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Reshaping the passenger business

01 Aug 2001

LAST YEAR CFR Calatori accounted for 54% of all domestic passenger-km, with the rest split between road and air. Chairman & CEO Valentin Bota describes the loss of traffic between 1990 and 1996 as 'serious', but says the decline has now slowed, 'following the upturn in the national economy'. During 2000, CFR Calatori carried 4% fewer passengers than in 1999. On current trends Bota expects the decline to level out by 2002 and traffic to start growing again from 2003.

CFR Calatori currently operates around 1600 passenger trains each day. Around 50% of passenger-journeys are handled on inter-city trains and 50% on local services. In the first five months of 2001, traffic totalled 48·7 million journeys or 4 127 million passenger-km.

In February 2000, CFR Calatori restructured its management into an inter-city business and eight local units. The aim was to get the country's local authorities involved in the specification and financing of regional passenger services, but in practice they were not in a position to provide any funding. As a result, the business units were brought back under central management with effect from April 2001.

Transport Minister Miron Mitrea says that further restructuring will see the creation of four regional management offices, enabling further staff reductions. Some passenger activities, such as the operation of external ticket booking agencies, will be outsourced. Earlier this year CFR Calatori introduced a telephone reservations system to reduce the pressure on the ticket office at Bucuresti Nord.

The restructuring law does provide for the contracting out of regional operations, but at the moment no offers have been made. However, Bota says 'we are still keeping separate accounts for the various long and short distance services, so that we can monitor the costs and revenues of each part of the network.'

Rolling stock renewal

Because of the substantial state contribution to support passenger operations, CFR Calatori must still agree its development programme with the government. Investment since restructuring has focused primarily on the rehabilitation of coaches, using a mix of internally-generated funds and international loans. CFR Calatori paid for the overhaul by local firms of 240 coaches during 2000-01, and Bota expects this programme to continue.

Using loans totalling US$57m from the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development and Paribas, a contract was awarded last year to Alstom for the refurbishment of 100 inter-regional vehicles, which is being undertaken in Romania. By drafting the rebuilt stock onto premium services, CFR Calatori will be able to cascade other vehicles down to improve standards on its secondary routes.

The long distances and slow speeds mean that sleeping car business remains 'very profitable'. Bota has no plans to buy new cars, but the decline in sleeper services elsewhere has released some relatively modern vehicles onto the second-hand market. CFR Calatori hopes to buy and modernise 20 cars this year, and a similar number in 2002 to keep developing the market.

On the locomotive front, last year also saw the completion by Siemens of a contract to refurbish 24 electric locos in conjunction with local partner Electroputere. A US$100m loan now being negotiated with the Japan Bank for International Co-operation will allow CFR Calatori to call tenders this year for rehabilitation of 60 to 70 diesel-electric locos.

Longer-term plans are focused on harnessing the benefits of CFR's infrastructure programme. Corridors IV and IX are already CFR Calatori's busiest inter-city routes, and Bota expects the shorter journey times from 160 km/h operation will increase patronage.

If similar improvements are made to the Hungarian section of Corridor IV, Bota suggests that a journey time of 10 to 12 h from Bucuresti to Wien could boost international traffic significantly. This is now a very small proportion of total traffic, as Romanians still need visas to travel abroad, but Bota expects the market to grow as Romania moves closer to joining the EU. He is exploring opportunities for growth with the neighbouring railways in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Traffic to the south may be boosted by two developments over the next three years. Bota expects the 2004 Olympic Games to spur demand for travel to Greece through Bulgaria. And completion of the long-planned road/rail bridge across the Danube at Calafat will offer a significantly shorter route to Sofia than the present line through Giurgiu. A site for the bridge was finally agreed by the two governments last year, and construction should get under way in 2002 for opening two or three years later.

In the longer term, Bota hopes to order some modern high-speed trainsets, such as ICE or Pendolino, which would operate services to Wien and Greece and offer unprecedented quality on domestic inter-city routes.

Suburban multiple-units

Another innovation will be the development of suburban services. Although CFR Calatori operates some local trains around the major cities, there are no intensive metro-style suburban operations. An agreement signed with the Ministry of Transport earlier this year provides for the purchase of a fleet of new diesel and electric multiple-units, which will allow the development of a Bucuresti suburban network over the next six to seven years.

Tenders were called earlier this year for an initial build of 120 DMU cars to be built locally under a technology transfer agreement; bids for 90 EMU cars are to follow. Deliveries are scheduled for 2003-05. The deal is costed at US$200m to US$300m, and the government has agreed to underwrite an application for international credit. Local funding will have to be raised for the related infrastructure works and station construction.

On July 4 Siemens Transportation Systems announced that it had reached agreement to supply 120 Desiro DMU cars to CFR Calatori at a cost of €250m. An accord was signed in Berlin earlier that day, in the presence of Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and Germany's Economics Minister Werner Müller. The fleet of two-car and four-car units will have a top speed of 140 km/h, and will operate on both Bucuresti suburban and regional routes. The first five are to be built by Siemens, with two to be delivered by the end of this year. The rest will be assembled in Romania within five years, although Siemens has not yet selected a local partner. n

CAPTION: A CFRCalatori Class 41 electric loco heads out of Bucuresti Nord with an inter-regional service

CAPTION: The main building at Craiova is one of several CFR stations to be modernised in recent years