Harbin metro to start trial operation soon

CONSTRUCTION has been completed of the first metro line in the Chinese city of Harbin and a fleet of 17 six-car trains has been delivered by CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles ready to start trial operation.


The line partly uses a former air-defence evacuation tunnel built during the Second World War. Line 1 is 17.5km long with 18 underground stations and links the city's East and South mainline stations via the city centre.


Each train, which comprises four motored cars and two trailers, has an aluminium alloy car body and is mounted on CW2100 bogies. Bombardier supplied the traction and auxiliary systems as well as the train control equipment.


The trains have sliding pocket doors, environmentally-friendly high-voltage ac (HVAC), air purification, an intelligent real-time information display, and a passenger information system.


Two more lines are planned. Line 2 will run from the northwest via the city centre to the eastern suburbs, while Line 3 will encircle the city centre. Two further lines are proposed to create a 143km network.






JR East begins 320km/h operations

EAST Japan Railway Company (JR East) began scheduled operations at 320km/h on the Tohoku Shinkansen with the timetable change on March 16.


Series E5 Hayabusa trains now operate at up to 320km/h on the Utsunomiya – Morioka section of the Tohoku Shinkansen, reducing the journey time for the 713km trip between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori to 2h 59m.


On the same day JR East also introduced Series E6 Super Komachi high-speed trains on Tokyo – Akita services. The E6s operate in multiple with E5s between Tokyo and Morioka and are currently limited to 300km/h, although they will operate at up to 320km/h from Spring 2014.


The introduction of the new trains has allowed JR East to withdraw the last of its Series 200 trains, which were built in 1980-86.







Russia to cut long-distance passenger subsidies?

RUSSIA's Finance Ministry has announced proposals to cut subsidies for long-distance train services and divert the funding to investment in aviation.


Russian Railways (RZD) estimates that, if implemented, the cutbacks would lead to the loss of around Roubles 5bn (US$ 170m) from its annual subsidy and could trigger a 40% decline in long-distance ridership over 3-4 years.


However, the original author of the proposal, deputy finance minister Mr Andrei Ivanov argues that this is acceptable, because many people would prefer to fly if the option was available.


The proposition came after the results of a study conducted by several government agencies. According to the Finance Ministry, the study compared ten air and rail routes of varying distance, and passenger traffic on these routes between 2000 and 2011 year, and found that the number of passengers flying distances of 1500km or more had grown steadily, while the number the number travelling by train had declined.


The study reports that on the 2891km Moscow – Novosibirsk route, rail passenger traffic has fallen by 73.8% over the last 11 years, while air has extended its market share from 58% to 89% over the same period. The average sleeper fare between the two cities in 2012 was just under Roubles 10,500, compared with Roubles 7000 for the average airline ticket.






Funding agreed for Ho Chi Minh City Line 5

THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have agreed to provide a $US 260m loan to support the construction of Ho Chi Minh City metro Line 5.


Representatives of the bank signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr Nguyen Huu Tin, vice-chairman of the municipal's people's committee in the city on March 13.


The $US 857m initial phase involves construction of the 8.8km section from an interchange with Line 1 at Cua Sai Gon to Bay Hien on Line 2 in Tan Binh district.


In the longer-term the line will be extended 8.2km south to Ben xe Can Guoc. With the completion of this phase, Line 5 will have capacity for around 526,000 passengers per day.


Construction is already underway on Lines 1 and 2, which are both due to be completed in 2017, with the ADB and EIB providing finance for Line 2.





