‘NEW SILK ROAD’ TAKES OFF
Container volumes on the ‘New Silk Road’ rail land bridge between China and Europe continue to grow, with 370,000 TEU transported in 2018 (a TEU is equivalent to a standard 20-foot maritime container). This was 25% more than 2017 (274,000 TEU) and more than double the amount in 2016 (142,000 TEU). In 2014 it was just 25,000 TEU; the first train from China ran in 2007. Most of this traffic currently leaves China via Kazakhstan, transits Russia and then around 95% of the traffic enters or exits the EU via the border crossing between Brest in Belarus and Małaszewicze, just west of Terespol in Poland. Other border crossings between Belarus and Poland and via Ukraine into Slovakia or Hungary account for the remaining few percent of trains. In the last year or so largescale infrastructure work by Polish rail infrastructure manager PLK in Małaszewicze and the line west of there towards Łuków has resulted in delays to freight traffic as the line and transhipment yards are comprehensively rebuilt.
Substantial growth in this traffic is predicted, but this is predicated on continuing outsourcing of production by companies to Chinese factories for goods sold in Europe. The development of companies in China directly fulfilling internet commerce orders to individuals in Europe by post has led to a growth in small packet traffic and this could be carried by rail. Trials to develop standardised consignment notes to facilitate such traffic are under way.
Continuing growth relies on continued state subsidies for the operation of trains from and to China by the Chinese authorities.Details of the subsidy arrangements are opaque but there appears to have been a move to reduce subsidies in recent months with only fully loaded trains receiving support. The traffic is now two-way, with around 200 container trains from the port of Hamburg to China a year, each taking two to three weeks, whereas by sea with final distribution in China from the port the same journey can take up to eight weeks.
Whilst the Chinese authorities continue to subsidise trains in China it is clear that railways elsewhere in the system are making profits. The jointly-owned JSC UTLC ERA (United Transport and Logistics Company – Eurasian Rail Alliance) comprising Russian, Belarus and Kazakhstan Railways reported positive results for 2018, handling over 280,000 TEU with more than Russian RUB2 billion (£26 million) in profits distributed among the shareholders. It is also likely that Polish and German operators handling the traffic find it profitable.
Recognising the bottleneck that the Brest – Małaszewicze route has become, Polish rail infrastructure manager PLK is creating additional capacity to link the Polish and Belarus rail networks, spending PLN69 million (£15 million) rebuilding the Siemianówka border crossing north of Brest – Małaszewicze on the freight-only line from Svislač. This is linked to the Minsk to Brest main line used by most ‘Silk Road’ freight by the line from there to Baranovichi. Another PLN69 million is being invested in the
20km section between the Polish border and the 1,520mm / 1,435mm-gauge transhipment yards at Chryzanów, west of Siemianówka. 11km of new 1,520mm-gauge track and 5km of new standard gauge track is planned in the transhipment yard at Chryzanów, allowing trains up to 1,050 metres long.
SWEDES TO RUN ØRESUND TRAINS
Swedish transport authority Skånetrafiken has awarded Swedish Railways (SJ) a contract to operate Øresundståg (Øresunds Train) regional trains over the Øresund link connecting Copenhagen with Malmö, Gothenburg, Kalmar and Karlskrona in Sweden. The contract runs for eight years starting in December 2020, with an optional 10-year extension. SJ will also take over responsibility for the fleet of 111x3-car Bombardier-built Class X31 dual-voltage EMUs at a new depot now being built at Hässleholm in Sweden, financed by the Swedish Skåne regional government. The existing maintenance facilities in Denmark will no longer be routinely used.
2000 it was initially operated by a joint venture of Danish Railways (DSB) and Swedish Railways (SJ), later replaced in 2009, after tendering, by a joint venture comprising DSB and UK-based FirstGroup. FirstGroup left the DSBFirst JV in 2011, leaving DSB to operate it alone until Veolia took over operation in late 2011. Veolia (now Transdev) won a five-year contract to operate the service from 2014. Transdev, Arriva and Go-Ahead had all bid for the new contract.
In 2017 transport authorities in both Denmark and Sweden agreed to split the Øresund contracts, with those on the Danish side which effectively act as stopping trains between Helsingør and the last station in Denmark (at Copenhagen Kastrup Airport) being tendered separately. The consequence of this change will be the removal of Øresundståg services north of Copenhagen Østerport, where services will terminate in future; this change will be phased in between 2020 and 2022 by when SJ will also be responsible for all Øresundståg operations in Denmark. SJ already runs commercial international Copenhagen – Stockholm services via the Øresund link using X2000 high-speed trains.
