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Globalisation catches up with rail industry?

by DoDo Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 08:01:48 AM EST

From the Financial Times:

Alstom rattled by Asia's train exports

By Robert Wright, Transport Correspondent

Published: January 1 2009 23:33 | Last updated: January 1 2009 23:33

Other countries, suggests Philippe Mellier, chief executive of Paris-based Alstom Transport, should consider blocking Chinese train exports. It is only the latest sign of worsening tension about increasing competitiveness of Asian train manufacturers.

Sounds like sour grapes – indeed the reaction from China was stingy:

"If Alstom really made the remark to media, the only explanation is that the company is depressed (by its declining businesses)", the Chinese newspaper [Global Times] quoted an unnamed senior official from a domestic train manufacturer as saying.

However, I think Mellier raised a number of valid and interesting points, so I won't just deconstruct the FT article. I am also using the occasion for a little review of the new export competition in the rail industry (with heavy focus on high-speed).

Over most of the 20th century, the rail industry was very national in character. Development projects were usually led by (nationalised) railways, who often involved all major makers in one way or another (say, combining the best elements of rival producers' prototypes). Technology, especially high-speed, was more – say – Made in Germany than made by Siemens, Henschel, AEG or Talbot. Symbolic for this was the practice that train type families were usually named for their domestic version (e.g. "TGV").

To be precise, the rail industry was national in developed countries: developing and third-world countries were export opportunities. And most of these areas were like marked territory for certain exporters: South America for the USA, (former) African and Asian colonies for France, the Balkans and the Near East for Germany; later respective client states for the USA and East Bloc countries.

Thus significant export competition in the rail industry is relatively new (and still of limited importance). Even the outsourcing of manufacture is of limited extent compared to other industries.

Advantage TGV: the nineties

The emergence of high-speed rail was first to ignite more open competition. And in that field, Made in France reigned supreme.

TGV derivatives were sold to international operators (Eurostar, Thalys), Spain (AVE S-100 and S-101), AMTRAK in the USA (Acela Express), South Korea (KTX-1), and were intended for the Texas Triangle (a project later killed by then governor, now outgoing US President George W. Bush).

In the same time, the export successes of rivals Made in Germany (ICE), Japan (Shinkansen) and Italy (ETR 500) numbered exactly... zero. Well, apart from Made in Italy, with Pendolino tilting trains sold to seven countries; but nowhere did these run at the 250 km/h they do in Italy. On the other hand, on the (next emerging) European locomotive export market, it was an inverted picture with Made in Germany reigning supreme.

At the same time, the European rail industry went through a brutal structural change.

This was the shift from, in the example on top, Made in Germany to made by Siemens. The transformation eliminated a lot of traditional companies, either by merger or bankruptcy. The industry in formerly 'communist' states was particularly badly hit, as their domestic markets de-facto disappeared for a few years from 1990. But this was the opportunity for the remaining West European giants to outsource.

The new free(er)-market environment was (and is) plagued by incoherences: complaining customers who didn't get what they wanted, producers strained by tight delivery schedules and requirements changing even during production, and disputes and miscommunication between subcontractors, subsidiaries and company centres.

Cut-throat Competition: The Zeroes

Towards the end of the nineties, the most coveted price for high-speed rail exporters was the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR). For this, the main contractor for the French TGVs, Alstom, wanted to play it safe: it allied with Siemens. This was a big thing: in almost every field of railway technology, France and Germany originated two different and usually incompatible philosophies, and the technology firewall was guarded anxiously. The project to produce a joint European high-speed train (to realise economies of scale) foundered on this – twice.

However, for export, there was readiness to create hybrids. Already in Spain the previous decade, the TGV-derived AVE trains ran on track and with signalling made in Germany. For THSR, Alstom and Siemens, after becoming preferred bidders, created the hybrid Eurotrain: the more powerful tractor heads of two ICE 2 sets were attached to the lighter middle cars of a TGV Duplex set.

