Friday, 2 January 2009

Freight Railways

When Bob Billingsley hired on with Norfolk Southern railway 31 years ago, he was a rookie on work crews that were closing unused lines as the nation's economy turned its back on the railroads.

Now he's in charge of raising the roof of a Norfolk Southern tunnel in southwestern Virginia to clear headroom for the double-stacked container cars that have become the symbol of the industry's sudden surge, thanks to a confluence of powerful global factors.

"For years, we were looking for ways to cut costs to increase profits," Billingsley said. "Now, we're building business to increase profits."

The freight railway industry is enjoying its biggest building boom in nearly a century, a turnaround as abrupt as it is ambitious. It is largely fueled by growing global trade and rising fuel costs for semitrailer trucks. In 2002, the major railroads laid off 4,700 workers; in 2006, they hired more than 5,000. Profit has doubled industry-wide since 2003, and stock prices have soared. The value of the largest railroad, the Union Pacific, has tripled since 2001.

This year alone, the railroads will spend nearly $10 billion to add track, build switchyards and terminals, and open tunnels to handle the coming flood of traffic. Freight rail tonnage will rise nearly 90 percent by 2035, according to the Transportation Department.

In the 1970s, tight federal regulation, cheap truck fuel and a wide-open interstate highway system conspired to cripple the railroad industry, driving many lines into bankruptcy. The nation's 300,000 miles of rails became a web of slow-moving, poorly maintained lines, so dilapidated in spots that tracks would give way under standing trains.

The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 largely deregulated the industry, leading to a wave of consolidation. More than 40 major lines condensed into the seven that remain, running on 162,000 miles of track

Seeing the world by rail

There are few better ways to see the world than from the comfortable seat of a passenger train. From the rolling hills of Europe to the beautiful mountainsides of Asia, the slow pace of the train allows sight seeing and relaxing away from the rigors of work. For drivers, engineers, and guards, the experience of seeing new places while doing a job they love is a motivating force to get involved in the railway industry. It is important to understand the international job market for railway professionals before leaping head first into a job in a far away place. The best place to consult market information for international railways is by consulting with several governing bodies. The International Union of Railways and the International Union of Public Transport, for example, provide information on transit and cargo railways throughout Europe.

One of the best places to find work in the railway industry is in Japan. The six Japan Railways companies, along with the extensive subway and monorail systems, employ hundreds of thousands of railway professionals to keep it running smoothly. Since the railway is the key manner of transit for travelers and residents alike, the railway is revered in Japan as a key part of daily life. Japanese railway positions require high technical aptitude, as the Japanese rail system features bullet trains and the cutting edge of railway technology.

Another great place to work for railway professionals looking for international work is mainland Europe. Austria features a strong railway network called the OBB, which is improving daily and requires skilled engineers and maintenance staff. Denmark's DSB system is surprisingly sophisticated in order to deal with the small land area that it covers, with rail management professionals needed to maintain an efficient system.

One of the biggest railway systems in the world, and one of the largest employers of rail professionals, is the state run Russian's railway, Russian Railways. The railway covers nearly 85,000 kilometers and employees more than a million engineering professionals to keep it running efficiently. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to working in Russia is that some of the destinations are old industrial centers or out of the way places that are not entirely exotic. However, Russian companies rely on Russian Railways to transport goods and personnel to locations in outlying areas. This reliance means a consistent need for qualified professionals, which makes Russian Railways a secure move professionally.

Zurich Rail Services

Zurich is Switzerland's largest city, and also has one of Europe's greatest concentration of rail infrastructure. As well as a comprehensive tramway system, it is the focal point for local, national and international railway traffic.

"As well as a comprehensive tramway system, Zurich is the focal point for local, national and international railway traffic."Current projects such as the Glattalbahn (VBG) and Tram Zurich West light rail schemes were partly aimed at dispersing demand by creating more interchanges around the metropolitan area. Handling growing demand at the main station, Zurich Hauptbahnhof (HB) – nearing 3,000 trains daily – remains a great challenge. Switzerland's largest and busiest station by some margin, HB is mainly a surface terminus in the city centre.

Situated lengthways between the rivers Sihl and Limmat, it is fronted by busy tram stop, and its four-platform sub-surface station for S-Bahn trains (local/regional trains primarily for the Zurich canton) was turned into a through route in 1991.

However, even with the adoption of multiple units and push-pull formations which save the need for locomotive changes at surface-level platforms, reversal is still a time waster, and is inefficient use of platform and track space.

