small number of peak journeys will become cheaper but car-parking charges will go up by 25% and Advance tickets bought at the ticket office will go up by 11%.

Ashwin Kumar, Passenger Focus director, said: “This adds even more complexity to an already complicated system. Passengers who have to travel at these times will find it hard to believe they are being asked to pay such increases when inflation is so low. This comes on top of First Great Western increasing their car-parking charges by 25%.

“The reduction in Off-Peak single fares at least allows passengers to mix and match different ticket types in one return journey. But passengers shouldn’t have to wade through a forest of complexity to get the best deal. Families with children wanting a day out in London will be particularly hard hit as the new Super Off-Peak ticket doesn’t allow a return from London between 3 and 7pm.

“These changes expose the fact that the Off-Peak fare regulation introduced at the time of privatisation does nothing to stop train companies progressively reducing the times at which we can use these tickets.”

These changes have come to light just before the 18 August announcement on inflation which will determine next year’s increases in regulated fares. Many believe the Retail Prices Index will be negative forcing train operators to lower their prices next year.

Examples

Passengers travelling from Penzance to London can currently use the 5.41am train arriving at 11.23am at a cost of £83. To make the same journey in September, it will cost £100 and the earliest Super Off-Peak fare will not arrive in London until 15.23 some four hours later.

Passengers travelling from Swansea to London can currently use the 07.59am train arriving at 11.02am at a return cost of £66. To make the same journey in September, it will cost £80 and the earliest Super Off-Peak fare will not arrive in London until midday, 58 minutes later.

Passengers travelling from Bristol Temple Meads to London can currently use the 9.00am train arriving at 10.39am at a return cost of £49. To make the same journey in September will cost £59 and the earliest Super Off-Peak fare will not arrive in London until 11.40am some 61 minutes later.

Passengers travelling from Pewsey to London can currently use the 8.09am train arriving at 9.21am at a return cost of £31. To make the same journey in September will cost £37 and the earliest Super Off-Peak fare will not arrive in London until 14.44pm some five hours later.

Ends

Notes to editors:
1. Media enquiries regarding this release should be addressed to:
Krista Hamblin
Press Officer
Telephone: 0300 123 0821
E-mail krista.hamblin@passengerfocus.org.uk


See also:

RAIL FARE RULES ‘LEGALISED MUGGING’

TravelWatch SouthWest, the public transport passenger ‘watchdog’ for the South West of England, is calling on the Government to block the latest round of rail fare increases. Many fares on the most heavily used off-peak rail services operated by First Great Western will go up by over 20% from Sunday, 6th September.

First Great Western, the company that holds the franchise to operate most of the trains in the South West, is restricting the availability of ‘regulated’ fares1 – the cheapest ‘turn-up-and-go’ fares – by manipulating the rules for train companies laid down by the Government. Train operators are not allowed to set the price of these ‘regulated’ fares. However, they can limit their use by putting tighter restrictions on the times at which they can be used. Many passengers then have to buy more expensive tickets or are priced off the trains altogether, thereby relieving over-crowding and the need to acquire expensive additional rolling stock.

The new restrictions mean that, in future, some passengers using cheaper ‘turn-up-and-go’ regulated fares will no longer be able to get to London before mid-afternoon – more than five hours later than now (See table2, below).

On a more positive note, First Great Western will be introducing ‘turn-up-and-go’ travel on a limited number of ‘shoulder-of-peak’ services – typically those timed to arrive towards the end of the extended morning and evening peak periods. These new, intermediate tickets, offering a substantial saving on undiscounted peak fares, will cost 20% more (See table3, below) than the regulated Super Off-Peak tickets. The company is also cutting the price of its off-peak single tickets.

Chris Irwin, the Chair of TravelWatch SouthWest said:
“These fare changes attempt to disguise some very bad news for passengers with a dash of good news. We welcome the cut in the price of off-peak single tickets. But we deplore FirstGroup’s decision to restrict the availability of the cheapest turn-up-and-go return tickets. Hard-pressed passengers will be priced off the trains. This is ‘legalised mugging’: the Government must change its rules.”

The influential House of Commons Transport Committee has repeatedly criticised Government policy on rail fares. In 2006 it concluded that rail travel was poor value for money and that the complexity of fares was “an insult to the passenger”4. The Committee again condemned the rail fares’ system earlier this year. It said that the companies “have taken advantage of the (fare rise) mechanism to raise fares at the worst possible moment and to a level which is out of proportion to the real economy”5.


Notes for Editors:

1 Under the present rail franchising system more than half of all rail fares are ‘regulated’ by the Government. These include off-peak tickets as well as season tickets. Prices vary each year in line with a formula set by the Government of retail price index inflation (or deflation) plus 1%. ‘Unregulated’ fares - such as turn-up-and-go fares that can be used at any time of day and Advance Purchase fares - are set at the commercial discretion of the train companies. In recent years ‘unregulated fares’ have risen much faster than ‘regulated’ fares.

2: COMPARISON OF CURRENT AND FUTURE TIMES OF EARLIEST LONDON ARRIVAL TIMES FOR PASSENGERS TRAVELLING WITH CHEAPEST ‘TURN-UP-AND-GO’ RETURN TICKETS

Origin Chelt' Bristol P'y Bath Pewsey Exeter St D Plymouth Penzance
Cheapest turn-up-and-go return £47 £49 £49 £31 £65 £72 £83
First direct train pre 06/09/09 08.31 09.32 09.13 08.09 08.40 07.47 05.51
Arrival at London Paddington 10.37 11.02 10.39 09.21 11.40 11.25 11.25
First direct train post 06/09/09 09.40* 10.32 10.13 13.21 09.57 10.44 10.00
Arrival London Paddington 12.00* 12.00 11.40 14.44 12.25 13.44 15.23
Delay to Arrival 2.23* 0.58 1.01 5.23 1.45 2.19 3.58


3 COMPARISON OF FARES
Origin Cheapest turn-up-and-go return New ‘unregulated’ Off-Peak Return % Fare Increase

Gloucester £47 £56 19%
Bristol Parkway £49 £59 20%
Bath Spa £49 £59 20%
Pewsey £31 £37 19%
Taunton £60 £72 20%
Exeter St Davids £65 £78 20%
Paignton £69 £84 22%
Plymouth £72 £86 19%
Penzance £83 £100 20%


4Transport Committee, Sixth report of Session 2005-06, How fair are the fares? Train fares and ticketing.

5 Transport Committee, Eighth report of Session 2008-09, Rail Fares and franchises

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT CHRIS IRWIN, CHAIR OF TRAVELWATCH SOUTHWEST ON:
07900 218 290, or 01380 860 252
OR JENNY RAGGETT ON: 01225 867351, or 07825 542 123
www.travelwatchsouthwest.org

August 14, 2009

German Railways to takeover Stobart’s rail operations

The Times: August 15, 2009
Ian King Deputy Business Editor

Stobart Group, the transport and logistics company famous for its Eddie Stobart trucking division, has handed the running of its rail operations to a division of Deutsche Bahn, of Germany.

Stobart, whose domestic rail operations include Tesco among its customers, has hired DB Schenker Rail as its main provider of rail freight services.

The work was handled previously by Direct Rail Services (DRS), the only publicly owned rail freight company and part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which inherited the business from British Nuclear Fuels.Stobart, which is based in Carlisle, Cumbria, said that the contract, the value of which has not been disclosed, would enable “a further step change” in its strategy of developing “multimodal” services — in which goods are moved under a single contract but by using at least two different means of transport — for customers.

DB Schenker Rail’s British operations employ more than 4,000 people and are based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. They will assume responsibility for all Stobart’s existing rail freight operations and will expand them by linking them to its own national network.

The pair recently joined forces to run a new temperature-controlled multimodal service from Valencia via the Channel Tunnel, enabling fresh and chilled produce to be shipped from Spain to British stores more effectively.

Andrew Tinkler, Stobart Group’s chief executive, said that the new arrangement would mean that electric locomotives would be used for the first time on Stobart’s rail service from the Midlands to Scotland. He said this would reduce CO2 emissions on Stobart’s rail operations by 30 per cent.

Mr Tinkler emphasised that the move from DRS was no reflection on either its service or its performance. He said that it had been due simply to the rapid expansion of Stobart’s business and its move into continental Europe.

DB Schenker Rail dates back to 1996, when English Welsh & Scottish Railway bought four parts of the old British Rail’s freight operations — Rail Express Systems, Loadhaul, Transrail Freight and Mainline Freight. Later it bought National Power’s rail unit and British Rail’s European division, Railfreight Distribution. The business was bought by Deutsche Bahn in 2007.


See also:


Carlisle rail firm’s uncertain future after contract loss

News & Star: 15 August 2009
By Matthew Legg Business editor

A Carlisle rail firm faces an uncertain future after it lost a key contract to run trains for one of Europe’s biggest hauliers.
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‘Challenging times’ Direct Rail Services managing director Neil McNicholas

Etterby-based Direct Rail Services said it was “disappointed” after Cumbrian transport giant the Stobart Group announced it will no longer be using the company as its rail freight operator.

The two businesses previously worked together to transport goods for supermarket Tesco.

But Stobart announced it had terminated the agreement two weeks after revealing it had agreed a tie-up with another rail firm to haul food for Tesco across Europe.

The move is a crushing blow for DRS which has already run into trouble during the economic downturn, with a union accusing it of refusing to honour a previously agreed pay rise to train drivers.

Strike action was threatened by Aslef union members over the dispute, which was only narrowly averted.

The firm employs about 170 people at Carlisle, including about 49 train drivers.

In a statement, DRS said it was disappointed with Stobart’s decision, but added: “Plans are already in place to re-deploy the assets for other projects.

“DRS is confident that our robust business portfolio and strong customer base will allow us to develop opportunities in the marketplace.”

Neil McNicholas, DRS managing director said: “These are challenging times for the economy but our business has grown in an organic manner over the years and the quality of service deliveries and performance that we offer to our customers will continue to be our strength.”

Andrew Tinkler, Stobart Group chief executive, said: “Firstly I wish to express my gratitude to Direct Rail Services for their service and support over the years in operating the rail service.

“The move from DRS was not a reflection on either service or performance and was simply due to the rapid expansion of the business and move into Europe following the recent collaboration with DB Schenker Rail (UK) Ltd.”

DRS has moved quickly to try and plug the financial gap.

The company has signed a deal with Scottish haulage firm WH Malcolm to transfer some of its loads from road to rail between Elderslie, in Renfrewshire, and Grangemouth.

August 12, 2009

Sit-in wind blade factory closes

BBC News: 12 August 2009

Vestas has confirmed its wind turbine blade factory on the Isle of Wight has closed with the loss of 425 jobs.
vestas.jpg
Vestas has blamed the closure on a drop in demand

Workers at the Newport site held a sit-in protest over the planned closure, which ended last week after 19 days when they were evicted by bailiffs.

Rallies have been held across the UK in support of the workers who were told earlier, along with staff in Southampton, they had been laid off.

The Danish firm blamed the lack of demand for wind turbines in the UK.

The protests across the UK were organised by the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and included events in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and in Southampton.

Demonstrations in about 15 other towns and cities were due to take place including in Birmingham, Brighton, Liverpool, Sheffield and Cardiff.

Eleven employees involved in the sit-in had already been sacked by Vestas as a result of their 19-day sit-in protest.

'Difficult decision'

The demonstration ended on Friday when the workers were evicted by bailiffs, with some workers abseiling and jumping from the first-floor office they had been occupying.

Ian Terry, who spent the full 19 days inside the factory, said: "The workers now know where they stand, they are redundant and they have their money. But the fight is still going on.

vestas_jump.jpg
One of the workers jumped from the first-floor office

"Vestas is not going to budge on things because the decisions are being made from higher up.

"They thought we were going to be an easy ride as we are not unionised, but our workforce are strong."

He said he still hoped some jobs could be saved before the site eventually closed.

Vestas said as of Wednesday production had ceased at its sites and staff had been made redundant.

But 57 employees will continue to work at the Newport factory "for months rather than weeks" to help in clearing and closing the site for good.

Another 40 employees have been found new roles in the firm's research and development facility on the island.

Ole Borup Jakobsen, president of Vestas Blades, said: "The decision to close the factory was very difficult, and we fully recognise the impact this will have on employees, their families and on the Isle of Wight.

"Nonetheless, this commercial decision was absolutely necessary to secure Vestas' competiveness.

"We understand and have sympathy that employees are deeply affected by the closure."

He added that all workers had received information, advice and guidance on finding new jobs.

Vestas said redundancy payments would be more than double those required by statute.

The firm said it would continue research and development activities on the Isle of Wight, and maintain its sales and service business in the UK.

China's Amazing New Bullet Train

Ecnmag: August 11, 2009

When lunch break comes at the construction site between Shanghai and Suzhou in eastern China, Xi Tong-li and his fellow laborers bolt for some nearby trees and the merciful slivers of shade they provide.
china_bullet.jpg
China-train-launcher(Fortune Magazine)

It's 95 degrees and humid -- a typically oppressive summer day in southeastern China -- but it's not just mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun.