Midas Wins EUR22.7 Million Russian Contract

For the supply of aluminium alloy extrusion profiles to the Russian railway market SINGAPORE and HONG KONG, March 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Midas Holdings Limited( ) ("Midas" or the "Company", together with its subsidiaries, the "Group"; SGX-ST stock code: 5EN; SEHK stock code: 1021) is pleased to announce that its subsidiary, Jilin Midas Aluminium Industries Co., Ltd. ("Jilin Midas") has won a EUR22.7 million (approximately RMB182.8 million (Note 1)) contract from Ural Locomotives Limited Liability Company ("Ural Locomotives"), a joint-venture company between Siemens AG and Russia's Sinara Group. Mr. Patrick Chew, Chief Executive Officer of Midas, said, "This contract from Ural Locomotives is significant as it is our first international contract this year and an affirmation that our diversification strategy and efforts in growing our international markets are bearing results. Our success in securing this export order is a further testimony of the international recognition of Jilin Midas' technical capabilities and quality output. This positions the Group well to grow its orders from both international and PRC markets."


Under the terms of the contract, Midas will supply aluminium alloy extrusion profiles for use in the manufacture of 100 electric train sets (1 train set = 5 train cars), or 500 electric train cars for commuter passenger service. Delivery for the contract is slated to take place progressively from 2013 to 2019. This contract is expected to contribute positively to the Group's financial performance for the financial years ending 2013 to 2019. About Midas Holdings Limited Founded in 2000, Midas is today the leading manufacturer of aluminium alloy extrusion products for the passenger rail transportation sector in the PRC. Over the years, Midas has built an established track record in supplying to the PRC passenger rail transportation sector, which includes participation in landmark contracts such as trains for the Beijing-Tianjin High Speed Train Project, and inter-city high speed trains for the CRH3-380 Project. Midas' customers include domestic PRC licensed train manufacturers from China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited and China CNR Corporation Limited, as well as international customers such as Alstom Transport, Siemens AG and Bombardier Transportation. Midas has a strategic 32.5% stake investment in Nanjing SR Puzhen Rail Transport Co., Ltd. ("NPRT"), an associate company engaged in the development, manufacturing and sale of metro trains, bogies and their related parts. In 2012, Midas was honoured with the 'Supplier of the Year Award' by Bombardier Transportation, one of the world's leading manufacturers of innovative aerospace and rail transport solutions. In recognition of its consistent growth and profitability, Midas was included in Forbes Asia's "Best Under A Billion" list for four consecutive years from 2006 to 2009. The Company was also awarded the "Best Investor Relations Award (Gold)" at the Singapore Corporate Awards 2010 in the "S$300 million to less than S$1 billion market capitalisation" category. As testament to its strong brand name and reputation in the PRC, Midas was conferred the prestigious "China Well-Known Trademark" by the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry & Commerce of the PRC ("SAIC") in 2011. Midas has a primary listing on the Mainboard of the Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Limited and a secondary listing on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited. Note: 1. EUR1 = RMB8.05371


Source Midas Holdings Limited






China's rail reform skirts big question: Who pays?

China's massive high-speed rail expansion is likely to cost over $100 billion a year. The funding for it has been pure folly.


By John Foley, Reuters Breakingviews FORTUNE -- China's massive rail expansion is good for the economy. Burying it under $420 billion of debt isn't. The long awaited dismantling of China's sprawling Ministry of Railways and creation of a new rail company, announced on March 10, is a good moment to change track.


A grand plan to double track length to 120,000 kilometres between 2010 and 2015 is likely to cost over $100 billion a year. It's worth it. As well as comfort, prestige and low emissions, rail is the ticket to better urbanization. A recent World Bank report calculated that the benefits to a city of better connectivity from high-speed rail could be almost as large as those from saving passengers time and operating costs.


The funding, though, has been pure folly. Projects depend on borrowing from Chinese state banks and issuing bonds -- which in turn are mostly bought by the banks. The resulting debt, on a notional 6% interest rate, would require $25 billion a year of interest payments. Passengers aren't rich enough to cover that cost.


MORE: China's lending boom is on borrowed time It's not too late to turn things around. The first step is to admit that the government must pay a share. Even successful rail networks like Sweden's and Japan's have depended on subsidies and bailouts. It would make sense to turn a chunk of rail-related borrowing into straight sovereign debt, and relieve the newly created China Rail Corp of having to repay it.