The project

Durchmesserlinie (the Diameter Line) Altstetten-Zurich HB-Oerlikon is the latest project to address the capacity issue. Bahnhof Oerlikon already handles traffic for the north and north east, each main rail arteries and including services routed via Zurich Airport. Many reverse at Zurich HB for destinations in a wide arc from Basel around to the Gotthard line and Chur, with other passengers needing to change trains for onward travel.

By allowing such services to pass through the HB hub, the Durchmesserlinie project represents a large-scale reshaping of Swiss train services with implications far beyond the confines of Zurich. Moreso than the 1991 tunnel opening, this will however allow for alterations and expansion of the S-Bahn services that account for a large proportion of train movements in the area, eventually adding long-distance trains. The symbolic groundbreaking for the project was in September 2007.


Broadly describing an 'S' shape to link the end points yet incorporating Zurich HB, the Durchmesserlinie is 9.8km (6.1 miles) long. The approximately 5km (3.1 miles) Weinberg tunnel for which the tunnel boring machine began work in October 2008 is the core of the project.

Leaving the existing intensively used mainline via a reconfigured portal south of Oerlikon station, the twin-track tunnel will pass beneath the Limmat before broadening to a four-platform layout at a new Zurich HB Löwenstrasse station 16m beneath the main platforms, regaining the surface west of HB.

"Zurich uses a mix of rolling stock for S-Bahn services, including rebuilt RBe 540 EMUs mainly dating from the 1960s."Bahnhof Alstetten marks the western limit of the project, a busy suburban interchange that will also then be the western terminus of the new Tram Zurich West development.

The Weinberg tunnel passes under the south side of the HB, and like the to the north, under-cover connections will be possible entirely inside the complex which also houses a large shopping centre, RailCity, a development encouraged by trading laws that are less restrictive when within railway premises. As part of the national rail infrastructure, the line will be fitted with 15kV ac electrification.

Being met from national and cantonal public funds, the project cost estimate is CHF2.03bn (2005).

London Underground

Transport for London (TfL) knows commuters have had some unfortunate experiences – crammed like sardines and sweltering onboard a tube during peak hours, praying for the doors to open and fresh air to flood in. For the general population, introducing air-conditioning seems a frustratingly obvious solution. Despite spending years searching for a solution, for TfL the challenge remains a complex one due to the set of environments and solutions unique to each line and location that must first be solved.

"The Tunnel Cooling programme hopes to mark the transition of a cooler London underground network from an 'if' into a 'when'."In an attempt to crack the solution to cooling London's underground network, which comprises 268 stations and approximately 400km of track, the Tunnel Cooling programme was launched. It hopes to mark the transition of a cooler London underground network from an 'if' into a 'when'. Over the last few years the programme's team has been conducting extensive research into the exact conditions of each underground line and developing possible solutions to combat rising temperatures.

By 2010, TfL and its supply-chain partner Metronet expect to deliver the first air-conditioned carriages to the London Underground's subsurface lines, namely the Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City and District lines. Tunnel Cooling Programme director Kevin Payne says the team is more than aware of the scale of the challenge it must face to reach this.

"These are not new challenges – they were being worked on 30 years ago," he says. "In fact, searching through our archives, we even discovered that a prototype air-con system on a Northern line cart was first trialled in 1935."

"It was already recognised back then, even with lower traffic densities, that the extra heat energy caused by the air-conditioning unit would cause a problem when the train stopped in a tunnel." Thirty years on the challenge remains the same – how to cool the tunnels, without effectively making them hotter.

Climbing climates in the underground

It is not only climate change that has caused temperatures in the underground to rise. Increasing passenger numbers have also caused a rise in traffic frequency, in turn meaning an undeniable rise in temperatures. In 1900, temperatures in the Bakerloo line were recorded at about 14°C. By 2007, that figure had more than doubled.

"In 1900, temperatures in the Bakerloo line were recorded at about 14°C. By 2007, that figure had more than doubled."The challenge for TfL, however, has not so much been the incremental rise in passenger numbers but the consumption of energy in the confined environment, particular on the narrower single-track deeper-ground lines. "There is a widespread perception that the heat in the underground is a result of the people using it which is false," says Payne.

The local government body has identified that 80% of the energy used on the network is a result of train operation, which includes the energy required to move the train and losses occurred through friction braking. A further 15% is accounted for by the operation of the station and tunnel services, which includes lighting and communication services. The remaining 5% is attributed to customers and staff.

The rise in energy consumption on the network coupled with 7% year-on-year passenger growth means the situation is one TfL cannot afford to leave unresolved, particularly given the fierce customer demand for journeys in comfort.

