• European railroad competitiveness

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by NellieBly
 
Participants in this forum frequently hold up European railroads as an example for Amtrak and for U.S. policymakers. They are -- for passenger traffic. For freight, the story is a bit different.

The following remarks were made by Ms. Loyola Palacio at the conclusion of a recent European rail conference:

"As you know, the overall traffic performance of EU rail freight in the last years has been unsatisfactory. The modal share of rail freight is in constant decline since 1970, when it still amounted to 20%. Since then, it has dropped to less than 8% in the beginning of this decade. This development calls for swift and forceful action in order to revitalise the rail freight sector and for the latter to play a more important role in the future European transport system."

The market share calculation is a percentage of total freight tonnage. In the U.S., railroads handle 42% -- and all that freight is what is delaying Amtrak.

Also, U.S. freight railroads make money.

Just a little perspective on those wonderful European (passenger) railroads and those wonderful European tractor-trailers.

  by Irish Chieftain
 
Ms. de Palacio, when she says "forceful", is not joking around. Take a look here to see what the problems are and how it is planned to surmount them.

Rail freight haulage still only accounts for about 14 percent of all domestic freight moved in the US (where did you get 42 percent?? trucks move ten times the amount of freight that rail moves); that's not quite double the amount of Europe's haulage, but at least the EU is planning on investing based on the success of the passenger end of things.
Last edited by Irish Chieftain on Wed Sep 01, 2004 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by David Benton
 
Your welcome to discuss this over in the worldwide forum .

  by Sir Ray
 
Googling brings up some numbers, but perhaps most pertinent in context:
Railroads reporting to AAR account for 88 percent of U.S. carload freight and 95 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 95 percent and 100 percent respectively. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of the nation’s intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

  by David Benton
 
two big Differences between the USA and Europe . Population density ,and distances .
High population density suits rail passenger services , hence Europe has a high level of rail passenger service . Usa has a overall low population density , hence it is more difficult to provide high quality passenger service .
what was Western Europe ( before the wall came down etc ),could fit into a state the size of Texas . Imagine 12 or so countries in that area , all with borders , customs and change of railway operator to slow and increase the cost of rail frieght . Hence international rail frieght had trouble competing with a truck driver , who would drive the entire lenght in one go . Within each country , your talking a maximum haulage of 1000 miles , an average journey would be alot less than that . again more suited to road than rail frieght .
With the expanded E.U , and more united borders etc , rail now has more of a chance at long distance frieght ,but to win it needs high speed , and high effiency to compete with rail .

  by george matthews
 
>> With the expanded E.U , and more united borders etc , rail now has more of a chance at long distance frieght, but to win it needs high speed , and high effiency to compete with rail <<

The main problem would seem to be the need for freight to pass through France. France has to be prodded frequently to allow non SNCF operators. Some modernisation is happening but not enough. But other borders are also a problem. The problems of changing power systems and even customs inspections are still making it hard to compete with road freight. Neil Kinnock came in as Transport Commissioner - how long ago was it? - promising to open up rail freight corridors. Very little seems to have been achieved.

One interesting new devlopment is the spread of GM locomotives classed as Class 66 in Britain and now in use in many other countries. These of course avoid the power supply problems. In Britain they are now the main type, having been adopted by EWS (owned formerly by Wisconsin Central, and now by CNR).

What European rail freight needs is reliability and the ability to beat the lorries.

One place where this is discussed is the Eurotunnel section of Motley Fool UK. Eurotunnel has done very badly in its conventional rail freight - much worse than was predicted when the Tunnel was planned. However, its lorry services are doing well.

Rising oil prices will have an impact on rail freight, especially for long distance. Regulations on the hours drivers can work are also having an effect. Rollende Landstrasse (piggyback) services may also have a future, especially where Switzerland and Austria want to reduce vehicle emissions in the Alps (which are killing the forests that keep the mountains from falling on the valleys). Poor roads in eastern Europe may also encourage this mode.

The EU has voluminous plans on Freight Corridors and there is money, especially for the new members, to deliver these plans.

I don't think the US is an example for Europe. In the longer run it will be the other way round, especially if oil prices continue high.

Motorway tolls are coming and these too will encourage more shift to rail freight.
  by NellieBly
 
To Irish Chieftan:

You're beginning to sound like Matt Fels. 42% is rail's share of surface freight TONNAGE. REVENUE share is less than 10%. In round terms, railroads gross $35 billion annually in the US and truckers gross $400 billion.

I presume Ms. Palacio was referring to tonnage and not revenue (revenue share of European rail freight is probably even less than 8%).
  by george matthews
 
NellieBly wrote:
You're beginning to sound like Matt Fels. 42% is rail's share of surface freight TONNAGE. REVENUE share is less than 10%. In round terms, railroads gross $35 billion annually in the US and truckers gross $400 billion.

I presume Ms. Palacio was referring to tonnage and not revenue (revenue share of European rail freight is probably even less than 8%).
An important difference of European practice is that almost all trains are tightly timetabled to ensure efficient use of track space. I have travelled from Wien (Austria) to Amsterdam on a train that crossed at least three countries and arrived on the minute after a 12 hour journey. How often can anyone do that in the US?