Xi is among a vast army of workers in China -- according to Beijing's Railroad Ministry, 110,000 were laboring on a single line, the Beijing-Shanghai route, at the beginning of 2009 -- who are building one of the largest infrastructure projects in history: a nationwide high-speed passenger rail network that, once completed, will be the largest, fastest, and most technologically sophisticated in the world.

Creating a rail system in a country of 1.3 billion people guarantees that the scale will be gargantuan. Almost 16,000 miles of new track will have been laid when the build-out is done in 2020. China will consume about 117 million tons of concrete just to construct the buttresses on which the tracks will be carried. The total amount of rolled steel on the Beijing-to-Shanghai line alone would be enough to construct 120 copies of the "Bird's Nest" -- the iconic Olympic stadium in Beijing. The top speed on trains that will run from Beijing to Shanghai will approach 220 miles an hour. Last year passengers in China made 1.4 billion rail journeys, and Chinese railroad officials expect that in a nation whose major cities are already choked with traffic, the figure could easily double over the next decade.

Construction on the vast multibillion-dollar project commenced in 2005 and will run through 2020. This year China will invest $50 billion in its new high-speed passenger rail system, more than double the amount spent in 2008. By the time the project is completed, Beijing will have pumped $300 billion into it. This effort is of more than passing historical interest. It can be seen properly as part and parcel of China's economic rise as a developing nation modernizing at warp speed, catching up with the rich world and in some instances -- like high-speed rail -- leapfrogging it entirely.

But this project symbolizes even more than that. This monumental infrastructure build-out has become the centerpiece of China's effort to navigate the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession.

China sees rail spending at $100 bln/yr next 3 yrs

Reuters: Aug 10, 2009

SHANGHAI - China will invest more than 700 billion yuan ($102 billion) a year in rail construction on average over the next three years after a rise to 600 billion yuan this year, vice railway minister Wang Zhiguo said in remarks published in official media on Tuesday.

The official Shanghai Securities News said rail investment last year rose 88.6 percent from a year earlier to 337.5 billion yuan, as the government seeks to bolster domestic demand.

Wang added that the ministry would seek to approve 20,000 kilometres of additional rail construction, requiring total investment of more than 2 trillion yuan, by the end of next year. China has said it would spend 5 trillion yuan until 2020 to expand its rail network to promote economic growth and ease transport bottlenecks. [ID:nPEK280781]

Last year, China announced a sweeping 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus package of spending over the next two years, with a large portion of the funds targeting infrastructure projects such as roads and railways. ($1=6.834 Yuan) (Reporting by Edmund Klamann; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)


See also:

Railway construction to get 700b yuan each year in next three years

China Daily: 2009-08-11
By Qiang Xiaoji

The investment plan for China's railway construction for the next three years has been settled, with an annual average investment exceeding 700 billion yuan ($102 billion), Wang Zhiguo, vice minister of railways, has said.

China aims to expand its operating railway network to 110,000 km by 2012, Shanghai Securities News reported on Tuesday.

Wang estimated that by the end of this year, China will have 5,600 km of new railway lines in operation with 2,500 km for passenger dedicated lines, making China's total operating length of railways reach 86,000 km, surpassing Russia and second only to the United States.

The ministry's investment into railway construction rose 88.6 percent year-on-year to 337.5 billion yuan in 2008, as part of the central government's efforts to stimulate the stagnant economy, according to Wang.

"We'll strive for getting the approval of building 20,000 km of new rails, with an investment of over 2 trillion yuan, in the remainder of this year and next year," Wang was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

"We plan to invest 600 billion yuan in railway construction this year," Wang said. "In the first seven months of the year, investment in infrastructure construction reached 247.49 billion yuan, up 136 percent from the same period of last year."

As of the end of July this year, 84.37 billion yuan had been invested in the Beijing-Shanghai express rail line since construction of the railway began last year, accounting for 38.8 percent of the planned total investment, said Wang.

Despite the boost for railway construction in recent months and the years to come, the ministry is making careful plans and will ensure sufficient funding, said Yang Zhongmin, head of the ministry's development and planning department.

Earlier, Yang had told reporters that in order to cater for passenger and cargo transport needs and the operation of new railways, the ministry plans to spend about 300 billion yuan in purchasing rolling stocks this year and in the coming year.


See also:

Boost for Chinese railways

International Construction: 11 Aug 2009
Written by Becca Wilkins

At least CNY 700 billion (US$ 102.4 billion) per year will be pumped into Chinese railway construction over the next three years the vice minister of railways, Wang Zhiguo announced this week.

According to local media Mr Wang said in the first seven months of this year China invested CNY 247.49 billion (US$ 36 billion) in railway construction, up +136% year on year.

He added the planned railway investment for 2009 is CNY 600 billion (US$ 87 billion).

The ministry will seek approval of a further 20000 km of rail construction, requiring total investment of more than CNY 2 trillion (US$ 292 billion), by the end of next year.

According to Mr Wang, China will have a total of 86000 km of railway lines by the end of this year - second only to the US - and it is aiming to expand the network to 110000 km by 2012.

The investment in the railway network is part of the CNY 4 trillion (US$ 584 billion) economic stimulus package announced in China last year. A large portion of the funds are dedicated to infrastructure projects such as roads and railways.

August 10, 2009

Trowbridge train station raiders jailed for combined 11 years

Wiltshire Times: 2nd July 2009
By Craig Evry

Two men have been jailed for a combined 11 years for carrying out a robbery at Trowbridge Railway Station in which they tied up a ticket office attendant and threatened him with weapons.
-1.jpg
Daniel Cox was subjected to a terrifying ordeal

At Swindon Crown Court today, Tommy Burton, 27, of Navigator Close, Hilperton and Gary McKenzie, 26, of The Halve, Trowbridge, were jailed for carrying out the raid at 3.45pm on December 10, armed with a 12-inch bladed sickle and a hatchet axe.
-2.jpg
Tommy Burton was jailed for seven years

The duo pounced on Daniel Cox, 64, as he checked the men's toilets on the station, used cable ties to bound his wrists and threatened him, hitting him on the hand and foot with the axe and cutting him with the sickle.

At one point Burton swung the axe at Mr Cox's foot and as he demanded the combination for the lock on the booking office, he said: "I will really hurt you if you don't tell me."

Mr Cox was saved when two 16-year-old skateboarders, Paul Ireland and Ben McInnes disturbed the robbers and raised the alarm.

But he was left with severe bruising to his hands and wrists and a broken toe. The robbers also stole his gold bracelet.

Burton was sentenced to seven years for robbery, as well as five years for attempted burglary and three years for wielding an offensive weapon, which will run concurrently alongside the seven-year term.

McKenzie was sentenced to four years for robbery, as well as two years for wielding an offensive weapon, to run alongside the four-year term. Both admitted all the offences.
-3.jpg
Gary McKenzie was jailed for four years

Detective Constable Steve Eyers, of the British Transport Police, said: "The victim was simply doing his job when he was attacked and subjected to an extremely frightening ordeal by these two men who are now behind bars.

Detectives immediately reviewed CCTV from the station and identified Burton amd McKenzie as the offenders. Both the men were known to police and we had them in custody by the following day.

Officers attended McKenzie's address to arrest him and found him wearing the clothes seen on CCTV. Faced with this irrefutable evidence he pleaded guilty in court."

TUC letter to Joan Ruddock, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, following RMT's meeting with Government on Thursday 6 August

To: Joan Ruddock MP
Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change
3-8 Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HH: 06 August 2009

Dear Joan

Thank you for agreeing to meet the TUC and unions representing the Vestas workforce today, including two local representatives from the plant on the Isle of Wight.

As you know, the TUC and unions have strongly contested the company’s decision to end production of wind turbines, both because of the catastrophic impact that has on the lives of those employed at the plant and in the supply chain, and because we are strongly committed to the development of a green manufacturing based here in the UK, as a key way to combat climate change and boost quality jobs and skills.

We have recognised the steps that the Government has already taken to find an alternative future for Vestas but, in our previous letter to the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, we pressed that – even at this late stage – Government efforts should be made to persuade Vestas to think again and change their corporate strategy, so that alternative plans could be put in place. We are grateful for your confirmation that, following receipt of the letter, the Secretary of State did contact Vestas in a final attempt to persuade them to change course, including positively offering to explore financial support for new manufacturing capability. However, we are of course deeply disappointed to hear that Vestas have chosen, yet again, to reject all the proposals on offer, and are not even willing to consider a sale.

Our immediate and urgent concern is the impact that this closure will have on the workforce and the local community. We agreed that while the company may have abandoned a skilled and dedicated workforce, the Government and unions would not. We discussed actions taken in respect of previous company closures, where the potential damage to a local community was similarly severe and where the wider industry would otherwise risk losing essential skills. For example, under the auspices of the RDA, the Rover taskforce brought together all interested parties, including unions, business and skills agencies, to make every effort to ‘match’ workers facing redundancy to alternative skilled jobs, including offering active advice and support, and running re-skilling programmes, where appropriate. We believe SEEDA should be asked to take a similar initiative, including actively exploring the potential to match start-ups and inward investment with the skills, talent and capacity of the workforce on the island. We are also aware that the Rapid Response Service has been set up to bring together specialist Job Centre Plus and LSC officials to help workers in companies facing closure, and that also has a vital role to play. We understand that you will be in touch with the relevant ministers in DWP and BIS so that arrangements can be put in place to trigger such practical support, and to encourage full consultation with the relevant unions in that process.

At our meeting it was also reported that suggestions had been made that certain individuals would ‘never work again’ in the industry, and that the company would not agree to deem them as having been made redundant for the purposes of claiming benefits. We asked if you or the Secretary of State would contact the Company to make it absolutely clear that any actions or statements, made privately or publicly, that could be construed as victimisation are unacceptable (and probably unlawful) and we appreciate your active support on this point. In addition, on the practical issue of claiming benefits, we explained that the TUC has already made representations to senior ministers at the DWP concerning other cases where companies have refused to designate workers as ‘redundant’. As you are aware, in the past, such workers are then deemed to be ‘voluntarily unemployed’ and therefore risk losing entitlement to Job Seekers Allowance – and access to mortgage protection and other insurance schemes that depend on workers being formally regarded as having been made redundant. Following discussions with DWP ministers and officials, we understand that discretion can now be exercised and we would urge you to ask fellow ministers to make an immediate intervention and communication to the local Job Centre to ensure that all workers recently employed at Vestas who claim benefit are automatically treated as having been made redundant, even if the company refuses to formally designate them as such. It was evident at the meeting that you understand the human cost of unemployment on individuals, families and communities, especially in an area where vacancies are scarce, so I am sure you will understand the urgency of this request to make this process as smooth as possible.

Finally, for the future and following our letter to the Secretary of State, we welcomed your positive response to the TUC’s request to the Secretary of State for further dialogue involving the TUC and unions represented in green manufacturing and energy, with a view to then facilitating engagement with business representatives and securing practical steps to drive forward our shared commitment to cut emissions and boost decent green jobs here in the UK. As we all agreed, there should never again be a Vestas. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State on how we will take this forward.

Thank you once again for meeting with us.

Yours sincerely

Frances O'Grady
Deputy General Secretary

cc Bob Crow
Jack Dromey
Yvette Cooper

Union leaders call on offshore workers to stand up for rights

STV: 10 August 2009

Union leaders are urging offshore workers to stand up for their rights as oil firms cut budgets in the face of the economic downturn. The RMT/OILC union is manning a stand at Aberdeen Airport to offer support to those concerned about their jobs.
114985-union-leaders-call-on-offshore-workers-to-stand-up-for-rights-410x230.jpg
RMT and OILC unions offering support to staff concerned about their jobs.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow launched the stand. He said: "We are upping our game in an effort to assist workers through these difficult times. Aberdeen Airport has the biggest throughput of offshore workers in the UK and that's why we chose it as a location to kick off this campaign."

The union says many offshore firms are announcing cost cutting measures in response to the effects of significant reductions in investment brought about by the banking crisis and volatile oil prices. Project delays, restructuring and cuts to maintenance budgets all add up to extra pressure on staff, the RMT claim.

"We are being inundated with concerns bout wage cuts and redundancies and how these cuts may impact on health and safety," said Jake Molloy, RMT Regional Organiser.

He added: "While we will be using this exercise to provide information and support to workers, we will also be taking time to gather information about the effect of the cost cutting."

Deutsche Bahn rules out National Express bid

Reuters: Aug 9, 2009

Chiltern Railways' owner, the German state-owned rail operator Deutsche Bahn, has ruled out a bid for National Express, suggesting instead that it may look into competing for rail franchise tenders as they become available.

The group is currently bidding for the contract to run the Tyne and Wear Metro alongside rival bidders Serco-Ned, MTR and the Tyne and Wear passenger transport executive Nexus. The franchise for the Metro, which is due for a 300 million pound upgrade and was the best-performing rail operator in the UK last year, will last between seven and nine years, commencing in April 2010.

August 6, 2009

Rail strike brings East Anglia line to near standstill

Guardian: 6 August 2009
Andrew Culf

One of Britain's busiest commuter routes was crippled for the second week running today when rail workers began another 48-hour strike over pay and conditions.