"We are on the brink of a line-up programme that will progressively tackle each of the deep tube lines in turn and in doing so will offer more trains, more capacity and ultimately more energy will be consumed," says Payne. "We need to ensure the more is as small as possible."

New York Underground

Getting in or out of New York via the Hudson River can be a traumatic experience for drivers and train passengers alike. While the roads are congested, the rail service is often disrupted by delays, which is hardly surprising considering the number of riders has quadrupled to 44 million from just 10 million in 1984. To make matters worse, the only passenger tunnel under the river is nearly 100 years old and only has two tracks – one in, one out.

The solution of adding extra train tracks seems obvious, especially if it means commuters not having to change trains to reach New York. Not only would it improve the commuters' rail experience, it would also encourage more people to ditch their cars.

"One of the biggest criticisms of the ARC project is that it does not go far enough, either metaphorically or physically."However, since New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) announced their $7.6bn plan to do just that by building a Trans Hudson Express [THE] tunnel, criticism of the proposals has been fierce. Under the banner of Access to the Region's Core [ARC], the project to date has been beset by problems.

One rail advocate described it as a "fiasco, boondoggle and pork barrel" and in October all 17 Republican members of the New Jersey senate signed a resolution to challenge the legality of one of the tunnel's proposed funding streams.

Problem – solution - problem

So how has such a seemingly straightforward solution to an increasingly troublesome problem become mired in controversy? More importantly, what does it mean for the future of the project?

One of the biggest criticisms of the ARC project is that it does not go far enough, either metaphorically or physically. When the feasibility of the project was being studied one of the proposals put forward, known as Alternative G, had twin tunnels connected directly to Penn station, added tracks within the station and tunnels connecting the system to Grand Central.

At the time Alternative G was overlooked in favour of the chosen proposal, known as Alternative P, which lacked the Grand Central connection.

"New Jersey Transit's project would not improve trans-Manhattan mobility for either residents of the greater New York area or for Amtrak intercity train passengers."But now rail advocates, including the independent not-for-profit Regional Plan Association, are calling for the extension to the ARC project tunnel to allow New Jersey commuters to reach Grand Central station, in-line with Alternative G.

"As proposed, New Jersey Transit's project would not improve trans-Manhattan mobility for either residents of the greater New York area or for Amtrak intercity train passengers," says retired transportation planner Howard Harding.

"The original intent of the ARC project was to permit through-running of regional and intercity trains across Manhattan via Penn and Grand Central Stations.

"These through routings would vastly improve the efficiency and convenience of existing services and reduce congestion within Manhattan, making it easier for both stations to handle greater train volumes.

However, by only connecting to a new small station deep below Penn Station, the new tunnels would exclude intercity trains from their use while precluding extension of tracks to Grand Central Station on Manhattan's east side. The through-running could therefore not occur."

USA rail transportation

Since President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, senior transportation voices within the US have been drawing up wishlists for federal spending on a wide range of issues – rail investment being one of the main priorities. Their proposals call for a radical overhaul in rail policy, across the heavy, light and freight arenas. Obama's own statements of intent on reducing his nation's dependence on foreign oil imports and building a 'green' economy could very well mean that the time is right for investment.

"Rail is being seen as a way to help the US create jobs during the current economic downturn."Rail is also being seen as a way to help the US create jobs during the current economic downturn. The value of rail projects nationally as a source for growth and employment seems obvious to many US transport officials and consultants.

Schemes that may have stalled under the Bush administration are being dusted off, and the historical links to a highway-based economy and culture are crumbling as rapidly as the infrastructure on which the nation's near-250 million vehicles regularly travel.

Organisations such as Transportation for America, alongside key local and national governmental figures, argue that the nation must move forward and compete in global markets as a true 21st-century nation with a modern transportation network as its heart.

During his election campaign Obama rallied the call of stimulating the American economy through investment in tangible public works projects. It is also obvious to many that 'infrastructure' was going to be the political buzzword of 2009.

Link this to Obama's previously stated belief in a green economy, and it's easy to see how by the end of his (first) term in 2012 hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans, could be employed in lucrative jobs and contracts building transit lines, associated infrastructure and the wind turbines and hydroelectric power plants to power them.

For example, in late October 2008, the key New York Transportation players and their national partners promoted Transportation for America's 'Build for America: A Five Point Plan to Get Our Economy Moving' plan. These proposals have the potential to create 100,000 green jobs in New York alone, and millions more if rolled out nationally.

