Europe View



Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum, which operates some services as a franchisee of larger airline Iberia, has announced it will begin operating international high-speed rail services from October 2018. The airline has established a rail subsidiary, Intermodalidad de Levante (Ilsa), which has formally sought permission to start international open access services by submitting detail of its plans to the Spanish National Commission for Markets and Competition. Ilsa is also applying for the necessary safety case certification from the Spanish rail safety agency.

Ilsa plans to lease Class 100 AVE trains from the pool that Spanish national operator RENFE set aside for third party leasing as part of Government-led efforts to open the rail market to new entrants. The trains, based on the French TGV design, were built by Alstom and CAF in 1991-93. The company initially plans to operate two train pairs daily between Madrid and Montpellier, with an end-to-end journey time of 5hr 47min. Four intermediate stops, two in Spain at Zaragoza and Barcelona plus two in France at Perpignan and Narbonne, are planned for each service.

Ilsa believes there is considerable scope for rail to grow its market share for journeys between south west France and the Spanish cities of Madrid, Zaragoza and Barcelona, as rail currently carries around 240,000 passengers per year in a market assessed to included 5.3 million journeys annually, giving rail a share of no more than 5% in a market dominated by the airlines. Ilsa believes the currently poor service frequency offered jointly by RENFE and French rail operator SNCF is part of the problem. The two operators offer only four train pairs daily using a mixture of French TGVs and RENFE Class 100 AVEs on the core cross-border Barcelona to Montpellier section; some of these extend to Madrid, Paris, Lyon or Marseille, but most travellers to or from Madrid need to change trains in Barcelona.

All-yellow NS train: NS Traxx loco No 186011 leaves Bruxelles Midi on 23 October 2017 with the 11.45 Benelux service to Amsterdam.
Keith Fender


Czech open access operator Leo Express has announced it will start its long-planned open access services from the Czech Republic to Poland. The operator has previously obtained approval for use of its Stadler Flirt EMUs in Poland and obtained a safety case authority for operation in Poland in April, notifying the Polish rail regulator UTK in June that it planned to start the service; UTK has received no objections from other operators or funders of subsidised regional rail services, so there are no regulatory obstacles to starting the service.

Leo Express intends to launch a service connecting Prague and Krakow, probably early in 2018; the exact date has yet to be announced. The operator will use its dual-voltage Flirt EMUs, as it already does for domestic Czech services and its existing international service between Prague and Košice in eastern Slovakia. The Leo Express Prague to Krakow train pair will operate daily.

Czech national operator ČD, in co-operation with Polish long-distance operator PKP Intercity, launched a Prague to Krakow direct service during 2017, providing the first through daytime train between Krakow and Czech cities for many years; ČD has already announced this service will operate daily from the new timetable on 10 December.

Service frequency soon to increase: a RENFE Class 100 AVE at Narbonne in France on 19 November 2016 with a service for Barcelona. New entrant Ilsa plans to lease trains of the same type to use on this route. Keith Fender


From 6 November operation of the Brussels to Amsterdam ‘Benelux’ inter-city service has switched to top-and-tail operation, using Class 186 Bombardier Traxx MS locos provided by both Belgian Railways (SNCB) and Dutch Railways (NS) at each end of a set of NS-owned coaching stock. This change has occurred in advance of a planned rerouting of the Benelux service in the Netherlands, after which it will run via HSL Zuid south of Rotterdam to Breda, reversing there and using the high-speed line to Antwerp. This change is expected to occur in 2018.

In advance of the change to top-and-tail operation, NS-owned Class 186 locos had been used to operate services to Brussels for some weeks, in addition to the SNCB fleet normally used. The SNCB Class 186 fleet used for the Benelux services – now totalling 12 locos – has undergone some changes, with locos swapped between the passenger operator and privatised freight company Lineas; some locos have been returned to their leasing companies as Lineas has introduced new Railpool-owned locos. The NS Class 186 fleet now consists of 45 locos owned outright plus 21 owned by a variety of leasing firms. With increased top-and-tail operation on HSL Zuid in 2018 (Den Haag to Eindhoven trains in addition to the Benelux ones), it is likely more locos will be leased by NS and used until late 2020, when the first of the Alstom-built ICNG EMUs are introduced.



In the mid-1990s Czech private operator Viamont took over operation of several rural lines and slowly grew its business, changing owners in the process. The company was renamed GW Train Regio in 2011, and has been owned since 2014 by Česke Budějovice-based bus and transport group ČSAD Jihotrans. The new owner bought the company specifically to enable it to bid for one of the biggest regional passenger tenders to date in the Czech Republic, for the services from Česke Budějovice to Česky Krumlov and the Sumava region in the south of the country bordering with Austria and Bavaria.

