NIGHT TRAIN COMEBACK
Perhaps the least expected aspect of the new European timetable starting on 15 December is the reintroduction of sleeper services between Vienna and Brussels!
The Europe-wide impact of the Swedish ‘flygskam’ (flight shaming) movement (inspired in part by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg) is causing governments and train operators across Europe to reconsider the role and viability of overnight trains. It is likely during the next few years they will increase in number and return to routes that lost them recently. In some cases, governments are now interested in directly funding such services – or at least their reintroduction as an alternative to increased air travel.
In 2014-17 many major European operators ended night services, in particular German Railways (DB), which downgraded and then closed its former ‘Euro Night/City Night Line’ branded overnight train network. However, DB’s Austrian counterpart ÖBB took a different approach – and eventually took over parts of the DB network. Now branded ‘Nightjet’ (to complement the daytime ‘Railjet’ brand name), ÖBB has attempted to update the overnight train for the budget airline (and hotel) plus internet age. The Nightjet network uses ÖBB-owned rolling stock and is either directly operated by ÖBB staff or by partner operators; for much of central and eastern Europe ÖBB works with the state rail operator to provide services to a range of destinations, such as Warsaw, Bucharest and Zagreb.
From mid-December ÖBB will operate the through coaches from Vienna to Brussels two times per week in each direction as a portion conveyed as part of the existing Vienna to Düsseldorf Nightjet service. From December 2020 through coaches will operate daily between Vienna and Amsterdam in conjunction with Dutch operator NS. The Dutch government has offered funding of €6.7 million for the 2021-24 period but expects the service to eventually become self-financing.
In Sweden the Government asked national transport authority Trafikverket to draw up plans to introduce overnight sleeper trains to other European countries with a fund of SEK50 million (£4 million) to cover initial costs. The initial plans are due to be published early in 2020. The only current international overnight service from Sweden is a seasonal Malmö to Berlin service operated by Transdev on an open access basis using the Trelleborg to Sassnitz train ferry. Domestic overnight services operated under contract to the government run between Stockholm and Malmö/Gothenburg and to Duved in northern Sweden plus Narvik in northern Norway.
In October ÖBB issued tenders for sleeping and couchette carriages that can be used in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. This suggests the Nightjet network may be expanded further north in 2022 when ÖBB will begin introduction of its new purpose-built Nightjet fleet of sleeper/couchette trains (13x7-car sets) on the existing core network.
The increased government interest in financing overnight trains has already led to complaints that such subsidised services unfairly compete with private open access companies as some overnight services are now offered by such operators on an open access basis. For example, both Regiojet and Leo Express operate between Prague and cities in eastern Slovakia, although only Regiojet offers couchettes, and from December 2019 sleeper accommodation, using coaches bought from DB; Leo Express simply uses its Flirt EMUs. FlixTrain, which is planning open access services in France (p82, last month) has applied for paths to operate a Paris to Nice overnight service from 2021 and is reportedly in discussion with the French government about possible funding for this service.
ARRIVA SALE STALLED?
German Railways’ (DB’s) plan to sell its UK-based Arriva business has attracted a wide range of bidders, according to media reports in recent weeks. DB was reported to have entered exclusive talks concerning a €2.5 billion sale to Washington DC based private equity firm Carlyle Group in late October, although by early November, following DB main board personnel changes, reports suggested a deal was unlikely soon.
Uncertainty caused by Brexit and the status of the Northern rail franchise in the UK has depressed the price bidders were willing to pay. DB paid £1.585 billion in 2010 to buy all the Arriva shares as it was then listed in London (at 2010 exchange rates around €1.9 billion). Under DB ownership Arriva has spent considerable sums buying bus and rail operations across Europe so the reported €2.5 billion sale would be below book value and is nowhere near the €4 billion valuation DB and industry observers had originally anticipated. DB Arriva had turnover of €5.441 billion in 2018, up 1.8% on 2017. It made an earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) profit of €300 million, which was almost exactly the same as 2017 (€301 million). Arriva employs 53,100 people and in 2018 operated over 1,000 trains and more than 17,000 buses, together accounting for 13 billion passenger kilometres in multiple European countries. It also owns UK open access operator Grand Central.
DB has previously said it will consider a stock market flotation on the Amsterdam stock exchange if it cannot achieve an acceptable trade sale. Some bidders, reportedly including Stagecoach and FirstGroup from the UK and French Railways subsidiary Keolis, have expressed interest in parts of the Arriva business but not the entire company. DB had made it clear that it wished to sell the entire business and it appears only financial investors were willing to entertain this; another bid from American investment firm Apollo Global Management was reported in October to be in competition with that from Carlyle Group.
DB announced its plan to sell Arriva in March in response to a recommendation by the German government Federal audit office (p78, April issue) that will enable DB to reduce its debt or at least minimise future borrowing. DB’s need to reduce its debt is in part a political decision by its owner the German Government, which wishes to restrict public borrowing. By not permitting significant new borrowing DB is forced to sell assets to raise investment funds for its core German rail business, although there is no evidence that the German Government wants DB to make a loss on any sale as this would be politically sensitive.