The Eurotrain at MŘnchen-Laim. In a demonstration run on 4 May 1998, it easily achieved 316 km/h. Photo from AndrÚ Werske's HSR site

At the very end of 1999, the preferred bidder Europeans were in for a shock: THSR went to a Japanese consortium. They filed (but lost) a lawsuit against the awarding, then filed (and won on the final instance) another for compensation, which heralded the coming of bidding duels until the last legal instance as regular competition practice in the industry. In the next decade, Alstom's financial voes worsened (though the worst problems were in non-rail sectors) until the state had to save it from bankruptcy in 2004.

Meanwhile, junior bidder Siemens Transportation itself just climbed out of heavy losses. Then it got into heavy trouble with two products: the Combino trams (fissures in the aluminium body), and the S-103 high-speed trains for Spain. The latter were derived from the German ICE 3. However, in the spirit of the new cutthroat competition, the other contractors of that Made-in-Germany joint production refused to supply parts or sell licenses, so Siemens first had to re-develop the missing elements in-house...

Travelling this bumpy road, companies became providers of complete trains. Lately also in Japan. Symbolic for the change was also the appearance of brand names for train type families (for example, Siemens christened its ICE 3 derivatives "Velaro", Bombardier introduced "TRAXX" for a popular electric loco previously denoted with the class number at the German Railways).

A review of the changing fortunes on the high-speed ( >= 250 km/h) export market in this decade shows Alstom ahead overall only because it acquired Pendolino maker Fiat Ferroviaria, but Siemens's Velaro is the most-sold family, and lots of others gained a share:

  • Siemens: Velaro to Spain (S-103, 26 sets), China (CRH3, 60 sets), Russia ("Sapsan", DC/AC multi-system EVS1 4 sets, DC-only EVS2 4 sets)

The newly delivered first EVS1 Sapsan is towed from St. Petersburg to Moscow across the station of Tosno, Leningrad Oblast, 22 November 2008. The Velaro RUS, like its Chinese sisters, is wide-body. Unlike in other Velaros, the front-end passengers don't get to peek above the driver's head. Photo by Konstantin Menshikov from SpbRailFanClub (where you can also see pictures of the two older Russian domestic-production 200 km/h trains)

  • Alstom: TGV Duplex to Morocco (frame agreement for 18 sets) and Argentina (as part of an an entire project, 8 sets); AGV to Italian private operator NTV (see here and here, 25 sets)

  • Alstom (ex Fiat Ferriviaria): non-tilting Pendolino derivatives to Spain (S-104, 20 sets, S-114, 13 sets), China (CRH5, 60 sets)

  • Bombardier: Regina to China (follow-on order on the slower CRH1, 20 sets), ZEFIRO also to China (the world's first high-speed sleeper trains, 20 sets)

  • Hitachi+Kawasaki: Series 700 Shinkansen derivative to Taiwan (700T, 30 sets)

  • Kawasaki: Series E2 Shinkansen derivative to China (CRH2, 60 sets)

  • AnsaldoBreda: V250 to the Netherlands and Belgium (19 sets)

Prototype of the V250 for NS Hispeed on exhibition in Berlin at the InnoTrans 2008. The train, though tested at VelÝm in the Czech Republic last August, is long delayed due to numerous problems. Photo by Coen Ormel from Flickr

  • CAF: RENFE S-120-derived trains to Turkey (HT65000 "Hızlı Tren", 12 sets)

  • Hyundai Rotem: KTX-II derivatives to Turkey (no firm order but ensured by a factory built)

Now, the last two should really bug Alstom.

Technology Transfer: the (not just) Asian Challenge

Builders in China, Japan and South Korea tended in the past either to develop technology for purely domestic use or to work with technology imported from one of the three big international manufacturers – the German-based trainmaking operation of Canada's Bombardier, France's Alstom or Germany's Siemens.

Now trainmakers in Asia's three biggest economies benefit from rapidly increasing domestic rail investment, using it as the springboard for an export drive that leaves many in the European heart of the industry uncomfortable.