National Express accuses unions of making unrealistic demands as two-day walkout strands commuters

Services on National Express East Anglia came almost to a standstill in the increasingly bitter dispute, disrupting journeys of more than 200,000 passengers who travel into London's Liverpool Street station from Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Managers at National Express East Anglia (NXEA) accused the three rail unions involved of making unrealistic demands and said Aslef, the drivers' union, was seeking a pay increase of £1,000 a year, which would take average earnings to more than £42,000.

The unions accused the company of having contempt for industrial relations and alienating the workforce.

Talks broke down yesterday and the only glimmer of hope is an invitation by NXEA for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to intervene. No further talks are planned before Monday.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and Aslef had already threatened to strike again on 13-14 August and 20-21 August, and booking clerks, who belong to the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, have said they will join the dispute if it is not resolved.

Andrew Chivers, managing director of NXEA said: "We have asked the unions to suspend the action while the discussions continue, but this request has been refused. We have also asked the unions to put our revised offer to the members, but this request has also been refused.

"We believe the pay claims continue to be wholly unrealistic and that continuing strike action is inappropriate and unnecessary."

The company said today that Aslef was seeking a minimum pay increase of £1,000 a year for drivers. It had previously said the unions were pressing for a 2.5% pay increase, a four-day working week and a 4% increase in the number of train drivers.

NXEA admitted that a very limited service was running to Stansted airport, Southend, Colchester and Norwich, with services likely to be overcrowded.

The RMT leader, Bob Crow, said his members had shown they were "solid, angry and determined to secure a fair deal from a company that is obsessed with maximising profits at the expense of staff and the travelling public".

He added: "NXEA have provoked this action and have alienated the entire workforce. These workers have shown they are not prepared to take a hit to prop up the profits of a company whose management have shown they are not fit to run a rail service."

Aslef blamed NXEA for the collapse of yesterday's talks. It said: "Talks on Wednesday broke down following management misinforming the RMT and TSSA that Aslef had independently agreed to go to arbitration when they had given no such commitment, further demonstrating their contempt for industrial relations."

It added: "Aslef are committed to continuing negotiations in order to resolve the ongoing dispute."

Solid support for RMT month of action on Arriva Cross Country

RMT: August 3 2009

RAIL UNION RMT said today that members working for Arriva Cross Country are solidly supporting the month of action short of a strike which started this morning in a dispute over a breakdown in industrial relations around pay and a series of issues relating to working conditions.

Last month Arriva Cross Country RMT members voted by four to one for action on a turnout of 55%.

The action will take the form of:

* A total ban on overtime working
* A total ban on volunteering for rest day working
* A total ban on Sunday working with the exception of booked Sundays
* A total ban on litter-picking on trains

Arriva Cross Country runs rail services over a wide geographical area stretching across England and into Wales and Scotland.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said today:

“Our members have shown their anger at the divisive approach taken by Arriva Cross Country in respect of pay and a wide range of issues relating to working conditions and this action is aimed at forcing the company back to the table to negotiate a fair deal for all staff. Reports from our reps confirm that the action is being solidly supported across the franchise

“This is just another example of a rail franchise company looking to maximise its own profits at the expense of the workforce and RMT members have demonstrated in their support for this action just how determined they are to secure justice.

“RMT remains available for talks and we call on the company to re-open genuine discussions on the issues at the heart of this dispute.”

Ends

RMT welcomes government drive to high-speed rail

RMT: August 6 2009

RAIL UNION RMT welcomed today’s announcement by the government that they are speeding up the drive towards a nationwide high speed rail network and called on ministers to set out a clear timetable to make the plans a reality.

Transport secretary Lord Adonis revealed this morning that domestic and European short haul flights should be “progressively replaced” by a high speed rail network which will relieve congestion on existing lines and shorten train journey times across the UK.

In welcoming the government’s announcement RMT said that the drive to high speed rail makes the case for the third runway at Heathrow obsolete and also said that it should give a massive boost to manufacturing industry in the UK as demand for trains, track and equipment grows as a result.

RMT is calling on the government to ensure that a regulated fare’s policy is put in place that encourages the use of the rail and the union has reiterated that the development of the high-speed network should take place within the framework of a publicly owned railway to avoid the continuing fragmentation and failures of the privatised, franchise system.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said:

“We welcome this important announcement on the development of high-speed rail which clearly demolishes the case for the environmental disaster which is the planned third runway at Heathrow. If high-speed rail is the future we should stop throwing time, money and energy at the planned expansion of Heathrow and concentrate on pushing forward this progressive plan for green transport.

“This plan would give a massive boost to manufacturing and green jobs on the railways and should be moved forward without delay. We would argue strongly for public ownership and a for a fares policy which actively encourages rail travel.”

Ends

August 5, 2009

Lord Adonis: 'High speed rail has well and truly arrived in Britain'

The Guardian: 5 August 2009
Julian Glover and Dan Milmo

"The optimists are in the ascendant," says Britain's transport secretary as he steps on to the platform of Britain's newest high-speed station, Ebbsfleet International. A cavernous structure, all steel and concrete, it has landed from the future on a former gravel pit near Gravesend. North Kent has found itself connected to the world, and Lord Adonis is in his element.
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Lord Andrew Adonis, the 'ultra-moderniser', at Ashford International station, Kent. Photograph: Martin Godwin

"High-speed has well and truly arrived in Britain," he says as the sleek purple express that has carried us from London pulls away. A Paris-bound Eurostar roars past, but already Adonis is up the utilitarian metal stairs and grilling the station manager about the route's performance. So far, there have been few problems on the new Javelin service, which began, in limited form, last month and opens properly in December. It has hit 99.1% punctuality, and the Ashford trains have had to be doubled in length to cope with commuter demand.

The man who wants to have the biggest impact on Britain's rail network of anyone since Dr Beeching is determined to link London and the great cities of the north with a fast line. "This is the country that led railway development in the Victorian era and there is absolutely no reason why we can't at least catch up, he says. "I think it will bring about a wider social transformation too. If you look at those things which systematically bridge the north-south divide, high-speed rail has a big part to play."

The hard part will be finding the money: a new line would cost well over £20bn. Funding the line, when transport budgets are being cut, will be tough. "Other countries which have made high-speed rail a priority have found it affordable by allocating long-term infrastructure funding to it. The French have decided to allocate €16bn to high-speed rail between now and 2020. It looks to me the more you build it the cheaper it becomes," he says.

Some critics wonder if this is not a distraction from the financial woes of the existing network, although Adonis argues that Britain can have better commuter services, as well as fast rail. Most of the cost, which he wants to be shared with the private sector, will fall after the recession is over, he says. "If we make it a national priority it is affordable, if we don't it's not – it is as simple as that. The only thing holding us back was absence of a plan and absence of political will."

Adonis is more than a train spotter in charge of the tracks. A former Liberal Democrat who became head of policy for Tony Blair, he pushed through radical education reforms and still sometimes slips into Blairite language. "You have to be a change-maker," he says. "The hard part is having a concrete plan which can be implemented, which will involve some tough choices in terms of routes and financing."

Appointed rail minister by Gordon Brown less than a year ago, and promoted to the cabinet as transport secretary in June, Adonis is a politician in a hurry. He wants to nail down plans for the first stage of the line between London and Birmingham by the end of the year, aware that the election could see him out of a job. "I would regard it as a great success if all three parties went in with similar commitments to building high-speed rail so that after a general election the plans do then proceed," he says – omitting to mention that the opposition parties backed high-speed rail well ahead of Labour. Some wonder if he might find a place championing rail in a Cameron government – although he adds dutifully: "I have every confidence Labour will win."

Adonis says: "We have had a massive national aversion to long-term transport planning. We had this view that high-speed trains might be suitable for France and Japan but these were highly exceptional. While we were busy conducting ideological experiments in rail privatisation most of the rest of Europe was getting on with the serious job of building high-speed railway lines astonishingly fast." He rattles off the facts like an enthusiast. "Spain, which didn't start until the 1990s, now has 1,600km in operation, 2,200 under construction, and 1,700 planned. This year Spain has a budget of €6bn just for building high-speed rail lines.

"We've set up a dedicated company, High Speed Two, which by December will produce a dedicated route plan for the first stage of a high-speed line between London and the West Midlands including all associated environmental and economic assessments. We've also asked it to recommend a broad route north to Scotland."

His dream is that before the middle of the century a rapid line will curve through the country like a reversed letter S – first to Birmingham, then Manchester, then under the Pennines to Leeds, before heading north to Newcastle and Scotland. The dream sounds thrilling. Adonis knows he has only a few months to turn it into a reality.


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High-speed rail: Fast train coming

The Guardian: 4 August 2009
Editorial

There was a time when all the world firsts in rail took place in the UK – the first modern locomotive, the first intercity line and the first train-travelling monarch. That time, however, was the second quarter of the 19th century, and for very many years now Britain's railways have, as it were, been stuck on the slow train. No principally domestic mainline has been built in over a century, and the spread of high-speed services – from Japan in the 1960s through France in the 80s to Spain in the 90s – has all but failed to reach these shores. The transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, today tells the Guardian of his lofty ambitions for bridging the rail gap.

It is telling that Britain's one new line, and its sole high-speed service, connects St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. That project invited cross-channel comparisons, and the shaming contrast with the French convinced Whitehall that muddling through over creaking old tracks was no longer a viable option. At all other times the government, and perhaps the public, have grown used to thinking of high-speed rail in the same way as figurative art or winning Wimbledon – a wonderful thing that the British are not cut out for. That makes Lord Adonis's talk of replacing all domestic flights – and some European ones – with high-speed rail an apparently bold break with the past.

The past lack of ambition reflected many things – the quarter-century of falling public capital investment that followed the 1976 IMF cuts; a botched privatisation and the 2000 Hatfield crash, both of which led to problems that drained money and energy when the public expenditure taps were switched back on; above all, a crippling sense of self-doubt about the British ability to pull off a grand projet. The completion of the Channel Tunnel link – which was built on time and on budget – make this the time to exorcise the demons of doubt.

Spain had no high-speed rail at all as recently as 1992, but now has some 2,000km, and is set to build far more. The conventional assumption has been that rail will decline. This reflected the post-war reality of a growing proportion of journeys being made by road and by air. But it obscured the potential for rail in the deeper connection between the slow rising tide of prosperity and the total volume of travel. People have grown richer over the decades by travelling further to seek out opportunities, and in addition they have also spent a portion of the resulting extra affluence on going further for leisure. Thus, despite all the setbacks, total rail traffic is up by a third since privatisation. Meanwhile Eurostar – and other high-speed lines on the continent – have now more than proved that they can compete with aviation. The lesson is plain: build it – and they will come.

Climate change reinforces the argument, as the carbon emissions from a train journey are only a fraction of those from boarding a plane or driving. Another consideration is re-energising the regions. That task that has attracted more failed policies than just about any other, but a high-speed link between – say – Manchester and Leeds would be almost bound to help integrate business in these two cities. It is not just a question of speed, but also of reliability and, equally importantly, capacity: business travellers will be much more inclined to take the train if they are certain they can get a seat.

First the Liberal Democrats and later the Conservatives committed themselves to a rail renaissance before Lord Adonis finally nailed Labour's colours to the mast, and he is taking shrewd account of this. He has tasked engineers with drafting a ready-to-go manual for building the line Britain needs, hoping to win all-party agreement on a definitive blueprint ahead of the election. The government urgently needs to give some thought to the country it is likely to be leaving behind in less than a year's time. High-speed rail has been a slow train coming for Britain. If Lord Adonis can now give it momentum, it could be a proud part of the legacy.


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Make do and mend: how Britain neglected its railways

The Guardian: 5 August 2009
Julian Glover and Dan Milmo

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Clapham Junction station in London. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

In July 1837 Britain opened an engineering marvel: the world's first, fast intercity railway between London and Birmingham. A century and a half later, the route came to symbolise Britain's disastrous transport planning. Taxpayers spent £9bn upgrading the line, only for trains to run more slowly and less frequently than promised. Figures last week showed that the west coast route is one of the least reliable services in the country.

The west coast shambles is the reason that the transport secretary and rail engineers want to escape from the make-do-and-mend approach which has seen Britain slip down the railway league table. While Japan, France and now Spain made the leap into a new generation of rail technology and high-speed routes, Britain neglected its trains.

"Railways were not the priority. The priority was to complete the motorway network and manage the railways as best we could on an annual budget," says Jim Steer, former head of strategy at the Strategic Rail Authority.

A succession of transport ministers aimed to keep trains out of the headlines.

"In the 1980s British Rail was expected to manage the railways better, to be more customer-responsive. There was no thought that rail might do more – or in fairness, less – than it had done over the previous 10 years. Any investment expenditure was expected to be more or less self-financing," he said.

In tight circumstances, BR did its best, investing in some electric routes and the InterCity 125 diesel express, still the mainstay of many services. But modernisation always faltered in the face of political confusion and a lack of cash.

In 1955, the recently nationalised British Railways promoted an upgrade plan that aimed to put the network back in profit. Instead much of the cash was wasted.

