STRIKES MAR START OF LÉMAN EXPRESS SERVICES
The new cross-border railway connecting Geneva with Annemasse in France, plus the network of inter-regional services operated as Léman Express by a joint venture between French Railways (SNCF) and Swiss Railways (SBB/CFF), was launched on 12 December. Services on all four new routes, which share the common core largely tunnel section between Geneva and Annemasse and serve Bellegarde, Annecy, St Gervais le Bains and Évian-les-Bains, were supposed to start on 15 December but due to the long-running strike by railway and other trade unionists in France (protesting against planned pension changes) almost no trains operated in France, beyond those arriving at Annemasse with Swiss drivers.
The new network, which comprises 45 stations and 230km of track, is billed as ‘the biggest cross-border regional rail network in Europe’ and is designed to reduce traffic congestion in Geneva as its planners hope many of the thousands of French residents who currently commute into the city daily for work will in future take trains. Up to six trains per hour in each direction are planned on the new core section of the network.
The project has been planned for more than a century; the Swiss and French governments signed an agreement for a Geneva Cornavin (Geneva’s main station) to Annemasse railway line in June 1881! Even then the project had been under discussion for three decades; construction of the first section from Annemasse to Genève-Eaux-Vives just inside Switzerland was completed in 1888 and until 2019 this remained an isolated piece of Swiss railway only connected to France; passenger services ended in 2013 to allow construction of the new line.
Construction of the new ring line – known as CEVA (Cornavin Eaux Vives Annemasse) around Geneva’s western and southern suburbs started in 2011. The line starts at La Praille yard – itself at the end of a 1949-built branch – and is then mostly in tunnel, only emerging to cross the river Arve on a bridge. Two brand new underground stations have been built on the new line whilst the two stations on the 1888-built line which has been placed underground in a double-track cut and cover trench have been replaced by new underground stations. Both Geneva Cornavin and Annemasse stations have been extensively rebuilt to accommodate the additional services planned and two other surface stations have been built on the new line in Geneva. The new international line is electrified at 15kV AC, with voltage changeover to 25kV AC taking place at Annemasse station.
Construction of the CEVA line cost around CHF1.8 billion (£1.42 billion) the 14km section (not all of which is new) on Swiss territory accounted for the bulk of this at around CHF1.6 billion (56% of which came from the Swiss Government).
The new network is operated by Lémanis, a joint venture of SBB/CFF (60%) and SNCF (40%), although both trains and crews are provided by the respective owners. The Léman Express network is operated using a fleet of 17 Alstom-built SNCF Z31500 Régiolis tri-voltage (1.5kV DC, 15kV/25kV AC) EMUs (10 more are also on order) and 23 Stadler-built dual-voltage SBB 15kV/25kV AC Flirt EMUs. Both fleets have Alstom European Train Control System Level 2 Baseline 3 systems. SBB will also operate St Maurice to Annemasse Regional Express services on the new line using Stadler Kiss EMUs.
CROSS-BORDER TRAM EXTENSION TOO
On 15 December the Geneva tram network was extended 2.1km across the border into Annemasse. The extension is almost entirely in France and cost €57 million, although the Swiss Government funded 44% of the cost. The current Annemasse-Parc Montessuit terminus is temporary as a 1.2km extension into Annemasse is under construction. The new section is served by Line 17 of the Geneva network.
MULTIPLE REGIONAL CONTRACTS CHANGE HANDS
The December timetable change saw the largest switch from Czech national operator České dráhy (ČD) to other, mostly private, operators operating regional and inter-regional services.
Services entirely in one regional government area are tendered by the relevant Region. RegioJet began operating contracted regional services around Ústí nad Labem, in the north of the country, on 15 December, initially using a fleet of second-hand Deutsche Bahn Class 628 DMUs on an entirely electrified network, although these will be replaced by new EMUs on order from Polish manufacturer Pesa from 2021.