It was stupid of the FT to lump Japan with the other two (Made in Japan already got as far as Spain in the past), but massive domestic investment is a significant point. The article then goes on to claim that the Asian competition is appearing just when Europeans do the same, which I can't agree with (it doesn't appear on the same level at least), but more on this later. What bugs Alstom's boss is, first, new competition using exported technology:

Mr Mellier says that, after designs are bought from Hitachi or Kawasaki of Japan – both of whom have supplied technology used in Japanese Shinkansen trains to China – or Bombardier, the technology is "made Chinese".

Alstom's boss cunningly infers rivals should be concerned, but exposes how his company is affected, too:

Korea's market is closed. Hyundai Rotem, the country's biggest trainmaker, has begun to produce its own high speed train after a technology transfer deal by which it used Alstom's TGV design for Korea's 300kph KTX express.

The fruit of years of testing with the HSR-350x prototype (which I showed here): roll-out for the first Rotem-developed and -built KTX-II on 25 November 2008. Photo from Korail News

It's not only the high-speed train, but Rotem managed to establish a foothold right at the door of Europe, in Turkey, where it built a factory and netted a number of major orders recently.

What's more, it's not just the Asians. For its exports to Spain, Alstom teamed up with CAF of Spain as junior partner. But, CAF developed its own platform, first by tilting the balance and having Alstom as junior partner (variable-gauge S-120, S-121), then selling Turkey an entirely in-house production.

But, as Mellier makes explicit, Alstom has the idea on how to deal with the problem of nurturing rivals:

companies ... should not sell their latest technology.

(My bold) Indeed that's Alstom practice:

Koreans have a 300kph domestically produced, single-deck train, but Alstom markets its double deck, 320kph Duplex and 360kph single deck AGV.

But, that may still not be enough. Rotem already announced its next prototype, and there is also the example of the other Spanish maker, Talgo.

Talgo built its Talgo 350 high-speed train (AVE S-102 and S-112 at Spanish Railways RENFE) in cooperation with Bombardier: they produced the low-floor middle cars (a high-speed first) on their own, while Bombardier helped out with the power cars (based mainly on those of the German ICE 2). But last September, Talgo shocked rivals by announcing the project Talgo AVRIL, an in-house development that would beat the present products of all rivals on speed (more below), weight and comfort.

Concept image showing the Talgo AVRIL's duckbill-nosed power car, which now has a passenger compartment and equipment moved underfloor, and a car-joining Jacobs bogie. There will be more non-low-floor cars with motorised bogies in the middle of the train, a strange configuration they named "salad". Image via Alta Velocidad

Now back to Mr. Mellier, who is most concerned about China, with its strong demands for technology transfer:

"They will use them, adapt them, aggregate them to [form] a Chinese technology based on foreign technology being leased by them," he says.

Indeed if you look at Alstom's main success in China, electric locos from its PRIMA platform (180 HXD2 double and 500 single locos), the Chinese co-producer's product page won't even name Alstom. Also, when China invited bids for high-speed trains, Alstom was so cautious as to not even offer the TGV, only the Pendolino (and got to supply the CRH5).

And indeed rival Siemens would have a few stories to tell. In 2004, it was temporarily expulsed from the high-speed train tender, until it agreed to fuller technology transfer. Its place in a follow-on tender was then made hostage to the Tibet/Olympics attendance dispute with the German government. After supplying the Transrapid for the Shanghai Maglev, it discovered that a Chinese maker made an attempted copy; and a dispute over technology ownership also contributed to the death of an extension project last December.

Protected home markets?

Now Mr. Mellier isn't solely concerned about technology.

"I sincerely believe that all the many tenders for rolling stock and signalling will be for Chinese companies and the access for non-Chinese companies will be kept to a bare minimum."

