July’s top stories: driverless trains, high-speed rail and investment plans

31 July 2012 (Last Updated July 31st, 2012 18:30)

The past month saw a number of major rail investment plans announced, while several key metro systems moved forward. Railway Technology wraps up the key headlines from July 2012.

July’s top stories: driverless trains, high-speed rail and investment plans

South Korea's driverless Uijeongbu LRT line opens

The march of driverless train technology continues apace, the latest example being the new light rail transit line in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul, in South Korea.

South Korea

The 11.1km U Line, based on Siemens' VAL (vehicule automatique leger) system, links the eastern part of Uijeongbu with the city centre, with an interchange with Line 1 of Seoul's metro system at Hoeryong.

The 15-station line was built by a South Korean consortium led by GS Engineering & Construction, with Siemens Transportation Systems providing its VAL system and automatic train control features.

Advantages of the line's driverless operation include 20-hour daily operation, as well as high punctuality and train frequency, while the system's rubber tires make for quieter operation when compared to other metro systems.

Amtrak unveils $151bn upgrade plan for the Northeast Corridor

The US has been increasing its investment in rail transport as ridership steadily increases.

Acela

The economically important Northeast Corridor (NEC), which links major east coast cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., is set to receive a particularly hefty financial boost, at least if its operator Amtrak's $151bn upgrade proposal becomes a reality.

Amtrak's investment plan is primarily focused on increasing capacity on the NEC network, along with the introduction of a 220mph next-generation high-speed rail line between New York and Philadelphia, reducing journey times between the two cities to just 37 minutes.

The operator also plans to order 40 more Acela Express passenger cars by 2015 to increase capacity by 40%, as well as doubling the Acela service between New York and D.C.

UK Government to invest $500m on Heathrow rail link

Heathrow link

The UK's Department for Transport (DfT) is planning to spend £500m to improve rail links to Heathrow Airport with a new line running from Slough to the UK's busiest air transport hub.

The new line, scheduled for completion in 2021, would stop passengers from the south-west of England and Wales from having to journey into central London to take the Heathrow Express service, potentially reducing journey times by up to 30 minutes.

The project is part of a larger £1.4bn initiative to improve surface access to the UK's airports, including a £44m upgrade to Gatwick Airport rail station.

UK unveils £9.4bn rail investment plan

UK's High Level Output Specification (HLOS) package

The UK's High Level Output Specification (HLOS) package is bringing with it £9.4bn in improvements to the rail infrastructure in England and Wales.

Major ongoing projects include Crossrail, Thameslink and a widespread electrification programme.

£240m will be spent on improvements to the East Coast Main Line, while £322m is being spent on the completion of the 'Northern Hub' rail project in Manchester and Liverpool.

Ottawa Light Rail Transit project gets environmental approval

Ottawa Light Rail Transit (OLRT)

A potential stumbling block for the $2.1bn Ottawa Light Rail Transit (OLRT) project in Canada has now been cleared thanks to environmental assessment approval from the Canadian Government.

The project has now moved on to the request-for-proposals phase of the project, with three consortia shortlisted to design, build, finance and maintain the project, which would run 12.5km through the city, including a 2.4km downtown tunnel.

Construction is set to begin in 2013.

California governor signs $4.7bn bill for high-speed rail project

California's high-speed rail venture

After years of debate and doubt, California's high-speed rail venture finally looks to be moving forward with state governor Edmund G. Brown's signing of an initial funding bill for $4.7bn of the project's $68bn estimated total cost.

The first section to be built will run from Merced to the San Fernando Valley, with construction due to start in April 2013.

If all goes well, the full project will create a high-speed line from San Francisco in the north of the state down to Los Angeles in southern California.

China's NDRC approves Hangzhou Metro Line 1 PPP project

A major new metro network in the Chinese city of Hangzhou moved forward with its first metro line, appropriately named Line 1.

China's NDRC

This was after the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) approved a public-private partnership (PPP) deal with MTR Hangzhou Line 1 Investment and a subsidiary of Hangzhou Metro Group to finish construction, operate and invest in the line for 25 years.

The joint venture between the two companies will share investment responsibilities for the 48km, 31-station Line 1, which is reportedly the first of eight lines planned as part of Hangzhou's ambitious metro system.

Amtrak to upgrade Washington Union Station

Washington D.C.

Washington Union Station in Washington D.C. is being targeted for more than just a lick of paint during the next 15-20 years; as part of the aforementioned Northeast Corridor upgrade plan, Amtrak is proposing to spend the astonishing sum of up to $7.5bn to completely overhaul the station.

The upgrades include six new tracks to accommodate future high-speed rail lines under the region's NextGen High-Speed Rail plan, along with new passenger concourses, a doubling of capacity, a new train shed and around three million square feet of commercial, residential and retail space at Burnham Place.