TUNNEL COLLAPSE CLOSES EUROPE’S BUSIEST INTERNATIONAL LINE
Around lunchtime on Saturday 12 August groundwater broke into one of two new high-speed rail tunnels under construction south of Rastatt on the Karlsruhe to Basel main line in south west Germany. The water entering the eastern bore just behind the tunnel boring machine (TBM) caused a length of the newly-constructed but not yet fully lined tunnel to collapse, fortunately injuring nobody.
As the tunnel was only around five metres deep at the point of collapse, this led to major earth movement on the surface. Had this occurred under farmland or woodland, through which much of the new line is being built, the impact would have been limited to the tunnel project itself; unfortunately the collapse happened at the only point south of Rastatt that the new line crosses under the existing two-track railway, which is probably the busiest mixed traffic double track route anywhere in Europe!
The line is used by up to 200 freight trains a day, many of them connecting the North Sea ports in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands with Italy and southern Europe, as well as over 150 passenger workings ranging from ICE services to Switzerland and TGV services between Germany and France through to tram-trains serving Baden Baden.
The new 16km 250km/h Rastatt avoiding line, which the tunnels forms part of, will pass under the town of Rastatt (south of Karlsruhe) in the tunnels. The project is part of the Karlsruhe – Basel rebuilding project to provide a 182km four-track rail connection from central Germany to Switzerland (and the new Alpine base tunnels). The new line starts north of the town with two new high-speed tracks, which will then pass beneath the town of Rastatt in new 4.27km-long tunnels; this has been under construction as two single track bores using TBMs since May 2016.
Due to the local geology (relatively recent sedimentary rock) and the presence of underground rivers, the tunnel’s builders had opted for TBMs rather than other methods of construction. To enable the TBM to operate in the area, the ground to be tunnelled through was being stabilised in advance of tunnelling by being frozen and injected with cement-based grouting. Initial assessment of the damage suggests the ground freezing system failed for the section under the existing railway; what caused this has yet to be confirmed, although hot summer weather coupled with heavy rain has been suggested as the likely cause. Tunnelling in the western tube of the new tunnels resumed around two weeks after the incident, suggesting DB and its contractors are confident the problem will not occur again!
A 150-metre-long section of the existing main line railway above the tunnel workings has been damaged by significant deformation, and was closed to all rail traffic on 12 August. The new tunnel was found to have collapsed along a 50-metre section, and since the collapse work has been undertaken to stabilise the underground construction site with a 150-metre section of the tunnel’s east bore being filled with 10,500 cubic metres of concrete. The TBM is actually around 50 metres beyond the location of the main damage above ground, and it is planned to recover the TBM by digging it out of the ground.
DB has announced it is building a 120-metre-long, 15-metre wide, one metre deep concrete slab on which to place the existing ground level railway. This will act effectively as a bridge over the tunnel route, stabilising the site and reopening the railway above. Initially DB suggested the closure might be around two weeks, but announced 10 days after the collapse that the line is now not expected to reopen before 7 October 2017.
Passenger services between Rastatt and Baden Baden have been completely replaced by buses – an intensive replacement bus service between Karlsruhe/Rastatt and Baden Baden was quickly introduced, extending all journeys by at least an hour. Some international TGV/ICE services to and from France were diverted via entirely different routes (via Saarbrucken and Metz rather than Karlsruhe and Strasbourg). The OBB-operated Nightjet overnight service between Hamburg and Zurich has been simply cancelled.
For freight services, diversion has been made much more difficult by pre-planned engineering work which meant the only other electrified route available between Germany and Switzerland (Stuttgart to Zurich via Singen/ Schaffhausen) was closed. Realising the magnitude of the problem, with hundreds of freight trains unable to operate and containers and other cargo stuck in ports and terminals, DB lifted the engineering block early in the first week of September. Until then the southern part of the line had been used to a lesser extent, with freight services being diesel-hauled on the rural, normally little-used Tubingen to Horb route to avoid the engineering block north of Horb.