Well, Siemens thinks otherwise: it is in talks about 100 more CRH3 trains. [UPDATE: on 16 March, the order was placed with the Chinese partner, Siemens supplies the electronics & bogies for c. 18% of the total order value.] Still, as a trend, on one hand, this may be a fair description of Chinese policy. For example, a follow-on order for the CRH2 was not for Kawasaki but only its domestic partner. On the other hand, I think it is deviously misleading for those unfamiliar with the specialities of the industry. FT may think that it is special that

None of these Asian countries [China, Japan, South Korea] has in modern times allowed the import of a wholly foreign-built, foreign-designed train.

...whereas this is quite normal in the developed world, where almost all imported trains have significant (most often 50%+) domestic added value. The demand on foreign suppliers to team up with local manufacturers may be explicit or implicit, but it is pretty much the norm.

Politicians are often motivated by securing or creating jobs. However, there are some practical benefits, too. Trains aren't replaced every three years, they are a long-term investment – and for maintenance, locally available expertise and spare part production capacity is a big plus. (Being scrapped after the first major breakdown is the usual fate of more advanced train exports to the Third World.)

Then again, look at FT's examples:

Japan's Hitachi is building its first European order, a series of 225kph trains for high-speed domestic services between London and Kent in the UK, Europe's most open rail market.

One of Southeastern's class 395 "Javelin" trains runs at 225 km/h from Ashford to London-St. Pancras on a 13 December 2008 presentation run. The class 395 is based on Hitachi's A-train platform. Photo by Jamie Wiseman from Daily Mail

Two China State Railways subsidiaries won an order to supply three 200kph trains to Grand Central, a British company, in 2007, while CSR Nanjing Puzhen was on a shortlist to supply 200 diesel train carriages to the UK announced on December 22.

Hyundai Rotem was on the same British shortlist and has supplied trains to the Athens metro.

(My bold) The FT's implication being, Mr. Mellier may be protesting too much on the still protectionist Continent, while the UK's shiny free markets show the true competitiveness of his products vs. the Asian rivals...

Well, while I'd agree that Alstom's boss is protesting too much, I think there are some other factors here. One is that no major UK-based train-making company remained (all factories are foreign-owned), another is that train operators considering cheap bids from makers with few references are playing a risky game.

The Dutch and Belgian state railways made a really bad bet when going for the cheapest offer with the V250 (see above) – but not as bad as Danish state railways DSB. They also went for cheap when choosing the same maker, AnsaldoBreda, to supply the 200 km/h IC4 trains. The first of those entered service on 1 December 2008 – almost five years late!

Thus, in countries with significant domestic rail technology, it's not just simple protectionism (and, heh, corruption) that is at work: familiarity with the technology and work style, and trust in existing supply partners and product lines has a strong role, too.

As an example to counter the FT's implication, there is the world's largest trainmaker, Bombardier (which is Canada-based, but its train technology is centred in what used to be Germany-based ADtranz). The company supplied major parts for TGVs, ICEs and Talgos as junior partner, but its own project for a high-speed train, the ZEFIRO, never got off the ground here: no European railway took the risk of trusting in something existing on drawing boards only.

In fact, it seems that railways in these countries use international tenders merely to make their longtime suppliers more accommodating. As a nice pair of recent examples, the head of France's SNCF suggested that Siemens Velaros do have a chance in 2007, and the German DB indicated last year that it might buy Alstom AGVs – but in the end, SNCF ordered 80 improved TGV Duplexes (apparently named RGV 2N) in June 2007, while DB ordered 15 Velaro Ds in November 2008.

On the other hand, the European makers have problems with their domestic markets, too. Back to a point I flagged on top: while China and some others invest massively in railways, the Europeans minus Spain... not so much, especially in the high-tech (high-speed) sector. The size of the above mentioned DB order is meagre. And both SNCF's and DB's ordered trains aren't cutting-edge.

Alstom's ambitions in particular were long hampered by SNCF's unwillingness to order the AGV: they preferred the lower price and reliability of the TGV (and the higher capacity of the double-deck Duplex) over (relatively minor) improvements in performance.

Raising top speed

Still, the race is on to offer ever faster trains.