In new colours: RegioSprinter DMU No 654013 at Karlovy Vary Dolni nádraží on 9 July 2017; this unit is one of the seven recently bought by GW Train Regio from Rurtalbahn. Duewag (later Siemens) built 39 RegioSprinters for German and Danish operators between 1995 and 2002.
Keith Fender

In 2015 GW Train Regio was successful in winning the contract, which begins on 10 December 2017, offering a price of CZK95 per train kilometre (£3.28 at 2017 exchange rates), compared to second- and third-placed bidders Arriva (DB) at CZK105 per train kilometre (£3.62) and national operator ČD (Česke drahy) at CZK160 (£5.52). Czech open access operator Leo Express offered a bid largely based on using buses so was disqualified; according to local media the other Czech open access operator Regiojet and UK-based National Express both declined to make a final bid.

GW Train Regio started operation of tendered semi-fast services between Plzeň and Most in the west of the country in December 2016, using a small fleet of ex-DB Class 628 DMUs operating four or five train pairs daily. For the new Sumava contracts, GW Train Regio has bought 10 more RegioSprinter lightweight DMUs from two German operators. Seven of these ‘new’ trains have been bought from Rurtalbahn, based in Duren near Aachen, while three RegioSprinters have been bought from Trenitalia-owned Netinera company Die Landerbahn, whose Vogtlandbahn subsidiary had been using them – all three are equipped for operation on the tramway street-running section in Zwickau (Saxony).

GW Train has announced the introduction of new weekend cross-border through services between the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary and Zwickau, with two train pairs operating at weekends and holidays from December 2017; this service will be supported by a subsidy of around €6 million annually. GW Train has operated services on this route for several years in co-operation with Vogtlandbahn.

From April 2018 GW Train Regio also plans to offer through services from Wrocław in Poland to Adršpach in the Czech Republic via the currently freight-only Walbrzych to Meziměsti cross-border route. The company already co-operates with Polish regional operator Koleje Dolnośląskie to operate summer weekend services on a different Czech/Polish cross-border route between Trutnov in the Czech Republic and Jelenia Gora in Poland.


Czech national operator ČD has ordered nine more Class 650 dual-voltage (3kV DC/25kV AC) EMUs for services in the west of the country from Plzeň. Škoda Transportation will build the trains in Plzeň and Ostrava. Since their first introduction in 2011, ČD has now ordered 37 of the trains in single-voltage AC and DC versions as well as the dual-voltage variant; all the trains are branded as RegioPanter (Panter means Panther in Czech) in line with ČD’s policy of naming train types after animals. Until now all the trains have been delivered in ČD white and blue livery, but the latest batch is due to be given a locally-designed livery for services in the Plzeň area; the regional government will allow the public to decide between the chosen liveries.

The Plzeň RegioPanter contract is worth around CZK1 billion (£69 million). ČD has told regional governments around the country it is planning to spend up to CZK20 billion (£690 million) on new regional rolling stock in the next few years in advance of wide scale tendering of services, likely to begin from 2019.



French transport operator Keolis (70% owned by SNCF) has announced two major new contracts.

In eastern France the company has won a new contract worth €248.5 million to operate the tram, bus and other public transport (bike-share, on-demand transport, car sharing and transport for passengers with reduced mobility) services in the greater Besancon area for seven years from January 2018, replacing current operator Transdev. Passenger numbers are forecast to increase by up to 9% across the network by 2024. The ‘Ginko’ network in and around Besancon has two tram lines and 19 bus routes used by 27 million passengers a year; 500 staff are employed in operating the services.

Keolis expansion: from January the company will operate the Ginko tram network in Besançon, which uses CAF Urbos trams, seen here near the main station on 15 April 2016.
Keith Fender

In Rennes in western France Keolis has been awarded a seven-year €960 million contract starting in January to operate all ‘mobility services’ in the greater Rennes area; Keolis has operated the core ‘Star’ metro and bus network for the city for 20 years, with contracts dating back to 1998. The Rennes network will be expanded, with feeder bus routes changing significantly when the new 14km-long Line B automated VAL metro opens in 2020; an average of 113,000 passengers per day are expected to use the new line. A target for a 36% increase in passenger numbers has been set during the life of the new operating contract, which would result in an increase from 82 million to 112 million passenger journeys per year by 2024. Keolis intend to reduce fare evasion by installing ticket gates for the Rennes metro, starting with the existing 8.5km Line A, which has been in service since 2002 and is used by around 310,000 passengers each day. The number of Keolis employees in the Rennes area is expected to increase during the life of the contract from 1,000 to 1,150 by 2024.

