TURIN – LYON ALPINE ROUTE TO BE CANCELLED?
On 24 February 2015 then French President Francoise Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi signed a joint agreement to build a new Lyon – Turin railway at a Franco-Italian summit meeting. The new line includes a 57.5km-long Mont-Cenis (or Mont d’Ambin) base tunnel from Susa (Italy) to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in France, to the north east of the existing Frejus rail tunnel and route via Modane. The new Mont-Cenis base tunnel will be predominantly in France (45km), with 12.5km in Italy.
Construction of the new base tunnel under the Alps is being led by Tunnel Euralpin Lyon-Turin (TELT), a company established in 2015 to replace the previous joint Franco-Italian venture Lyon Turin Ferroviaire. The construction and future operating company are owned equally by the French government and Italian State Railways (FS).
The new tunnel and associated new 220km/h lines in Italy to connect Susa with Turin and the existing Turin – Milan high-speed line have been planned for over 20 years. Early construction activity, pre-2015, was abandoned after largescale, sometimes violent demonstrations in northern Italy, with opponents arguing the project’s construction would cause environmental damage and was too expensive.
POLITICAL CHANGE – PLUS ÇA CHANGE?
Neither President Hollande or Prime Minister Renzi are in power anymore and relations generally between France and Italy have been strained since the 2018 elections in Italy. In 2017 the then new French government had questioned the viability of the project following the election of President Macron. A French proposal to pause construction was the subject of frenzied diplomatic activity by the then Italian government, leading to the French agreeing to continue with the tunnel project. At one point construction of the new high-speed lines to connect the French portal with Lyon appeared to have dropped off the French government’s list of priorities, but in April 2019 the French government reaffirmed its commitment to building the line, without which the significant journey time reductions promised between Turin and Lyon/Paris would not be possible.
The Italian government has since 2018 comprised a coalition of the La Lega (formerly Northern League), which supports the project, and the Five Star movement, which opposes it, claiming its costs have risen from €8.6 billion to more than €20 billion. The government decided in March to pause tendering for construction work on the Italian side of the project. This did not prevent TELT from issuing tenders for work on the French side of the Alps, as any further delay would increase costs, although it is unclear how many contractors will respond as unusually the tenders came with the condition that any contract awarded could be cancelled for political reasons without compensation. TELT has however given undertakings to ensure political support is in place before major contracts are actually awarded.
In the meantime, construction work is underway, some using tunnel boring machines, creating access routes for the new base tunnel, and a 9km section of the future base tunnel has already been excavated on the French side along with 21km of access tunnels.
NEW SERVICES ON OLD LINE?
Italian national operator Trenitalia is planning to test two of its ‘Frecciarossa’ ETR1000 trains in France later this year to obtain approval for their use there. Trenitalia is expected to introduce direct services between Milan and Paris via the existing Fréjus route using ETR1000s, possibly from December 2020. Currently SNCF operates two TGV train pairs daily between Milan and Paris.
BRENNER BASE TUNNEL PROGRESS
Further east in the Alps, progress is being made building the new Brenner base tunnel between Austria and Italy. By early May over 100km of the 230km of tunnel required was complete. The majority of the tunnelling so far has been to create a central ‘exploratory’ tunnel between the twin railway single bore tunnels; this will be used for drainage once the route is open. In addition, access tunnels for future work, some of which will be used for emergency access once it is open, have been built on both sides of the Alps. So far around 28km of the 120km of railway tunnels has been excavated.
Italy and Austria signed a state treaty in 2004 to build the tunnel. Initial exploratory tunneling began in 2007 and the new railway is currently scheduled to open in 2028. When complete, the new 55km tunnel between Innsbruck (in Austria) and Fortezza (in Italy) will be connected underground to the existing 12.7km Innsbruck avoiding tunnel (opened in 1994 and being upgraded), giving a total length for the Brenner base tunnel of 64km and making it the longest railway tunnel in the world. The EU is funding around 40% of the €8.7 billion construction cost.