China itself announced its intention to develop 380 km/h trains, I devoted a full diary to my rather sceptical analysis. After listing the challenges, I even noted that I don't know if even the CRH3 (Siemens Velaro CN) truly do the announced world's fastest service at 350 km/h; and insinuated that Chinese authorities may ignore some safety precautions.

Now I know more: according to German Wikipedians, the trains are certified for only 300 km/h, but authorities just allow them to go "overspeed", with 340 km/h regularly achieved.

So, notwithstanding unending European problems with ERTMS/ETCS Level 2, 350 km/h is on the horizon. Intent on joining the club is Rotem of South Korea (with the government-sponsored Hemu-400x project, I reported), and – despite unmet expectations with the recent FASTECH 360 prototypes (see here) – Kawasaki of Japan (efSET).

Concept drawing of the efSET. Note how the sidewind-resistant duckbill nose was evolved into something more streamlined again. Image from Kawasaki Heavy Industries

Alstom's AGV is aiming for even higher: 360 km/h. Alstom announced that during trials on 13–14 December last year, the AGV reached 364.4 km/h, and finished tests necessary for the only 300 km/h version to be delivered to NTV. However, I am not sure what to make of this: for type approval, you need tests at +10% (i.e. 396 km/h), so I don't know if they plan to do those at a later date, or would do them only after the reception of firm orders for financial reasons, or encountered some problems.

Finally, there is the above mentioned announced threat to everyone from Spain, the Talgo AVRIL. To cut Madrid–Barcelona times to 1h45m(!), the targeted service top speed is 380 km/h. With Talgo's expertise, this should be considered with more seriousness than China's ambition – but not without doubts. Talgo named its current top product Talgo 350, but it is certified for only 330 km/h (with insufficient power and ride quality among the likely reasons).

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

I wanted to post this before the weekend, but got delayed as I had to implement substantial edits to the Wikipedia articles I link to...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 03:07:55 PM EST
I'd have thought you got delayed by the sheer length of it! ;)

There are heaps of useful information there. Excellent!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 03:56:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, OK... it was a process with positive feedback: while I searched for citeable sources for Wikipedia, I found more stuff/got more ideas for te ET article... that said, I was surprised to see that the finished product is 3,500 words.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:20:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For novices, but with technology backgrounds, this is a fascinating and detailed diary of a very complex subject.  Stellar, DoDo.  Hope I make the time to give it more time.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:39:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a general question; how readable is this diary (and my more detailed train diaries in general)? I am trying to 'outsource' too much specifics and codenames into paragraphs and image captions, but am not sure how easily readers can get through it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 08:04:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read through this one in no time, but that's partially because it's on a topic I'm very interested in (industrial policy and globalisation). In general you are very readable, too, though.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 10:21:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
into paragraphs and image captions

Erm, I meant: into parantheses and image captions...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 11:07:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know next to nothing about trains, except that I do love them and am interested in modern developments, mostly for nostalgic reasons being an American, but I found the article very interesting and quite readable.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jan 21st, 2009 at 12:16:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I luvs me sum train blogging. :)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 01:56:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot to give three links:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 02:26:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]


where do I learn about the spanish train industry?.. not in spanish newspapers...

In Dod's diary...


A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 03:32:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fascinating stuff.

I'm compelled to make some analogies.

The United States transformed it's industrial economy by disregarding patents on imported goods. Everything that came in was copied and turned into local production.

There's an age old story about Mr Toyoda buying a Mercedes, stripping in down to the finest detail and taking every good idea he saw for his new motor venture.

I'm really not sure what the solution to the above is... there's no way it is in the interest of China to give up on forcing technology transfer. How else do they build an indigenous economy?

However, I think that as you note, a serious issue is that in 5 years time the models with the most proven track record will be the ones used in East Asia, because they are the ones investing in their network at this time.