"British Rail was obsessed with setting out a vision, but never defined what the railways were for or what they were good at," said Tim Leunig, an economic historian at the LSE. "The government threw huge sums at BR, which always promised to break even and never did. It was the most bailed-out organisation in Britain."

While France was setting out plans for its TGV fast network, Britain was experimenting with incremental improvements, including the short-lived APT tilting train from London to Scotland.

"Nobody was prepared to find the money for the investment under the Tories, and not a lot under us," admitted John Prescott, transport secretary from 1997 to 2001.

Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College London, said: "British governments have been much more concerned about value for money and have been much less willing to spend taxpayers' money on any form of transport and big infrastructure. The French and Spanish have taken a completely different line."

Decline set in long before privatisation, which ministers hoped would free railways from the political neglect that had left them underfunded.

"The principles behind privatisation were to create a train-operating industry with a number of players," said Sir George Young, the transport secretary who oversaw the process. "The aim was to increase capital investment by placing the industry in the private sector so it was no longer at the end of the queue for Treasury investment."

Bound by tight Treasury spending rules, however, there was never enough long-term money for Britain to copy France and build new routes.

"In an ideal world unconstrained by limited resources, I would be wholly in favour of new high-speed rail lines," said Young. "But if the funding for them comes out of a highly constrained rail transport budget, one has to ask some hard questions about priorities."

Privatisation, completed in 1997 as Labour came to power, put the brakes on strategic thinking.

Companies bought new trains and passenger numbers climbed by 40%, but costs rose too: the current rail subsidy of almost £5bn a year is well above levels under nationalisation.

Prescott said that in Tony Blair's first term the government was preoccupied with bailing out the high-speed Channel tunnel route from Dover to London and the task of dealing with the now-defunct Railtrack, the owner of Britain's privatised tracks, stations and signals which was taken over by the government-backed Network Rail in 2002.

"That was a real bloody problem because we had people in control who had more interest in getting profits than doing the work properly," he said.

Prescott's lessons from the Channel tunnel rail link, since renamed High Speed 1, contained a veiled warning about the private sector's ability to underwrite a major transport project.

HS1 was completed only after the government stepped in to guarantee bonds issued to pay for the £5.7bn route: "The government was the only one that could find the resources, so we nationalised it [HS1] – and it came out on time and on schedule."


See also:

Can the train take the strain?

The Guardian: 5 August 2009
Christian Wolmar

Andrew Adonis is promoting high-speed rail to cut short-haul flights in the UK, but the environmental case is far from proven

The idea of a high-speed line connecting London to Scotland has obvious appeal. Economists support it because major transport infrastructure schemes are seen as having enormous regenerative benefits, especially in deprived areas; passengers like it because trains are seen as a nice way to travel; and environmentalists are supportive because railways are reckoned to be the greenest way to go from A to B.

However, it is not that simple. While the idea of having a high-speed rail network appears attractive, all these reasons have strong counter-arguments. Transport links are only useful if they are accompanied by other forms of development, and just because people like the idea of rail travel, it does not mean that they will necessarily use it unless the pricing signals are right – that is, unless it costs less to travel by train than by car.

Unfortunately for its advocates like Lord Adonis, it is the environmental argument for high speed rail that is the weakest. The most common assumption is that high-speed trains will attract people who otherwise would travel by flying. Indeed, this has happened in France where the TGV has virtually wiped out the air service between Paris and Lyon, and in Spain where the same thing has happened between Madrid and Seville.

But these are far larger countries where major towns are separated by much bigger distances than in the UK. London and Birmingham are 120 miles apart, far too short a distance for aviation to attract a major share of the market. While considerable numbers of people do travel by air between London and Manchester, most are taking connecting flights and would not be attracted onto high-speed rail unless there were a station under Heathrow. And then the issue is whether that would not simply attract more people onto domestic air services by improving access to the airport.

Few people fly between London and Leeds, and even Newcastle has only a small share of the market. It is only when one considers London-Scotland routes that aviation starts to dominate and, again, one has to ask whether a high-speed line would attract a sufficient proportion of them to justify the huge cost of building the line.

Moreover, the conventional train services in many European countries are nothing like as good as those on what was British Rail's InterCity network. We already have four trains per hour between the capital and Birmingham, taking just 90 minutes, which is far faster than can be achieved in a car, even taking into account the trips to and from stations. To be sure, there is a capacity issue, and essentially the main function of a high-speed line would be to provide an extra pair of tracks to allow more train services to be run. But that is not a green argument. Many of those people might otherwise not travel at all or would do so on conventional rail services, which will be more fuel efficient than high-speed lines.

The environmental case for high-speed rail is not proven and cannot rely on the vague notion that people will be attracted away from air, especially while government policy favours aviation through low taxation and a planning regime that is designed to accommodate seemingly unlimited growth.

High-speed rail in France: Way out in front – and pushing further ahead

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Lizzy Davies in Paris

Ever since 1981, when the very first TGV departed on its journey between Paris and Lyon, France has sped ahead of the rest of Europe in the race to build a fully functioning high-speed rail network.
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France's V150 TGV fast train on the high-speed line between Paris and the eastern city of Strasbourg. Photograph: Francois Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

Now, furnished with almost 1,250 miles of specially built lines linking many of its major cities, the country is looking for new ways to extend its lead.

Unveiling the official vision for the network last year, the government announced its intention to double the amount of high-speed track to about 2,500 miles by 2020.

The work, which aims to connect parts of the provinces as yet untouched by the economic and environmental potential of the TGV, is expected to cost about Euro 18bn (£15bn).

"Our priority ... is to accelerate the transfer from road to rail and to give an alternative to short-haul air travel," said Jean-Marie Guillemot from the RFF, the body that runs France's rail infrastructure. "Regions which have until now been badly served by the TGV ... are now being prioritised."

Four major projects top the list of developments to which Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has signed himself up to complete – theoretically by 2015.

One aims to extend the line that runs from Paris to Le Mans all the way to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. A second scheme will connect the southern cities of Nîmes and Montpellier.

Another plans on finishing the final 60 miles of the eastern line, so that a Parisian commuter can reach Strasbourg in just one hour and 50 minutes (it currently takes 30 minutes more).

The biggest stretch to be tackled comes at Tours, in the Loire Valley, where 220 miles of track is to be built all the way to Bordeaux.

The RFF says this addition will allow trains to travel from the south-western city to Paris in just over two hours, and will lead to up to five million extra journeys being made a year. Elsewhere, emergency surgery is needed to fix problems on existing lines – particularly the original 370-mile route that links the capital with Lyon and which is near saturation point due to its popularity.

Speaking in London last year, Guillaume Pepy, president of the SNCF (the French national rail authority) said that not building a four-track railway had been a mistake.

Canadian momentum builds for high-speed rail lines

Canwest News Service: August 5, 2009
By Mike De Souza

A train trip from downtown Montreal to downtown Toronto, with a stop in the nation's capital, in two hours and 18 minutes is a far cry from the options travellers now have.

Passengers in the country's most heavily populated markets don't have an electrified high-speed train able to coast at speeds of up to 300 km/h.

And consider the possibility of a trip from downtown Quebec City to downtown Montreal in one hour and 12 minutes; or a trip between Toronto and Windsor, Ont., in one hour and 24 minutes.

All of these scenarios are within reach and could provide an alternative to the stress of a highway drive or the hassles of getting to an airport and through its security, according to a 1995 report sponsored by Quebec, Ontario and the federal government on the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line between Quebec City and Windsor.

The 1,200-kilometre route was estimated in 1995 to take up to 10 years to design and build at a cost of about $20 billion. It's one of many reports in recent decades that highlighted the benefits and the price tag of improving passenger rail service in Central Canada--only to wind up dead on arrival in government.

"There's always been a debate as to whether or not we have the critical mass of passengers here in Canada, even in the (Quebec City-Windsor) corridor, to justify the expense that would be required to build a TGV-type train," said former Liberal transport minister David Collenette, referring to France's high-speed model.

The 1995 report concluded that a new system could attract up to 12 million passengers per year and recover its costs through operating profits after about 30 years. Approximately 40 per cent of the ridership would come from motorists, while another 18 per cent of high-speed rail passengers would be diverted from airlines, the report projected.

But federal and provincial governments fighting to eliminate deficits in the 1990s were not convinced the plan was worth the risk of investing billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Key stakeholders, politicians and business leaders throughout the Quebec City-Windsor corridor are now organizing a public relations campaign to place the issue back on the agenda for a region that is home to 18 million people -- or nearly 60 per cent of the Canadian population. They want to build momentum for a project they believe will improve mobility of the workforce by bringing their cities closer together and boosting the economy in an environmentally friendly way.

"When France launched its first TGV line between Paris and Lyon, all the studies were negative," said Talal Zouaoui, a spokesman for Bombardier Transport Canada. "They said that nobody would ride between Paris and Lyon and the line created its own momentum. It's (now) one of the most successful high-speed lines in the world."

Led by Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, a coalition of cities has awarded a contract for a study on the local economic, social and environmental benefits of a high-speed rail system for communities along the route. The Quebec City Chamber of Commerce has also hired a communications firm, HKDP, to help promote the coalition and force the issue on to the agenda of a potential federal election campaign in the fall.

Meantime, the governments of Quebec and Ontario, along with the federal government, are spending about $3 million for an engineering consortium to update the 1995 study and make new recommendations in a report expected in early 2010.

Collenette, who served as transport minister from 1997 to 2003, said he believes support from the public and the business community is growing because of factors such as rising oil prices, traffic congestion and airport security delays.

"A lot of Canadians have actually taken the Eurostar, (a high-speed train) between Paris and London or Brussels and London, and they know that this is an incredible way to travel," said Collenette. "There's none of the old clickety-clack, no bumps, no going over switches and rocking back and forth. It's almost like flying on a non-turbulent flight. You're gliding; but you're gliding at top speeds of 300 km/h."

Julien Pley, who lives in France, says the TGV allows him to make a 250-kilometre trip from the northern city of Lille to Paris on a regular basis for his job at a telecommunications company. The trip takes him about an hour in each direction at a cost of $31 per ticket, along with an annual pass he buys for $585.

"It's very easy(to take the TGV)," Pley said. "As soon as you arrive (at your destination), you are always near where you want to go."

Chad Leddy, a Toronto lawyer who has travelled both on high-speed trains in Europe and on Canada's Via Rail service, said there is no comparison between the two.

"It changes your whole travel experience to be able to do a day trip to a city that's 400 kilometres away," said Leddy. "I would say we are right now 50 years behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to that component of our transportation system."

Judy Bryant, a city councillor in London, Ont., said a high-speed link would make it easier for young families to settle in her community.

"It's hard some times to get a job for two people in any city, let alone (in) one of the smaller to medium cities," she said. "So for someone to able to live in London, and one partner or both partners to commute--to Toronto or Kitchener or Hamilton or Waterloo --is just a grand opportunity for the economic growth of our city."

Although Canada's climate of extreme temperatures presents a unique challenge for high-speed train technology, railway vehicle suppliers such as Bombardier, Alstom in France and Siemens in Germany say they can adapt existing trains to run in regions such as the Quebec City-Windsor corridor or between Edmonton and Calgary.

In fact, Siemens says it has modified its new Velaro trains, which run in Spain, for a 250 km/h high-speed route in Russia, between St. Petersburg and Moscow, making it the only train in the world that can run at extremes of -50 C or 40 C.

High-speed rail in the United States: Back on track after 50 years of neglect

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Long before he became president, Barack Obama had a hankering for the TGV and other fast trains. "I am always jealous about European trains," he told an audience during a visit to Strasbourg last spring. "And I said to myself: why can't we have high-speed rail?"

Well, maybe America can, although the full flowering of the rail renaissance is unlikely to get under way while Obama is still in the White House. With an initial infusion of $8bn, set aside under the spring's economic stimulus plan, the Obama administration is embarking on the most ambitious expansion of passenger rail in 50 years, with the construction or upgrade of up to 10 routes from California through the midwest to Florida.

Apart from California, none of the other routes envisaged would meet international standards for high-speed trains. But rail advocates say Obama has still taken an important first step towards the transformation of US rail.

"It is not going to be probably as good in the short term as what is currently in China, Japan and Europe, but it doesn't have to be," said Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic congressman from Oregon and deputy chairman of the House of Representatives committee on global warming. "What is revolutionary is that the US is starting to invest in higher-speed intercity networks. This reverses 50 years of passenger rail neglect."

Passenger rail reached its low point under George Bush, who sought to eliminate all public funds for the Amtrak network. But the security queues at US airports after the 9/11 attacks, and last summer's high petrol prices, have spurred official and popular interest in reviving rail travel. Last month, 40 states put forward 278 proposals for spending the $8bn in stimulus funds.

Obama views transport as crucial in meeting the US commitment to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions. He has budgeted an additional $1bn a year for rail over the next five years. The House of Representatives added an additional $1.4bn. The next step is a transportation bill now before Congress in which Democrats are seeking $50bn for passenger rail over the next six years.

But the initial $8bn will cover only a fraction of the costs of building a new network. The proposals submitted last month together amount to $108bn.