Following the 2015 migrant crisis both Denmark and Sweden added additional border controls. The Swedish authorities continue to stop all Øresund trains arriving in the country at Hyllie, in the suburbs of Malmö, for immigration checks which are carried out on-board whilst the train waits. These controls are nominally temporary as both countries are members of the EU Schengen agreement. Imposition of the controls, which initially were highly disruptive, has reportedly led to a significant reduction in the number of people commuting from southern Sweden to better-paying jobs in Copenhagen (two-thirds of Øresundståg passengers originate in Sweden), although some of these ‘Swedish’ commuters are Danes who moved to live in cheaper Sweden after the Øresund link opened in July 2000.
NEW TRAIN FLEETS
The S-Bahn networks in Berlin and Hamburg are older than those in any other German city and use (different) third rail power supply systems. Both networks are receiving large numbers of new trains to replace vehicles dating from the 1970s/80s.
In Hamburg, DB Regio began a new contract to operate the S-Bahn network until 2033 in December 2018. One of the requirements of the new contract, awarded in June 2013, was the provision of a fleet of 72 new three-car EMUs to replace Class 472 trains. The order was increased by 10 trains to 82 in late 2018. Bombardier won the contract to build these and the new Class 490 trains entered service in late 2018, although deliveries have not been as rapid as originally planned. 60 of the new trains were supposed to be in service in December 2018, in reality only 20 were. Two versions are being supplied: 51 straight 1,200V DC third-rail EMUs and 31 also equipped with low-profile 15kV AC pantographs, as recent and planned extensions of the Hamburg network use overhead electrification. Bombardier has undertaken final assembly of the trains in Hennigsdorf near Berlin, with car bodies made in its Wroclaw plant in Poland.
An option for up to 64 additional trains exists, orders for which can be made until May 2021. Hamburg transport authority HVV has assigned the potential option orders as follows:
▀ 19 trains for the planned S-Bahn expansion to Kaltenkirchen (S21)
; ▀ 35 more for the planned S4 extension to Bad Oldesloe
▀ up to 10 more which could be ordered for capacity enhancement
SIEMENS / STADLER TRAINS FOR BERLIN
Testing of the 106 new EMUs (382 coaches in total) that a consortium of Siemens and Stadler is building for DB Regio to operate on the Berlin S-Bahn network began at the Siemens test centre at Wildenrath early this year. Testing in Berlin itself is due to begin later in 2019, with entry into service scheduled in January 2021.
85x4-car Class 484 and 21x2-car Class 483 trains are being built for introduction into service;.between 2021 and 2023.Detailed engineering design work was undertaken by a joint Stadler Pankow / Siemens team. Stadler is building the car bodies at its Szolnok factory in Hungary and undertaking all the final assembly work at its factories to the north of Berlin; Siemens is supplying electrical equipment and bogies from German and Austrian factories.
Five pre-series trains are being tested at Wildenrath; along with component testing, this will continue all year. Some of the pre-series trains will be moved to Berlin later in 2019 for testing on the S-Bahn network, in particular to allow testing of the older tripcock signalling system still used on some parts of the network.
The first 10 new Class 483/484 trains will enter service on the S47 Spindlersfeld to Berlin Südkreuz route as six-car trains (1x483+1x484) from January 2021. Later deliveries will be used as eight-car trains on the S41/42 Ringbahn route plus route S46. Six-car trains will also be introduced to route S8 by 2023.
The new trains are the first on the Berlin S-Bahn to feature through gangways, although these are only within the two- or four-car set. They will replace older Class 480 and 485 trains developed separately in the former East and West Germany in the late 1980s. Later deliveries will be used to start replacement of the 1990s-designed Class 481/482 trains (delivered 1996-2004).
NEW STATE-OWNED FLEET PLANNED
Whether more Class 483/484 trains will be ordered is complicated by the fact that operation of the Berlin S-Bahn is being tendered in three lots, with only the first contract awarded so far. DB subsidiary S-Bahn Berlin has ‘bridging’ contracts stretching as far out as 2026 for the rest of the network after previous tendering competitions ended inconclusively.