Fellow open access operator Leo Express also began operating its first regional contracts in the Pardubice region in the centre of the country, on the Ústí nad Orlicí to Mlýnický Dvůr route (plus weekend-only services from Dolní Lipka to Hanušovice). Leo Express is using a variety of more modern Alstom Lint DMUs (11x2-car and four single units) previously used by Transdev in Germany.
Originally Leo Express had planned to use its existing Flirt EMUs on the electrified Ústi nad Orlici – Lichov route, but these are not yet available as the three new ‘Sirius’ EMUs on order from Chinese manufacturer CRRC have yet to be approved for passenger use. Leo Express is extending one service from Ústí nad Orlicí to Lichov to operate as a through Prague to Wroclaw service at weekends and on Fridays, although it is unable to carry domestic passengers in Poland due to restrictions imposed on track access rights. Leo Express operations have already attracted criticism from the Pardubice regional authority which awarded the contract, with cancellation of the 10-year contract threatened unless staffing and on-board equipment issues were resolved in January!
TENDERED OPERATION OF LONG-DISTANCE SERVICES BEGINS
Until 2018 Czech national operator ČD had won most tenders issued by the central government for inter-regional services serving more than one regional government area. However, both Arriva subsidiary Arriva Vlaky (owned by DB) and Regiojet were awarded significant contracts in December 2018, starting just 12 months later. Both contracts switched to their new operators on 15 December.
Arriva Vlaky won a three-year contract to operate semi-fast services on four non-electrified routes centred on Prague, offering a price per train kilometre of CZK119 (£4), compared to ČD which offered CZK150 (£5):
R21: Prague – Turnov – Tanvald;
R22: Kolín – Novy Bor;
R24: Prague – Rakovník; and
R26: Prague – Přbram – Písek – České Budĕjovice.
A fleet of 27 refurbished ex-DB Class 628 DMUs (renumbered as Czech Class 845) is being used to operate the services, with 23 trains required daily. Initially at least insufficient trains were available, so alternative trains were hired in from Czech private operators.
Regiojet won an eight-year contract to operate services on the R8 route between the Czech Republic’s second city Brno and Bohumín, near the Polish border, serving the Ostrava area en-route. Regiojet is running 17 train pairs per day using a fleet of seven leased Vectron MS electric locomotives hauling trains typically formed of five or six refurbished ex-Austrian (ÖBB) or Swiss (SBB) inter-city coaches. Each train has a mini buffet in one vehicle. Longer term, Regiojet will replace the leased Vectron locomotives with its own new Traxx 3 Class 388 locomotives on order from Bombardier. The Regiojet contract for the R8 route represents around two million train kilometres annually, for which the operator is being paid CZK251 million (£8.45 million) a year.
Regiojet is using the same retail approach for the regional services between Brno and Bohumín as it does for its open access long-distance service and has continued its practice of assigning seats to those passengers who buy tickets directly. As these are not marked in any way, this was clearly causing confusion and irritation in the first days of operation for regular passengers with season tickets or passes, as the trains previously had no reservations. Reservations are not compulsory – or possible for the large number of passengers using regional tickets (or foreign visitors using rail passes etc).
Currently the Czech Government does not require operators to accept each other’s tickets so holders of ČD issued tickets for the route require additional tickets; the Government has suggested it will adopt a national approach to ticketing, but no firm plan is in place. In the meantime, a patchwork of contracts issued to multiple operators make longer journeys harder to plan as multiple tickets may be needed. In common with several central European countries the Government has required operators to offer free or heavily discounted tickets to students and pensioners, meaning the number of passengers contributing via the farebox has reduced substantially in recent years, although payments from Government mitigate revenue losses.
ČD retained two other major long-distance routes in the face of competition from Regiojet, with new nine-year contracts to operate hourly route R2 inter-city services from Prague to Žilina in Slovakia and also route R18 Prague – Luhačovice services from December 2019 until 2028. ČD will be paid CZK445 million (£15 million) annually for these two routes – representing a saving of CZK153 million (£5 million) a year or 25% for the Government compared to the 2019 cost!