"We can't build a high-speed rail network in the United States for $8bn. What we can do is show the public that the $8bn has been invested wisely and created tangible benefits," said Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Centre, an advocacy group.


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Berkley: High-speed trains a ticket to more tourism dollars

Las Vegas Sun: Aug. 6, 2009
Kyle Hansen

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Rep. Shelley Berkley speaks about transportation issues at a press conference Wednesday as U.S. PIRG Field Organizer Jacob Shirk looks on at the Main Street Station Casino.

Rep. Shelley Berkley came to admire to high-speed trains while in Taiwan with her husband.

While there, she was impressed with the speed and efficiency of the system and decided that a similar system was needed at home.

“This is fabulous, we need to do this in the United States of America,” she said.

“How is it that Taiwan and so many other countries around the planet can figure out mass transit and a way of transporting people in a much more comfortable, much cleaner, much safer way than the United States of America?”

Berkley, D-Nev., joined representatives from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in a press conference Wednesday morning to promote public transportation and road maintenance.

“We have a crumbling and ageing infrastructure,” Berkley said. “If we are going to continue our status as a superpower and an important nation in this world, we’re going to have to start moving in a direction that’s going to repair our crumbling infrastructure. It was great for the 20th century, it’s obsolete for the 21st.”

U.S. PIRG representatives have been in the Las Vegas area this week gathering signatures and support for their suggestions to Congress.

“We do need a 21st century transportation plan, one that will enhance our economy, our national security, public health, the environment and quality of life,” field organizer Jacob Shirk said. “We need a transportation system that will prioritize fixing our crumbling roads and not just building new highways.”

The advocacy group claims that 80 percent of federal transportation funds go toward building new highways and cited the deadly collapse of a bridge in Minnesota two years ago as evidence of the need for more money to maintain existing roadways.

“Americans waste millions of hours each year just sitting on roads, most of which are poorly maintained,” Shirk said. “At the same time, we spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on wasted projects when that money could be going into basic maintenance, into modernization and investing in public transportation.”

A report released by the group says public transportation saves the country 3.4 billion gallons of oil each year, prevents 541 million hours of traffic delay and reduces carbon emissions by 26 million tons.

Berkley said she agrees with the group on the need for new transit solutions.

“We can’t continue to rely on our crumbling infrastructure. It will sink us in the end if we don’t get ahead of this situation, this problem, and move forward,” she said.

But the congresswoman also said she thinks Las Vegas is doing a good job building mass-transit alternatives, citing the Regional Transportation Commission’s Deuce buses and new ACE express buses as examples.

“You can’t talk about getting people out of their cars unless you offer them an alternative,” she said. “I believe the Las Vegas Valley is in the process of offering and building a remarkable alternative to being in your car all by yourself, spending a fortune on gas, spending hours in your car and polluting the air.”

Berkley said the hardest part will be getting people to believe in and use the new transit systems.

“It’s changing a mindset, and that’s a very difficult thing to do. The only way you do that is, over time, demonstrating to people that there’s a better way. Right now, they haven’t seen a better way,” she said.

Part of that, Berkley said, will be building a national system of high-speed trains.

“I believe our transportation department should be developing a bicoastal system (so) that people know that they can get on that high-speed train and get from one end of the country to another,” she said. “You have to instill confidence, it has to work, it has to be inexpensive -- certainly more cost-effective than getting in your car -- it has to get you to where you’re going, it has to be safe.”

Las Vegas can especially benefit from the trains, she said, because of the high number of tourists who come to the area from Southern California.

“Las Vegas depends on tourism dollars. In order to get tourism dollars, you need tourists that come with their dollars,” she said. “Let’s get them here by high-speed train. We’ll get them here faster, cleaner and less expensively, and then they have all those dollars to spend here in Las Vegas. We like that.”


See also:

Maglev or DesertXpress? One could be your new ride

maglev.jpg
DesertXpress’ competing proposal for speedy train muddies waters for long-desired, more costly maglev line

Las Vegas Sun: June 14, 2009
Chris Morris

* Public or private, rail line will need major subsidies from government
* Trade-offs between technologies include speed, cost

Washington — Dreamers have long envisioned a fast train to whisk riders between Las Vegas and Southern California.

But probably no one expected that, with $8 billion in federal money available for the smartest proposals across the country, two starkly different proposals for fast trains between Las Vegas and Southern California would compete for the business.

And neither proposal is perfect.

One offers a stunning view of the future: A publicly-funded maglev train, smoothly propelled at speeds up to 300 mph by magnetic levitation, a technology untried in this country because it is so expensive to build. The price tag is $12 billion.

The other, the upstart DesertXpress, would use traditional steel wheels on steel tracks, driven at speeds up to 150 mph with electric or diesel-electric power. Its oddity is its southern terminus — the high-desert outpost of Victorville, more than an hour’s drive above the Southern California basin. The $4 billion project was pitched as a privately funded venture but its backers say now they may seek government loans.

Both of the proposed lines would transport passengers between Las Vegas and Southern California in the time it takes to watch a movie, for about $50 — with one going at half the speed and covering two-thirds the distance of the other.

The choices raise pivotal questions as the nation weighs its appetite for risk and considers whether such a system should be in public versus private hands.

As President Barack Obama offers this bold investment in train travel — the most dramatic since the transcontinental rail line was laid a century ago — is it time to take a grand leap with a futuristic technology? Or is the public averse these days to financial risk?

This week, the federal Transportation Department will unveil guidelines for those seeking to apply for a portion of the $8 billion passed by Congress as part of the economic recovery package. Decisions will be made this year.

The maglev project desperately needs public dollars and has appealed to Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, for $1.8 billion to develop the first segment — from Las Vegas to the state line at Primm — and to continue planning the rest.

DesertXpress Enterprises LLC has shunned federal aid, promising to be privately financed and turn a profit, a feat no other modern rail line has been able to accomplish in this country. But it is in the market for federal loans.

If the maglev project gets a federal boost of stimulus dollars, it could make it difficult for DesertXpress backers to raise private equity. If DesertXpress can leverage its newfound support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it could knock maglev out of the picture.

Maglev’s boosters say that even if DesertXpress is constructed, it will still pursue its own project. But skeptics doubt there is sufficient appetite, financial or otherwise, for the Federal Railroad Administration to permit both trains.

Sen. Reid’s turnabout

Reid, knowing that one-third of Las Vegas visitors come from Southern California, has been in frequent contact with the Obama administration about the importance of a high-speed rail between the two regions.

He tilted the game board last week.

Reid had long championed the maglev project and had helped steer more than $50 million toward its development.

After three decades of talk by maglev boosters but little to show for it, Reid turned his back on it in favor of the swift enterprise of DesertXpress.

“He’s been waiting on a high-speed train from L.A. to Las Vegas for 30 years,” said Reid’s spokesman, Jon Summers. “He wants to see something done.”

The senator’s change of heart surprised maglev developers, with some suggesting that Reid switched sides because DesertXpress could be tangible when he runs for office in 2010.

DesertXpress is backed by power broker Sig Rogich, a former official in the first Bush administration who is co-chairman of the group Republicans for Reid.

Yet Reid’s move could have been foreseen by anyone who has watched and waited for the visionary maglev train to be more than designs on paper.

Rogich has backed Reid since 2004.

“I would suspect the senator’s decision is based on practicality,” said former Democratic Gov. Bob Miller, who recently wrote a commentary in the Las Vegas Sun with former Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn in support of the maglev project.

“Certainly anything that has taken as long a period of time as this has taken creates frustration,” Miller said.

For his part, Miller is ambivalent. “I can’t pick between one or the other,” he said. “Whatever can help, more power to it.”

Maglev’s proponents vow to soldier on, undeterred by the loss of their powerful patron, and relying on supporters in the White House. They say two lines can coexist across the desert.

“We’re going to do it,” said Neil Cummings, president of the American Magline Group, the consortium of engineering and construction companies that would build the maglev project.

Because this country has never had a strategy for rail planning in the modern age, unlike its master plan for interstate highways, the nation now faces the prospect of designing a rail system from bottom up, rather than from the top down.

The General Accountability Office said as much in a report this year: “No federal vision or national plan for determining the role of high-speed rail in the U.S. transportation system exists.”

Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said the result has been what he calls the peanut butter method of allocating transportation dollars. The government just spreads it around.

“It’s done in an ad hoc way,” Puentes said. “The criticism is the federal government has been absent and adrift for too long.”

Train projects are popular among the engineering, construction and rail firms that would profit from their construction. The maglev project is among dozens of rail projects from across the country that could be vying for the $8 billion in federal recovery money for high-speed rail.

Most employ traditional technologies, but one in Pittsburgh and another that would link Baltimore and Washington, D.C., involve 10-year-old maglev proposals.

Maglev’s 20-year history

This maglev project is the brainchild of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, a highfalutin name for a nonprofit entity formed in 1988 with the sole purpose of developing a fast train between Las Vegas and Southern California.

The commission, made up of private citizens and public officials, entertained several technologies before choosing magnetic levitation in 1991 and choosing American Magline Group as its developer in 1993.

The maglev train proposes to zoom passengers between Vegas and the Disneyland area, enabling tourists in either city to experience the other, just 80 minutes away, without need of automobile. The northbound maglev would stop in Ontario to connect with the airport, and would stop southbound stop at Ivanpah, to connect with an airport planned for there.

With California separately building a north-south high-speed train line between San Francisco and Orange County, the maglev team envisions passengers being able to connect to the California train at its stop in Anaheim station to continue to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

(Groundbreaking for the California network could happen in the next few years. It is funded by an $11 billion bond issue approved by California voters last year, and is considered a front-runner in being awarded federal stimulus money.)

Bruce Aguilera, chairman of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission and an executive at Bellagio, said his organization offered a prime selling point when the group met with LaHood in April: They promised to have the first 40-mile segment to Primm running “in time for President Obama, the secretary and Sen. Reid to show the American people before the next election what this money could be used for.”

Maglev critics deride the technology as wishful futurism, but transportation experts say it is maglev’s price tag, not science, that has left it undeveloped in this country.

“It’s not to say maglev couldn’t be successful or the technology isn’t feasible, it probably is,” said Martin Wachs, one of the nation’s leading transportation experts, who taught for 25 years at UCLA and is now director of the Rand Corp.’s Transportation, Space and Technology Program.

“It’s a question of rationality,” he said. “Those who have to actually plunk the dollars down on the table see the increased benefits of maglev as not worth the risk.”

The world’s only operating commercial maglev line links Shanghai and Pudong International Airport — a 19-mile-long run completed in 7 1/2 minutes.

That system, now in its ninth upgrade, is what American Magline wants to build between Anaheim and Las Vegas.

At one point, reminds Miller, the former governor, maglev was the only game in town.

Not only Reid, but much of Nevada’s political class has at times supported the maglev train.

And then DesertXpress plans emerged, relatively suddenly, to pose a competitive challenge.

That has left lawmakers to rework their support. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, a former commission member as an appointee of three governors, thinks maglev is the “technology of the future,” but is now giving some thought to DesertXpress, her spokesman said.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley is among those who support “whichever one is successful.”

Over the years, the commission has raised $10 million for maglev — more than $7 million in federal allocations championed mainly by Reid and more than $2 million in state and local funding.

Internal Revenue Service filings from recent years show that most of the commission’s annual expenditures go to the American Magline Group, the consortium of private companies that is developing the project.

Rail lines are an expensive undertaking. Before a single track is laid, millions are spent drafting the inches-thick environmental review required by the federal government.

After two decades, the commission’s maglev project is suddenly losing the paper war.

In just a few short years, the DesertXpress backers have spent $25 million producing an environmental report.

DesertXpress is the nation’s only privately financed train proposal before the Transportation Department’s Federal Railroad Administration.

If their plan is approved this year, DesertXpress backers say, they can raise private funding and break ground in 2010. Earlier groundbreakings have been postponed.

Although Reid secured another $45 million last year for maglev, the money has not been spent because the commission had been unable to raise the required matching funds until American Magline Group contributed the $11 million two months ago.

Cummings, the Los Angeles attorney who is president of American Magline Group, said, “We’ve admittedly been stalled, delayed, because of a shortage of funding.”

DesertXpress’ 7-year history

Plans for DesertXpress were launched in 2002. Its backers have been slowly but methodically spending money to plan the rail line between Las Vegas and Victorville.

The company is run by two alumni of the Metro Gold Line, the light rail train between Pasadena and downtown L.A., who saw the potential of a line between the two states.

But for all the attention it is getting for trying to create a private, profitable passenger rail line, DesertXpress is also raising eyebrows for a different reason: Why Victorville?

The answer: Unlike maglev, which can handle steep grades, the steel-wheel train can’t accommodate the Cajon Pass, which funnels entry into the Southern California basin, and blasting a tunnel to flatten the route is too costly.

Backers think that for the promise of a fast, on-time train across the desert, passengers will get themselves at least to Victorville, where the Vegas experience could begin. At the station, passengers would check into their hotels, turn over their luggage and board a train car with food, drink and entertainment (but no gambling).

“It’s not so much why Victorville,” Vice President Andrew Mack said. “Victorville is what makes the project work.”