Then there's future investment. Here, it makes sense to link costs to benefits. China could learn from Hong Kong's mass transit system, which is funded partly through government grants of land. New lines boost land prices, which the operator can either develop and sell, or use as collateral for loans. When Hong Kong's MTR listed in 2000, property made up 15% of its total assets -- by June 2012, it was 32%.


Finally, funding could come from those who benefit most: heavy industrial companies. Shifting passengers off low-speed lines will relieve chronic overloading. Freight traffic has tripled since 1990, and as much as 40% of what rides on the rails is coal. Charge users -- notably state-owned enterprises -- their fair share, and China's railways don't have to end in financial wreckage.






Future of rail reform unveiled

The transport ministry pledged Thursday to further push forward the transformation of its operations as emphasized during the recently-concluded annual "two sessions," in an effort to promote service quality. It also noted that the market will have a bigger say in determining railway ticket prices as reforms proceed.


The newly reorganized Ministry of Transport (MOT) will make efforts to streamline administration and advance the construction of a comprehensive transportation system incorporating railways, He Jianzhong, a spokesperson for the ministry, told a press conference.


"At the moment, the ministry is still in charge of 65 administrative project assessments and approvals, and we have started researching which should be canceled … and which can be transferred to local authorities," said He.


Following the State Council's plan for institutional restructuring, the decades-old railways ministry was dismantled, with its overall development strategy and policy-making functions being transferred to the MOT.


In the process, the State Railways Administration was established and put under the administration of the MOT. He said the bureau's main responsibilities would focus on the formulation of railway technical standards, supervision of railway construction and operational service quality, among others.


On Thursday, some media reported that the newly founded China Railway Corporation, which is to take control of the former railways ministry's business functions, will maintain "ministry-level" status and will be directly overseen by the State Council. The news soon prompted people to worry that the reform will only have limited effects.


Zhao Jian, a professor specializing in railway economics at the Beijing Jiaotong University, said that since there are still many problems left from the railways ministry, it is not surprising that the public is still pessimistic.


"The former railways ministry left huge debts and the question of who will pay for them remains a problem. Meanwhile, more high-speed rail lines are still under construction, which may make the issue worse," said Zhao, adding that guaranteeing their safe operation in the future will require more efforts.


The ministry was 2,600 billion yuan ($418 billion) in debt before the split.


"Reform will certainly be difficult because it will affect the interests of vested groups and it takes a lot of time in terms of human resources rearrangement," Yun Jie, director of the administration research department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "It's easy to work out a reform plan, but effectively implementing it will be tough."


In response to the prevailing concern that railway ticket prices would go up after the railways system was pushed onto the market, He said supervision over the pricing of railway tickets should be strengthened by related authorities, but "as an enterprise, the National Railway Corporation should have a certain level of commercial autonomy."


Yun said there will need to be a process before the railways sector fully enables market competition, and ticket prices are not expected to see remarkable changes in the short term.


He also said the ministry will further loosen the access threshold for private capital to broaden the investment and financing of transportation construction.


‘Monorail, metro to start this year’

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Monday announced in the legislative Assembly that the most-awaited monorail and metro projects in Mumbai will start functioning from this year. He also said that new projects worth `32,000 crore for the development of the Mumbai will be launched soon.


He was replying to the two-day debate on motion of thanking the governor K Sankaranarayanan for his address to the joint session of both the Houses of the state legislature.


The chief minister said, “This year, MMRDA projects worth `5,000 crore will be inaugurated. These include the monorail, metro and the Eastern Freeway projects. Monorail trials have already started. Both monorail and metro projects will commence from this year.” Similarly, new projects worth `32,000 crore would be launched soon.


He said, “The 22-km long Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link (MTHL) project worth `9,630 crore is also on track. The Centre has approved Viability Gap Funding (VGF) of `1,920 crore, as a result of which we have started the tendering process and five consortiums have been shortlisted for the project.”


