China to finance Belgrade – Budapest upgrade?

THE prospect of Chinese money being used to upgrade the Belgrade – Budapest line was raised again at the recent at the CEE-China summit in Bucharest, where Hungarian prime minister Mr Viktor Orbán signed a treaty on the proposed modernisation project with his Serbian and Chinese counterparts Mr Ivica Dacic and Mr Li Keqiang.


China announced at the last CEE-China summit in Warsaw in 2012 that it intends to set up a $US 10bn fund to finance infrastructure development in central and eastern Europe. This was followed by the signing of a letter of intent by Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) and Serbian Railways (ŽS) in May.


The three countries have now agreed to establish a working group to accelerate the development of the project, which would involve reconstructing the line as a 160km/h double-track railway.


Currently, most of the route is single track and the 349km trip from Budapest to Belgrade takes 7h 45min, although the modernisation of the line could more than halve the journey time to less than three hours. However, no budget or timeline has so far been announced.






China orders 258 high-speed trains

CHINA Railway Investment Corporation (CRIC), the tendering unit of China Railways Corporation (CRC), has placed orders with subsidiaries of China Northern Rolling Stock Corporation (CNR) and China Southern Rolling Stock Corporation (CSR) for a total of 258 high-speed trains.


Lot 1 comprises 78 250km/h trains, which will be supplied in eight batches by CSR Sifang. Lot 2 comprises 180 350km/h sets, and is divided between CNR Changchun (27 trains), CSR Sifang (83 trains) and CNR Tangshan (70 trains).


The total value of the two lots is reportedly around Yuan 44bn ($US 7.3bn).







Consortium chosen for Goiânia light rail PPP

MOBILIDADE Anhanguera, a consortium of Odebrecht Transport (90%) and Brazilian bus operators (10%), has been selected as preferred bidder for the 35-year PPP concession to build and operate the first light rail line in the Brazilian city of Goiânia.


The 13.5km line will run east-west across the city along Anhanguera Avenue with 12 stations, and is expected to carry around 240,000 passengers per day.


The total budget for the project is Reais 1.3bn ($US 563m), with Reais 805m coming from the Goiás state government and Odebrecht Transport providing the remaining Reais 500m.


Construction is expected to take around two years to complete.






Bangkok Skytrain Silom Line reaches Bang Wa

BANGKOK inaugurated the latest extension of its metro network on December 5 with the opening of the 3km western extension of the BTS Skytrain Silom Line from Talat Phlu to Bang Wa in the district of Phasi Charoen.


The extension is expected carry more than 70,000 passengers per day and takes the total length of the Silom Line to 14.5km.


Passengers will be able to travel free-of-charge over the new section of line until January 5.


Bang Wa will become an interchange in 2015 with the completion of the metro Blue Line, and a further six-station extension of the Silom Line from Bang Wa to Taling Chan is expected to open in 2019.





BKK issues tenders for Buda tram link

BUDAPEST Transport Centre (BKK) which is responsible for managing and developing the transport network in the Hungarian capital, issued an invitation to tender on December 6 for the so-called Buda tram link, which is intended to provide a connection between lines 17 and 19 on the western (Buda) side of the city.


Within the scope of the project, lines 4 and 6 will be rebuilt between Széll Kálmán tér (formerly Moscow Square) and Margithíd bridge and the whole of Line 17 will be upgraded. In the second phase, a new connection will be constructed between Margithíd bridge and Batthyány-tér.


The total cost of the project will be Fornits 10bn ($US 46m), with 83.4% of the funds coming from European Union sources. If the tender is successful, construction could start in the second quarter of 2014, with completion scheduled for June 2015.






'Ghost ads' in Beijing subway

The company responsible for placing ads in Beijing subway stations has admitted filling unsold billboards with ads for products that do not exist, the Beijing News reported.


"The ad called 'Hallucination' seemed like an ad for a beverage or for bedding," said a passenger surnamed Huang, adding that she had often unsuccessfully searched online for the shops being advertised.


