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James Abbott - Articles and news items

Introduction: Is the 4th Railway Package in trouble?

Issue 2 2014 / 11 April 2014 /

Railway liberalisation in the European Union took a big step backwards in February when the European Parliament threw out the Governance Section of the 4th Railway Package – built on earlier EU legislation requiring state railways to be split into infrastructure and operating units. The new section looked for total separation of an infrastructure manager […]

DB investment boosts manufacturers

Issue 2 2014 / 11 April 2014 /

Capital expenditure by Deutsche Bahn AG (DB) is rising by over 5% annually, but certification problems are giving suppliers pause for thought. In late-February 2014, DB put on hold its proposed high-speed Frankfurt–London rail service – news that came as little surprise. The project has been dogged by delays ever since the operator announced in October 2010 (beside an ICE hauled into the UK to go on show at London’s St Pancras station) that it hoped to introduce a preview service in time for the London Olympics in July 2012, and a regular service a year later…

Turkish rail network prepares for the future

Issue 2 2013 / 2 April 2013 /

Turkey is a country on the move. It has a younger and faster growing population than anywhere in Europe. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts Turkey will be the second fastest-growing country in the world by 2018, and by 2025 the Turkish economy is expected to outstrip those of Canada, Spain and Italy. The country is building a railway to service this fast-growing economy. Since a decision made a decade ago that Turkey’s railway should be modernised rather than gently left to rot as it had been beforehand, substantial progress has been made in building a system fit for the 21st century.

Central role for NoBos in European competition policy

Issue 1 2013 / 18 February 2013 /

Encouraging competition is at the heart of the European Commission’s vision for the continent’s railways. The theory goes that competition between operators will improve customer service, lead to better financial outcomes and result in modal shift to the railways, bringing about benefits such as reduced road congestion and reductions in carbon emissions.

The Commission looks at the road and air sectors and seeks to draw lessons from the way competition works in them. A lorry can travel from Rotterdam to Rome, or an aircraft can fly from Stansted to Stuttgart, with little regard for borders. Road vehicles and aircraft can cross borders easily, with the road or airway much the same on one side as on the other. Competing haulage firms or airlines can come in and seek to win traffic with few entry barriers.

This is the model that has driven the Commission’s railway policy. Thus, European Directive 91/440 requires a formal separation of activities of railway operation and management of infrastructure through separate accounts. The idea is to have the railway infrastructure managed more like a motorway or an airport, with the infrastructure manager charging competing operators to use the railway in the same way an airport owner charges airlines. This vertical separation has not been without controversy: Critics point out that in North America, where wheel and rail are in the same hands, rail freight has grown much faster than it has in Europe.

Nevertheless, the Commission regards vertical separation as a key policy for taming the power of monolithic state railways and encouraging new entrants into the industry. Making infrastructure management separate from the operations means new entrants can get a price for a path on the railway and compete with the incumbent operator.

Other directives have built on the founda – tions laid by 91/440. One problem the railway has by comparison with the air and road sectors is that technical specifications vary widely across the European Union.

A lorry from Poznań in Poland can drive on the road and observe traffic signals in Peterborough in the UK, while an aircraft taking off from Paris in France is equipped to land safely in Pisa in Italy. Not so with the railways. A multiplicity of operating rules and different types of equipment are spread across Europe and historically it has been difficult to cross borders. Often, locomotive changes are required for a train to be able to proceed into another country, with only certain loco types compatible with national signalling systems.

Rail wins gold

Issue 5 2012 / 26 September 2012 /

The railway industry comes in for more than its fair share of criticism. Complaints about punctuality, ticket prices and passenger service are common. Some of it is deserved, but a lot of it is not. Often, it seems our industry is judged by different criteria from others. For example, why is it that journalists so often quote the lowest ticket price between two cities when talking about budget airlines, but quote the highest price when discussing rail services? And why does a coach crash with multiple fatalities merit only a few lines on an inside page of a newspaper, while a rail accident in which there may be only a few injuries is front page news?

Thus it is heartening when rail gets praised for its service – when this happens, we know we must have done really well, given the harsh standards by which our industry is normally judged! Such was the case with the 2012 Olympic Games. There was widespread praise for the way London’s transport system worked during the Games – and that means primarily rail, as our mode was responsible for over half the transport to the Olympic venues.

Electrification to prompt surge in demand for cables

Issue 1 2011 / 15 February 2011 /

Cables have applications all across the railway industry. Increasing interest in electrification implies extra demand for cables.

Electrified railways are the way forward for the future, as they are cleaner and cheaper to operate than diesel. Another key point is that they are able to draw their power from any primary source – nuclear, renewable or fossil fuel – rather than being dependent on oil.

Application of technology improves wheelset performance

Issue 3 2010 / 31 May 2010 /

The wheel/rail interface is one of the most critical parts of an entire railway operation. Through a contact patch the size of a small coin, all the forces between the moving element (the train) and the static element (the track) are transmitted. These forces are immense, and if not properly managed, disaster may follow.

Rolling contact fatigue can propagate tiny cracks in steel, so that the cracks grow and penetrate the rail web, causing it to disintegrate. This happened at Hatfield in the UK in October 2000, resulting in a fatal derailment. Following this, an intensive rail grinding regime was instituted, taking cracks off the railhead before they have a chance to propagate.

Crossrail work gets underway

Issue 6 2009, Past issues / 12 December 2009 /

One of the biggest public transport projects in the world has started in London. Crossrail will provide welcome work at a time when other parts of the construction sector are experiencing a downturn. London is the poor relation amongst European cities when it comes to cross-city suburban rail links. While Paris has its Regional Express (RER) system and German cities their S-Bahns, the British capital struggles on with 19th century suburban rail termini that ring the core of the city. Only one line crosses from one side of the city to the other.

In praise of electrification

Issue 5 2009, Past issues / 26 September 2009 /

In July the British government announced a major programme of railway electrification, taking in the Great Western main line from London to Bristol and Swansea. To many Continental European readers, it must seem astonishing that such an important artery on the British rail network is still diesel worked.

SNCB restructures its freight operations

Issue 1 2009, Past issues / 23 January 2009 /

In an interview for European Railway Review, Mr. Geert Pauwels, Coordinator of SNCB’s Freight Group, discusses how operations are being split from commercial responsibilities.

Grinding and milling are essential to rail quality

Issue 1 2009, Past issues / 23 January 2009 /

Rail grinding helps to prevent the dangerous build-up of rolling contact fatigue, and also reduces running noise for line side communities. James Abbott, Technical Editor for European Railway Review, assesses some developments and significant aspects of this important area of our industry.

Consultancies help out on major projects

Industry Focus 2008, Past issues / 28 December 2008 /

Consultancies are providing expertise that is helping to realise important railway projects in Europe and around the world. Britain’s first high-speed railway line – High Speed 1 – was opened by Queen Elizabeth II with much fanfare on 6 November 2007. High speed Eurostar trains now whisk passengers from the splendidly-restored station at London St Pancras to the centre of Paris in just 2hr 15min.