Mr Chavan stated that octroi will be scrapped in Mumbai and other municipal corporations across the state this year. “Octroi was levied only in Maharashtra and Ethiopia across the globe, therefore, the government has decided to scrap octroi in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and Pimpri-Chinchwad from this year. Instead, Local Body Tax (LBT) will be introduced.”


Currently, 19 ‘D’ class and only one ‘C’ class municipal corporations are having LBT.


Informing the House about the government’s stand on the demand of houses for mill workers, the CM said, “We are sensitive towards the demand of mill workers. About 6,995 homes were ready. The process of allotment is also going on and 7,000-8,000 more homes can be built. However, the government has received around 1.5 lakh applications from mill workers.”







Full steam ahead on Central Asia's rail project

A project to connect eight landlocked Central Asian states to the rest of Asia and Europe is renewing Cold War rivals between the United States and Russia.


The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program, supported by the United States and other institutions, aim to facilitate transportation links and economic trade between Central Asia and its neighbors on all sides.


"Increasing integration between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Japan to the east, the Russian Federation to the north, and India and Pakistan to the south, is leading to unprecedented opportunities for Central Asian countries to grow," a CAREC report boasts. "CAREC is helping make that growth happen by facilitating regional transport, trade, and energy infrastructure, as well as by coordinating trade policy."


Six trade corridors are in various stages of completion, which expands Central Asia's reach to as far away as the Gulf States via Iran, the energy-hungry countries of Europe, Asian giants China and India and Gwadar Port in Pakistan.


"The deepening regional trade links are also opening up previously unexploited resources, including huge energy resources. Infrastructure rollout has increased the mobility of people and goods, and laid the foundation for ongoing improvements in living standards of 300 million people across Central Asia's vast geography," CAREC states in a report.


More than USD 19.6 billion has been invested in multilaterals effort to link Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. More than 4,000 kilometers of roads and 3,200 kilometers of rail has been built or revamped. In addition, more than 2,300 kilometers of power transmission lines have been built, CAREC notes.


The program has some serious backers such as the Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Islamic Development and the United Nations Development Programme.


A notable absentee from this program is Russia, which fears that a robust trade corridor will liberate Central Asia from its clutches, and Moscow will lose its influence, especially as China is also looking to build railway links to Central Asia.


"According to analysts at the Moscow Strategic Culture Foundation, these overlapping transportation development projects threaten to spark a new "railroad war" in the Central Asian region--one that in the absence of counter-efforts by the Russian Federation is likely to result in a sharp reduction of Moscow's influence over the countries there," wrote Paul Goble, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, in a note.


Bolstering regional trade ties


Regardless, the projects are moving ahead, as funds pour in from the six multilateral institutions. The Asian Development Bank recently approved a USD125 million loan to rehabilitate an important road link that connects Kazakhstan's industrial city of Shymkent and Tashkent, the city capital of Uzbekistan.


"Expected to be finished in late 2016, the whole Shymkent-Tashkent road will help promote closer regional cooperation and increased trade along CAREC Corridor 3," CAREC said in a statement.


"This corridor runs from the Russian Federation through Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, to the Middle East and South Asia. It intersects with Corridor 1, which links Europe to the People's Republic of China and East Asia."


The United States is also working with Afghanistan authorities to link the battle-ravaged country to the regional corridor.


An Afghan Rail Authority was set up in September 2012 and the US Central Command is helping develop a National Rail Plan.


"Recent estimates suggest that if Central Asia were to carry out basic improvements in transport systems heading south to Afghanistan, overall trade would increase by up to USD 12 billion, reflecting growth of 80%," the Asian Development Bank said in a report on the program.


"The volume of inland transported cargo replacing sea transported cargo via the Suez Canal is expected to double between 2002 and 2015... the United Nations estimates that GDP will be 50% higher across all Central Asia within a decade of continued cooperation. These prospective benefits are far too significant to ignore."


But Russia could place roadblocks on the vast project.