Whilst operation of French tramway systems is routinely tendered, in neighbouring Germany it is very rare (and French firm Transdev has won many of the smaller contracts that have been tendered). This is in contrast to main line rail services, which are routinely tendered in Germany but so far have not been tendered in France at all.

During autumn 2017 two major German operating contracts were awarded to the incumbent without tendering. In Saxony, Chemnitz operator CVAG has had its contract to operate the city’s tram services extended to 2042 by the city council. The direct award contract was supported by 53 of the 57 councillors who voted. In western Germany, Karlsruhe operator AVG will continue operating the tram-train network centred on the city from 2022 to 2035 under a direct award contract, although those parts of the tram-train network which are classified as ‘rail’ have to be tendered, and in places this will lead to tram-trains being replaced by conventional EMUs. In 2019 Abellio will take over two routes currently operated by AVG tram-trains (neither of which have any street running, using only the main line rail network) using Talent 2 EMUs on the existing S5 Pforzheim – Bietigheim-Bissingen and S9 Bruchsal – Muhlacker routes.


In July 2017 Basel tram line 3 was extended to a new temporary terminus on the border between France and Switzerland, north of Basel city centre. From 10 December services on this line will be extended just over 500 metres to the SNCF station at St Louis. The line, under construction since 2015, has three intermediate tram stops on the new French section and will be served by BVB-operated trams. The previous tram line connecting St Louis with Basel closed in 1957.



German infrastructure manager DB Netze completed its new double track line through the Spessart hills east of Aschaffenburg on the Frankfurt to Wurzburg route in early November. The new line replaces the original 1854 vintage 5.4km-long steeply graded route via the 926-metre-long Schwarzkopf Tunnel, which was closed on 15 June. The old route caused all trains to slow down significantly to around 70km/h, and heavy freight trains required banking locos.

Operation began on the new line on 19 June, initially partially single track, after a three-day closure of the entire route to connect the new line and begin demolition of the old. Heigenbrucken station, at the eastern end of the new section, has been moved from the old route to a location further south where the new route diverges from the old.

The new 8km-long route has four tunnels, the longest of which is the twin-bore Falkenberg Tunnel – the northern bore is 2.623km long (the southern one 2.619km). The new line largely follows the old route but takes a flatter and slightly longer route and is mostly built within 500 metres of the old route.

The line was officially opened whilst still partly complete on 28 June, although a farewell event for Schwarzkopf Tunnel was held on 25 May featuring steam as well as historic electric locos. Steam locos are now banned from the tunnels on the new route so will no longer be able to use the Aschaffenburg to Gemunden section of line.


German open access operator Hamburg-Koln-Express (HKX), owned by US-based Railroad Development Corporation, announced what it called a ‘pause’ in operation from October until 10 December. It has now announced services will restart in December – although only for the Christmas/New Year period, with tickets to be sold via Germany’s largest long-distance operator Flixbus; customers using the HKX website are being redirected to the Flixbus site. As we reported in the October issue, Flixbus has become involved in open access rail services as part of the consortium (with Czech operator Leo Express) operating the restarted Stuttgart to Berlin Locomore service.

The growing involvement of Flixbus in open access rail services may be partly due to the growth in long-distance bus passenger numbers plateauing; figures from the German government statistical service Destatis for the first six months of 2017 show the growth of long-distance bus passenger numbers appears to have flattened out after three years of rapid growth following deregulation in 2013. For the first half of 2017 passenger numbers were 11 million (0.5% less than the same period in 2016), although distance travelled grew by 2.9% to 3.2 billion passenger kilometres.

By comparison, long-distance rail journey figures continue to show growth, with 68 million passengers (up 2.4%) travelling 19.4 billion passenger kilometres. The vast majority will have used DB services, as open access operators HKX and Locomore plus international operators like Thalys represent a tiny part of this total. Overall growth in public transport usage in Germany was 1.1% compared to the first six months of 2016, with 5.8 billion passenger journeys. The strongest growth has been in regional/ suburban rail passenger numbers, with a total of 1.35 billion passengers (up 3.4%) travelling 27.5 billion passenger kilometres (up 3%).



Iarnrod Eireann (IE) and its trade unions held talks at Ireland’s ‘Workplace Relations Commission’ (WRC) during September. However, these broke down, with IE offering a 1.5% pay rise tied to a productivity deal whilst union negotiators were looking for a 3.75% increase, pointing out that the last pay rise for IE employees was a decade ago and that since then pay cuts rather than increases had become the norm!