Skeptics abound. The high-desert city is 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles — more than an hour’s drive in the best of traffic. Why not just fly?

The Government Accountability Office acknowledged concern, that with the terminus outside of Los Angeles, “whether travelers will use the (DesertXpress) line at the level being forecast.”

But its backers cite marketing studies showing a sufficient number of passengers will brave urban traffic to get at least as far as the high-desert community, where they’ll transfer to the train rather than drive the rest of the way across the Mojave.

And for those coming from Nevada to California, would it be worth it to rent a car in Victorville for the drive into the basin?

But just for back-up, the company is planning the next phase.

Like the maglev, DesertXpress would connect with California’s north-south line by adding a spur to the California train’s stop in Palmdale, another high-desert outpost, about 50 miles west of Victorville.

Passengers could then continue south to Los Angeles, where the California train has a planned stop at Union Station and another in Anaheim, in Orange County.

Realities of the recession

Wachs, who taught engineering at UCLA and was chairman of the Department of Urban Planning before moving to Rand, said a privately-run train company is a model unlike almost any working today.

“In the entire world there are maybe one or two passenger rail projects that are actually profitable without public financing,” he said.

But recently, stung by recessionary realities of the credit markets, the company has indicated it could be interested in low-interest government loans to supplement its private backing.

The company is counting on raising 30 percent in private equity and 70 percent debt to finance the project. Though the company counts casino construction magnate Tony Marnell among its backers, Strip casinos have largely declined to get into the transportation business.

“Would we love to see greater access between Las Vegas and Southern California? Absolutely,” said Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage. “Are any of us able to participate in that financially? The answer is probably not.”

DesertXpress officials said interest from potential global investors remains strong, but with the tightened credit market, government loans could be helpful. The Federal Railroad Administration can provide loans for 100 percent financing for 35 years.

“In view of the credit crunch, that might be attractive,” DesertXpress President Tom Stone said.

Reid has been pressing the White House to name the Nevada-California line as a priority corridor, a designation that, depending on how the route is drawn, could help his now-preferred line, DesertXpress, get access to government grants in the stimulus project.

If that happens, Reid is likely to be targeted, as he has in the past, by critics deriding a big-money train project as pork for the Sin City Express.

Politics are likely to continue playing a sizable role in deciding which Nevada line, if any, gets built.

Wachs, at Rand, shrugged off the political infighting or the lack of a master-planned vision.

“It’s up to a political system to sort all those out and make a decision,” Wachs said.

“Invariably we end up with systems that look to no one to be ideal,” Wachs said. Only in the lock-step world of Mussolini did the trains run on time.

In a democracy, he said, “it’s always kind of a messy, multifaceted process.”

Sun reporter Brian Eckhouse contributed to this story.

High-speed rail in Spain: From Madrid to Barcelona in a flash

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Giles Tremlett

Ana Portet has had an unusual commute to work. At 7.30am she popped down to Sants railway station in Barcelona. Three hours later she was in a meeting with colleagues from her brewery firm, 315 miles away in Madrid.

"I'll be back in Barcelona by half past five," she said as her early afternoon bullet train flew back along the new high-speed tracks at up to 210mph. "It's so quick, sometimes you are there before you have even noticed."

Portet is one of hundreds of thousands of travellers who have migrated from the world's busiest air shuttle, linking Madrid and Barcelona, to what is now Spain's most popular train, the high-speed AVE.

The AVE, an intercom announcement has just told us, will leave us in the centre of Barcelona in two hours and 32 minutes. With Madrid's AVE station a short walk from the Prado museum, the journey is from one city centre to another. What is more, the high-speed train does this in punctual, hassle-free and elegant style.

High-speed trains pulled by aerodynamic engines with noses shaped like a duck-billed platypus are grounding aircraft across Spain. The year-old Barcelona-Madrid line has already taken 46% of the traffic – stealing most of it from fuel-guzzling, carbon-emitting aircraft. As the high-speed rail network spreads a web of tracks across Spain over the next decade, it threatens to relegate domestic air travel to a distant second place.

A high-speed network is not designed overnight. Spain's AVE story started in the 1980s, when the socialist prime minister Felipe González commissioned a line between Madrid and his home city of Seville. The project was overshadowed by corruption scandals and greeted with a certain amount of scorn. Why was sleepy Seville getting the line and not busy Barcelona? Some saw it as an expensive white elephant and a monument to González's ego.

The line, however, was a spectacular success. Remote Seville was suddenly two and a half hours from Madrid. Spaniards, used to shabby, lumbering trains that crawled across the countryside following unpredictable timetables, discovered their trains could be stylish and run on time.

Previously the choice on the Madrid-Seville run was between a hot, tiring six-hour coach journey or an aircraft. Seventeen years later, only one traveller out of 10 takes the plane to Seville. The rest go by a train that is 99% punctual. The Seville line proved that high-speed trains could be part of the answer, albeit an expensive part, to some of Spain's most enduring problems.

A country almost two and a half times the size of Britain, Spain is traversed by mountain ranges and wide rivers that act as barriers to communication. Those barriers not only stopped many people getting to the biggest cities – with their universities and research hospitals, they also stopped Spaniards finding out about their own country.

EU funds were tapped to help railways and motorways bulldoze their way through these barriers. Spain's vast open spaces and fuss-free approach to planning meant, in theory, that a high-speed network could expand fast. Governments of all colours were keen and regions competed to attract the lines.

Expanding the network, however, took much longer than expected. The Barcelona-Madrid route was only the second major line to open – 16 years after Seville. Financing, political squabbling over priority routes and the unexpected appearance of large holes under part of the Barcelona track kept pushing the inauguration date back.

Now it is as though the Barcelona AVE has always been there. It has already improved the love life of 68-year-old Wenceslao Gomez, who books ahead to get cheap fares as low as €87 (£73) return. "My girlfriend lives in Barcelona and I live in Madrid," he explained as a dramatic stretch of Spanish countryside rushed past. "It's a bit pricy, but I'll never catch the plane again."

Budget airlines offer cheaper prices but the regular air shuttle cannot compete, except on time.

For Balbinder Sandhu, a young British businessman who lives in Barcelona, the choice is clear. "I used to catch the air shuttle with Iberia," he said. "But if I go to Madrid and back on the plane I am usually absolutely knackered. Here we don't have all the airport controls and you can turn up at the last minute."

The prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a socialist, is reaping the fruits of previous investment and giving the network its definitive push. All over the country, work is going on building bridges, tunnels and laying high-speed track as a further €108bn is poured into the network over the next 12 years.

By 2020 Spain will have Europe's largest high-speed network, its 6,000 miles of track outgunning even France's TGV system. By then 90% of the population will be within 30 miles of a station. New lines have already been opened to Segovia, Valladolid and Malaga in the last 18 months. New links will eventually connect France and Portugal.

Airlines have reacted by claiming the AVE receives unfair government support – and by cutting prices. "Some airlines still have to learn that customer service is included in the price of a ticket," said Josep Valls, a professor at the ESADE business school in Barcelona.

The high-speed train network also helps Spain control carbon emissions, with passengers on the Madrid-Barcelona line cutting their own emissions by 83% on the trip.

Not all has been perfect in Spain's high-speed world. In the Basque country the violent separatist group Eta has hijacked an environmental campaign against the train. Last year it shot Inazio Uria, a local contractor, because he had taken work on the line.

That, some say, was backhanded recognition of just how the train threatens to bring distant places such as the Basque country more tightly into Spain.

High-speed rail in Germany: Inter-city planes are grounded by faster trains

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Kate Connolly in Berlin

Germany's high-speed rail network has put paid to short-haul flights between several cities.
A-German-Ice-train.jpg
Comfort and speed: a German Ice train. Photograph: Torsten Silz/AFP/Getty Images

Once, there were hundreds of flights a day transferring tens of thousands of passengers between Berlin and Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Bremen and Cologne. All have been closed down due to cheaper and faster rail travel.

Eighteen years after the introduction of modern high-speed rail to Germany the overwhelming verdict is that the Ice – Inter City Express – and Icec – Intercity Eurocity – have transformed travel around the country and put the rail network on a par with Japan's Shinkasen or France's TGV. Germany's 21,000-mile rail network now boasts about 800 miles of high-speed track, averaging 150mph.

The journey considered to be the nearest modern equivalent to magic carpet rides is the Cologne-Frankfurt route, which used to take over two hours but has been cut to just over an hour. Taking the car is hardly an alternative, when even whizzing in your BMW on the speed limit-free autobahn would take twice as long as the train. Berlin to Hamburg by rail now takes about 90 minutes, whereas a few years ago a flight would have taken at least two hours, taking check-in time into account.

"There was a time," says Karl-Peter Naumann, of the train passengers' association Pro Bahn, "when some people still chose planes above trains, for comfort reasons. It was a question of prestige for some, for others of collecting their air miles. But now rail travel can be as comfortable, if not more so, than flying."

There is a rule of thumb, says Naumann, according to which "by every 1% you decrease the journey time, your passenger numbers increase by the same amount".

There are plans to extend routes, some of which are still in the pipeline. Others are in the building stages, including Stuttgart to Ulm, Fulda to Frankfurt, and the most prestigious, long-awaited and controversial project, Nuremberg to Leipzig, which is expected to cost upwards of €8bn and to be completed between 2015 and 2020. The new stretch is expected to shave three hours off the current seven-hour journey between Munich and Berlin.

"The biggest challenge is the relationship between the price of building, the cost of running the system and the passenger growth potential, which in turn is linked to the price of flying, which is still relatively cheap, due to the low taxes on kerosene for airlines. So there remains a question mark," says Naumann.

Heidi Tischmann, of the German Traffic Club, which advocates ecologically friendly means of transport, points out that surveys of passengers show their priority is not necessarily speed. "Safety and punctuality are most important," she said.

From this autumn, a 150mph Ice journey will shave half an hour off the trip between Aachen in Germany and Liege in Belgium, delivering passengers beneath the wavy glass roof of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava's newly constructed central station.

From December the journey time between Cologne and Paris will be reduced to three hours and 15 minutes, thanks to the international high-speed Thalys train. Never before will it have been possible – either by car or by plane – to travel so swiftly between the Rhine and the Seine.

High-speed rail in China: Key journey times halved in building frenzy

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Tania Branigan

China's mammoth infrastructure programmes tend to make other countries' grand projects look unambitious. Now a new frenzy of building has begun as the economic stimulus package gives fresh impetus to plans to transform its overcrowded rail system.

"China's railway service has long fallen short of demand," Li Heping, a researcher at the China Academy of Railway Sciences, told the state news agency Xinhua. "There are two solutions: building more railways and raising the train speed."

By European standards, many of the new high-speed links will not be terribly fast. Thirty-five lines for trains travelling at 125mph or more, measuring 6,800 miles in total, will be brought into service by 2012, officials say, and 4,350 more miles by 2020.

But the initial phase will include five major routes – three running north to south, two east to west – which will carry trains at 217mph or 236mph.

One of the most important is the 818-mile Beijing-Shanghai line, which will halve the journey time to four hours. Officials expect it to carry 80 million passengers and more than 100m tonnes of cargo each year.

Huang Qiang, a researcher at the China Academy of Railway Sciences, told Xinhua the country has almost doubled its spending on railway building to 600bn yuan (£51.5bn) this year and will spend at that level until 2012 – using 20m tonnes of steel and 120m tonnes of concrete a year and providing 6m jobs.

Fast trains will not replace air travel; China announced last year that it would build almost 100 new airports by 2020. But officials believe improved passenger and freight services are also crucial to development. Last year saw 1.46bn journeys by rail, a 10.9% rise from 2007.

High-speed rail in Japan: From bullets to magic leviathan

Guardian: 5 August 2009
Justin McCurry in Tokyo

Travellers in Japan have enjoyed the luxury of high-speed rail travel for more than four decades. The first bullet train, the shinkansen, was introduced just in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
shinkansen.jpg
A high-speed train is waved off in Japan. Photograph: Andy Nelson/Getty

Both events were seen as symbolic of Japan's economic recovery and global acceptance less than 20 years after the end of the second world war.

The shinkansen network, operated by Japan Railways, now connects most major Japanese cities via almost 1,550 miles of track.

While the early trains reached up to 130mph, the latest version, the N700 series, which entered service in 2007, reaches speeds of 186mph.

The new E5 series, to be introduced in 2011, will reach 199mph, making it possible to travel from Tokyo to Aomori – 419 miles away – in three hours.

But if the aim of Japan's high-speed rail revolution was to supplant domestic air travel, it has failed. The archipelago's geographical spread, from Hokkaido in the north, to Okinawa, in the south, means that both have, for the most part, been able to coexist. Crudely put, the locomotive is better for train journeys of less than three hours – more than that the plane takes over.

More than 150 million people a year use the bullet train service between Tokyo and Osaka – the most popular route – while Japan Airlines (JAL) flew 3.9 million people from Tokyo to Osaka and Kobe airports in the same period.

In 2020 Japan plans to launch its next generation of bullet trains: a service that will connect Tokyo and Nagoya in around 40 minutes using maglev – magnetic levitation – trains which are much faster than conventional trains.