"Toktogul Kakchekeyev, a Bishkek security analyst, argues that China and the United States are already cooperating to a certain extent, a clear indication in his mind that the two are working against Russian interests in the region," said Jamestown's Goble. "'For the Americans,' he insists, 'a railway network in Afghanistan is a political instrument for isolating Central Asia from Russia.' To counter that, he suggests, Moscow must develop its own rail links with the region."


Either way, for once it appears that Central Asia may benefit from the global powers' battle for influence in the region.


The Chengdu Metro operator gave him a new card.







New legal conditions for Europe to Asia rail freight

The new agreement will create a common legal regime for rail traffic which will be equivalent to the regimes for competing road, air and water transport.


Ministers from 37 countries have signed a joint declaration to create ‘a unified set of transparent and predictable’ legal conditions for international rail freight transported between Europe and Asia.


The new agreement, which took place during a ministerial meeting in Genève, will create a common legal regime for rail traffic ‘from the Atlantic to the Pacific’, which will be equivalent to the regimes for competing road, air and water transport.


The planned general conditions of transport for Euro-Asian rail transport, known as GTC EurAsia, would include a common consignment note and 'to the extent possible' a single liability regime.


Ministers claimed that 'further steps should be taken to facilitate the conclusion of Euro-Asian rail transport contracts,’ in recognition of the progress made by the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail, Organisation for Co-operation between Railways and the International Rail Transport Committee towards the development of a common consignment note.


Operators, associations and other stakeholders have been invited to co-operate in the development of GTC EurAsia, which is supported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.






ADB defends secrecy on Cambodian rail report

Organisations working to help Cambodians displaced by an upgrade to the country's rail system say they're disappointed the Asian Development Bank is refusing to release a report about controversial resettlements.


.ADB defends secrecy on Cambodian rail report (Credit: ABC) .The Railway Rehabilation Project is a joint venture of logistics giant Toll Holdings and Cambodia's Royal Group and is funded by the ADB and AusAID.


Around 1,200 families are required to move to accommodate the upgraded train lines and there's been controversy over the poor conditions of resettlement sites and the lack of services for those affected.


This is particularly important for the ADB - the main funding body - which has a policy of not leaving people worse off due to their projects.


The ADB commissioned a report on the resettlements last year from an international expert, Dr Michael Cernea, but have now decided not to publicly release the full report, saying "the harm that would result from the disclosure of the entire report would be substantial, immediate, and likely irreparable".


The NGO's say this is a cover up but the ADB says it was always meant to be a candid report for internal use.









Afghan, Tajik, Turkmen heads seek loans for regional railway

The leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan invited Asian financial institutions on Wednesday to help fund construction of a regional railway to boost trade links for the three landlocked states.


The project, estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2.0 billion, aims to lay a line of around 350-400 km (220-250 miles) linking the neighbours' existing rail networks to other parts of Eurasia.


"It would be great if the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and Japan could take part in financing," said Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, who signed a memorandum of understanding in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.


Both banks have been providing funding for another rail link in the region, a North-South corridor linking oil-rich Kazakhstan and the Persian Gulf that is due to open in May.


Co-signatory Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the Turkmen president, said that if international lenders provided joint financing for the new line, Turkmenistan would be ready to finance the stretch on its territory.


Berdymukhamedov, who wields virtually unlimited power in his desert nation of 5.5 million, said construction of the line - stretching from the town of Akmurad in Turkmenistan to Andhoi in Afghanistan - could start as soon as this July.


"This (project) will serve the common good of our three nations," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.


Afghanistan's economy has been devastated by decades of foreign occupation and civil war, and Tajikistan, the poorest of the ex-Soviet nations, is still overcoming the aftermath of a 1992-97 civil war.


Turkmenistan, which holds the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas, has been involved in the North-South corridor line since 2007, building the 311-km (194-mile) stretch to neighbouring Iran.


That line had been due for completion by September 2012.