In preparation for the opening of the new tunnel, work is planned in Germany and Italy to upgrade existing routes for higher volumes of freight traffic. German infrastructure manager DB Netze is currently undertaking planning studies for a new double track line in the Inn Valley north of the Austrian border at Kufstein to provide additional capacity for trains to and from the Munich to Salzburg main line at Rosenheim. Local residents in Bavaria on the potential route have already made it clear they want the new railway (and ‘noisy’ freight trains) in a tunnel, despite the relatively flat topography.
PLANNING FOR DRESDEN TO PRAGUE HSL
German national infrastructure manager DB Netz has begun public consultation on possible routes for the German section of the planned Dresden – Prague high-speed line. Public meetings and exhibitions in conjunction with the Saxon state government are being held. The project has been given priority status by both the German and Czech governments.
Multiple route options for the relatively short German section of the line (which will cross the border roughly midway through a 26km-long tunnel under the Erzgebirge mountains) have been identified. These are now being assessed for their suitability for construction (geology and topography) as well as their environmental impact (noise and land take) on the areas affected. Construction is unlikely to begin until the mid-2020s, with the line opening a decade later.
HS1 PUSHES LONDON TO BORDEAUX SERVICE
At the end of April, HS1 Chairman Keith Ludeman and the Mayor of Bordeaux plus the Regional President of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region met in Bordeaux to agree plans to encourage development of a direct high-speed service between London and Bordeaux. The plans envisage Bordeaux St Jean station being equipped to handle services to the UK, although whether this would include UK immigration screening is unclear. HS1 and its partners say a London to Bordeaux service would have a journey time of under five hours.
HS1 and other infrastructure owners LISEA, Eurotunnel and SNCF Réseau agreed last year to work together to develop a London to Bordeaux high-speed service. Despite these efforts, it remains unclear if Eurostar, as the only operator that currently owns trains able to operate London to Bordeaux services, has any immediate intention of doing so. HS1 has also revealed it is undertaking similar planning, albeit less advanced, for other international target destinations including Geneva and Frankfurt.
MORE LEGAL ACTION ON ‘BREXIT’ FERRY SETTLEMENT
As we reported last month (p80), Eurotunnel operator Getlink and the British government agreed a £33 million out of court settlement in response to claims by Eurotunnel that the UK government had discriminated against it by not offering it the opportunity to operate chartered ‘No Deal Brexit’ ferry services. In late April, P&O Ferries (owned by Dubai-based DP World) announced it was taking legal action against the UK government as the settlement with Eurotunnel left it at a competitive disadvantage.
The other major ferry operator on the Dover to Calais route is DFDS, which was one of the government’s contracted ferry operators. Separately in early May, the UK government confirmed it has cancelled both the remaining ‘No Deal Brexit’ ferry contracts with Brittany Ferries and DFDS at a reported cost of around £50 million, mostly in fees payable to the operators.
FLEXITY ENTER SERVICE IN VIENNA
In early December the first of 119 new ‘Flexity’ low-floor trams on order for Vienna transport operator Wiener Linien entered service. Between 15 and 23 of the new ‘Type D’ Flexity vehicles will be delivered every year until 2025, enabling Wiener Linien to replace its older ‘Type E’ high-floor trams (delivered in the 1960s and 1970s and built in Austria under licence from Duewag in Germany). The order for the new Flexity fleet was placed in 2015 following a legal dispute with Siemens, which had built the previous generation of low-floor trams at its Vienna factory. Vienna is unique in Europe in having two tram manufacturers based there; Bombardier is building the new Flexity fleet at its Vienna factory!
The new Vienna ‘Type D’ Flexity has a floor height of 215mm, which is the lowest ‘low-floor’ anywhere in the world. Each 34-metre-long, 2.4-metre wide five-section light rail vehicle has space for 211 passengers. The contract for 119 Flexity LRVs is worth €562 million (including a 24-year maintenance support contract); an option for 37 more vehicles is included.
