Sunday, December 14, 2008

Global HSR News

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

Some interesting stories for a lazy Sunday afternoon:

  • Basque separatist extremists are targeting high speed rail, including killing a businessman working on the project, as part of a response to aggressive efforts by the Spanish government to break ETA. According to the Guardian article ETA and other Basque separatist groups claim that the "Basque Y" is going to destroy the environment and screws over rural Basques whose land is being taken for the project. What that article doesn't say clearly is that many in ETA and among their supporters are concerned that the Basque Y, once completed and linked to Madrid, will further solidify the region's connection to the rest of Spain and undermine what remains of the Basques' separateness. The determination of the Spanish government to go ahead with the project despite some local opposition then gets used by ETA to rally public support which has been declining significantly in recent years. Hopefully the project will go ahead as planned.

  • On a more positive note the "Red Arrow" Milan-Bologna HSR line opened yesterday, and DoDo at the European Tribune has a great overview not just of the service but of the history of Italian high speed rail, which is lesser known than its other European counterparts despite Italy having a longer history and having provided true HSR service ahead of even France's TGV (I'm as guilty here as anyone in not giving Italy its HSR props). DoDo also describes the future development of Italian HSR, its connections to Europe, and Ferrari's entrance into the HSR industry.

  • Frequent commenter BruceMcF has the third installment of his electric rapid rail series up at Daily Kos, this one focusing on electrification of STRACNET for freight and passengers.


Rafael said...

The Basques are an ancient people indigenous to the Bay of Biscay region, with an unusually strong attachment to their land. Basically, they've spent at least the last 2000 years fighting anyone who has tried to dominate them. To get an inkling of the dynamics at play, imagine a million-plus native Americans, adapted to modern world and still living between Santa Barbara and the Sierras.

Basques have long traded with other peoples and permitted passage through their territory (within limits), but their strategic location has long put them at odds with powerful neighbors. The Pyrenees mountain range represents a daunting natural barrier even in modern times, so the preferred trade routes between the Iberian peninsula and mainland Europe still lead through the Basque country on the Atlantic and Catalonia on the Mediterranean side.

In recent years, both of these regions have been granted far-reaching autonomy, which has arguably helped marginalized ETA when a generation of its leaders were captured. Indeed, rumor has it that the Madrid-Sevilla HSR starter line was a quid pro quo for French assistance in the fight against ETA leaders in hiding across the border.

Many Basques on the Spanish side, especially those of Spanish or mixed ancestry, actually see European integration much like those on the French side do - as a major opportunity to develop their economy and recast their identity in a wider, modern context.

However, the way Spain has pursued its aggressive HSR program has resulted in serious environmental damage in e.g. Andalucia, so there are plenty of non-violent opponents to the Basque Y as well.

ETA is now trying to regain relevance by exploiting this opposition. One reason it continues to exist at all is that 31 years after Franco's death, his many victims are still waiting for their day in court. Many have since died of natural causes, hardening the hearts of extremist Basques who perceive projects such as the "Basque Y" (English version of advocacy video) as symbols of continued Spanish oppression. Like the IRA in Northern Ireland, ETA is really no more than a brutal organized crime syndicate masquerading as a nationalist resistance movement, but it still has supporters and safe houses in close-knit rural communities.

Note that like many other rail links under construction under the EU's TEN-T priority axes program, the Basque Y is a rapid rail system that will be used by both passenger and light/medium freight trains.

An alternative to tunneling through the rugged but beautiful Basque countryside would be a rail link through the central Pyrenees. The Somport tunnel and its approaches on the abandoned single-track Pau-Canfranc line (map) was recently restored, but as part of a secondary transit road running right through a national park in one of the most pristine regions of France.

The reason for the conversion is simple enough: it would have been impossible for freight trains to achieve the speeds necessary to compete effectively against long-distance trucking along the coasts using the old alignment. A freight rail base tunnel through the central Pyrenees is currently unfunded but remains part of the TEN-T framework plan, in addition to the coastal lines through the Basque country and Catalonia.

Rafael said...

If you speak Spanish, you may enjoy this satirical sketch in which Basque officials inform a farmer that his land is being expropriated to facilitate construction of the Basque Y. When he welcomes this progressive idea, they berate for failing to be a stand-up Basque and sue them so they can keep their jobs for another 10 years. When Greenpeace activists show up to tell them they've decided HSR is just swell, the bureaucrats lose it.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

very nice conclusion to three-part series on rapid rail. I wasn't aware of the role DoD played in retaining lines on US rail grid that freight operators wanted to abandon.

Two points on STRACNET, though:

a) whenever push does come to shove, diesel locomotives manage to move tanks and supplies around the country just fine. The amount of fuel that consumes is peanuts compared to operations in theater, especially by jet aircraft and various armored vehicles, plus tanker truck convoys and their protection details. The notion that rail electrification will directly improve the nation's defenses is therefore not all that convincing.

However, STRACNET would let the US substantially reduce its oil imports from OPEC countries and, shift more of the collective security responsibility to Europe, Japan et al. That would indirectly improve national security because more allies with (literally) more skin in the game means collective diplomacy is more effective and hence, military intervention in oil-producing countries needed less often.

Structural destruction of US demand for oil - currently fully 25% of the total - would also help avoid a looming conflict with major new consumers, notably China, later this century. Precursors for this are already in evidence: the proxy civil war over oil in Sudan and its aftermath in Darfur, Chinese relations with Iraq and Iran, unresolved claims on the Spratly Islands etc.

b) in the past, Europe's electrified railroads have found it quite difficult to regain market share against trucking in spite of high diesel prices, in large part because only bulk freight customers like steel works and coal-fired power plants still have private rail spurs these days.

