Tag Archive for competition

Back to the Future for the UK rail structure? // 2015 review

Was the British Rail privatization effort ever successfully completed. Or just a juggling of the accounting books?

What do you think? Here is an interesting review in part from Zthe Economist in early October 2015 //

The original Railtrack company actually according to many economists was partially re-nationalized when financial oversight shifted to the replacement Network Rail company within about a decade of the initial change.

More passenger riders? Yes. At more public subsidy? Yes.

Is that success?

Quite a few in the UK don’t think it was successful. Note this from The Economist on 3 October 2015 Railways “Gravy trains” Why Labour’s plans to renationalise the railways are so popular

FEW topics get Britons as hot under the collar as the state of the country’s railways. When trains are delayed—at the slightest hint of snow, or when leaves fall on the track—passengers fire off furious letters and tweets. According to polls by YouGov, more than half of Britons would like the government to take the railways back under state control.

This makes Labour’s plan for a publicly run “People’s Railway”, affirmed at its conference this week, a popular policy as well as a radical one.

By some measures Britain’s railways are booming. Since the network was privatised in 1994, the number of train journeys taken each year has doubled. The growth in passenger-kilometres travelled has been among the fastest in the European Union.

BUT… …the service has become far more expensive, with rail fares now 24% higher in real terms than in 1995.

And as well as being pricey, the service is often uncomfortable: 22% of passengers commuting into London and 16% of those travelling into Manchester have to stand.

// The Economist writes that …”passenger frustration also reflects the fact that privatisation was rushed through and in many ways flawed.” When British Rail, the monolithic state operator, was broken up in the 1990s the government stringently followed a European directive to separate the tracks from the trains.

The idea was to boost competition by ensuring that different train operators could whizz up and down the same stretches of track.

But in some circumstances this led to inefficiencies, with employees of privately run train companies doubling up against those from Network Rail, the state-owned company which controls all 20,000 miles (32,000km) of track. Investment has risen since privatisation, but so has government subsidy…

The subsidies adds up to around £4 billion ($6 billion) a year.

According to a report published in 2011, costs per passenger-kilometre have hardly improved since 1996.

And Network Rail is in disarray. The company, which was brought on to the government balance-sheet in 2014 with £34 billion of debt, is due to publish three reports over the next six months looking at how it can be restructured.

Read the column in full at: www.economist.com/news/britain/21669057-why-labours-plans-renationalise-railways-are-so-popular-gravy-trains

Restructuring Overview // opinion column from India on India Railways

Bravo!

A gutsy but professionally focused opinion column points out why modernizing the vast but bureaucratic Indian Railways may be a hopeless task.

It’s about politics and the self preservation of jobs and management roles while facing objections from other land users. It is not just a technology fix that is needed.

Here are just a few points that illustrate the issues.

1) BROKEN MARKETING TACTICS

The government has so far lacked the will to increase passenger fares because it is an unpopular suggestion. Instead, they hike up the cost of freight transport to subsidize passenger rides. What India gets as a result is a vicious cycle: Companies (shippers) choose to transport goods via highways because doing so by train has become too expensive and inefficient. That results in a lack of the expected cash flow freight subsidy funding needed to make rail improvements for passenger rail. And to the extent possible by bus or auto, the rail commuters leave the railways for highways.

2) CUT UP THE RAILWAY INTO MORE BUT SEPARATE ORGANIZATIONS

One ever popular policy suggestion is to minimize the Ministry of Railways power by making the Indian Railways two independent organizations—one responsible for the track and infrastructure and another for operating the trains. But some do not see that restructuring happening anytime soon. Furthermore, it did not work out well when tried in the UK. Why would it work in India?

It might be better to just fire everyone in charge today and hire an all new monopoly provider.

3) TAKING FOREVER

“If nothing changes, it will take them 100 years just to build the Dedicated Freight Corridor,” say some professional observers. For example, the government hasn’t even started looking at people and land relocation plans in urban area for an alternative, high-speed railway network.