CAPTRAIN BUYS RAILTRAXX
In February freight operator Captrain Belgium, owned by French national rail operator SNCF, lost its safety case approval certificates when the Belgian rail safety regulator (SSICF) withdrew the operator’s ‘Part A’ certificate covering its safety system/processes. The immediate effect of this was that Captrain had to find new Belgian operators to operate its trains in the country on a short-term basis.
The longer-term solution became clear in early April when it was announced that Captrain had bought Belgian open access freight company Railtraxx. Later that month Captrain Belgium was merged with Railtraxx, allowing Railtraxx to operate on Captrain’s behalf using the locos and 40 staff previously with Captrain Belgium. Captrain continues to trade under its own brand across the rest of Europe.
MORE IWT INTERMODAL TRAINS
International Warehousing and Transport (IWT) was planning to increase the number of rail freight services operated in conjunction with Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) on the Dublin Port to Ballina (Mayo) route from mid-May, once IÉ had additional train drivers available. The additional services bring the weekly number of trains in each direction to nine.
The upturn is partly to relieve road traffic congestion at the Dublin Port terminal, where increased volumes of shipping are being experienced due to Brexit, with trains removing HGVs from the terminal queues. Rising fuel costs and HGV driver wages over the last 12 to 18 months have also increased road haulage costs, making rail freight more competitive.
The lower carbon footprint for rail transport has also encouraged some companies to use rail as climate change awareness increases.
Services operating from Dublin Port have experienced a 99% load factor, whilst those from Ballina are also well-loaded. IWT intermodal rail services between Dublin Port and Ballina began in August 2009 with just two services per week each way, initially primarily to serve the soft drinks factory located near Ballina.
This traffic is still the mainstay of the operation; however, business has grown by 5% year-on-year and IWT now makes regular deliveries to Westport, Letterkenny, Tuam and Castlebar from its Ballina Yard for the medical, retail and brewing industries in the area. IWT invested in its own storage yard adjacent to the Ballina rail freight yard in 2012 and this is used to buffer stock, allowing its customers to store product close to production facilities, reducing lead time and eliminating storage charges at Dublin Port. Tim Casterton
IÉ TO INVEST IN BALLINA FREIGHT YARD
During a visit to Ballina in April, Iarnród Éireann CEO Jim Meade announced the operator is to spend over €1 million on renewals and repairs at the busy freight yard in County Mayo later in 2019. The yard handles around 18 intermodal and two pulpwood trains each week, making it the busiest in Ireland. Tim Casterton
STADLER TO BUILD 60 NEW DIESEL LOCOS FOR VR
Finnish national operator VR has ordered 60 new diesel-electric locos from Stadler, which the manufacturer will build at its plant near Valencia in Spain. The contract is worth around €200 million. An option for up to 100 more locos is included in the contract, making it one of the largest diesel loco contracts in Europe for several years. The first five locos will be delivered in 2022 and tested in service; deliveries of the remaining 55 will begin in 2025.
The new locos will replace older Dr14 and Dv12 locos, both of which date from the late-1960s and are used both for marshalling trains and also to operate freight (and a handful of passenger) trains on the non-electrified 45% of the Finnish network.
The new 120km/h Bo-Bo locos will be equipped with European Train Control System Baseline 3 and the Finnish legacy STM-ATP train protection system and are designed to operate in temperatures as low as -40oC. The new design locos, with central drivers’ cabs, can be operated in multiple with up to three locos working together. To improve adhesion, the AC traction motor on each axle will be fed by a separate AC invertor.
NEW ICE4 DELIVERIES HALTED
In early April German national operator Deutsche Bahn announced that due to bodywork welding quality problems found on some ICE4 high-speed EMUs it had suspended acceptance of any further trains until the problems are resolved.
Siemens is the lead contractor for the new ICE4 (DB Class 412) fleet, but construction of all the bodyshells and completion of some vehicles is sub-contracted to Bombardier, which undertakes the work at its factories in Görlitz in Germany and Wroclaw in Poland. Siemens, along with Bombardier, proactively revealed the manufacturing defect to the German Federal Railway Authority (EBA) once it had been discovered. Both Siemens and DB have stated that the welding defects are not safety critical and the ICE4 fleet that had been delivered remains in use; around 26 trains are now in service.