In New York, the rebuilding of the century-old subways is seen as a priority, along with completion of major projects such as the Second Avenue Subway, Access to the Region's Core (ARC) and East Side Access, along with the development of initiatives such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). As well as providing jobs, these will diversify the commuting choices for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, cut congestion, reduce the city's carbon footprint and drastically reduce America's dependence on oil.

Elliot Sander, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) says it is impossible for New York to compete with other big cities around the world without the support of Congress to maintain and improve the city's public transit systems. "Our ridership has grown 40% over the past decade, and this year is up another 6%," he says. "The MTA's mass transit network keeps New York economically competitive, so it is vital to match investment with cities like London and Shanghai that are investing in their transit systems."

Obama – using rail to expand and compete

In 2009, Congress and Obama's administration face the expiration of the $286bn national transportation programme, in which historically oil and automaker lobbies have held a grip. But breaking this hold on the US economy won't solve the funding issue for rail projects altogether. New models need to be developed to fund growth, including partnerships with private industry. Models already in practice worldwide show capital and operating funding partnerships relieve some of the burden on federal finances by matching sums with local and state administrations and the private sector while maintaining public control.

While 78 metropolitan areas in the US have identified $240bn is needed in transit investments to expand or create service, it is also obvious that expenditure of that magnitude has to come from non-traditional, non-federal sources. In this context, the transportation agenda of the Obama Administration can be viewed as a two-stage strategy: a short-term action agenda and longer-term policy. A good portion of the short-term action agenda is already known; it is tied to a job stimulus (or 'economic recovery') bill – a $100bn spending package a portion of which (perhaps as much as $25bn) is expected to be dedicated to roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

With new figures suggesting the typical American can achieve average annual savings of almost $10,000 by taking public transport instead of driving, immediate and significant projects have already received the popular vote. In addition to the Presidential election on 4 November, there were several state and local referendums to increase taxes and put the resulting billions into public transit.

Of 32 ballot measures in 17 states that asked for new or increased taxes or bond issues, 25 passed. Among these is the $9.9bn bond issue to help build the 340km/h high-speed train service from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Railway job opportunities 2009

How to get on the rail industry job ladderThe railway industry is one that requires a variety of skills. To keep the transport network running requires the skills of all types of engineers (transport, mechanical, electrical, civil and specialist railway infrastructure) as well as drivers, operators, IT personnel, business personnel, customer service personnel, station staff, chefs and a whole host of others. The industry is as diverse as it gets and the likelihood would be that an interested candidate could find a position to suit them.

Jobs with UK rail companies
Rail in the UK includes some of the country's largest employers with EWS (English, Welsh and Scottish Railways), the largest freight operator in the UK, employing over 5,000 people and First Great Western, one of the largest passenger companies, employing 4,500.

However, one of the most important companies in rail in the UK has to be Network Rail, responsible for the entire rail network and many of the stations, employing over 32,000 personnel. Network Rail's many responsibilities include the laying and maintenance of track, installing and maintenance of signalling and providing infrastructure improvements.

There are also many smaller companies to produce and supply a range of equipment for the network, who could also be prospective employers for those looking to get into the railway industry.

Graduate and apprentice recruitment schemes for railway jobs
Many of the larger companies have graduate and apprentice recruitment schemes, which will provide an excellent start for anyone wanting a job in the industry. First Great Western has a dedicated training academy which provides comprehensive training and development for its employees, whether they are graduates or apprentice level. Their courses are recognised by the City & Guilds and the Centre for Rail Skills and will ultimately provide the candidate with national qualifications while they earn and learn. There is also the Leadership Horizons programme, for first line managers, which can lead to a nationally recognised BTEC award in Advanced Leadership.

Network Rail runs a very comprehensive graduate program and has an annual intake of engineers and other graduates on six different schemes including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, commercial property, finance and general management. The company is looking for graduates who have a minimum of a 2:2 honours degree (with accreditation by one of the recognised institutions) in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or a land and property management and of course recognised business qualifications. Network Rail does not normally offer sponsorship but is involved in the ICE Quest Scheme for Civil Engineers. Starting salaries would be around £22k to £25k with an additional one-off £3k bonus when you start.

Transport for London is another company worth considering as they control the London Underground rail system. They have graduate training intakes each September in disciplines such as civil engineering, commercial management, electrical engineering and electronic engineering. It is always best to apply early in the year for graduate training as the places tend to fill up rather quickly. So the best advice is to do your research early and then submit your applications in plenty of time to give yourself the best possible choice of opportunities

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