I wonder how many of the problems of American railways would be solved if all trains were timetabled? In many ways I think the US has a third world system - and I am familiar with a number of those. I find the problems of the trans-continental train from Florida to California incredible. Clearly too many trains are being put on to track that can't cope with them. No, I don't think Europe has anything to learn from the US - other than as an awful warning of what happens if you neglect the infra-structure.

  by Ken W2KB
 
With all the infrastructure issues, etc., I wonder if a timetable could be adhered to with much success in the USA? Signal problems, slow orders, etc. How does the train frequency over a typical track segment compare as between USA and Europe?

  by David Benton
 
a major difference is that european railways are predominatley passenger traffic , whilst american railroads are predominatley frieght .
however i too have wondered why they dont adopt timetable running to help alleviate the current operating problems . it appears that many frieght trains leave a terminal , only to be put in a siding for hours to wait another trian passing . the crew then outlaws on operating time , and there is further delay . why not simply hold the train in the terminal until the track is clear ? .
With Gps and computers , it would seem that a timetable based operating system and signal up grades would benefit american railroads immensly .
I know one of the canadian railroads adopted this , and saw imediate benefits .
Another apparent backward step is the elimination of 90 mph signalling , surely moving all "hot" trains to this higher speed would increase capacity ?

  by george matthews
 
Ken W2KB wrote:With all the infrastructure issues, etc., I wonder if a timetable could be adhered to with much success in the USA? Signal problems, slow orders, etc. How does the train frequency over a typical track segment compare as between USA and Europe?
I don't know but I have seen accounts of American practice that strike me as incredible. Just sending trains down a line at random. A railway system is capable of complete control. European tracks are used very intensively. I don't have the impression of that level of use on American tracks. I have watched the main line on the east coast in Connecticut and seen an astonishingly sparse service. Clearly this modernised electrified track is capable of a far more intensive service. But the lack of double tracking on other routes seems a fatal flaw. I have seen it suggested that the present system in the US is much as it was left by the Civil War.
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5988898/
But much of the rail infrastructure in the U.S. dates back many decades. Some of the lines are single track, built to move troops during the Civil War, unsuited to the modern era in which trains generally use double tracks that allow travel in both directions.
I read of huge freight problems on the main east-west lines. It is clear that new capacity is needed. Why isn't it built? A great deal of investment is going on in Europe - and even some in Britain.
  by Bobulus
 
European and American Railways clearly have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. The Western European situation has been weakened by a Trucking friendly EU: The Corporate Lobbyiststs have nobbled them. We have the appalling Alistair Darling as Transport Minister in the UK: The worst since Ernest Marples (The Big Rig Man who raised Gross vehicle weights from 24 to 32 tons and had vested interests in trucking!). Everyone is backing the wrong horse, literally, especially in oil starved (in terms of domestic production) Europe. We need in the longer term widespread electric traction South African style for heavy freight, and European style for passenger traffic (but 25/50kv ac). I visited South Africa in 1994 and admired the extensive wired network that was primarily for heavy haul freight. We have politicians both sides of the pond who are personality disordered loons who take orders from their corporate masters in the oil industry. The oil boys in the USA dont want electrified High Speed Rail in the USA or anywhere else. In Europe, they dont want the proposed but quashed Central Railway: A 400 mile double track electrified heavy haul line from Liverpool to Lille, France. Kim Howells, Darling's equally pliable predecessor was ordered to say no to a privately funded freight line. I have had no reply to my letter to my MP on this one. Does this surprise anyone?
  by george matthews
 
Bobulus wrote: I visited South Africa in 1994 and admired the extensive wired network that was primarily for heavy haul freight.
Before Apartheid ended the old regime was chronically afraid there might be an oil embargo. This was why steam survived for so long, and why there was so much electrification. Both made use of South Africa's own coal - cheap because of slave wages.
  by Bobulus
 
I agree the conditions by Apartheid were terrible. I have black relatives, and many mixed race relatives too. But the benefits of domestically produced energy cannot be overlooked. I'm actually a big left wing softie, but recognise the corporate psychopathy most of us suffer with and endure in various forms. Conservatives are not psychopaths, by the way. Corporations behave more so, but not always. And what's wrong with steam anyway? Please aim your brickbats at me: The more the merrier!
  by Guest
 
Bobulus wrote:I agree the conditions by Apartheid were terrible. I have black relatives, and many mixed race relatives too. But the benefits of domestically produced energy cannot be overlooked. I'm actually a big left wing softie, but recognise the corporate psychopathy most of us suffer with and endure in various forms. Conservatives are not psychopaths, by the way. Corporations behave more so, but not always. And what's wrong with steam anyway? Please aim your brickbats at me: The more the merrier!
Personally I want to see the phasing out of carbon adding fuels. Climate Change is our most serious problem. Coal is not the answer, whether used to power steam locomotives or power stations. I was just explaining that the steam found in South Africa was there for a political reason.

I remember travelling in South Africa in 1970 or 71. I stayed the night in a small hotel in Breyten, near the Swazi border. There was a large steam depot there and the whole town was under a cloud of foul smelling smoke. I hadn't smelled that for many years. It reminded me of the disadvantages of steam power.