National Express suitors given Sept bid deadline

Reuters: Aug 5, 2009
By John Bowker and Victoria Bryan

* UK Takeover Panel sets Sept 11 bid deadline
* National Express says still seeking clarity on offer
* National Express shares up 2.4 percent

LONDON - National Express bidders the Cosmen family, CVC and rival Stagecoach have until 11 September to make a bid for the troubled rail and bus operator, the UK takeover regulator said on Wednesday. The Cosmen family, which owns 18.6 percent of National Express, last month made an all-cash proposal for National Express in conjunction with private equity group CVC.

Stagecoach then stepped into the fray by saying it was in talks with the Cosmen consortium about taking parts of National Express if a bid was successful, while also considering a bid of its own.

National Express shares were up 2.2 percent by 13.58 GMT, while Stagecoach was up 1.7 percent.

A spokesman for National Express -- which insists it has a future as an independent company -- said it welcomed the new deadline.

"The board continues to seek clarity from the consortium about a possible offer, which at present is complex and subject to a number of conditions," he said.

"The group is working on a range of measures to strengthen both the operations and balance sheet," he added.

National Express, which runs bus operations in Spain and North America, has become a takeover candidate after amassing a debt pile of close to 1 billion pounds ($1.70 billion), giving up its flagship UK rail franchise and announcing the departure of its CEO.

It said last week it had cut its debt by 200 million pounds to 977.4 million via measures such as scrapping the half-year dividend.

Carlisle's Stobart Group wins huge European haulage deal

News & Star: 05 August 2009
By Chris Story

Transport giant the Stobart Group has signed a deal to haul fresh food by train across Europe.

The Carlisle-based firm will run trains from Valencia in Spain to the UK via the Channel Tunnel with rail firm DB Schenker.

Executives say the “temperature controlled services” will be unique with a single rail freight operator across three countries.

Schenker’s European subsidiaries – Euro Cargo Rail in France and Spain – will form part of the operation.

Stobart says the deal is a major step forward in reducing the company’s carbon footprint and transportation time for fresh produce from the continent to the UK and Ireland.

Chief executive Andrew Tinkler said: “We believe this adds a massive opportunity for both companies to enable a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution for moving fresh and ambient produce throughout Europe.

“Every train will contain 30 reefer boxes and the direct service from the pack-house to the store will reduce waste and increase the shelf life.”

Mr Tinker said that, as well as providing savings for customers, the continental service – operating three train a week – would save 13.7 million road kilometres per year, annually cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 8,624 tonnes.

He added: “This will, in my opinion, provide customers will a seamless reliable road and rail freight service. This goes a long way in meeting our aspirations of moving more goods by rail.”

Stobart already runs rail freight as part of a deal with Carlisle-based Direct Rail Services. They run between Daventry and Grangemouth and Grangemouth and Inverness.

Stobart believes their planning infrastructure and capability in the fresh and chilled sector will ensure products are monitors from their pack-house to storage area.

The train operation from Spain will be used by new and existing customers of Stobart and Schenker.

Keith Heller, chief executive of DB Schenker Rail (UK), said: “By working with Stobart Rail, we can deliver a superior product that will play a major role in European modal shift aspirations from road to rail.

“With increasing environmental and cost pressures, we see tremendous growth opportunities for similar services to France and Germany.”

August 4, 2009

Rooftop demo to support workers

BBC News: 4 August 2009

Five people have begun a rooftop protest on the Isle of Wight over the planned closure of a wind turbine blade factory, with the loss of 625 jobs.
vestas_cowes.jpg
The roof-top protest coincides with the world-famous Cowes Week regatta

They have climbed the Vestas factory's Venture Quays building in Cowes, during the world-famous Cowes Week regatta.

It comes as the Danish firm plans to evict about 20 workers, who barricaded themselves into the firm's Newport plant on the island 15 days ago.

The Danish company is going to the courts to seek a repossession order.

A spokesman declined to comment on the rooftop protest.

The four men and one woman have hung banners reading: "In solidarity with the Vestas workers" and "Fight for green jobs".

'Government hypocrisy'

They told the BBC News website they would stay there until all the workers were given their jobs back.

We are staying here until the workers are re-instated
Martin Shaw, roof-top protester

One of the protesters is a member of the RMT but is not believed to be a Vestas worker.

The other four - three men and one woman - said they were from the "climate camp" and were not from the island.

Martin Shaw, 44, told the BBC News website: "We are here to highlight government hypocrisy whereby they talk about a green future but are prepared to spend billions and billions of taxpayers' money on baling out the banks.

"They acknowledge climate change and yet the only [wind turbine] factory in the whole of Britain is being closed.

"We are staying here until the workers are re-instated, particularly the ones at the factory who are fighting for the right to work and support their families."

'Starve' workers out

On Monday, RMT union boss Bob Crow said the sit-in workers at the Newport site had again been denied food parcels on Sunday night and Monday morning but they were later allowed through.

He said if the protesters were denied access to the parcels in future, the RMT would seek a High Court injunction.

The RMT had accused Vestas of trying to "starve" the workers out by using security guards to restrict access to food and drink.

Vestas has been supplying twice daily meals but the RMT says that is not enough.
Protest by supporters of the sit-in protest
Seven supporters of the sit-in were arrested in London on Monday

Peter Kruse, Vestas spokesman, said on Monday: "The people inside are free to leave if they don't like what is on the menu."

Seven people were arrested on Monday after apparently using super-glue to stick themselves together at the Department of Energy and Climate Change in support of the Vestas workers.

The Vestas operation on the island was due to shut on 31 July but the closure date has been put back to 10 August because of the sit-in.

The protesters claim up to 25 people have been inside the Newport factory. Eleven workers identified by the firm have been sacked.

Vestas's bid to have the workers removed failed last week when a judge ruled papers had not been served in accordance with legal rules.

Vestas blamed the closure of the factory on a lack of demand for wind turbines in the UK.

August 3, 2009

Eurotunnel and SNCF join up for Veolia bid

IFW: 3rd August 2009
By James Falkner

Veolia Cargo divisions to be split in two as Eurotunnel looks to bolster Europorte 2 plan

Eurotunnel and SNCF have teamed up to make an undisclosed bid for Veolia Cargo, the freight division of French rail operator Veolia Transport.

The Channel Tunnel operator said it wanted to split Veolia Cargo’s divisions, with it taking the domestic services of Veolia Cargo France, the short-line operator CFTA Cargo, the freight handling unit Socorail, and Veolia Cargo Link, which runs freight between France and Germany.

SNCF-Fret would acquire the German, Dutch and Italian subsidiaries of Veolia Cargo.

JaquesGounon.jpg
Gounon: A 'very exciting move'

Eurotunnel’s business has suffered from continuing depressed freight traffic volumes, and the tunnel fire in September 2008 left it running at a reduced capacity until 10 February.

Jacques Gounon, Eurotunnel CEO, told IFW that the deal would help expand the company, allowing it to develop its traction subsidiary Europorte 2 into a lowcost European shorthaul operator, and make cross-Channel rail freight a much more attractive proposition for shippers.

"Rail freight is one of the two core businesses of Eurotunnel.

"The real challenge of rail freight is not in finding the goods to move, but in achieving the right price, " he said.

"If we are successful in our bid, it would propel our Europorte 2 business plan ahead five years, " he added. "It’s a strategic move and a very exciting one for us."

Eurotunnel wants to extend Europorte 2 operations to run further into the UK and also connect it with the SNCF-Fret network.

The deal would be a real boost for Eurotunnel, which reported worsening halfyear results. Total group revenues (including passenger traffic) were at t266m (US$375m), down from t368m in the first half of 2008.

Traffic has continued to fall and it handled 354,484 truck shuttles compared with 757,423 in the same period last year, a fall of over 50%.

Rail freight traffic dropped to 1,143 trains from 1,488 in the first half of 2008.

Gounon added: "We believe that we can increase the rail freight going through the Tunnel, being our own operator, and in partnership with SNCF, be the low-cost operator of traction that is currently missing."

Veolia Transport, part of France’s Veolia Environment, operates both passenger and freight services in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. It created the Veolia Cargo division in 2003, which bought Rail4chem in February 2008, and employs around 1,200 people and recorded a revenue of t188m in 2008.

Gounon said: "I considered that the Veolia Cargo activity, which operates in France, Germany and in the Netherlands, was perhaps a bit too large for us with our existing capacity, so I needed a partnership with an operator."

SNCF declined to comment on their bid until an official statement is made.

Veolia is also in discussions with French state-owned investment group Caisse des Dépôts, which has voiced an interest in the rail freight firm.

The unit was first put up for sale in April by its parent company as part of a programme to shed non-strategic assets running until 2011, and has an estimated global value of t3bn.

NatExpress to fight being railroaded

Financial Times: August 3 2009
By Gill Plimmer

For a man whose company is in a fight for its life, John Devaney, National Express chairman, is unusually relaxed. Glancing through the FT's windows at the swirling river below, he says: "I like watching the boats go by."

In his first interview since taking the job three months ago, Mr Devaney blames the Department for Transport for National Express's woes and insists the heavily indebted bus and rail operator can survive without a takeover. "We don't need to do a deal; our focus isn't to do a deal," he says.

His comments may surprise investors and analysts. "I just can't see National Express having an independent future," says a source close to the company.

The predators are circling and whereas many companies can deal with their problems more quietly, the moves of a public transport operator make for front page news.

Even before the negative publicity sparked by the fall-out from its decision to renege on a contract to run the East Coast railway line between London and Edinburgh, National Express was a household name - the red and blue livery on its coaches a regular feature of motorways as it ferried people between cities for as little as a few pounds.

But if buses remain relatively recession-proof, it was an acquisition spree in this most attractive part of the business that got it into trouble, a fact Mr Devaney is only too ready to admit.

The source of a large part of the company's £1bn debt problem is a coach group called Alsa, the market leader in Spain, bought from the Cosmen family, now a key shareholder. The business remains vibrant and profitable - one bus station in Madrid sees as many people pass through it as Heathrow every day - but it was also bought with borrowed money.

Mr Devaney believes National Express can whittle away at its debt mountain. There is shareholder support for a rights issue, he says, "but a right-sized one", and that banks are "supportive".

The East Coast mainline was a millstone, requiring the company to pay the government a total £1.4bn in tranches to run the line until 2016. As passenger numbers fell and travellers switched to cheaper tickets, the losses - £20m in the first six months of the year - "were just too big for the rest of the group to cope with," Mr Devaney says.

Without it, he says, the company can focus on reducing costs of its businesses in North America and Spain. It has already shaved £200m from its debt this year and there are further savings to be made. Head office staff can be cut, he says, some fuel deals to be improved, and fewer drivers needed to run its US school buses, already protected from the downturn by government contracts.

The positives are a fledging North African enterprise, not to mention the lucrative remaining rail franchises it hopes to continue to run in the UK.

The question is whether that will be enough.

There is no doubt that National Express has profitable businesses; it is these that are attracting the predators. It earned £28.6m from its Spanish coaches in the first six months of this year and £21.8m from its British buses.

Just this week, however, its East Anglia train service was shut by strike action - a reminder that there is a limit to cost savings that can be made before services start to be affected.

There is also the matter of the debt terms, some of which need to be met by the end of the year and a further tranche that must be renegotiated by September 2010, though Mr Devaney is confident he will be "able to sort it out".

A gruff Lancastrian and former engineer who is credited with rescuing Marconi, the telecoms equipment maker, from the brink of insolvency, Mr Devaney is an experienced operator who has won the support of the City.

But investors do not like uncertainty. Finding a replacement for Richard Bowker, the former chief executive, could take another six months. A row with the government over whether it can retain its two remaining rail franchises will not even begin to be resolved until November, when National Express will finally hand back the East Coast franchise after burning through the remaining £22m it is contracted to put into the line.

Mr Devaney is keen to point to a strong record in running the two more profitable franchises; c2c, the London to Tilbury and Southend operation, won an award for meeting Swiss standards of punctuality, he says.

However, Lord Adonis, transport secretary, is determined to strip the company of that and the East Anglia contract as a punishment for handing back the East Coast line. Mr Devaney remains adamant the legal advice is that they "can't be taken off us".

A big hope is that the change of management at National Express, including Mr Devaney's appointment, could soften Lord Adonis' stance. It is widely held in the industry that there was personal animosity between sections of the Department for Transport and Mr Bowker, a former head of the Strategic Rail Authority, who played a crucial role in designing the franchise system.

Mr Devaney, who is also chairman of National Air Traffic Control Systems, says he spent a day with Lord Adonis at the traffic control centre in Swanick, which "he seemed to enjoy". He's a "very reasonable man".

That does not stop Mr Devaney from being critical of the department for writing such tight specifications into the East Coast contract, which stifled any ability to cut costs to the extent that National Express could not add or subtract carriages, for example, according to demand.

The franchise system, he says, with his dry humour, "would take some trouble inventing". The "only investment rail operators can make is to turnstiles and car parks".

He suggests that even Lord Adonis "was surprised by the way it worked". He thought that the public transport company had "promised to put money into the company ad nauseum but that's not the way the system was set up".