EFFISHUNTER 1000 IN SERVICE, CONVERSIONS ON ORDER
Czech freight operator ČD Cargo (ČDC) has ordered five new-build Effishunter 1000 Class 744 diesel locos from domestic loco manufacturing specialist CZ Loko. The first of the five locos entered service in late September, and all were due in service before the end of 2019. They are based at Břeclav, on the border with Austria and Slovakia, although the new locos are not currently permitted to operate in neighbouring countries.
The four-axle Effishunter 1000 design utilises a Euro IIIB compliant 895kW Caterpillar C32 engine and traction equipment supplied by Siemens. The locos have been built with European Train Control System from new. Whilst the design was first unveiled in 2012, orders have only been forthcoming in recent years; nine locos have been built for freight operators in Italy between 2016 and 2019 whilst the ČDC order was the first from Czech operators.
Separately CZ Loko is undertaking rebuilding programmes to modernise older 1970s/1980s vintage diesels for ČDC. Up to 50 Class 742 locos are to be rebuilt to a similar Effishunter 1000M (modernised) standard as the new-build locos, and four older Class 753 locos have been rebuilt to the Effiliner 1600 specification.
GO-AHEAD AND ABELLIO EXPAND STUTTGART NETWORK
Go-Ahead’s German subsidiary started operation of regional services around Stuttgart in June 2019 as it and Abellio took over parts of the ‘Stuttgarter Netze’ contract, replacing DB Regio. The transition to the new operators was far from smooth with widespread public complaints. Abellio suffered from a severe shortage of trains after Bombardier failed to deliver a fleet of Talent 2 EMUs on schedule, whilst Go-Ahead suffered multiple minor in service problems with its brand new fleet of Flirt EMUs supplied just in time for the service start by Stadler.
Both operators and the Baden-Württemberg transport ministry, which awarded the contracts, sought to avoid a repetition in December. However, Abellio again faced the prospect of having nowhere near the number of trains it had ordered; in August Bombardier forecast that 18 of the 25 three-car EMUs due in service by December would be delivered, however in December, days before the contract started, that estimate was revised to just six!
Contingency plans were developed and Abellio has hired EMUs from several operators including DB and has sub-contracted operation of some services to DB Regio using loco-hauled stock that was supposed to be replaced. These temporary arrangements are expected to last until June at the earliest, as that is the current delivery estimate from Bombardier for the new EMUs. Abellio took over the following routes in December:
RE10a Stuttgart – Heilbronn – Neckarelz – Heidelberg – Mannheim;
RE10b Stuttgart – Heilbronn – Sinsheim – Heidelberg – Mannheim; and
RB18 Stuttgart – Heilbronn – Osterburken.
The Regional Express (RE) service on the Stuttgart to Heilbronn section of both RE10 routes is being operated by DB Regio using older double-deck stock. Abellio is due to take over further routes from Stuttgart in June.
REPLACEMENT TRAINS FOR GO-AHEAD TOO
Go-Ahead received all the Flirt EMUs it had ordered from Stadler before 15 December, but following the June 2019 experience deliberately decided not to introduce them all until they have been fully tested and initial teething problems resolved without delaying passengers.
The 11 Flirt3 XL three-car EMUs ordered for the Stuttgart to Nuremberg route were not put into service in December with Go-Ahead; loco-hauled trains provided by three private sub-contractors will be used until March instead. The Flirt3 XL units feature longer car bodies than the rest of the Go-Ahead Flirt fleet; each three-car train is 67.6 metres long, seating 210 passengers (compared to the standard three-car Flirt3, which seats 165 passengers).
Go-Ahead took over the following routes in December:
RE8 Stuttgart to Würzburg;
RE90 Stuttgart to Nuremberg (loco-hauled replacement trains until March); and
RB16 Stuttgart to Ulm.
Go-Ahead has been sub-contracting some Stuttgart to Karlsruhe services to DB Regio since June 2019; this is likely to continue until June 2020.
Go-Ahead also started its first Norwegian contract on 15 December operating services on the Oslo – Stavanger Sørlandsbanen route.