Funding for IE has been an issue for a while now, with the company apparently being on the verge of insolvency on occasions. All IE employees took a 25-month-long pay reduction in August 2014 to assist with the rail funding crisis following the financial crisis, which hit the Irish economy very hard. The reductions ranged from 1.7% for staff earning less than €56,000 to up to 6.1% for those earning more than €100,000. With passenger numbers increasing rapidly, IE employees and their unions consider that having helped the company through the bad times, it is time a reward is due and that their pay levels should no longer be used to subsidise the company (or government) finances.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) states staff have not had a pay increase since 2008, noting also that ‘Government funding has fallen from €189 million in 2009 to €117 million last year’. IE has accumulated losses of over €160 million and is seeking a more appropriate level of government funding for operating services that do not cover their full costs – which thanks to the current arrangements for funding journeys using tickets issued under the Government ‘Free Travel’ schemes for pensioners and disabled persons is almost every train! The long-term viability of much of the network outside Dublin is endangered by the government’s approach, which results in apparently well-patronised trains earning very little revenue, as a large proportion of passengers are not paying any fare and the government’s funding for these ‘free’ journeys does not cover the operating costs of the trains being used. Similar schemes in other European countries (for example Slovakia and Hungary) have damaged the viability of some services and routes whilst paradoxically increasing passenger numbers; in extreme cases, such as in Kosovo (p69, last month), rail operators have simply ceased operating services for which they were not being paid.

IE unions balloted their members once negotiations broke down and the first strike, following company-wide ballots, took place on 1 November, with four further one-day strikes planned for November and December. IE’s unions have also withdrawn co-operation with various schemes, including introducing more train services on the Maynooth line to connect with the new LUAS tram route at Broombridge, until the pay dispute is resolved. The Unite trade union, also involved in the dispute, suggested productivity gains had already been made, telling the local media that whilst IE’s workforce has declined by 20% in the last decade the revenue per employee had gone up by 42% in the same period. The NBRU has also appealed to the Government and Transport Minister to intervene with more funding for public transport and to include in that consideration for improving staff remuneration. Tim Casterton / Keith Fender



Metre-gauge Ferrovia Lugano–Ponte Tresa (FLP), which operates a 12.3km-long 1200V DC electrified line from Lugano (opposite the SBB station) to Ponte Tresa, is proposing to create a new tram-train system with street running in Lugano using a new generation of light rail vehicles to replace its current EMUs, which date from the late 1970s. The line currently operates as route S60 in the Ticino Canton integrated transport network.

The FLP has submitted a planning application for a new 4km-long light rail line, branching from the existing metre-gauge line at Bioggio-Molinazzo west of the city and running through a new 2.3km-long tunnel to reach a new underground station underneath Lugano SBB main line station, from where the line will continue via city streets to the city centre beside Lake Lugano. This line would replace the existing steeply-graded southern alignment between Bioggio-Molinazzo and the current Lugano FLP station. A second phase of the project envisages the construction of a 1.9km branch running north from Bioggio-Molinazzo to Manno. Nine new 45-metre tram-train vehicles are envisaged to replace the existing fleet. Lugano previously had a metre-gauge tram system; it shut in 1959, when it was replaced by buses.

The FLP station adjacent to the main SBB station in Lugano is situated above the city centre. A 206-metre-long funicular railway connects the main station with Piazza Cioccaro in the city centre below. This line, used by 2.5 million passengers a year, opened in 1886 and was completely rebuilt between 2014 and 2016. With tram-train operation passengers will no longer need to transfer from the FLP to the city centre via the funicular railway.



Spanish regional operator Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV) has ordered six bi-mode (diesel and 750V DC electric) Citylink tram-trains from Stadler to operate the Alicante – Benidorm – Denia route. FGV will replace its existing 50-year-old Class 2500 DMUs with the new vehicles, which will be built in Spain at Albuixech, near Valencia, from 2019; it already operates earlier electric versions of the Citylink on the Alicante – Benidorm section of the line.

The Citylink bi-mode (diesel and 750V DC electric) tram-train design has previously been bought for the tram-train network in Chemnitz, Germany; in the UK Sheffield has seven dual-voltage electric Citylinks for the planned tram-train service to Rotherham.


After a construction period of around 10 years the new Granada tram line began passenger services on 21 September 2017. The system is 16km long, 2.7km of which in the city centre is in tunnel. Fifteen CAF Urbos III vehicles are used to operate services at eight- to 10-minute headways. The line was originally forecast to cost €360 million (with 17% coming from the city and 83% from the Andalusian regional government) but delays, partly due to the financial crisis in 2009/10, led to cost increases, with a €260 million loan being granted by the European Investment Bank to complete the project. Despite being physically complete, the system spent most of 2017 undergoing intensive test running on most days until authorisation for public service was finally granted.

To be replaced by new tram-trains: 1978 vintage FLP Be 4/12 EMUs at Ponte Tresa on 8 June 2015.
Keith Fender