Let me show that map of overhead line voltage systems across Europe again:
Sketch of the distribution of electrification systems across Europe (excluding city railways and single branch-lines) [own work]
- Yellow: 25 kV, 50 Hz AC (alternating current)
- Red: 15 kV, 16.7 Hz AC
- Purple: 11 kV, 16.7 Hz AC (all of these are metre-gauge)
- Green: 3 kV DC (direct current)
- Blue: 1.5 kV DC
- Light blue: third-rail 750 kV DC
- Grey: only diesel traction or no railways
To answer the section title: on one hand, there are diesel-only areas. On the other hand, before the appearance of the new multi-system electric locomotives, the alternative to speed up cross-border traffic were diesels.
Indeed, the new open-access need for heavy diesels first emerged on a very specific sub-market: trains to and from the big ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. There were non-electrified tracks in the ports and in Belgium, and all four voltage systems on the rest of the connecting routes.
The use of heavy diesels quickly spread to other uses, including more long runs under overhead lines: for big industries that had access only to a branch-line, transport could be sped up by not changing locomotives.
The little Big Three
In part two on electrics, I indicated that the electric loco platform of all three giants of the rail industry (Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom) has recently been extended to include diesel-electrics. There have been single large orders (for Alstom/Siemens: 400 [Fret] SNCF class 75000, for Siemens: 100 ÖBB class 2016, which is passenger/freight).
However, the private market for freight diesels is dominated by other players. The reasons: higher prices, lower power, problematic diesel engines, few references. But the makers want all of this to change.
Lithuanian Railways LG ER20 is a six-axle, 2 MW, Russian broad-gauge version ("ER20 CF") of Siemens's EuroRunner. A new version with up to 3.5 MW is planned.
ER20 002 and a sister between Kaiiadorys and asliai (Vilnius–Kaunas line in Lithuania) on 16 April 2008. Photo by Darius Höhne from railcolor.net
From Russia with power
For the new cross-border runs to the BeNeLux ports, operators first reached back to surplus existing stock. In particular, a family of 2.2 MW six-axle heavy diesels originally supplied from the Soviet Union to East Germany's DR, nickname "Ludmilla". These robust machines were made by Voroshilovgrad Locomotive Factory (today Lugansk Locomotive Factory in Ukraine), with motors made by Kolomna Locomotive Factory (today a part of Russian Transmashholding).
The DB class 241 are a couple of Ludmillas remotorised with a 2.94 MW engine specially for the port traffic.
A DB 241 en route to Antwerp on 13 June 2007, with the viewing tower at the Belgian-Dutch-German border tripoint visible. Photo by user André @ Eindhoven from Flickr
The broad-gauge (and larger cross-section) networks of Russia and Ukraine have plenty of diesel-only lines for the makers (the above mentioned two and Bryansk, also part of Transmashholding) to keep developing and building new types. What's more, Russia ditched a remotorisation programme using US-made diesel engines, pointing to the increased fuel efficiency and cleaner exhausts of new domestically produced ones.
Bryansk's 2TE25A "Vityaz" double locomotive (2x2.5 MW, 2x6 axles) is the most modern freight diesel type in Russia: it made the switch to AC motors.
2TE25A 001 at the 'All-Russian Research and Design Institute of Rolling Stock' in Kolomna, 14 August 2008. Photo by user Mitra from Parovoz
However, while old and repowered Ludmillas are running across the EU, there are no new standard-gauge export versions from Russia or Ukraine.
EMD (formerly a division of General Motors) and General Electric have been the top makers of diesel-electrics in the West for half a century, with exports all around the world. They are also state-of-the-art – for example, they made the switch from wound-field DC to asynchronous AC motors (which I described as crucial for electric locomotives) in the nineties.
For EMD and GE, bringing their products to Europe is some challenge:
- Above all, weight has to be reduced by a third for Europe's weaker rails.
- Height and width also has to be reduced for European clearances.
- In the US, locos usually run in multiple, on long runs. In Europe, they usually run alone, and not long enough to justify the hassle of turning them around before going back. Thus, big mainline locos here need to have drivers' cabins at both ends.
From the eighties, EMD supplied railways in Britain (which has an even narrower cross section than the rest of Europe) with a loco 'slimmed-down' as above (Class 59), and from 1997, with an updated version (Class 66). EMD was quick to offer this to the operators of the emerging cross-border port services and other open-access traffic.
130 tons in the air: GB Railfreight 66725, fresh from Canada by ship, is unloaded in Newport Docks, 20 December 2006. Photo by Tom Bartlett from Class 66
Though the "Class 66" (the unofficial name 'inherited' from the first purchaser is much more used than the official "JT42CWR") has DC motors, the reliability and high traction effort ( = pulling force) lent by the six axles of the 2.46 MW type made it a hit with operators – less with drivers, who found it rather uncomfortable and noisy in the cab.
Rival GE for its part teamed up with ADtranz (today Bombardier) for a whole new design: the "Blue Tiger". GE gave the diesel engines, electric motors and the electronics (based on their export version for Asia, hence the name). This machine has the same power but higher traction effort than the EMD rival, due to its modern AC traction motors.
The wide cab and narrow body typical of American diesels look odd with a second cab added at the other end. At 23.41 m, the Blue Tiger is the longest single locomotive type on standard-gauge European rails.