GOVERNMENT CUTS VAT ON LONG-DISTANCE RAIL FARES
The reduction in VAT charged on rail fares in Germany for journeys longer than 50km from 19% to 7% went ahead from 1 January. This followed a last-minute agreement between the German Federal Government and the German Parliament just before Christmas. Objections had been raised by the country’s 16 federal states, arguing they would have to finance the tax revenue shortfall. These objections plus concerns around future carbon pricing were removed as the Federal Government agreed to fund any tax shortfall.
The carbon price has now been set at €25 per tonne of CO2 from January 2021 (rather than €10 per tonne as originally planned), with further €5 increments agreed annually for the next five years, taking the price to €55 per tonne of CO2 by 2026. Tax relief for commuter season tickets plus energy efficiency home improvements were also included in the overall package agreed.
Germany’s main long-distance operator DB started advertising its new lower ‘Sparpreis’ fares before Christmas ahead of the VAT cut. DB’s lowest advance purchase fare is now €17.90 instead of €19.90, and this can be further reduced to €13.40 using a ‘Bahn Card’ railcard. All DB long-distance fares (and charges such as reservations) have been reduced by around 10% since 1 January, including the BahnCard 100 ticket which gives unlimited travel on long-distance services. The lower 7% VAT rate already applied to regional train tickets and journeys under 50km.
Whilst parts of the British media contrasted the German ‘fare cut’ with the annual UK rail price increase, the comparison is only partly valid as VAT is not charged on UK rail tickets (although many remain higher than their German comparators) and the rail operators in Germany are not funding the fare cut as the Government is foregoing revenue by cutting tax levels. It is likely the VAT cut will benefit DB and to a lesser extent open access operator FlixTrain as rail fares will be more competitive with long-distance buses or the cost of motoring/flying, leading to passenger growth.
PASSENGERS STOP ‘DRIVERLESS’ TRAM
Passengers on a Stadtbahn light rail vehicle in Bonn had to break into the driver’s cab and follow telephone instructions from the control centre to stop the vehicle after the driver collapsed. The vehicle, operating between Siegburg and Bad Honnef via Bonn city centre on 22 December, passed through at least eight stops at up to 70km/h without stopping and without a conscious driver! The operator Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB) told the media after the incident that it appears the driver collapsed and after the vehicle failed to stop at the next stop the first emergency calls were made by passengers. Eventually two passengers broke down the door to the drivers’ cabin and were able to stop the vehicle.
It appears the driver collapsed in such a way that the driver vigilance equipment fitted was activated as ‘safe’ He was released from hospital before Christmas with no apparent long-term health issues. The Stadtbahn vehicles are fitted with emergency brake override systems to prevent them stopping in tunnels, as are trains on some routes across Europe. However, as the passenger alarm only alerted the driver, who was unconscious, nothing happened when passengers used the emergency alarm system on-board.
The incident could have been very serious had the vehicle encountered road vehicles or sharp curvature at 70km/h, although fortunately it didn’t, and nobody was hurt. Had the tram not been stopped whilst it was still on reserved Stadtbahn track and reached shared road space controlled only by traffic lights a serious collision could have occurred – by good fortune it still was on the reserved track, equipped with treadle-worked (tram activated) automatic level crossings – albeit very near the end of the section when it was stopped.
Our thanks to reader John Morris for some of the information in this report
FIVE-YEAR INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING AGREEMENT
The Irish Government agreed a five-year infrastructure funding contract with Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) in December to cover the period 2020-24. Much like the British Control Periods, the new ‘Infrastructure Management Multi Annual Contract’ funds maintenance and renewal of the railway infrastructure. During the recent economic crisis IÉ experienced serious funding deficiencies over several years – even to the extent of having insufficent funds to cover the payroll at one point, however ‘steady state’ funding was restored in 2019 to fund continued operation of the existing network.