Heck, the Dedicated Freight Corridor execution is already about a decade delayed. That is about the professional in charge lifetime of the current leadership generation (at about 10 to 15 years as the top people in an organization).

TICK TICK TICK The clock is ticking.

So little is happening.

Read the column at: www.citylab.com/commute/2015/10/what-it-will-really-take-to-fix-indias-railways/408664/ Sent from my iPad

Mind numbing, jaw bone breaking numbers

A Bloomberg commodities index that tracks returns from 22 raw materials has fallen 50 percent since a 2011 high

Down BY HALF!

Not by a crummy 3% to 5% . Or even Ten percent

By a jaw breaking 50% range.

Who is getting fired for these numbing numbers? Where was the due diligence? ————

What did your strategic plan assume?

To read the entire Bloomberg report, go to bloom.bg/1MKPHrc

Stunning graphs on resource capital project spending is a “wake up call” for planners

From mines around the world to the dependent rail and port projects, the changing global economics commodity cycle suggests a downer “Bear” market for projects that add to global capacity and output.

This down cycle could last from a short 2 to 3 years OR AS LONG AS 7 or more years. Strategic Planners to to rethink their now outdated assumptions from supporting logistics projects in diverse places like Mozambique, Botswana, Mongolia, Brazil, and even in the Canadian/Alaska Yukon region.

What ever capital plans for building the supporting ports and railways they had developed by big engineering companies — the underlying due diligence economic assumptions are now likely “under water” so to speak.

Billions and billions of proposed dollars in drawing board completed project engineering can no longer pass an economic feasibility test for recovery of he rail project capital P&I.

Instead these industry planners should brace themselves for at least another two years of shrinking budgets and outlays. The earliest signs of a “subdued” resource recovery might not be until early in 2018 say some experts.

But even this prediction might be too bullish. Why? Because metal prices have already fallen 12% further than they did during the bear market in the 1990s. In that bear market, capex only recovered to its pre-crash (1997) level after seven years (2004),” according to Mark Fellows.

Mark Fellows, director of consulting for a mining research firm reports that “while sustaining capital expenditure is down 13% since the peak in 2012, capital expenditure on new developments has been even harder hit.” “Spending on brownfield expansions is down 25% while greenfield project expenditure has plummeted by nearly one third” on a global basis.

Mr Fellows concludes this by comparing the current 2013-2015 downturn to the previous bear market in mining which ran from 1997 to 2002. He therefore argues that the current witnesses global capex cutbacks are far from over.

The report is published by SNL Metals and Mining. DOLLARS OF PROJECT EXPANSION PLANS AT RISK

The report finds that total capital spending across all mining companies has declined by around $70 billion since the 2012 peak to just over $150 billion forecast for this year. As one business case example, the project investment at BHP Billiton this year will be $10 billion below its 2013 peak. The world’s number one miner only has four projects in the works, two of which are almost complete, compared to 18 mine and infrastructure developments just two years ago.

In a Mining.com press story by Frik Els on 21 September 2015 titled: “This is the scariest mining chart you’ll see today”, the investor alert numbers are brought out visually.

This is another piece of economic trend evidence in my blog’s strategic theme of changing times for traffic that feeds the dreams of massive new rail freight projects.

“a Bridge Too Far” analysis?

Only the strongest as low cost per ton-kilometer cost new rail projects might be competitive.

Too many rail projects on the drawing boards are simply under designed as to the necessary competitive productivity to prosper as investment grade scenarios. Trains would be too small because they often lack big train technology design features of the most successful resource rail carriers. Axle loads too small. Train lengths too short. Clearances too shallow. Net to tare wagon rates are too low

Too many are now ill advised rail schemes. “Schemes” in North American business language generally means a buyer beware concept plan”.

In Africa alone, I estimate that as many as two thirds of “announced” rail line freight projects may be too risky to build as currently designed around old market demand and old post World War-2 rail engineering standards. That could mean as much as $25 to $34 billion of “schemes” seriously require a second due diligence look just in Africa.