If European companies want to stay ahead of the game they are going to have to persuade their own governments to keep investing in improving rail transport.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:28:42 PM EST
...and not merely to keep on investing, but taking some risks in investing in new developments. (Unfortunately, the one big new development governments and the EU gave money for, that damn ERTMS Level 2, looks like a bad decision.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:35:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I seem to recall you wrote about ERTMS 2 earlier on, but I don't remember the details..
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:53:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The last time, in reply to nanne.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:57:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Erk, now I remember, 3G wireless for critical infrastructure = bad news...
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 05:06:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for the link, i also was wondering what this techmology was about.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 05:43:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We need to spend more on Trans European Transport Networks, indeed.

The European TEN-T page seems to have last been updated in 2004...

Transport: TEN-T maps - European commission

The trans-European transport networks policy is not new. In fact, it has existed since the Maastricht Treaty was signed in the 1990s. After 10 years, however, it was clear that the results were falling short of the original ambitions. In 2003, barely one third of the network had been built. And only three of the 14 specific projects endorsed by the European Council at Essen in 1994 had been completed.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 05:08:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To link to another discussion: Is this the kind of thing the EP should be more involved in than they are?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Difficult to answer that one.

Yes, the European Parliament should do more on this. But where can they? The only time they can exert meaningful influence on transport funding is during the annual debate on the EU's budget. A sizeable share of that budget (the first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy) is locked. Mandatory expenditure, as they call it. Can't be changed, can't be blocked.

Meanwhile, the major part of the financing for the budget still comes directly from the national governments.

Transport policy falls under co-decision, so the Directives and Regulations can be amended and rejected. But the right of initiative remains with the Commission, which limits the EP's ability to drive changes.

Practically speaking, the EP can only improve this at the margins.

The EP might exert more pressure on the Member States to finish their TEN-T projects if it would work more in tandem with the Commission. The EP has in general been getting more power at the cost of the Commission, not the Council. This is unfortunate, but not necessarily with regard to transport policy.

The sitting Commission has not treated transport as a priority and has not had a good transport policy to begin with. The main thing I remember is moving away from a modal shift (toward rail and water) to 'co-modality', which was stupid.

The European Parliament elections could also change the kind of Commission we get. The Commission has to be approved by the EP and the national governments will have to deal (to some extent) with the outcome. So I think it is a theme that should be big in the EP elections.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 08:07:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
China would do well to soften its technology transfer standards.  My only experience is with wind technology, where with thousands of megawatts installed the past two years (5K? and nearly equal this year?), the performance of the turbines is horrible.  Both sides of a good deal need to be successful, you can't just steal technology and then expect help when it breaks.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:43:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You say that, but the experience of developing countries is that if you don't steal technology you get to stay grubbingly poor and completely unable to create an infrastructure for yourself because the furriners end up owning everything.

The typical Western company's notion of a good deal in the 3rd world is "Heads we win, Tails you lose."

As such, stealing things you don't understand and working them out through painful trial and error sucks, but the alternatives suck more.

If wind power was just a matter of making deals with Crazy Horse, then I'd advise China to change their ways, but if you're dealing people like Tulsi Tanti then you need to keep your own long term interests very much in mind, because they certainly will sell you down the river whenever possible.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 04:52:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Point well taken, even understood.  But mirroring the arguments of the Alstom chief, Chinese wind turbine manufacturers are already undercutting the global market.  It's not wrong for developing countries to take the technology, as the alternatives for them are worse, but if Chinese wind turbines are any indication, they should wait before they expect international sales.

Get it right first, then go all out.

With high-speed trains it's a bit different, as wind turbines don't carry passengers.

PS.  I was grilled Friday by a major hedge fund (or as they say, Capital Market) on Tulsi Tanti's empire.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 05:41:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ummm...everything I've heard says (in all but the short term, maybe) buy Enercon and sell Suzlon...if either were possible....but then I'm on the outside looking in.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 06:47:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't know who you're hearing from, but you are correct that Suzlon has significant hurdles to overcome.  The trouble is (one trouble is), you can't buy Enercon as it's privately held.

