Monday, November 21, 2011

Rail Freight News Worldwide

Track Borne Projects Steam Ahead as Labour Talks Resolved
Shipping News Feature

US – INDIA – SOUTH AFRICA –FRANCE - ESTONIA – Talks between the rail unions and employers inch toward a settlement acceptable to all parties in the US with ten unions now having accepted terms and lessening the likelihood of a strike which could freeze track borne freight deliveries and cost the country a reported $2 billion a day according to the Association of American Railroads.

The terms agreed by labour organisations representing around 60% of rail staff are believed to be broadly along the lines recommended by President Obama’s consulting panel, a pay increase of 18.6% spread over six years plus changes to healthcare benefits. All the major rail freight groups are privy to the discussions but two of the most important unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, are still in discussion with employers but are believed to be asking for only minimally more than the terms offered.

The Presidents emergency board was appointed on the 6th October and if a suitable settlement is not reached by the 6th December any unions which have not agreed terms will be entitled to withdraw their labour which could result in a strike that would damage cargo carrying services but with the likelihood that Congress could cite the agreement of the majority of employees to legislate a contract to keep the trains running, a situation for which there is precedent and which might damage the reputations of the unions which choose to strike.

INDIA – Bidders have been lining up to tender for the development of the Indian freight corridors, the development of which is being overseen by the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corp of India Ltd (DFCCIL). Together the two corridors, Western and Eastern, cover around 3,300 kilometres. The Eastern Corridor, starting from Ludhiana in Punjab will pass through the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and terminate at Dankuni in West Bengal. The Western Corridor will traverse the distance from Dadri to Mumbai, passing through the states of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra and a catalogue of parties interested in the infrastructure development reads like an international who’s who.

Following last month’s report that World bank cash was to be made available local sources indicate that up to sixteen companies ranging from Hong Kong headquartered Australian group Leighton, through the Spanish Isolux Corsán and OHL, plus Turkish Alarko Engineering to the state owned China Railway Engineering Corporation, are anxious to become involved in the projects in addition to many sub-continental interests.

SOUTH AFRICA - Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) says it has reserved over $8 billion to revamp the country’s rail infrastructure over the next three years. The investment announced by TFR chief executive Siyabonga Gama is to include the purchase of forty more locomotives of which some will replace worn out stock.

Recent figures from TFR indicate that improvements to services have resulted in rising totals of bulk freight like coal and ores against previous years. Gama has stated lately that sometimes trains have to wait empty as mine production lags behind availability. The train company has been much criticised in the past for poor service levels and much of the traffic formerly carried by rail now occupies trucks.

Readers who only take an incidental interest in South Africa’s rail freight affairs may be surprised to see Mr Gama listed above as CEO of the parastatal following his acrimonious dismissal last year. He apparently reapplied for the job despite the Court ruling against him when he was found guilty of mishandling the dispensation of contracts and, thanks to the labyrinthine complexity of vested interests and alliances that pervade the public offices in South Africa, Hey presto! Mr Gama has been back at the helm for the past few months.

FRANCE – National rail carrier SNCF, owners of the troubled Sea France brand currently in the news, now has to deal with moves in the US Court last week to penalise it for its role in the transport of 76,000 Jews and other persecuted ethnic groups to the death camps. The proposed Holocaust Rail Justice Act would mean SNCF is excluded from bidding for US contracts for a high speed rail network which it wishes to obtain.

Seemingly beset on all fronts the national rail carrier has reportedly told Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) the company responsible for the transit zone which borders the Channel Tunnel that it will no longer bear the cost of security procedures, including locomotive exchange, which are intended to defeat efforts by migrants to smuggle themselves across the international boundary.

If SNCF carry out their threat it will probably mean a charge levied on each and every train travelling through the tunnel as attempts to maintain security in an area which is considered as a permanent target for potential terrorists.

ESTONIA – Latest figures from Estonian Railways show a recent decline in year on year freight volumes, principally due to a drop in fuel and oil transport, down 18% in October alone. A rise in general freight left the company handling 2.38 million tonnes, down 11.9% against the previous October.

For the first ten months overall tonnages reached 25.23 million which is a 5% improvement againt the same period in 2010. Notable increase was in shale oil shipments and export import traffic rose a full 32.8% to 1.67 million tonnes for the year so far.