The tendering authorities in both Berlin and Brandenburg announced in late 2018 that they intend to tender for new trains (602x2-car EMUs with options for 88 more) for the rest of network. These would be introduced from 2026 to 2033 and owned by a leasing company owned by the two federal states established for the fleet and leased to whichever operators are selected to operate services.
Similar plans have been under discussion for around a decade, but lack of finance has previously stymied the efforts to encourage competition. DB funded the majority of the existing Berlin S-Bahn fleet and has avoided attempts to enable other operators to access it, although its current ‘bridging’ contracts require it to assist with transfer of operations to competitors if it does not win the future tenders. It is possible the order placed for the rolling stock pool will not result in an order for more of the Siemens/Stadler Class 483/484 trains; the tender is expected in late 2019.
Berlin is planning extensions using its 750V DC third rail system (eg the recently announced reinstatement of the 4.5km line to Gartenfeld in western Berlin, closed in 1980, to serve a major urban redevelopment project at Siemensstadt). Other extensions are being actively considered.
STADLER BEMUs FOR SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN
Schleswig-Holstein transport authority ‘Nah.sh’ in the north of Germany has ordered 55 battery and AC electric-powered Flirt BEMUs with a maintenance contract for 30 years, awarding the contract worth around €600 million to Stadler. Nah.sh had tendered for so-called ‘innovativer Triebzüge’ (innovative trains) known as XMU to replace DMUs.
Stadler launched its battery-powered Flirt EMU after InnoTrans in 2018. Many observers had expected Nah.sh to opt for hydrogen fuel cell power as the Schleswig-Holstein region has an abundance of wind turbines that could generate power to produce hydrogen overnight when overall electricity demand drops. Alstom, which offers the iLint hydrogen-fuelled train in Germany, initially objected to the contract being awarded to Stadler – but this appeal was rejected. Siemens, which has battery trains on test in southern Germany, did not object.
Full details of the new trains have yet to be revealed but it appears they are all two-car Flirt 3 units equipped for 15kV AC where overhead lines are available and batteries for non-electrified lines. They will be used on services on non-electrified routes radiating from Kiel and Lübeck, replacing Alstom-built LINT42 (Class 648) DMUs.
BOOST FOR RAIL IN CORK AREA TRANSPORT STRATEGY
The Draft Transport Strategy for the Cork metropolitan area was published earlier this year by the National Transport Authority. It includes several proposals for rail enhancement in the region.
New stations are proposed with locations at Blarney / Stoneview, Monard, Blackpool / Kilbarry on the north side of the city and Tivoli, Dunkettle and Ballynoe to the east – although some of these are not new proposals. Most trains from the eastern commuter lines (Cobh/ Midleton) currently terminate in Cork Kent station and extending these to form through services on the northern commuter line (to Mallow) is proposed. An additional platform at Cork Kent on the avoiding line is also proposed.
For the longer term, electrification of all the lines through Cork and a ‘DART style’ 10-minute frequency on the three commuter routes, plus the double tracking of the entire branch to Midleton, is proposed. The NTA study does not propose reopening the remaining Midleton to Youghal section, which is proposed for conversion to a cycleway instead. Tim Casterton
WESTERN RAIL CORRIDOR EXTENSION APPRAISAL
Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) has appointed consultant EY-DKM Economic Advisory to undertake an independent appraisal, based upon terms of reference specified by the transport ministry, to establish if the proposed extension of the Western Rail Corridor (WRC) from Athenry to Tuam (phase 2) and on from Tuam to Claremorris (phase 3) represents value for money. An ‘online’ public and stakeholder
consultation is being undertaken in connection with the appraisal seeking views on current transport usage and services, in addition to those on the extension of the Western Rail Corridor northwards to Claremorris. Whilst there is a strong lobby to restore the railway to operational use, there are also groups seeking to have the route converted to a cycleway – although government funding has not been provided for this. The report is to be presented to IÉ and the transport ministry by the end of September this year. Tim Casterton
SJ WINS NORWEGIAN CONTRACT
The Norwegian rail services office Jernbanedirektoratet has awarded the second contract to operate services in the country and once again state-owned incumbent operator NSB (now known as ‘Vy’) has lost out. Swedish Railways (SJ) Norwegian subsidiary SJ Norge has won the 10-year contract to operate long-distance services on the electrified Oslo to Trondheim (Dovrebanen) and non-electrified Trondheim to Bodø (Nordlandsbanen) routes, plus several regional services on the routes and connecting lines. Bodø lies just north of the Arctic circle, some 1,282km by rail from Oslo.