Freight services from the North Sea ports, especially Antwerp and Rotterdam, have been diverted via routes in France to reach Switzerland, but the number of paths made available in France in the first few weeks following the tunnel collapse was insufficient, and this was exacerbated by a lack of crew able to operate in France. In early September, Swiss Railways (SBB) announced it was drafting in French-speaking loco drivers to operate trains in France and that it would expand its operation (via all routes) from 62 to 116 trains daily, most of which are operating as shuttles between the marshalling yards at Kornwestheim (Stuttgart) and Zurich.
Rail freight operators, trade bodies and customers have been highly critical of both the DB response and the slow response of neighbouring countries’ railways to assist, especially France. German operator Kombiverkehr (part-owned by DB along with over 200 private freight companies) has led the call for €250 million in immediate compensation and criticised the fact that longer alternative routes are also not available to get to Italy, such as the Brenner route from Munich to Verona via Austria, on which there were pre-planned engineering works. There have also been ongoing, sometimes day-long delays to freight trains caused by intensive police controls due to the presence of illegal immigrants trying to enter Austria from Italy, with some trains reportedly waiting 10 days to use the route!
Many operators have stated their intention to seek compensation from both DB and the German Government for business lost due to the closure of the line and have questioned why a short diversionary slow-speed route around what is actually a small area of disturbed ground could not have been built and in use by mid-September. The biggest loser in the long-term may be European rail freight in general, with the possibility that traffic which is by necessity switching to road or river transport may not return to rail once the line has reopened.
LYON – TURIN HSL PAUSED?
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron made it clear at the launch of the new TGV lines in early July that in his view the country could not afford more ‘Grand Projets’ and instead should focus on local transport projects (p100, August issue). His government appears to have followed this advice with an announcement from the French Transport Minister in mid-July that work on the controversial Lyon to Turin high-speed line and base tunnel project would be ‘paused’. The announcement caused political consternation in Italy, where protests against the new line have been ongoing for years, sometimes resulting in violence. The Italian government had signed a state treaty with France, which was subsequently ratified by parliaments in both countries (in France as recently as January 2017), and it was obviously not expecting the French to renege on the agreement.
The new French government has since presented the ‘pause’ as something of a technical slowdown to validate costs and tender offers. In the absence of a direct instruction from Paris to cease work, it is continuing on a 9km exploratory tunnel which is being built in advance of the main 57km-long base tunnel. This work has been delayed for several months in early 2017 by unexpected geological problems. Full-scale construction is scheduled to begin in 2018, assuming the French government does not seek major changes after its self-imposed ‘pause’.
NEW CORADIA LINER BI-MODES TAKE OVER INTERCITÉS ROUTES
The new Alstom-built Coradia Liner bi-mode units on order for SNCF’s Intercites routes entered service on their second major route from Nantes to Bordeaux on 8 August, replacing BB67400 diesel locos and Corail coaches. In total, 15 of the new Class B85000 Coradia Liner trains will be based in Nantes for service on the route, operating most services singly but with 12-car trains for busier weekend services. It is expected the new trains will have completely replaced loco operation on the route by early 2018. The new trains are dual-voltage (1.5kV DC/25kV AC) and are also equipped with 350kW roof-mounted MAN-built diesel power packs. The Coradia Liner was developed by Alstom from its Regiolis bi-mode regional train (also know as Coradia Polyvalent by the manufacturer).
SNCF has 34 of the new six-car trains on order for state-supported Trains d’Equilibre du Territoire (TET) routes and first introduced them on the Paris – Troyes – Belfort route from 6 February, where 19 sets are now in use. The new units have now completely replaced loco-operated trains on this route; these were the last in France operated by Class CC72100 Co-Co locos, most of which have now been withdrawn following operation of the last loco-hauled Intercites services on the route on 28 August.