(We can discuss this personally as I will be in Edinburgh 27-29 Jan.)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:44:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks like I'll be back from Tehran the evening of the 27th.

You'd be welcome to stay at the Grange. When are you getting in and out?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:59:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's take it to email.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 08:41:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I would, but I must have mislaid yours....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 10:10:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crazy Horse:
Get it right first, then go all out.

Well, I agree... but then I'm not a "financial engineer"... ;-)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 07:01:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unpossible.  We invent everything.  Don't need no stinking patents.  Like I told TBG in re: the Internets and porn.

We even invented magic ponies.  Just ask Tom Friedman.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 01:58:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there a move to standardise line speeds internationally ?

Right now you seem to be suggesting there's an incremental increase with certain lines that are being built. Yet that seems short sighted for the simple reason that the track build and trains become a matched set which, due to the lack of replication, becomes expensive. Better for customers to gravitate to a secure widely available technological solution. It's only supplier organisations that have a real vested interest in continuously upping the ante.

That's not to say we shouldn't develop faster transport systems, but I think that there is a general limit being approached between the ability overhead wire - pantograph interface to convey sufficient power at high speed and the ability to develop high speed electrical motors within weight limts versus the damage to the track. Single percent improvements on this are probably ceasing to justify the increased costs inherent in customised solutions.

TGV was a generational improvement in railways. I thin it'll probalby be another genenration before we get such a leap forward again.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 09:20:59 AM EST
My reply is: no, no, and no :-) In detail:

  1. No, there is no line speed standardisation move. There are projected line speeds of 180, 200, 250, 300, 330, and 350 km/h even within the last few years.

  2. I have focused on rolling stock only in the diary. There is an increased boldness in projected line speeds for some lines, but the main motivation is to get competitive travel times with air on ever longer lines.

  3. You say matched set, I say to the contrary, the wise move is to project line speeds above the top speed of existing trains. A slower line speed may incur less construction costs, but lines will be there for much longer, and technology will advance in the meantime. (Examples of lines with a 350 km/h line speed but slower trains: LGV Mediterranée and LGV Est Euroéenne, Taiwan's THSR.) Adapting existing lines for higher speeds later can be much more expensive. (Though, it also happens that advances in train technology allow the raising of line speeds with little or no upgrade work.)

  4. It's not expensive to run the fastest trains slower on slower track, or even to create a (cheaper) down-rated version for networks with only slower lines. The latter has already been widely practised in the electric locomotive market, and now also on the high-speed market (NTV's AGVs and the Velaro D are both down-rated relative to the prototype resp. the Velaro E).

  5. There are speed limits set by the overhead wire - pantograph interface, and the relationship of the unsprung mass [which includes motors, brake discs, and the wheels themselves] and track fatigue. However, they aren't currently or in the foreseeable future the constraining factors, e.g. the factors setting the lowest speed limits: those are noise, brake distances, train signalling, power use economics, and ride comfort (loosely in that order).

  6. The improvements in noise emissions, brake distances, track wear, ride comfort, and specific power consumption aren't single percent, they can be double-digit (when compared with older trains at the same speeds). It is true though, that due to the stronger-than-linear increase of many of these factors with speed, the speed gain (e.g. to the higher speed where new trains emit the same noise and expose tracks to the same dynamic forces than older trains at their lower top speed) is less -- and, especially over shorter distances, the travel time gain even less.

  7. At present, Alstom's (and Siemens's) problem is lack of support for more ambitious incremental advances. (The TGV POS and the RGV 2N do 320 instead of 300 km/h.) In fact, one could also say that the TGV would not have been as big a leap, had European investment in trains not held back incremental increases to realise their full potential. (Regular 180 km/h would have been pioneered in Germany save for WWII; Italy, West Germany and France each had the means to target 220 in the sixties but only the last two went for only 200, West Germany's series 403 was suited for 240 but lines for that were only on the wishlists -- the TGV started at 260 km/h).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 11:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I note my next diary (on Austria's railjet, which I travelled on a week ago) will touch on point 3, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 11:16:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On 7, I should also mention that the big jump in Japan was from 130 to 200 km/h with the start of the Shinkansen, and since then, there was incremental increase to 300 km/h (270 km/h on the oldest line).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 11:52:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...seriously, does anyone here any insight into the situation in Canada? I live in Québec, and would love to be able to take the train to Toronto more frequently than I do. The trip is just about 800km and takes 8hr on a good day. VIA Rail (the national carrier) is quite reliable, inexpensive and comfy; but 8hr each way is a little too long to justify for most trips.