The tender only attracted two bidders: SJ Norge reportedly offered to operate the services in return for annual subsidies of around NOK120 million (£11.1 million) whilst Vy had offered to do so for NOK150 million (£14 million). Vy is currently paid NOK760 million (£71 million) to operate a similar level of service with, initially at least, the same rolling stock, resulting in subsidy reduction of around £600 million over the life of the contract. Existing Vy staff will transfer to the new operator when it takes over in June 2020.
Services include loco-hauled long-distance day and overnight inter-city trains plus regional services using a variety of DMUs. Some of the rolling stock used, all of which is leased from national rolling stock leasing company Norsk Tog, is approaching life expiry. Older DMUs are likely to be replaced by bi-mode Flirt units being supplied to Norsk Tog by Stadler, although it is unclear what will replace the small fleet of Henschel-built Class Di4 Co-Co diesel locos (built in 1981) dedicated to passenger services on the Trondheim to Bodø route.
NEW LINE TO KOPER
After many years of discussion, and two national referenda on the subject in 2018, work has begun on building a second railway line to the Adriatic port of Koper, which is heavily congested with current levels of freight traffic. The existing 44.6km Divača – Koper single track line was built by Yugoslav Railways in 1967 and uses broad curves to gain and then lose height climbing over the Kras plateau. It is prone to damage from ice and snow in winter and rockfalls at all times.Despite this, the freight traffic on the route has nearly doubled in the last decade from 5.75 million tonnes in 2007 to nearly 10.5 million tonnes in 2018, representing half the freight traffic in Slovenia.
The new 27.1km route will be largely in tunnel and consequently flatter and shorter than the existing line (eight tunnels totalling 20.5km) with two significant viaducts, between them over 1km-long. By adding a second track between Divača and Koper the entire route from Ljubljana to Koper (and east to Zagreb) will be double track.
Construction is now underway, managed by a state-owned concessionaire for the new line TDK2 (which approximates to Second Track Divača-Koper) and should be complete by 2025 with operation beginning in 2026. TDK2 was awarded a 45-year construction and management concession in May.
The estimated total cost for the project is €1.19 billion, around half of which is funded by a mixture of Slovenian government funds, this includes €122 million which will be raised from tolls charged on commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes using the Slovenian motorway network.EU funding of €109 million is being provided (as the line is a key TEN-T route for freight to/from eastern Europe to the port of Koper). Loans, including €250 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB), will provide the balance of the funding.
The new line will be designed for 160km/h operation and will be equipped with European Rail Traffic Management System Level 2. Once open, the overall capacity of the Divača – Koper line is forecast to rise from 90 to 222 trains a day.
VIRGIN TO ENTER MARKET?
Before a single open access high-speed train has been operated in Spain, the number of operators looking at the market continues to grow – with the latest to show its hand being the UK-based Virgin Rail Group, whose executives have been in Spain evaluating their options. This was reported in the local media in early July.
Patrick McCall, Senior Partner at Virgin Group, said ‘Unfortunately the UK is fast-becoming uninvestable from a rail franchise perspective, because of the UK Government’s decision to load unacceptable risk onto bidders. We welcome the liberalisation of the Spanish rail market, where we hope competition will be allowed to flourish and the best operators will be able to drive significant improvements in customer service. We are currently considering our options.’
Spanish national operator RENFE has
announced plans to operate high-speed trains in neighbouring France, no doubt in reaction to French Railways’ (SNCF’s) publicly announced plans to compete in Spain. Currently RENFE and SNCF are the only operators with high-speed trains equipped and approved for use in Spain.
The Spanish markets regulator CNMC (National Commission of Markets and Competition) has made it clear in recent weeks that it will not accept the plans from infrastructure manager Adif Alta Velocidad for packages of high-speed paths to be allocated (‘Europe View’, last month). The CNMC has told Adif Alta Velocidad that it should award paths where capacity exists, adding that significant gaps in provision currently exist which competitors can fill; the CNMC has made it clear it wants to see multiple new entrants and will monitor the market to prevent any obstruction.
Currently 23 operators are licensed in Spain, with 16 of these holding a safety certificate enabling actual operation. One of these is ALSA, owned by National Express, which thus far has run tourist and charter trains but is believed to be developing plans for open access services.