Most of the "ghost ads" were placed in stations for Lines 5 and 10. According to an anonymous staffer at the ad company, whenever a billboard space went unsold for a month, they resorted to filling the empty space with ads produced in-house. A lawyer said that because this was only a general marketing strategy to attract consumer attention, the ad company is not legally liable for fraud.





Indonesia commuter train crashes into fuel truck, killing 5


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A commuter train hit a truck hauling gasoline in Indonesia's capital Monday, killing five people and sending a fireball of orange flames and black smoke shooting skyward.


The accident in southern Jakarta killed the train engineer, his assistant, a technician and two female passengers, said Jakarta Deputy Police Chief Brig. Gen.


Sujarno, who revised the death toll down by two, explaining that police earlier thought the truck driver and his assistant had also died. They were instead among nearly 100 people injured, he said by text message.


Sujarno, who uses one name, said the fuel tanker truck was stopped on the rail tracks at a crossing and unable to move forward because of backed-up traffic on the road.


"A fuel truck ran onto the railroad tracks and the (train's) brakes could not stop it from hitting the truck. It exploded and bounced off," said Imron, a passenger who escaped from the train. "It happened so fast!"


A burned-out passenger car was seen lying on its side as plumes of black smoke billowed from parts of the engulfed train. It was headed to central Jakarta when it hit the truck carrying 24,000 litres of gasoline.


About 500 passengers were travelling in the train's eight cars, and all train signals were working at the time of the crash, said train company spokesman Sukendar Mulya.


Two train cars derailed, including a women-only carriage, and hundreds of panicked passengers ran away, many screaming and crying. Rescuers pulled out three bodies pinned under the wreckage, said Sukarno, a firefighter.


The cause of the accident is being investigated. "My position was near the door, but I could not move because I was ... trampled by other passengers," Veronica, a commuter from the derailed women-only car who uses only one name told MetroTV. "We managed to escape after people from outside broke the windows. I saw many victims with burns on their legs, hands and stomachs."


She said that the carriage quickly filled with thick smoke, making it difficult to breathe.


The accident occurred near the site of a collision between two trains in 1987 that killed 156 people and injured hundreds more.


Commuter trains are often packed with passengers due to the lack of other forms of public transportation in Jakarta, which has some of the worst traffic jams in Asia.


A rail link between Europe and Asia

Istanbul - An Ottoman sultan’s 150-year-old dream was realised the day we arrived in Istanbul.


It makes front page headlines in the Turkish newspapers and in the international press. Although the last sultan ruled in the early 1900s, in true Ottoman style – the newest chapter to the country’s 3000 history books – is grand.


The Marmaray is a high-speed rail link underneath the Bosphorus strait. The Turkish capital straddles two continents, and the new railway links its Asian and European shores. It takes its name from the nearby Sea of Marmara, with “ray” being the Turkish word for rail.


It is the deepest of its kind and is a world first in connecting two continents. It is designed to withstand earthquakes and it will help ease the traffic on the two bridges, used by about two million people crossing the Bosphorus every day.


We took a joyride on this impressive feat, joining hundreds of curious locals making use of the government’s two-week no-pay offer. It took us just four minutes to cross – short enough to prevent my overactive imagination getting caught up in a Hollywood Poseidon-style adventure.


Work on the link began nine years ago but archaeological excavations delayed construction for four years when workers dug up ancient artefacts, replicas of which are on exhibition at one of the stations. In theory it brings closer the day when it will be possible to travel from London to Beijing via Istanbul by train.


I could just imagine the likes of Jamie Oliver using this modern incarnation of the legendary Silk Road to shop at the fresh food market we discovered on the Asian side.


Here, life slows down to a stroll. In the market, glistening fish are stacked on ice. Thick slices of Norwegian salmon vie with a pile of crab nipping to get away.