APPROVAL WOES FOR DB REGIO’S PESA-BUILT DMUs
At the InnoTrans trade fair in 2012, Deutsche Bahn stunned the main German-based rolling stock manufacturers by announcing a potentially huge framework order with Polish manufacturer Pesa for up to 470 new ‘Link’ design DMUs. Historically, over several decades, Alstom (and LHB before it) and Siemens (and Duewag before it) had built most DMUs for use by DB, although Stadler had entered the market by buying the former Berlin Pankow operations of Adtranz.
Orders for a total of 71 Pesa Link DMUs for use by DB operating regional contracts in western Germany followed, with the first nine trains due to enter service south of Frankfurt am Main in June 2016 and a further 36 from December 2016 east of Dortmund. Whilst DB’s intention was no doubt, in part, to send a clear signal to its historic suppliers that it wanted cheaper alternatives to their products for some regional contracts, so far the experience has been mixed as none of the Pesa-built trains are in service with DB and there is no realistic prospect of them entering service soon!
The initial batch of Link DMUs ordered in 2011 for use in Germany by Netinera subsidiary Oberpfalz Bahn were never accepted from the manufacturer, as approval for use in Germany was not obtained in time. The trains were destined for cross-border services into the Czech Republic (where national operator Česke drahy has 31 two-car Link trains in use as Class 844). The contract for the Oberpfalz Bahn trains was cancelled, as Pesa was unable to meet the delivery schedule, and new Alstom Lint DMUs were ordered in their place. The ‘Oberpfalz’ Link trains have since been resold in Poland by Pesa to regional operators, and are mostly in service there.
Despite a prototype single-car DB-liveried Link DMU being exhibited at InnoTrans in 2014, which had been built by Pesa at its own expense as a proof of concept vehicle, progress towards getting approval for use in Germany has been painfully slow (the current DB orders are for two- and three-car trains). Another order placed in August 2014 for 26 three-car units for use in the Allgau region of southern Bavaria was the last placed by DB; these trains were due to enter service in December 2017.
Transdev subsidiary Niederbarnimer Eisenbahn (NEB) ordered seven two-car and two three-car Link DMUs in 2013 for delivery by December 2015, for use along with older Talent DMUs on the Berlin to Kostrzyn (former Ostbahn) route. The first Class 632 two-car train was delivered in March 2016 for tests and by June had received approval for use, and the trains started being used for passenger services. No doubt due to the wider approval problems with the various DB batches, Pesa informed NEB during 2016 it could not give a delivery timescale for the two three-car units, so the order was changed to four more two-car ones, due for delivery in 2017!
Press reports in Nordrhein Westfalen, where the first trains should have entered service in December 2016, suggest Pesa had not built the trains precisely to the loading gauge specified and used different standards for some components than those stipulated by the DB contract, suggesting approval delays were the result of changes to the trains and then resubmitting the entire train to the approval process. Extensive testing of the first DB Class 632 and 633 trains has been underway this summer, conducted outside Germany as the availability of train paths for test runs is easier (and possibly cheaper).
To complicate approvals, the two-car (Class 632) Link DMUs use two MTU Type 6H 1800 R85L 390kW engines, whilst the three-car (Class 633) version uses two more powerful MTU Type 12V 1600 R70 565kW engines. The two-car Class 632 has had approval since June 2016 to operate on the German network; the ongoing approval problems are therefore due to specific requirements from DB or their regional transport authority partners.
For the contracted services east of Dortmund, the Nahverkehr Westfalen-Lippe transport authority has gone so far as to issue a preparatory notice to tender for new operators of the contract if DB does not have the Pesa Link fleet specified in the original contract in place and working by 2019. Multiple iterations of possible delivery dates have resulted in DB assuming 2019, whilst Pesa has suggested it can have the entire fleet for services from Dortmund in service by August 2018. A similar timescale has reportedly been offered for the smaller fleet for use from Frankfurt, with deliveries for the Bavarian contract being undertaken from autumn 2018 onwards.