Africa is not alone. The billions in proposed rail engineering in the Canadian Yukon/Alaska region also need serious market demand re-examination. If not by the project sponsors, then certainly by the investors they will approach. Brazil, Mongolia, Swaziland, Senegal — all of their rail design and expected market traffic assumptions need serious review for their current planning.

For more, log onto Mining.com

Chart Sources: SNL Metals & Mining

Greenfield cap ex spending chart

Bear market recovery projection for commodities chart

Coal as energy for US electric power continues drop // Once 50% — now 40%

 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) agency reports in September 2015 that the number of new coal mines opening each year dropped to its lowest point in at least a decade.

The total number of operating coal mines in the U.S. has hit its lowest point since all the way back to 1923.

US coal producers opened 103 new mines in 2013. At the same time at least 270 operations were either halted or shut down in 2013 according to the agency.

The 2013 production by the fewer the operating mines (just over 1,000 mines) dropped to less than 1 billion short tons.

The total coal production in the United States has shrunk about 15% since 2008.

“The commodity, which once fired half of the country’s power now accounts for just under 40% of it.”

Over the long run, the Energy Department projects that percentage will drop towards about one-third (34%) within the next 25 years.

“Coal is clearly trending down as market share as thermal power plants turn to natural gas and some displacement by renewables like wind and solar power.”

 

Caterpillar projections to investors. // Looks gloomy market wise

Caterpillar is reorganizing only four years after making its biggest acquisition ever, spending $7.5 billion on Bucyrus International Inc.

The company faces what it says is the first four-year sales decline in its 90-year history.

In a Bloomberg report: Caterpillar `Bites the Bullet’ as Oil Rout Compounds Mining Pain the metrics are presented.

The last time Caterpillar Inc. cut thousands of jobs, a mining slowdown was to blame. Now the main culprit is oil, as slumping prices batter drillers.

The investigative reporter Sonja Elmquist wrote on Sep 24, 2015 that the world’s most valuable machinery producer by market cap announced a plan to cut as many as 10,000 jobs, or 9 percent of its workforce, through 2018 as the effects of crude’s collapse ripple through the industry.

The measures — including the second reduction in sales guidance in two months — represent the biggest round of cuts since 2013, when the company reduced its headcount by 13,000 as sales to metal producers declined along with prices.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence. “They’ve finally opened up the manila envelope that says ‘doomsday’ on it and they’re executing the plan that they hoped they would never have to execute,” Sameer Rathod, a San Francisco-based analyst at Macquarie, said by telephone.

No one is sure yet as to the shape of the long term market recovery timeline.

The company will cut as many as 5,000 workers this year and another 5,000 by 2018. It reduced a 2015 revenue projection by $1 billion and said sales are expected to drop 5 percent next (2016)…

SHARES WAY DOWN    —

Caterpillar at the time of the announcement fell about 6.3 percent to a five-year low of $65.80.  The stock has lost 28 percent this year, the biggest annual drop since 2008.

As a comparison, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index has fallen 18 percent in 2015 while the Dow is down 9.8 percent.

The company’s consolidation plan may affect more than 20 plants…

To read the entire article, go to http://bloom.bg/1KDMgQr

Update on Ethiopia’s Light Rail System as it starts operating // Sept 2015

Multiple reports confirm the start of light rail service in the capital of Ethiopia on 20 September 2015.  The start of service on Line #1 is actually relatively close to the promised service date.  Funding approved in 2011 assumed a two year construction timeline.

The 16.9 km north-south Line 1 line links Minelik Square with Kality and has 23 stations. A 17.4 km east-west line from Ayat to Tor Hailoch is also due to open soon. The two routes share a 2.7 km section between Lideta and Stadium.

This light rail service which includes elevated sections and tunnels, runs from Addis Ababa’s main industrial area on its southern fringe, through the trading district of Merkato to the historic center of Piazza.

I had a chance to review the affidavit Addis Ababa light rail construction process in the capital back in the summer of 2013.  Project construction and the logistics handling of imported rail materials was well organized by the Chinese company.  The track ballast section and some early rail laying were substantial as to the engineering design and initial construction delivery of product in the field.