Butchers display cuts of meat, and carcasses hang from hooks. One store offers crates of vegetables. Across the cobbled street a grocer displays a myriad olives in sacks. Dried chillies, aubergines and peppers – used to make a stock, the grocer explains – are strung up like bells at the entrance to the store.


Next door at a confectionery bakers put out rows of enticing pastries and sweet treats. I mill about taking in life in Uskudar, one of the more conservative neighbourhoods. It has fewer bars and more tea gardens and is home to 180 mosques.


Watching people is my favourite pastime. I see friends meeting for a cup of Turkish coffee and couples doing their weekly shopping. Before I get too engrossed someone from our group signals that its time for our journey back to Europe.


It is only when I’m back in Cape Town that I learn of some of the hiccups the rail system experienced in its first few days. A YouTube video shows scores of passengers leaving a stopped train and walking along the tube. If I had known this I might not have been so keen to make the trip beneath the rushing waters.







Enhanced support to upgrade Singapore's train signalling systems with new facility

Singapore's goal to shorten waiting times for commuters on its two oldest rail networks looks to be on track with a new testing facility run by Thales, which officially opened on Wednesday.


French aerospace and transportation giant Thales is tasked with upgrading the North-South and East-West Lines' signalling systems by 2018.


The new facility, the S$10 million Regional Integration Centre for Transportation, puts the firm's expertise in commissioning the systems in Singapore, promising shorter turnaround for service and support.


The facility will help shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that upgraded signalling systems are robust enough.


Rail signalling systems tell trains how far apart they can be from each other.


Modernising the systems will mean trains can safely arrive and depart from stations in shorter intervals, running at higher frequencies -- and that is what Thales is doing for Singapore's North-South and East-West Lines.


Jean-Noel Stock, chief executive of Thales Solutions Asia, said: "In previous years, the product was imported in Singapore and integrated by the mother companies.


“Now what we'll be able to do here is to integrate them from here and to have all the technicians close to the customer to be in our daily relationship, and to understand better their requirements."


The new facility enables rigorous testing of a whole train network, and runs simulations of rail operations.


Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "So instead of running five trains every 10 minutes, we expect to be able to, with the re-signalling project, run six trains within that same duration -- a 20 per cent increase in capacity and obviously also a shorter headway for commuters during the peak hours."


Thales will equip over 150 trains with new signalling equipment as part of the deal.


The Thales centre will also work with local authorities to engineer customised solutions for Singapore's ground transportation needs.







For India, a 70-km Iran rail line can open doors to Central Asia

A few years ago, fertiliser major Iffco dabbled with the idea of sourcing rock phosphate from Kazakhstan, which sits on 2 billion tonnes of the mineral.


But the Indian cooperative giant had to drop the plan midway discouraged by the high cost of logistics. Iffco is not alone; several Indian companies had to drop plans to trade with Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan. But not any longer, it seems.


A proposed 70-km railway line in an obscure patch of northern Iran could change all that.


Once ready, the railroad could help India save crores of rupees in logistics to Central Asia, the 55-million-people market. One of the most prosperous and fastest growing regions in the world, Central Asia is a key source for uranium and fertilisers.


The line links the Iranian city of Gorgan to the Iran-Turkmenistan border. Gorgan lies 400 km away from Iran’s capital, Tehran, and is some 30 km from the Caspian Sea.


The line will link another recently-built railroad that goes right up to Uzen town in southern Kazakhstan.


In fact, the Central Asian republics are closer to India than many of its trading partners — a flight to the farthest point in the region will take no more than three hours — but the presence of the Himalayas and Pakistan’s refusal to allow Indian goods to pass through its territory make getting goods from Central Asia a logistics nightmare for India.


Doulat Kuanyshev, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to India, stresses that the economic relations between the region and India have been rather low due to difficult logistics.


For instance, a company exporting uranium from Kazakhstan should take it by land to the Black Sea and ship it all the way through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. The process could take 25 days. If the same comes through China’s Lianyuangang port, 40 days.