A programme of inspection and rectification for the ICE4 fleet is now underway, being led by Siemens and DB with Bombardier and the EBA. DB says it expects the manufacturer to repair all affected vehicles where necessary under existing warranty arrangements.
Siemens has described the welding faults by its sub-contractor Bombardier as ‘isolated’ to a small number of ICE4 car bodies due to the work not being performed as prescribed. Construction of additional trains is continuing; Siemens says car bodies now in production meet the specified quality requirements. Siemens has also begun testing for two new variants of the train; a seven-car and 13-car version. DB has ordered 137 ICE4 trains (with the order currently being 50x12-car, 50x13-car and 37x7-car).
FLIXTRAIN ADDS NEW ROUTE AND EXTRA SERVICES
Open access passenger operator Flixtrain announced it would start a new Berlin to Köln service on 23 May. This had been planned for some time, but introduction was delayed whilst the operator secured sufficient suitable rolling stock. The new service initially has a complex timetable with multiple short-term variations caused by pre-planned engineering work and will essentially operate as a single train pair daily starting in Berlin and serving major cities such as Hannover, Dortmund and Düsseldorf en-route. A second train pair at weekends between Thursday and Monday will begin operation in June.
Flixtrain has also announced a third train pair on the Hamburg to Köln route, which it operates in conjunction with former open access operator HKX. These services are operated by Nuremberg-based BTE and have since January switched from Class 182.5 ‘Taurus’ locos to more modern Vectron locos leased from Railpool. Flixtrain sold 750,000 rail tickets in 2018 (having started rail services the year before).
It now operates under the Flixmobility banner (the other major brand being Flixbus) and is planning further expansion of its German domestic open access rail services in the next few years, with operation of high-speed services from Berlin to Munich publicly identified as a potential new route.
ORANGES BY RAIL FROM VALENCIA
A new three times weekly rail freight service has begun linking Spanish agricultural producing regions with Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The trains are operated by DB Cargo on behalf of logistics company Euro Pool and food wholesaler Bakker Barendrecht, which supplies leading Dutch retailers. In future around one-third of the citrus fruit imported from the area around Valencia will travel by rail in diesel-electric powered ‘reefer’ refrigerated containers. Using rail will avoid over 12,000 lorry journeys to and from Spain annually, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 70%, as well as the need for lorry drivers.
Like the previous road-based operation, loaded trains operate northbound and the southbound service comprises containers loaded with empty (collapsed) fruit/vegetable crates.
Journey time by rail is around two days, which is competitive with road transport; currently containers cannot be moved from Valencia to the Netherlands without trans-shipment as the 1,435mm gauge line south of Barcelona which is under construction is not yet complete. Our thanks to John Morris for some of the information in this item
STADLER LISTS ON STOCK MARKET
Stadler has become a publicly listed company, with a successful initial public offering listing on the Zürich stock exchange (SIX Swiss Exchange) in mid-April. The offer was oversubscribed and at CHF38 a share valued the company at CHF3.8 billion (£2.9 billion). The shares sold were previously held directly or indirectly by Stadler’s long-time owner Peter Spuhler, who has now sold around half of his shares.
Stadler has expanded considerably since Mr Spuhler took over management in 1989 of the then small rail engineering firm, first established in 1942 to specialise in small volume bespoke contracts for the Swiss market. The company has grown by acquisition and by establishing manufacturing sites in eastern Europe, Asia and the USA, and now offers a full range of passenger trains plus locomotives whilst still retaining the ability to build bespoke and small orders (recent examples being new rack-equipped trains for the Pilatus Bahn in Switzerland and the Pikes Peak line in Colorado).
Stadler had a turnover of CHF4.4 billion (£3.3 billion) in 2018 and made a profit after tax of CHF119 million (£90 million). The company employs more than 8,000 people worldwide.