OPEN ACCESS COMPETITION – LOCOMORE BACK; HKX ‘PAUSED’
German private open access inter-city operator Locomore restarted service on the Berlin to Stuttgart route on 24 August after being bought out of insolvency by new investors. The venture is led by Czech private rail operator Leo Express and major European long-distance bus operator Flixbus, which is owned by private investors in Germany and the USA.
In mid-June Germany’s market-leading long-distance bus operator Flixbus registered a new subsidiary called FlixTrain, based in Munich, and this company along with the German subsidiary of Leo Express have been responsible for operating the revived Locomore trains, although Hector Rail continues to provide traction services. The service reintroduction has been marred by reports suggesting poor rolling stock maintenance (for example, almost no working toilets) and poor timekeeping, not all of which was due to the operator. Some of the operating staff and management of the ‘old’ Locomore have transferred to the new venture.
Locomore started operations on the Berlin to Stuttgart route in December 2016 after raising around €1 million using internet crowdfunding, but found the cost of operating daily services to be too high and announced on 11 May it was filing for insolvency. From December 2016 to April 2017, the company had carried over 70,000 passengers and initially offered one train pair a day, but quickly reduced this to four days per week from January to save operating costs and assist with equipment maintenance. The company said in early May that whilst passenger numbers and revenue had been increasing (weekend trains were carrying over 1,000 passengers each trip), they had not been rising quickly enough to enable it to break even, and as a result all its financial reserves had been used up within six months of starting operation, leading to the insolvency.
ONE RESTARTS – ANOTHER PAUSES
Hamburg-Koln-Express (HKX), owned by US-based Railroad Development Corporation, announced in August that it will significantly reduce services during the autumn, taking what it calls a ‘pause’ in operation from 4 October to 10 December. Passengers who had booked tickets for use in October and November will be given refunds. The company says the two-month pause will be used to ‘adapt the HKX offer even better to customer requirements and to prepare an attractive offer for train travel between Hamburg and Koln for 2018’.
HKX started operation in 2012 on the Hamburg to Koln route, but has yet to make any significant profit. It currently uses ex-DB coaches and locomotives provided via Nuremberg-based BahnTouristikExpress GmbH (BTE), in which RDC has had a 50% shareholding since May 2017.
BTE is mainly a charter train operator, but is also an open access operator in its own right, operating a Hamburg to Lorrach (for Basel/Switzerland) open access car-carrying overnight train service since May, replacing a service DB withdrew in 2016. HKX reduced its service on its core Hamburg to Koln route to only operate at busy weekend periods for most of 2016/17, after previously (in December 2015) extending weekend services to Frankfurt; the extended services were not sufficiently well-loaded to carry on operation.
NEW LIVERY FOR ITALIAN INTERCITY
Following the agreement of a 10-year contract between Trenitalia and the Italian Government to operate the subsidised Intercity network (p81, May issue), a new livery for the Intercity fleet is being progressively rolled out. Most vehicles in the new livery, which is largely white with a red stripe and ‘Intercity Sun’ branding, have not been refurbished internally. A Naples to Milan IC train in the new colours leaves Firenze Rifredi in the suburbs of Florence on 1 August 2017.
2700 CLASS DMUs TO RETURN TO SERVICE
Iarnrod Eireann has issued a tender for work to enable the reintroduction of the 2700 Class DMU fleet, which has been stored since 2012. The 2700 Class fleet of 13 two-car sets plus two 2750 Class single-car units were built in 1997/98 by Alstom in Spain. The units were stored during the downturn in demand that occurred at the worst of the recession, but with passenger numbers now on the increase again additional train capacity is required. Reintroduction of the 2700 Class was chosen as more economic than ordering new DMU vehicles.
