Sunday, January 4, 2009

HSR Rolls On Around the World

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

A few items for a lazy Sunday afternoon from around the world:

  • RENFE to open new HSR link between Málaga and Barcelona - a bypass of central Madrid that shortens the journey between the two cities to 5 hours 40 minutes. Further evidence of how Spain, which compares well to California in terms of population density, landscape, and travel distances, has built one of the world's great HSR successes in the AVE system.

  • Italy's new HSR line to Bologna gets notice in the NY Times

  • British HSR plans continue to evolve, with Labour proposing an HSR hub at Heathrow as part of a third runway project. Labour's support for a third runway has aroused opposition from nearby residents, environmentalists, and even the Conservative Party, whose stronger support for HSR has pushed Labour into its own HSR proposals. Labour is trying to link HSR to the third runway plan in a bit of greenwashing. It may or may not work, but the upshot is that Britain is now warming to HSR in a big way, a shift from 30 years of refusing to seriously endorse the concept.


Alon Levy said...

When I was in Milan a week ago, I saw a big sign in front of the central train station counting down to when the new TAV link to Turin would open. It was at just under a year.

Rafael said...

There are actually many more HSR projects around the world in various stages of planning and construction.

For Europe, one of the more important is the Perpignan-Figueras standard gauge rapid rail connector between the French and Spanish networks on the Mediterranean end of the Pyrennees mountains. Due to open later in 2009, it is a key component of the South-West European High Speed Rail Link. In that context, Portugal is now getting serious about high speed rail (link in Portuguese) as well.

Another noteworthy development is that Finland and Estonia have decided to revive an earlier project to build a rapid rail tunnel under the Baltic Sea. This would become an integral part of the EU's "Rail Baltica" priority axis of the TEN-T framework program.

Since the Baltic Sea freezes over in winter, the only alternative would be to run trains via St. Petersburg, a long but cheap detour which might nevertheless be acceptable for freight and overnight sleeper cars. The concept would be similar to the inter-war Gdansk corridor. In other words, train cars and containers would be sealed and deemed not to have left EU territory if the seals are intact on arrival.

As a quid pro quo, Russia would be able to run trains from St. Petersburg and Moscow to Kaliningrad in a sealed corridor. There would be restrictions, especially relating to the transport of military hardware and hazardous materials. These would be enforced by officials of the transit countr(y)(ies) via sample challenge inspections at the time of loading.

Note that Finland uses 1524mm gauge, but that is close enough to the Russian gauge (1520mm) to allow trains to pass in either direction. Variable gauge trucks are only needed for trains crossing the Polish border.

Rafael said...

Russia received its first Siemens Velaro RUS train in November. Since the trains will run on Russia's 1520mm gauge, both the trucks and the car bodies were redesigned. Commercial service between St. Petersburg and Moscow is due to begin at the end of 2009, with an extension to Nizhny Novgorod a year later.

Speed is limited to 250km/h, mostly because Russian overhead wires are 3kV DC. Higher speeds require higher voltages, 25kV AC is the new industry standard.

nikko pigman said...

Cool post Rafael. My family tried to find some ridiculous way to get from Madrid to Dublin completely by train (except when crossing the Irish Sea by ferry). The big killer was the time it took from Madrid to Paris.

I don't know this to be fact, but what I understand is that one of the themes of the EU is to act as kind of a barrier to communist/Russian influences. Obviously Russia isn't communist anymore but it still has powerful communist influences and we know their leadership to be machiavellic. Among the factors in this new Russian state stew is the fact that the Estonian government is literally a puppet of the Kremlin. Considering possible future political fallouts with Russia/Estonia, I'm questioning the use of an Estonia-Finland rail-tunnel.

I'm no expert on the geography here, but I'm wondering if it would be more strategic to build a rail-bridge line from Turku, Finland across that array of islands (which form a near landbridge)to somewhere near Nortallje, Norway so that it could connect to Stockholm and from there to Denmark, Germany, and the rest of Europe.

Robert Cruickshank said...

As I understand it, and I'm sure Europeans can speak better to this, today's EU has far too many economic relationships with Russia to be considered a fundamentally anti-Russian organization. Germany in particular has strove to maintain good relations with Moscow and many European powers, like Sarkozy, have rejected Bush's efforts to poke the Russian bear via silly things like bringing Georgia into NATO. (Obviously NATO isn't the EU but it shows that friendship with Russia is high on the agendas of some key European nations.)

Rafael said...

@ nikko pigman -

Estonia is part of the EU. I'm not sure where you got the idea that its government is a puppet of the Kremlin. Perhaps that's true of Belarus but certainly not of the Baltic states. Indeed, the primary motivation for the Rail Baltica project is to create a decent north-south rapid rail link to improve economic integration with the rest of the EU. The primary objective is to move freight off the roads and onto rail, perhaps in the context of an intermodal system like Modalohr. Passenger service would be useful, too, especially within and between the three Baltic states and southern Finland.

Btw, Nortallje is in Sweden. A rail bridge - or rather, a series of rail bridges - between Turku and Grisslehamp (which is closer to Aland) would be extremely expensive to construct due to significant water depths and the presence of thick sheet ice in winter. For details of the civil engineering problems its construction would entail, consider the Confederation Bridge. The 8 mile span connects Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick year-round.

A tunnel from Helsinki to Tallinn, combined with Rail Baltica, would make more sense. The bedrock under the eastern Baltic is well suited to tunneling. However, at almost 80km in length, it would still represent a massive construction project.

That's why I think routing freight and sleeper car passenger trains via a new "St. Petersburg corridor" might make more sense, especially in combination with a pair of "Baltic corridors" between Russia and Kaliningrad. Russia is both a Baltic country and the EU's neighbor, not to mention a major supplier of oil & gas. The more Russia comes to depend on bi-directional trade with the EU, the more reasonably it will behave in conflict situations.

James said...

I am coming to appreciate the world-wide economy of scale of the many HSR projects and the benefit to the US to choose the best equipment based on appropriate speed, capacity, cost, reliability, etc. If CHSRA gets it right they can set the national standard.

Our politicians need to appreciate that we can buy into the significant added value of proven technology that is in production. Hopefully some of the products are not unnecessarily complex as long as they get the job done. The Talgo passive articulation sounds like a good start but may have other limitations.

In general would the latest HSR equipment be considered first generation or going on second generation? The mechanics of HSR were first worked out by the pioneering companies in Japan, France, and Germany and they have continued to improve.

Rafael said...

@ James -

since California's HSR tracks will be designed to support up to 220mph to begin with, no tilt mechanism at all is required. Passive tilt is limited to about 2 degrees and lags due to the dampers. Active tilt mechanisms can achieve higher tilt angles and anticipate curves using a track database, but they are much more complex.

Japanese shinkansen: sixth generation (E2, N700T); Kawasaki efSET will be seventh generation

Taiwan HSR: Kawasaki product based on shinkansen 500 and 700 series (fourth/fifth generation)

Alstom AGV: third generation

Siemens Velaro: third generation

Talgo 350: seventh generation, though first certified for speeds above 300km/h in commercial use

Korean KTX: essentially second-gen Alstom TGV
Korean KTX-II: first generation (prototype HSR-350x aka G-7 developed locally by KRRI and Hyundai Rotem)

Ialian ETR-500: second generation (built by Trevi, a consortium of Alstom, Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda)

Bombardier Zafiro: would be second generation (Acela Express was first, though the company has subcontracted on many HSR trainset developments)