MORE than 40% of the working population in Luxembourg are commuters and a high proportion of them travel in each day from towns in Belgium, Germany and France. Of the 1000 trains which CFL operates daily, 40% are cross-border. This poses a particular challenge for Luxembourg Railways' (CFL) 275km rail network because of the different electrification voltages, signalling systems and operating rules of its neighbours, with five systems in four countries.
"Maybe some people would find this exciting, but there are financial consequences to this which undermine our competitiveness," Wengler says. "We have a modern passenger train fleet with an average age of 10 years, but the fleet is divided and no single train can operate to all of our neighbouring countries."
CFL is installing ERTMS across its network and Wengler told IRJ that it will be operational by mid-2017 in order to meet the mandated deadline for its introduction. But even then this will not solve all CFL's signalling incompatibility problems as Wengler explained: "There are three points of contact with the Belgian rail network, but only one will be compatible. We will still have to invest in the Belgian TBL1+ system until 2025 because our version of ETCS will not be compatible with the Belgian version."
To add to his frustration, Wengler says he cannot purchase an ETCS-equipped train which is able to operate in one neighbouring country let alone all of them. "A tailor-made solution is the only option," Wengler told delegates. In addition, Wengler says he cannot buy medium-distance electric freight locomotives which are able to operate in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany.
Despite the difficulties faced by CFL, passenger traffic has increased by 50% during the last 10 years and the number of commuters has doubled in the last five years. CFL is currently carrying 70,000 passengers per day which equates to around 22 million per year. Passenger traffic increased by nearly 4% in 2014 to 21.5 million journeys.
CFL Cargo, in which Arcelor Mittal has a one-third share, was set up in 2006. This has been a great success, as Wengler revealed: "Turnover has more than doubled, while international traffic has increased by 10% since its creation, and 80% of tonne-km is now international." CFL Cargo generated 913 million tonne-km in 2014 compared with 804 million in 2013.
The increase in traffic has created a bottleneck on the main line running south into France so CFL plans to start construction of a new line from Luxembourg City to Bettembourg.
The new line will be around 7km long and will follow as close as possible the alignment of the A3 highway to minimise the impact on the environment and will not have any intermediate stations. The project will involve the construction of 15 bridges including a flyover. Wengler says the line should open in 2022.
Under a second phase, Bettembourg station will be renewed. This will include the construction of a second pedestrian subway connecting the platforms, the provision of lifts to each platform to improve access for disabled passengers, and the introduction of tactile strips to aid the visually impaired.
CFL managed to improve its financial performance in 2014. Turnover increased by 9% from €684.2m in 2013 to €746.5m, enabling it to turn a loss of €1m in 2013 into a profit of €6.5m last year. As a result, CFL was able to reduce its debt by almost 9% to €241m, while capital investment increased by 19.6% from €51.7m in 2013 to €61.8m in 2014.
Looking to the future, Wengler wants to put the customer in focus and improve service quality. "Who produces quality?" he asks. "A lot of players such as the operator, infrastructure manager, and national safety authority, but in Luxembourg this is multiplied with our neighbours.
"One of the main objectives of the Fourth Railway Package is to improve the quality of rail services with a better price ratio, and the new draft version of the package addresses these issues. We welcome all initiatives which seek to simplify the situation," Wengler says.
Indeed, as Mr Josef Doppelbauer, ERA's executive director, observed at the end of Wengler's speech: "Luxembourg is a real test case for the Single European Area."