Such bulk goods are transported as inexpensively as possible using inland waterways and heavy freight trains, but rapid rail freight is all about minimizing transit time for high-value goods.

The "Rolling Highway" concept was invented to ease congestion through the Alps. It's also why Switzerland, Austria, France and Italy are investing heavily in the construction of extreme long trans-alpine base tunnels. However, this early concept is relatively expensive because the tractor and driver need to be taken along and, the entire train needs to be loaded and unloaded from the last car.

New trans-shipment systems allow trucking companies to keep their assets local by transferring only the trailers onto the trains at special terminals. The process can be executed in parallel to save a lot of time. At the receiving end, a second local trucking operator company up the freight at the appointed hour and delivers it to its final destination. This concept will really come into its own after cross-border rail traffic in the EU is liberalized in 2010.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael ... c'mon, the original post and a total of five copies to choose a comment thread from, and you reply to the post here?

(1) ... the crude version of the statement as political cover for Republican Senators in beneficiary states like Idaho is discussed in the comments in dKos, but remember that strategic logistics is about far, far more than just moving equipment for the initial deployment. Don't forget that some rail lines were pressing against capacity in 2007, well before the crude oil price peak ... in a supply interruption scenario, the SPR will stretch much farther across essential activities with this system in place.

(2) Even with the price of diesel by 2007, intermodal container freight picked up substantially. However, for beating long haul trucking in the largest number of market segments for both time and cost with a container freight haul and short haul trucking at both ends, the rail haul needs speed to cover the time overheads for intermodal transfers at origin and destination railheads.

Unknown said...

- Raf

You are a pro at research! and your posts are detailed and informative.

Not going to lie though, often I skip them cause they are so long. But when I do they are quality.

Anonymous said...

The Germans are ordering new trainsets. Delivery will be in 2011 and 2012.,,3876528,00.html

Deutsche Bahn to Invest in New Generation of Trains

The head of Deutsche Bahn has said the company plans to invest billions of euros in a new generation of trains.

Hartmut Mehdorn told German weekly Focus that Deutsche Bahn will replace its current stock of Intercity (IC) trains with 300 new locomotives between 2014 and 2024. Negotiations on the multi-billion-euro deal will begin in the first half of 2009.

Mehdorn said the plans were "clear proof" that the rail company was continuing to invest and guarantee jobs despite the economic crisis.

Deutsche Bahn has also ordered 15 new high-speed Intercity-Express (ICE) trains for 500 million euros ($670 million), to be delivered in 2011 and 2012, Mehdorn said.

"These trains belong to the new generation of ICE's which have a new axle construction," he said.

Deutsche Bahn has had difficulties with recent versions of the ICE, in particular the ICE-T, manufactured by German industrial giant Siemens, and the ICE-3, constructed jointly by Siemens and Canada's Bombardier.

Rafael said...

@ Michael Kiesling -

is DB really going to replace its first-generation ICE trains - top speed 280km/h - with regular locomotives and unpowered cars?

Austria's OeBB is about to bring its fancy new railjet consists into service. These are based on a traditional configuration, but top speed will be limited to 230-250km/h by the available tracks.

Anonymous said...


DB is replacing IC, not ICE locomotives. IC is the slower-speed, non-HSR services in Germany.

They are purchasing 15 more ICE trains, the type we want for our system

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

here in Spain we call those "Basque Separatists" just "Terrorists".

As you may know, there are several parties which defend independence without the use of violence.


Anonymous said...

New Italian HSR line looks to grab 60% of air market within two years....

Italian fast rail link to squeeze Alitalia
By Vincent Boland in Milan

Published: December 15 2008 02:00 | Last updated: December 15 2008 02:00

The age of long-distance high speed rail travel finally arrived in Italy at the weekend, with the new link between Milan and Bologna set to challenge Alitalia, the ailing airline that was rescued by a group of private investors last week.

The opening of the high-speed line will allow trains to travel between the two northern Italian cities at up to 350 km per hour and will eventually cut the journey time from Milan to Rome to three hours.

The €6.9bn investment by Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), the state railway company, is the largest in the Italian rail network, which is extensive but prone to delays. Italy already has two small high-speed lines, between Turin and Novara in the north and between Naples and Salerno in the south.

But the Milan-Bologna line marks the launch of a high-speed service between the country's financial and political capitals. FS is undertaking a massive marketing exercise to lure passengers and is presenting the achievement as "a new era in rail transport in Italy".

Milan-Rome is also a busy air route, with at least three airlines offering services. Mauro Moretti, chief executive of FS, said his aim was to capture 60 per cent of the passenger traffic - or about 5m people - over the next two years on to the trains, known as Frecciarossa (Red Arrows).

The inauguration of the service also involved the modernisation of Stazione Centrale, the railway terminus in Milan.

A second-class return ticket from Milan to Rome on the new service will cost €103 ($138, £92). The cheapest Alitalia round trip ticket on its website yesterday cost €218. However, further improvements to the network are needed before the three-hour service begins, including a new railway station at Bologna on which work has yet to begin. Still, the journey time from Milan to Rome, which takes a minimum of 4½ hours, has been cut to just under four hours from yesterday, and the Milan to Bologna route to 65 minutes from an hour and 43 minutes.

The three-hour Milan to Rome service will begin next December after completion of outstanding work and will be available on the non-stop route between the two cities. Journeys with stops at Bologna and Florence will take three hours and 30 minutes.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008