The new contract provides IÉ Infrastructure with €199.7 million of government funding in 2020. Over the remaining life of the contract the funding is inflation-proofed to meet steady state funding levels. The government funding is supplemented by €89.6 million (2020) from track and station access charges payable by the Railway Undertaking (the train operating part of IÉ). The contract includes performance obligations which are monitored quarterly and annually by Ireland’s ‘Commission for Railway Regulation’ The present IÉ network comprises approximately 2,400km of operational track with 4,440 bridges, 970 level crossings, 144 stations, over 3,300 cuttings and embankments, 372 platforms and 13 tunnels. Tim Casterton
STORM IN A COFFEE CUP?
Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) has been receiving criticism in the press in Ireland and the UK for refusing to allow passengers to offer their own reusable cups for filling by on-board catering staff, a policy which appears counter to current attitudes towards the environment. IÉ has stated that the pre-packed cups in which it serves beverages form part of the stock control system and also that, with limited space under the hot water dispenser on trollies, allowing untried reusable cups could cause spillage of boiling water and result in scalding to staff.
Whilst the latter would appear a serious issue, the fact that passengers may buy a branded ‘Enterprise Keep Cup’ on cross-border services operated jointly by IÉ and Northern Ireland Railways would appear to compromise the stock control argument! Those buying the ‘Enterprise Keep Cup’ are given a 10% discount when it is refilled. IÉ says it is looking into the subject to see what changes it can make to allow wider acceptance of ‘keep cups’ on domestic services. Tim Casterton
CHINESE WIN PORTO LIGHT RAIL ORDER
Porto light rail operator Metro do Porto has ordered 18 new light rail vehicles from Chinese manufacturer CRRC, representing the company’s first order for passenger rolling stock in western Europe. CRRC beat Siemens and Škoda Transportation with a bid of €49.5 million, which was less than the pre-assigned budget. Each of the CRRC vehicles, which will be delivered from 2021 and are derived from designs in service widely in China, will seat 64 passengers. Metro do Porto is expanding its fleet as extensions are planned and under construction during the next three years.
ADIF EXPANDS FLEET
Spanish national infrastructure manager ADIF has ordered a purpose-built high-speed inspection train from Talgo in a contract worth €39 million. The 330km/h train is based on Talgo’s new Avril design and is equipped with gauge changeable bogies, enabling use on both 1,435mm gauge high-speed lines and the 1,668mm gauge classic network.
In early January ADIF announced it had placed a €74.5 million contract with Stadler and Italian diagnostics specialist MerMec for three new bi-mode infrastructure measurement trains. The contract includes maintenance of the trains for five years. Two of the trains will be built for use on the 1,668mm classic network and one standard gauge train for use on the high-speed (and dual-gauge) sections of the network. The trains will measure both track and structures plus trackside equipment such as European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) balises.
DIESEL LOCOS TOO
Separately ADIF has also ordered 22 2.8MW diesel locos derived from the EuroLight/UKLight (Class 68) design to operate engineering and test trains on the Spanish standard gauge high-speed network. The contract is worth €115 million. The 160km/h locos, equipped with Euro Stage V emissions compliant Caterpillar C175-16 engines, will be equipped with European Train Control System and the Spanish Asfa signalling system. As part of the contract the Stadler majority-owned Erion maintenance joint venture will maintain the new locos for eight years.
STADLER BI-MODE MAINTENANCE LOCOS DELIVERED
Two Swiss metre-gauge operators, Appenzeller Bahnen in eastern Switzerland and Chemins de fer du Jura in the west of the country, took delivery in late 2019 of brand new two-axle electro-diesel narrow gauge locos built by Stadler, classified in the Swiss system as Gem 2/2.
The 28-tonne locos are primarily designed for working engineering trains. They are rated at 700kW when working from 1.5kV DC overhead power and are also equipped with 400kW Mercedes diesel engines. Stadler has previously sold 14 similar locos, some rack equipped, to operators in Switzerland (12 locos) and Spain (two locos for FGC in Catalonia for use on the Cremallera de Núria rack line near the French border). A similar rack equipped loco is on order for Slovak national operator ZSSK for use on the Tatra mountain network.