LTH 330 091 in another port, that of Rostock/Germany, on 9 July 2006. Photo by Steffen Schulz from Bahnbilder.de
Diesel engines aren't all that great at starting from a standstill: they need to spin up to some speed to be efficient, to not cough. Thus, engineers looked for ways to transmit the torque from a motor axis spinning near its ideal speed to a wheel barely or not at all moving.
One method is to use electricity. The diesel engine runs a generator, and the currents generated power electric motors: that's a diesel-electric. Another method for transmission is to use the viscosity of a fluid pressed between two rotating discs: that's the diesel-hydraulic.
In the railway world, the diesel-electric became the preferred option, especially in heavy locomotives: diesel-hydraulic is more difficult to maintain, and lagged behind in maximum power. Yet, for some odd reason, hydraulic transmission was preferred in West Germany.
The phoenixes of Kiel (and Valencia)
One of the main makers in West Germany was Kiel-based MaK. In the nineties, its then owner Siemens did not see much future for diesel-hydraulic, while MaK's attempt to go diesel-electric (DE 1024 and its spin-off for Norway) was a failure – so Siemens sold it off to a minor rail supplier named Vossloh.
Vossloh started a programme of modernisation and modularisation – and, with the help of the emerging open-access local freight operators, its sales exploded in a way they didn't expect in their wildest dreams. (You see one of their smaller products in a wind power plant's port in Jérôme's photo in the Tuesday OT.) Vossloh's rise can be epitomised by the fact that it was them who first broke the Franco-German rail technology firewall (SNCF class 61000II).
Vossloh also wanted its share of the heavy diesel market, and (over two decades after the last big diesel-hydraulic made in Kiel) created the G 2000BB. This loco is powerful (2.24, some 2.7 MW), but with only four axles, traction effort is limited compared to the previously shown rivals.
The special asymetric look of the first twenty Vossloh G 2000BB was meant to enable both shunting from one end and line service from both ends (i.e. whichever end is in front). Later, they switched to full-width cabs (the Blue Tiger look).
Neusser Eisenbahn #9 near Dordrecht/Netherlands on 5 May 2006. Photo by Leen Dortwegt from Bahnbilder.de
To eclipse the American six-axle rivals, Vossloh started new development into uncharted territory, in terms of hydraulic transmission maximum power. However, in the middle it, they made a total U-turn.
Macosa was a company in Valencia/Spain making diesels under license from American EMD. When Alstom gained control of Macosa, it started developing a heavy diesel, incorporating some structural elements of its PRIMA electric locomotive platform, but diesel engine and electric motors were still from EMD (from the same line as those in the 'Class 66'). Vossloh bought this factory, and put its name on the finished Macosa-EMD-Alstom design: the 3.18 MW Euro 4000.
Clean technology and... well, sort of. Also note the unmistakable Alstom front design.
ATC 335 014 (of Rotterdam-based, but UK-originated and RBS-owned leaser/operator Angel Trains Cargo) near Barracas, Spain, on 28 October 2008. Photo by Sergio Moreno Pillo from railcolor.net
Vossloh's about-face left its supplier of hydraulic transmissions stranded with a fully-developed product. This company, Voith Turbo, then thought big: 'we are longstanding members of the rail industry, can't we build a locomotive around that gear on our own?'
The immediate result was the Maxima 40CC, the most powerful diesel-hydraulic ever at 3.6 MW. The longer-term result was that Voith Turbo built its own factory in Kiel, and already won a big order for smaller locos (future DB class 260) – a footing to stand on while Maxima 40CC orders are in single digits (commercial deliveries started this year).
At 23.2 m, the Voith Maxima 40CC is another very long machine. And its style designer must hate curves.
Stock-Transport 264 003 with powdered lime tank cars near Oberkochen (north of Ulm, Germany) on 17 May 2009. Photo by Martin Respondek from Drehscheibe Online Foren
The makers also offer down-rated versions of the above two monsters (Vossloh Euro 3000, Voith Maxima 30CC and 20BB), but with barely a sale in freight version so far.
In the last decade, the two American makers focused on improving fuel efficiency and decreasing harmful exhausts. Now they bring those technological improvements to Europe, too – while other diesel engine suppliers try to keep up.
EMD updated the 'Class 66' (JT42CWRM) with a new diesel engine, also righting the cab problem (see changed side window; and also third sidewall door on the second photo). Meanwhile, GE saw Bombardier abandoning the Blue Tiger for its own design. As replacement, GE is bringing out a new European export version of its North American Evolution series: the 2.76 MW PowerHaul. For future orders, GE will partner with Tülomsaş for assembly in Turkey.
The (wider) continental version of the GE PowerHaul. (First delivery will be in the narrower UK version, though.) The same design school as the Voith Maxima... Drawing from GE
However, one thing clouds the future for the makers: the big diesel market is set to shrink.
The multi-voltage-system electric locomotives are now up and running: while two have to replace one six-axle diesel, the higher train speed is a plus. On the infrastructure front, the Netherlands opened the Betuweroute freight-only railway from Rotterdam to the German border in 2007, while Belgium finished the electrification of its Antwerp–Aachen line at the end of last year.
On a foggy winter day, Belgian state railways SNCB 7781 and 7774 (MaK/Siemens/Vossloh local freight/shunter type G 1205) pass the giant Moresnet bridge en route to Aachen on 17 December 2008 with a short transfer – but the activation of the overhead line ended diesel rule a few days earlier. Photo by Christoph Schmitz from RailFanEurope.net
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