The Federal Audit Office also recommended DB sell the much bigger DB Schenker logistics business, but DB has thus far avoided pressure to sell. The loss of this subsidiary would reduce the scale of the DB Group (DB Schenker at €17 billion represents nearly 40% of total group sales), with a potential negative impact on credit ratings and borrowing terms for the rest of the group.
FRECCIAROSSA TO PARIS IN 2020?
Trenitalia has ordered another 14 ETR1000 ‘Frecciarossa’ trains from Bombardier/ Hitachi to join the 50 in service.
Thello, the international open access arm of Trenitalia, intends to introduce high-speed services between Paris and Milan using ETR1000 trains in the next 12 months. These will compete with SNCF’s existing TGV service on the route. Testing of ETR1000 trains in France, initially in Brittany but latterly on LGV Nord between Calais and Paris, has been underway for several months.
MORE RÉGIOLIS FOR GRAND EST
The Grand Est region has ordered 39 more ‘Coradia Polyvalent’ or ‘Régiolis’ trains from Alstom under a framework contract agreed between the manufacturer and French Railways (SNCF) in 2009, bringing the total number ordered for all French customers to 387 trains. The new Grand Est units, which will all be bi-mode diesel/25kV AC electric, will also include 30 four-car units equipped for operation in Germany under 15kV AC. These will be used to expand cross-border services to German cities in Baden Württemberg, Rheinland Pfalz and Saarland on both existing (often under-utilised) routes and potentially on lines that are being considered for reinstatement or rebuilding (for example between Colmar and Breisach/Freiburg and from Haguenau to Rastatt – in both cases requiring new or significantly rebuilt bridges over the river Rhine).
Deliveries of the 39 new trains will begin in 2022 and run until 2024. The nine purely ‘French’ trains in the order (5x4-car and 4x6-car) will be delivered first, with the first cross-border trains delivered from December 2023. Whilst the Régiolis/ Coradia Polyvalent is widely used in France, it is not currently approved for use in Germany.
CONTRACT LOST DUE TO DRIVER SHORTAGE
French Railways (SNCF) subsidiary Keolis lost a contract due to start in mid-December 2019 to operate S-Bahn services in the Ruhr area (routes S1 Solingen – Dortmund and S4 Unna – Dortmund – Lütgendortmund). The awarding transport authority Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR) determined that Keolis was insufficiently prepared to operate services on the routes despite having been awarded the contract in mid-2016, the key deficiency being a lack of train drivers. As an interim measure VRR awarded incumbent operator DB Regio a short-term contract to continue operation pending another long-term EU-wide tendering exercise.
Similar staffing problems have led to Abellio, which had also won several Ruhr S-Bahn contracts due to start in December, subcontracting operation of one of them, the S3 route (Oberhausen – Essen – Hattingen), back to previous operator DB Regio for three months until March 2020.
NATIONWIDE DRIVER SHORTAGE
The growth in passenger services largely caused by tendering authorities specifying additional services, plus the age profile of existing train drivers, has led to a national shortage in Germany in recent years, resulting in some services being bustituted for months or longer.
The normal practice in Germany, in contrast to many other EU countries, is that operating staff do not automatically transfer to new operators when contracts change hands, unless the contracting authorities have specified this as a requirement. This aggravates the effect of the existing driver shortages as ‘new’ operators have to recruit all the operating staff they need, and those employed by the previous operator often have no incentive to switch as they lose their existing employment benefits.
In early November national pro-rail lobby group Allianz pro Schiene published figures from the German Federal Government showing the number of qualified train drivers in Germany has risen to nearly 47,000, an increase of around 12% in four years, although this total includes U-Bahn (metro) and tram drivers; main line drivers make up just under 31,000 of the totals.
With unemployment rates for qualified train drivers at under 1% (and vacancies advertised representing around 2% of all drivers), both rail operators and regional governments, which tender and pay for most German passenger services, are looking to increase the pool of drivers available. In some cases, qualified train drivers have been recruited from elsewhere in the EU (for example Spain and Romania), although most such recruits need to then spend many months learning German to the standard required to operate trains.
Efforts by train operators to train more drivers with financial support from German regional governments are underway, with some training programmes targeting potential applicants from ‘new’ sources (such as refugees who arrived in Germany after 2015). Just as most German state governments have now created ROSCO-type organisations to own train fleets leased to tendered operators, there has been serious discussion about the creation of similar employment companies to provide the drivers for tendered train services.
IÉ BATTLES CAPACITY CRUNCH
Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) has issued a stark warning that without additional capacity it may need to introduce compulsory reservations at the busiest periods. Speaking on Irish broadcaster RTÉ in late October, IÉ CEO Jim Meade said that with new trains not due to arrive until 2021 at the earliest overcrowding is likely to get worse before it gets better.
A sustained rise in demand saw a record 48 million passenger journeys in 2018 and the figure for this year is expected to be even higher. Initiatives already in place to smooth out demand are not proving sufficiently successful, leading to consideration of more draconian measures to manage capacity being considered, with Mr Meade explaining this may impose ‘… a restriction on people’s ability to travel because currently they can pre-book or they can walk up and go’.