Uzbekistan to build Afghan railway

Uzbekistan envisions a transportation project that could have big payoffs for it and its neighbour Afghanistan.


Uzbekistan Railways workers lay track on Afghanistan's Mazar-i-Sharif rail line in 2010. Uzbekistan is planning to extend the system to create a northern corridor. [Maksim Yeniseyev] Related Articles New Uzbek power station will supply electricity to Uzbeks, Afghans Kabul rockers promote peace in Central Asia Taliban exploits Central Asian instability to facilitate drug smuggling North Caucasus militants pose threat to Central Asia Uzbekistan Railways (Uzbekiston Temir Yullari or UTY) is conducting feasibility studies regarding plans to build an extension of the existing 75km Hairatan?Mazar-i-Sharif railway in Afghanistan. The project, slated to be done between 2013 and 2015, would boost economic ties with Afghanistan, analysts say.


In January, the company announced plans for a US $450m (914 billion UZS) 230km-long track extension that would connect Sher Khan Bandar – a Tajik-Afghan border checkpoint on the Panj River – with the existing track in Mazar-i-Sharif. From there, the track would go to Herat, where it would link to a still-incomplete track that should one day lead to the country's western border, UTY planning centre chief Navruz Erkinov told Central Asia Online.


The project would be developed and financed under the Central Asia Regional Economic Co-operation (CAREC) Programme and would pass through the Afghan cities of Kunduz, Kholm and Naibabad, he said.


Northern Afghanistan's 1st railway "Uzbekistan has always helped, and will continue helping Afghanistan in restoring its economy," Erkinov said. "Transport projects are of particular importance for the two countries."


Uzbek workers helped restore the Mazar-i-Sharif?Kabul highway and restored 10 bridges on that route. In 2010, Uzbekistan started building the Hairatan?Mazar-i-Sharif railway – the first ever in northern Afghanistan – with the first trains running in late 2011.


"The most ambitious and strategically important project in the history of our bilateral relations, the Hairatan?Mazar-i-Sharif railway, has taken on the burden of freight transport on a vital route," Erkinov said. Once put into operation, the extended railway would become the "northern railway corridor," securing the uninterrupted transportation of Uzbek, Tajik, Afghan and international cargo across Afghan territory.


Track will stimulate economy Such a corridor would be of great benefit to Afghanistan and surrounding countries, analysts agree.


"The economic and strategic expediency of such a railway has long been evident," Uzbek political scientist Valery Khan said. "It will open up more opportunities for Afghanistan to develop economically, logistically and otherwise, including the promotion of the country's regional ties."


"Railway construction should change Afghanistan considerably by boosting its imports, exports and industry," he added. "Transport network expansion will stimulate Afghan business, and Afghan goods will appear in the neighbouring countries' markets."


Logistical challenges Those advantages notwithstanding, Afghanistan would have to overcome some technical hurdles, UTY engineer Pavel Sychev told Central Asia Online.


"Apart from building up its rolling stock and training the railway staff, Afghanistan will have to solve the problem of the difference in railway gauge," he said. "The situation is fairly complex, because direct train transit is impeded by the different track widths used by the neighbouring countries."


Pakistan's railway gauge (1,676mm), for example, is wider than that of the Central Asian countries, he said, adding that the new railway, even in Afghanistan, will have standard Uzbek gauge of 1,524mm throughout for the sake of consistency and operational simplicity. "Switching from one track width to another would require building special switch stations," he said.


Once officials solve all their logistical problems, their efforts should pay off, Dmitry Verkhoturov, an analyst with the Centre for the Study of Modern Afghanistan, told Central Asia Online.


"There isn't a single country around Afghanistan that would not benefit from the development of Afghan domestic railways," he said. "The prospects are great: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan will get the shortest access to the sea, and transit of … Pakistani goods to Europe will be enabled."


Erkinov agreed, saying that UTY already is seeking more projects, such as a potential Kunduz-Kabul-Jalalabad railway.






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