One of the tunnel projects was a huge physical undertaking.  Well done when I inspected it.  No question that the Chinese companies can build rail projects very well according to plans.

PLANTING THE C”AN DO” FLAG IN FRONT OF AFRICAN RAIL PLANNERS

The east-west light rail line skirts the African Union’s headquarters.  This location marks a great advertising opportunity of the Chinese capabilities with this line placement in front of the African wide headquarters.

Both light rail lines are built by China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC).

CNR Changchun (now part of CRRC Corporation) has supplied a fleet of 41 low-floor vehicles, which have a maximum speed of 70km/h.

DEAL FINANCING TERMS

China is financing 85% of the $US 475 million project. It is a loan. Not a grant.

The government agreed to borrow the funds in June 2011 from the Export-Import Bank of China.  The to be paid back rate was at the 6-month Libor interest rate plus 2.6 percent and a grace period of three years.  This from Ethiopian Finance Ministry data.

State-owned contractor China Railway Engineering Corp. was the recipient of the export financing.

The financing of the remaining 15% is arranged from other sources by the Ethiopian government.

ON-GOING MAINTENANCE

The 39-station network will be maintained by CREC and Shenzhen Metro Group under a $US 116m five-year contract.

The Ethiopian client for the continuing rail service is the Ethiopian Railway Corporation (ERC).  The ERC rail company is a government corporation with a very small staff.

TRAIN OPERATIONS

The first three to five years of light rail train operation will also be by the Chinese and not the ERC.

At one point back in 2013 the Ethiopians sent out a global request for a  consultant team to build up the Ethiopian internal organization into becoming a world class operating management team.  Then they could take on train operations management themselves.  But that internal skill building process so far appears to not have happened.

Instead of internal managers inside the  Ethiopian Railways Corp, the light rail service will be run day to day by Shenzhen Metro Group.  For at least five years.

LIGHT RAIL TRAFFIC FORECAST

The light rail total system may eventually carry 60,000 passengers an hour, according to project manager Behailu Sintayehu.

Passenger FARES will be subsidized

The maximum one-way fare on the network is about $US 0.29 to $0.30 (cents).

The light rail line operating costs is projected to be about 1.5 billion birr a year to run. Fare box revenues will not cover all of that annual operating cost.

“The government is subsidizing this transportation system. This is not for commercial purpose, it’s for the public” said a local official source to reporters.

Sources also reported that the subsidy to allow such low passenger fares will in the long term have to come out of “expected” freight operating profits from the not yet completed new standard gauge international railroad line.

This cross subsidy practice might be a logical strategy if trucking companies subsidized the passenger buses on highways But they do not.  In the long term of daily rail to truck competition, this creates an advantage for truckers.  It is incredible how state planners historically are blind to this integrated transportation fact of competition economics.  The Ethiopians are no exception to such economic flaws in policy thinking. As the become better trained in economics, this may change their thinking.

==========================

MORE INTEL about this light rail system

THE LONG DISTANCE LINE

The freight and intercity passenger train new railway construction underway will connect the Ethiopia capital city with the port of neighboring Djibouti.

Service there may begin sometime in 2016 say current reports from Bloomberg.

Trains on this inter-nation line might also be operated by a Chinese contractor instead of by the local Ethiopia rail organization.  Too early to tell yet. There is no published report on the success or timeline of building such skills inside the Ethiopian Rail Corp organization.

The long distance line will be standard gauge (1435mm) track.  But not 33 metric ton or doublestack container train capable.

The Ethiopians have settled for a lesser freight train capacity that they received from the Chinese builders rather than adopting the North American commercial and engineering big train technology standards — and having the Chinese contract companies modify their engineering build to standards. The result will give the Ethiopian rail company a rail freight haulage capability equivalent to a 40 to 50 year old post WW-2 North American operating performance. This means missing their chance to become the best of class within the African world of freight railroads.

