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Technical Editor - Articles and news items

Fourth Railway Package aims to foster growth

Issue 2 2013 / 2 April 2013 /

Ticketing technology supplier Amadeus has released a new study with an optimistic outlook for long-distance rail travel in Europe. The study estimates that long-distance passenger traffic will increase by 2.2% annually over the next seven years to reach over 1.36 billion by 2020 – 238 million up on 2011 figures. The continent’s three biggest economies, Germany, France and the UK, are the chief sources of the expected increase; also, affluent Switzerland is thought to have high growth potential.

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.

Rail freight sector must outshine road haulage

Issue 1 2013 / 26 February 2013 /

A new study by consultancy firm Bain & Company into the European rail freight sector has revealed some truly shocking statistics. The report found that over a five-year period (2007-2011), the main state operators in mainland Europe – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Spain – accumulated net losses of €5 billion from rail freight. That is €1 billion a year to be stumped up by hardpressed taxpayers. Of course, that period covers the most severe economic recession for 70 years, so there are mitigating circumstances. In 2008-2009 even Germany, with the soundest economy in the Eurozone, suffered dramatic traffic losses and DB Schenker plunged into the red by more than €100 million. But perhaps more interesting is that over half that €5 billion of losses was accounted for by the second biggest economy, France. State-owned rail freight operator SNCF Fret is a basket case, losing money hand over fist. Although this would already have been apparent to the people who ordered the report: the Bain & Company study was commissioned by SNCF…

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.