The system encourages overbidding, he says, and he concedes that National Express paid too much for the East Coast mainline.

The predators, on the whole, are thought to be more interested in National Express's bus business than its remaining rail franchises, which are already roughly halfway through their contracts.

One offer from rival First Group has been rejected and withdrawn; and a second by the Cosmen family, an 18.2 per cent shareholder, and the CVC private equity group, is still on foot, but vague on detail - clearly frustrating Mr Devaney. In these circumstances, Mr Devaney asserts "the best deal at the moment is to fix the company" though he also says, "if someone comes in from the side with an attractive and unconditional offer we will consider it".

August 2, 2009

Don't let the defeatists and cynics talk down Britain's need for speed

The Observer: 2 August 2009
Will Hutton

Our lack of high-speed railways is humiliating. In this key capability, Britain is a banana republic

There are 3,480 miles of railway in operation in Europe where trains can travel at 150 miles an hour or more. Another 2,160 miles are under construction. Yet another 5,280 miles are planned. More than 10,000 miles in all. Britain has just 68 miles and the planning for more began a mere six months ago. It's humiliating. In this key 21st-century capability, Britain is a banana republic.

Take a look at the map of Europe. It is obvious that within just a few years, London, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin are going to be hooked up by trains hurtling regularly between each city, London using the country's sole 68 high-speed miles to the Channel Tunnel to connect to the wider network. The experience of the Japanese Shinkansen high-speed network foretells what will happen – those cities that are part of the system will blossom industrially and commercially. Those outside it will wilt.

Which is why anyone reading this column outside London should take a close and passionate interest in transport secretary Lord Andrew Adonis's plans to create a high-speed railway between London and Glasgow, via Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. This is "High Speed 2", in contrast to "High Speed 1" which links the Channel Tunnel and St Pancras. It is a belated attempt to catch up, bringing the rest of the country into a key, low-carbon transport technology from which, outrageously, it has been excluded.

Some readers will think: "So what?" They will argue that it does not really matter whether it takes 90 or 45 minutes to make the journey from London to Birmingham – or five hours or three hours from Edinburgh to London. A tunnel under the Pennines to link Leeds and Manchester – the current trans-Pennine "express" takes an amazingly long 55 minutes to travel 45 short miles – is a white elephant, despite shortening the journey time to 15 minutes. The overall price tag – some £20bn – is ludicrously high for a country with budget deficits of £ 175bn a year. We cannot afford and do not need this line.

Wrong. Economic growth and development are driven by what innovation theorists call general purpose technologies. A general purpose technology is one that transforms economies and societies. The wheel was a general purpose technology. So was the Portuguese invention of the three-masted caravel in the 15th century that allowed ships to become ocean- going, leading to European long-distance trade, colonisation and the emergence of a rich European merchant class. So was the printing press. And so was the railway in the 19th century.

Railways did not just get passengers from A to B faster than horses. The railway consolidated nations and national markets. It created new cities and city suburbs. It allowed the European powers to open up their colonies. Rail transformed the military geography of the world. For the first time, people en masse began to move away from their home towns and villages, massively enlarging the gene pool. Railways, like the internet and biotechnology today, were a genuine general purpose technology.

The intriguing question is whether high-speed rail will be as transformative. My hunch is that it will. One of the advantages of London over other parts of the country is that there is a critical mass of 8 million rich consumers crowded into one urban space. It makes the economics of everything from theatre to horticulture, medicine to hi-tech manufacturing radically different. Why is it so ludicrous to think that Manchester and Leeds could be linked by a tunnel with a dozen trains an hour pumping through it on a 15-minute journey, so creating an urban space equal to London? The Italians have built a much longer tunnel between Bologna and Florence for their high-speed network.

It has been obvious for the last 20 years that cities and city regions are emerging as the new drivers of economic growth, especially if their hinterland has a high proportion of industries requiring a lot of brainpower. These fast-growing "ideopolises" tend, as research at the Work Foundation underlines, to trade with each other rather than poorer, less creative cities.

What the European high-speed network will do is to create a network of fast-growing ideopolises, breaking down borders and exponentially opening up traffic. You need to be on the line.

The last minister with the imagination and energy to get anything done in transport was Michael Heseltine, who forced through the Jubilee Line, the Docklands Light Railway and High Speed 1. Financing is comparatively easy if you have sufficient chutzpah, which Adonis certainly has, even if he's unsettlingly hazy about the detail. High-speed rail commands a 30% premium on fare prices. Top that up with a supplementary business rate and a national infrastructure bank could easily earmark the revenue to raise £20bn to pay for construction, with repayments spread over, say, 40 years.

If the private sector owned a majority of a national infrastructure bank, the lending would be categorised as private. Even if it counted as public debt, we should learn to welcome debt that generates assets of the quality of a high-speed rail network. Britain had national debt in excess of GDP between 1750 and 1850. Greatness requires debt on this scale. Only countries with no ambition allow debt to trump their aims.

What is needed is political leadership, some dynamism and willingness to take risks. Even close friends of Adonis's predecessor, Geoff Hoon, would hardly argue he was dynamic – a do-as-little-as-possible politician in the mould of Boris Johnson. Few ministers do take the initiative. They are overwhelmed by the round of endless meetings, officials who are more keenly aware of the risks than the rewards of any action and who want to keep their secretary of state out of trouble.

Thus chancellor Alistair Darling, for all his virtues as a good man in a crisis, has not used the once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape the British financial system. Too risky. Requires too much daring. There is no plan for a British national infrastructure bank – despite the progress being made on the idea in the US – and already Treasury officials are looking to kill High Speed 2 as part of the crazed assault on the budget deficit.

Adonis hopes to outflank them by taking High Speed 2 out of politics. The idea is to get all three parties to commit to the line in their manifestos and so make cancellation impossible. If so, Britain might have built 400 miles of high-speed rail by 2025. France is building 400 miles alone this year. If it were not for Andrew Adonis, Britain would not even be planning that. A few more like him (and Heseltine) and we may be able to move around our country faster.

Rail chance of a lifetime to electrify the Valley lines

Western Mail: Jul 31 2009
by Sion Barry

Following last week’s decision that the electrification of the Great Western line from London will go as far as Swansea, Western Mail, Business Editor Sion Barry argues that the Welsh Assembly Government needs to take the initiative to ensure that at the same time the rail network serving the South Wales Valleys is also electrified.

THE decision that the next phase of electrification of the UK rail network will be from London to Swansea is a timely boost for the Welsh economy.

There was a danger that Lord Adonis and his Department for Transport would in a first phase only electrify the line to Bristol – which would have been a huge blow to Wales plc by leaving it saddled with an internal “second class” network and a more expensive hybrid diesel-electric rolling stock only able to accelerate once at Bristol.

In terms of promoting Wales as an investment location, it would have been a big negative.

However, for the Welsh economy, it is also imperative that the rail infrastructure serving the South Wales Valleys is also electrified.

And in terms of funding it is something that the Welsh Assembly should look to finance, from its own transport budget – which could be match-funded from European Union convergence funding.

In terms of economic development, I firmly believe that electrification would have the most positive and sustainable impact on the economy of any convergence, or its forerunner Objective One, project to date.

Each day thousands of people from the Valleys travel into Cardiff, mainly by car, to work. They need to be encouraged off the roads. Provision of bigger, faster and more frequent electric- powered trains should prove an attractive and cost effective alternative.

Electrification costs range from £800,000 to £1m per mile.

The Assembly should fund electrification of the Valleys network (Valley Lines) into Cardiff, as well as the line from Ebbw Vale to Newport and parts of the Vale of Glamorgan line from Barry to Bridgend – which is used as a diversionary route on the Great Western line.

The amount of track covered extends to around 90 miles, which at the top of the cost range equates to £90m. There would be other infrastructure costs – particularly as the track serving the Valleys are old and in need of signalling upgrades – but a total electrification bill could come in at around £200m.

The Assembly could re-configure its existing transport budget, for which more than £200m is assigned annually to social inclusion. This includes free bus passes to the elderly and the subsidising of commercially unviable bus and rail routes.

I am not advocating that social inclusion should not have a high priority in transport spending, but do all pensioners in Wales really need free bus passes, when many have the means to pay? – although any reduction in car journeys has to be a good thing.

I am sure that £200m could be found by the Welsh Assembly to fund electrification without the need for UK Government funding or a private finance solution.

And it should also look to offset funding by seeing if the European Union would be willing to provide finance under convergence funding.

Electrification would surely tick all the boxes in terms of trying to improve the GVA standing of one of the most deprived areas of Wales – bringing the most prosperous area (Cardiff) even closer.

It would also allow for new trains, with great capacity, which would have lower emissions than the current diesel trains.

Electric trains also perform far better in hillier terrains, which the Valleys are – resulting in a more significant carbon emission reduction.

The issue for the Welsh Assembly Government is ensuring that such an ambitious project dovetails with the agreed investment from Network Rail of electrification roll-out from London to Swansea.

That process will take up to 2017 (although, if they wanted, they could finish the work in six months – electrified lines can be installed at the rate of a mile a night).

According to transport expert Martin Evans simultaneous electrification would be more cost-effective.

He said; “Network Rail like to do all the work necessary and disappear again, so it would make real sense to have the electrification of the Valley Lines as the same as electrification to Swansea.”

Economies of scale could also be delivered via the tendering process – with contracts awarded to cover both the London-to-Swansea routes and the Valleys lines.

An electrified Ebbw Vale route stopping at Newport and then calling at Cardiff and Swansea, would chime perfectly with the exciting regeneration taking place at the town’s former steelworks.

The Welsh Assembly Government could marry its laudable renewable energy targets with electrification, with the target of ensuring that power required for electrified trains is offset via new renewable sources.

In its response to its Ministerial Advisory Group report on transport, the Welsh Assembly Government said it would investigate an electrified rail route over any barrage across the Severn Estuary – for which a number of options are currently under consideration.

This is a decision [the barrage] outside of the Assembly Government’s remit, but it should step up lobbying for any tidal- powered, energy-generating structure to have a rail link.

This would ease pressure on the existing Severn Tunnel, which will be electrified, but needs constant maintenance to keep water out.

At present weekend journeys from South Wales to London go via Gloucester, to allow work to be done on the Victorian-era tunnel.

Even when the Great Western line is electrified, there will be cost implications of having to provide hybrid powered trains for use on weekends, as the line via Gloucester is not being electrified.

The Welsh Assembly Government is to be applauded for lobbying hard and effectively so that electrification didn’t stop at Bristol, but it now has a once-in-a-life time opportunity to ensure that at the same time the rail network serving the South Wales Valleys is also upgraded.

541 million euro contract to improve rail system in Libya

Global Arab Network: 01 August 2009
Edited by Mark Newton

The main Italian industrial group, Finmeccanica, has won an important new order worth 541 million euro in Libya through its subsidiary Ansaldo STS.

The contract is for rail signalling, telecommunications and power supply systems for the coastal line from Ras Ajdir to Sirt and the inland line from Al-Hisha to Sabha.

It will cover around 1,450 km of line in total. The agreement was signed in Tripoli, in the presence of the Chairman and CEO of Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, the Libyan Transport Minister Muhammad Ali Zidane, the Italian Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs On. Stefania Craxi, the Chairman of Libyan Railroads Said Mohammed Rashid and the CEO of Ansaldo STS Sergio De Luca.

Also present at the event were the CEO of Ferrovie dello Stato Mauro Moretti, the Italian Ambassador in Libya Francesco Trupiano and the Ambassador of Libya in Italy Abdulhafed Gaddur.

This deal means that Finmeccanica becomes the main partner of Libyan Railroads for the building of the new national rail network.

Chairman and CEO of Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guarguaglini commented: "Signing this contract should open up important industrial and commercial opportunities for our Group in the railways sector.

Finmeccanica's technological excellence in transport, security and energy is an important opportunity for a rapidly developing Country that has recently finalised a strategic contract with Italy".

The Libyan railways project will entail the application of the most advanced technology in the field, such as ERTMS/ETCS supplied by Ansaldo STS, and GSM-R, provided by SELEX Communications.

Finmeccanica is the main Italian industrial group operating globally in the aerospace, defence and security sectors, and is one of the world's leading groups in the fields of helicopters and defence electronics. It is also the European leader for satellite and space services as well as having considerable know-how and production capacity in the energy and transport fields.

Headquartered in Italy and with a vast industrial base in the UK as well as important production facilities in the rest of Europe and in the USA, Finmeccanica has a workforce of more than 73,000 people, and a revenues volume of euro mil. 15,037.

Technology and innovation are the keystones of Finmeccanica's success and competitive edge. For this reason, the Group invests 1,809 billion euros a year in R&D activities (representing 14% of revenues), making Finmeccanica the leading Italian investor in hi-tech sectors. As far as the core business is concerned, investments amount to 20% of turnover - a percentage that is higher than some of its main competitors.

A large part of R&D investment is channelled into dual technology projects, leading to significant advantages in civil applications of considerable strategic importance. To maintain its leadership in hi-tech sectors, Finmeccanica focuses on the value of its human resources, and the laboratories of its subsidiaries are staffed by around 3,000 highly specialized researchers.