POWER SUPPLY

Electric power to supply these light rail and intercity train sets in a more dependable manner is to come from the Chinese financed Gibe III hydropower dam’s reservoir set for operation in 2016.  The reservoir has started filling, with its 1,870 megawatts capable of almost doubling Ethiopia’s generating capacity. This will presumably allow for a dependable service day to day performance using straight electric locomotives rather then modern diesel-electric locomotives.

MISSED DOUBLESTACK CONTAINER OPPORTUNITY

With electric power from overhead wires catenary systems, the overhead clearance for doublestack container trains could be restricted.  This overhead wire electric system as currently designed as to height above the top of the rails is another rail marketing (commercial business competition) flaw that could have improved.  How? By increasing the wire height to more than 6.7 meters above the top of the rail.  That would allow doublestacking container trains to have a far superior cost per container advantage in direct competition with highway trucking.  In the US that rail rate advantage can be as large as 50 cents to $1.40 per container moved kilometer.

These simple manmade engineering design changes would have given the resulting rail line a superior economic advantage against long haul trucking.

Maybe as many as 15 Years of Weak Crude and other energy prices

“WHAT IF:

What if the world is shifting from an “investment phase” of a 30-year commodity cycle to an “exploitation phase?” 

How does this professional assessment of future markets cause you as a railroad or freight carrier to change from Plan A to maybe Plan B or even Plan D?

 

From Bloomberg, Sep 17, 2015

A glut of crude may keep oil prices low for the next 15 years, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. That is a very long period.

This strategic commodities report cites in part Jeffrey Currie in an interview at Lake Louise, Alberta.

Goldman’s long-term forecast for crude is at $50 a barrel, he said. He also observed that “the risks are to the downside given what’s happening in the other commodity markets and the macro markets more broadly.”

Lower iron ore, copper and steel prices as well oil and natural gas –PLUS weaker currencies in commodity-producing countries — have reduced costs for oil companies, according to Currie.

The world is shifting from an “investment phase” of a 30-year commodity cycle to an “exploitation phase,” with shale fields as an important source of output, he said.

To read the entire article, go to http://bloom.bg/1JcGYJu

A proposed inland Australian rail freight line MIGHT NOT make economic sense –

The proposed 1,700 Kim’s of new freight railway has a capital cost estimate to build it.

IF BUILT, then it has all kinds of job creation and “soft” society economic benefits that surround the project scope like an angel’s halo.

However, there is no published traffic mix forecast. There is no train operations projected income statement for the generalized scope of possible future rail business.

There is instead a “build it, and they we come” conceptual expectation. The “they” being shippers.

There is no information about commercial rates and the shippers ability or willingness to pay those rail rates.

But there is an acknowledgement that the government will have to write the checks to pay for the capital cost.

In summary, there is very little due diligence as to the economic feasibility of this inland route as an investment. This is the kind of planning that made the recently built north-south Australian rail building project a financial disaster.

I suspect that none of these Australian inland rail proponents could ever hold a job working as rail planners for the big profitable North American rail companies like Canadian Pacific or Union Pacific.

What do you think of the projects financial feasibility prospects?

http://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2015/09/an-inland-rail-freight-line-makes-economic-sense/ Sent from my iPad

China Trainmaker CRRC Plans to Double Overseas Sales in the next 5 Years

From Bloomberg makret analysis on Sep 10, 2015. —

New York’s aging subway system is an irresistible draw for Yu Weiping, vice president of CRRC Corp.

New York’s aging subway system is one of multiple US transit systems that are an irresistible market draw for Yu Weiping, vice president of CRRC Corp.. I

CRRC has a market strategy that hopes to double overseas contracted sales to as much as $15 billion in the next five years.  It has been targeting emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia — often with sales pitches from Premier Li Keqiang– as it seeks to project influence in developing economies.

Mr Yu said he spends two-thirds of his time annually abroad looking for deals, as CRRC seeks to go global.

For now, the Springfield Massachusetts new assembly plant for transit rail sets is a showcase for the targeted company’s U.S. expansion.

To read the entire article, go to http://bloom.bg/1OgpuTp