In contrast, the Iran route could take just about 15 days. And India is now accelerating efforts to build a port in Iran’s Chabahar. Gorgan is not too far from Chabahar. India’s trade with Central Asian markets stood at $746 million in 2012-13 against China’s $46 billion.


“Iran is an important, but unspoken, factor in India-Central Asia relations,” says Arvind Gupta, Director-General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.


Now that the Islamic republic has entered a nuclear pact with a host of western nations, experts hope the railroad project will also get a fillip. According to former Chief Economist of Fertiliser Association of India Uttam Gupta, the proposed railway line could help India diversify sources of fertilisers and control subsidy.






Putin lobbying for Asia-Europe railway through North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in South Korea, lobbying for a new trade route linking Asia and Europe by rail. The plan, which envisages an 'Iron Silk Road', would connect the rail networks of South and North Korea with the Trans-Siberian Railway. VoR’s Vivienne Nunis spoke to Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Far East Specialist from Kings College London.


Russia has taken the first step towards the ambitious project, completing 33 miles of track between the border town of Khasan and the North Korean port of Rajin.


Pardo said: “Well, the first thing to take into account is that this is not a new idea. It has been around for a few years. The main difference, though, is that this time the relations between North Korea and South Korea are improving a little bit thanks to the new South Korean president and her policy of opening up to North Korea. So, it is more likely that South Korea and also North Korea will agree to conduct this investment. It would take a few months, if not years, for an agreement to reach. But, again, the current president in South Korea – she’s going to be in power for the next four years and half – so there is a high likelihood that this could precede.” But some commentators are sceptical the project will be completed.


Pardo said: “I think that many companies have realised that if you look at Chinese investment and Russian investment in North Korea over the last few years, as long as you have the agreement of the North Korean activities and you have a good relationship with North Korean authorities then this investment can actually lead to benefit.”









Transport systems firm Thales opens regional centre in Singapore

French transports systems giant Thales opened a $10 million regional integration centre in Singapore on Wednesday.


The centre will focus on researching and developing integrated rail signalling and control and communications systems. Thales Solutions Asia chief executive Jean-Noel Stock said this facility will also allow his firm to customise and tailor the systems to the specific requirements of rail operators.


In Singapore, Thales is currently working with the Land Transport Authority and SMRT to upgrade the signalling system on the North-South and East-West Lines for $195 million. Those projects will be completed in phases from 2016 to 2018, and reduce the frequency between trains from 120 seconds to 100 seconds. Thales will also supply the signalling system for the upcoming Tuas West Extension.


Speaking at the event, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said he looked forward to the timely completion of the resignalling projects. He added: "I hope that the work of the centre will be able to further improve the performance of our rail systems and add even greater value to our rail projects."




China to finance Belgrano Cargas revival

ARGENTINEAN president Mrs Christina Kirchner signed a $US 2.47bn financing agreement with Mr Zhang Chun, CEO of China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) in Buenos Aires on December 5, which will fund the renewal of infrastructure and rolling stock on the metre-gauge Belgrano Cargas network.


Minister of the interior and transport Mr Florencio Randazzo said that the deal will see the delivery of new locomotives and wagons from China and will allow around half of the existing fleet to be returned to service. "The country's businesses know how important this news is, as it will mean the return of the freight train as a key tool to reduce the cost of logistics," he says.


The 15-year loan will also finance the renewal of track and staff training.


The government decided at the beginning of this year to make its takeover of Belgrano Cargas permanent, and recently created a public company, Belgrano Cargas y Logistica SA (BCYLSA) to take over operation of the railway from Sofse, another state-owned company which has run the concession on an interim basis since October 2011.


Belgrano Cargas was put in the hands of Soesa, a public-private joint venture in 2006 following the failure to find a private sector concessionaire, but the railway has continued to deteriorate over the last seven years. Currently only around 5000km of the 7347km network is operational and freight volumes have collapsed from 1.74 million tonnes in 1999 to less than 369,000 tonnes in the first half of 2012.






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