The work to be carried out includes heavy maintenance of bogies, final drives, the exhausts, cooling systems, gangways, couplings and pneumatic systems. Other work includes modification works to electrical and mechanical equipment and bodywork to bring the refurbished fleet in line with the remainder of the IE DMU fleets. Fire suppression, toilet modules, passenger doors, lighting and glazing will be refurbished and checked, and seating, flooring systems, underframe equipment cabinets, interior panels and luggage racks are to be replaced. It is expected the fleet will be reintroduced into passenger service from 2019. Tim Casterton
‘FYRA’ V250 TRAINS BOUGHT BY TRENITALIA
During August Trenitalia announced, via an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice, that it had bought the former ‘Fyra’ V250 EMUs. The units were built by AnsaldoBreda for Amsterdam to Brussels services, but returned to the manufacturer by Dutch and Belgian Railways in 2013 as they did not meet the contractual specification. Trenitalia has bought the trains from Leonardo S.p.A., which is the new name for the Finmeccanica group that owned AnsaldoBreda prior to its sale to Hitachi in 2015; the V250 trains were deliberately excluded from the Hitachi purchase. Trenitalia says it has achieved a ‘bargain purchase… at a price considerably lower than market prices’, and this justified the fact the order had not been tendered. A five-year maintenance agreement is included, which it is anticipated Leonardo will sub-contract, probably to Hitachi Rail Italy.
Seventeen of the V250 trains will be overhauled and refitted internally to meet Trenitalia specifications; the first trains are undergoing overhauls at Hitachi’s Pistoia plant, while the rest are in secure store nearby in Prato. Trenitalia is expected to use the trains for high-speed services serving Bari in southern Italy from both Rome and Naples.
Media reports in the Netherlands suggest Dutch Railways (NS), which had accepted and paid for some of the V250 trains before ultimately cancelling the contract, may be in line for a payment of around €21 million; this is the maximum its final cancellation agreement with Finmeccanica/ Leonardo allowed it to share in any income from a future sale. NS already received €125 million in compensation from AnsaldoBreda in 2014.
DANES SELL LAST PASSENGER OPERATION IN SWEDEN
Danish State Railways (DSB) has sold its last remaining passenger business in Sweden, marking the end of its involvement in running passenger rail concessions in the country. DSB subsidiary DSB Uppland, which has operated the Upptåget concession north of Stockholm on the Gävle – Uppsala – Upplands Väsby route since 2011, has been sold to French transport group Transdev.
DSB’s main Swedish activity was the DSB-First joint venture with British FirstGroup to operate services linking Copenhagen with southern Sweden via the Öresund bridge. This was sold to Veolia (now Transdev) in 2011. Several other smaller concessions held by DSB subsidiaries in Sweden have already been sold or taken over by other operators. DSB’s activities in Sweden in the last decade or more are reported to have made losses in excess of €100 million, although DSB Uppland was profitable in recent years.
GLACIER EXPRESS BECOMES STANDALONE COMPANY
The world-famous Glacier Express tourist train service between St Moritz and Zermatt in Switzerland has operated since 1930, starting operation just four years after the initially steam-operated original line through the Furka and Oberalp passes opened.
In late August it was announced that the two companies who jointly operate the service – the Rhatische Bahn and Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (MGB) – were forming a new standalone company, Glacier Express AG, to run and market the service in future. The two companies will own half the shares each; MGB was formed in 2003, merging the original Furka Oberalp Bahn (which completed the line over the Furka Pass in 1926 and electrified it in 1942) with the Brig-Visp-Zermatt-Bahn (BVZ), which had succeeded the original operators of the route west of Brig.
The new standalone company is planning to invest in new or modernised panorama view coaches and to evaluate new options such as the market for shorter day trips; many tour groups already include only part of the entire route in their itineraries. Passenger numbers are reported to have fallen from 260,000 in 2008 to 187,000 last year.
Until the Furka Base Tunnel opened in 1982, the Glacier Express ran only in summer as the line over the Furka Pass was impassable. The service now operates all year round with a daily train pair, expanded to three train pairs daily in summer.