The purchase of 41 additional vehicles to lengthen the Hyundai Rotem ICR sets was signed off by the Government via its National Transport Authority (NTA) in late October, having been agreed between IÉ and the manufacturer several months beforehand. The procurement process for the acquisition of new bi-mode (battery-electric and electric) units for the Dublin area DART network has only just begun. Talking to Modern Railways, NTA CEO Anne Graham confirmed: ‘We are funding the purchase by IÉ of 41 intercity rail cars, which will take approximately 24 months for first delivery. We have commenced procurement for the new DART fleet; the very best case scenario is three years for delivery of that fleet but it is more likely to be four.’
With IÉ pushing its fleet to the limits to provide as much capacity as possible, short-formed trains are a regular occurrence, an issue highlighted by campaign group Rail Users Ireland. One in six of all weekday journeys on the DART is made between 08.00 and 09.00 and in the short-term the NTA has endorsed a call by IÉ for people to stagger their journeys. A new website ‘peaktime. ie’ enables passengers to check which services are less crowded as part of a drive to encourage those who are flexible with the start time of their work or studies to look at travelling outside the peak morning period on weekdays. Noting that the situation ‘seems set to continue’, Anne Graham confirmed that the NTA is considering ‘interim arrangements’, which could include having buses available during the peaks on which rail tickets would be accepted. Tony Miles
GALWAY REDEVELOPMENT STARTS
The initial stage of the redevelopment of land around Galway Ceannt station has been the laying of new sidings parallel with the current main platform line. One of the new sidings will eventually be extended into the former bus garage area to serve a new platform once funding become available. The former goods yard sidings, which in recent years have been used to stable passenger trains, are to be lifted later this year. Dublin – Galway services are heavily used, and as well as providing additional platforms and stabling at Galway additional capacity is also required on the line, with one possible option being a dynamic loop in the Oranmore area.
Presently the station is served by services to Dublin and to Limerick using the Western Rail Corridor (WRC). If the extension of the WRC north to Tuam and Claremorris is funded even more capacity will be required. The Belmond Grand Hibernian hotel train also serves Galway Ceannt station during the summer season. Galway Port has a long-term aspiration to develop a freight siding, however this would diverge slightly further east. Tim Casterton
FREE TRAVEL FROM MARCH
From March 2020 passengers on domestic rail, bus and tram services in Luxembourg will no longer require tickets as all public transport becomes free to use (in second class). International travel and first class will still require tickets. Fares were in any case low; a national day rover ticket was €4, whilst an annual national pass was €440.
The impact and effect of this nationwide and overnight change will be closely watched across Europe; multiple cities in Germany have proposed similar schemes although none have implemented it, in part due to financial concerns plus uncertainty the existing public transport networks would be able to cope with passenger numbers.
Very cheap annual tickets do exist in some western European cities; in Vienna the annual ticket for the city has been €365 for 365 days since 2012 and this model is being considered by some German cities as an alternative to entirely free public transport. The €365/365 day ticket costs Vienna city council around €500 million annually in subsidy payments to operators.
HERITAGE LINE TO REOPEN TO REGULAR PASSENGER TRAFFIC
Plans to reopen the 15km Veendam to Stadskanaal line in the north of the Netherlands from 2024 have been announced. National rail infrastructure manager ProRail, the province of Groningen and the Dutch Ministry of Transport reached agreement on the plan in March 2019.
The line closed to passenger traffic in 1953 and to freight traffic in 1990, and since 2003 has been owned by Stichting Stadskanaal Rail (STAR), which runs heritage services on the line. Passenger services between Groningen and Veendam using the northern section of the line resumed in 2011.
The agreement with STAR will allow the heritage operator to continue to run trains at weekends and public holidays in between the new regular passenger services; STAR will receive a reported €1.5 million in return for selling the line and land near it.
From 2022 €68 million will be invested in track upgrades and a modern signalling system. Arriva will operate services on the reopened line from December 2024; the journey time between Groningen and Stadskanaal will be 41 minutes. Our thanks to John Morris for some information in this item
MORE VECTRONS FOR BLS CARGO
Swiss rail freight operator BLS Cargo has ordered 25 more ‘Vectron Multi System’ locos from Siemens. The quadri-voltage (15kV/25kV AC, 1.5/3kV DC) 6,400kW locos will be equipped for operation in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, and are designed for use hauling freight on the ‘North – South’ freight corridor connecting the North Sea ports with Italy. The new locos will be delivered between 2020 and 2025 and will join the 15 Class 475 Vectron MS locos previously bought by BLS. Siemens has now sold over 950 of its Vectron model to nearly 50 customers. They are now approved for use in most EU countries, although not yet in France or Luxembourg.
ICE4 TO THE ALPS
From December German operator DB will replace its older ICE1 trains on the route between Hamburg and Chur in Switzerland with new Siemens-built ICE4 EMUs. In June 2020 services to other Swiss destinations (eg services from Berlin to Zürich and Interlaken Ost) will also switch to ICE4. The sub-fleet of 19 ICE1 trains equipped with Swiss pantographs (in addition to German ones) will be used for domestic services in Germany and may be included in planned refurbishment for the ICE1 fleet