OTOH, if we could get it down to 4hr, I'd probably never fly. Speeds of 250km/hr should be about enough, and that is not specially fast by the standards mentioned here.

I understand that the trip from Vancouver to Calgary is never going to happen at 400km/hr because of all the mountains, avalanches and rock slides. One simply could not maintain the track for speeds of even 80km/hr. But the rest of Canada is pretty much flat.  

Why don't we do 250km/hr in the rest of the country? Beats me. We'd probably have to build a parallel track because of the overarching importance of freight traffic in Canada, but for reasonable traffic volumes, a single track with "passing lanes" should work fine.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 12:33:46 PM EST
I read about plans in Canada, both new true high-speed (see LYNX project, and more recent with a historical overview just the other day) and existing line upgrades (see here and here), that were raised and buried repeatedly over the past ten years. Canada of course has it difficult with long distances and a small population ( -> small tax income), but not that difficult... the election of Bush pal Harper did not help, either.

I understand that the trip from Vancouver to Calgary is never going to happen at 400km/hr because of all the mountains, avalanches and rock slides. One simply could not maintain the track for speeds of even 80km/hr.

Well, actually, from a technical viewpoint, it's doable: high-speed trains can do higher grades than freight trains, one could also build longer tunnels, be them for mountains, cutting curves or avoiding rockfall danger zones. Most of Japan is mountainous, too: 102 km(!) of the Jōetsu Shinkansen runs in tunnels (I recently calculated that a Denver-Salt lake City route would need not much more). It's more the cost factor vs. the smaller size of cities to be served that speaks against it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 03:00:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the response and the links, DoDo. After a bit of googling myself, I see that the Edmonton-Calgary and Windsor-Québec routes are receiving some attention again. I had not noticed (or had forgotten) that the eastern route had come up during the last federal elections. I'll keep my eyes open.

As for the Vancouver/Calgary route, yes, I suppose with enough tunnels and such, but it's a mighty long way through a series or four more-or-less continuous mountain ranges. I doubt it will ever be done.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 04:31:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... means that it might be easier to get Dualis Tram-Trains localized as mono-directional tram-trains with the third module a high floor unit for Australia style rail corridor platform heights.

There's not the snowballs chance in hell of getting lower adjunct platforms in New South Wales rail corridors, as the rail authorities and state government is on a corridor trespass kick, and low platforms encourage corridor trespass.

But hell, I figure high floor rolling stock is easier anyway. They could even shift the diesel-hybrid from the cabin roof to under the floor of the rear trailer.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 06:17:54 PM EST
What is the platform height there?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 08:00:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 09:00:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In fact, most often around 1.2m.

The details would, of course, be left to the bidder, inside a design envelope of one wide station-platform entry/exit on both sides of the vehicle, two left side only low floor entry/exit in the front and middle of the tram, and disabled access throughout.

The station entry/exit could in fact be at the tail of the vehicle with an internal ramp to a mid-floor trailer, to make the transition to the low floor front modules easier.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 19th, 2009 at 12:24:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I couldn't find any mixed low-floor/high-floor trams that have doors at both levels (though there may be some). However, I note as examples:

  • take a look at the TW 6000 type of the Hannover Stadtbahn: floor height is 943mm, below the doors, there is a mechanism that either allows level exit to a high platform, or turns into steps for a low platform (compare photos here near the bottom of the page)

  • Check Cologne's Bombardier Flexity Swift trams. There are both high-floor (900 mm, K5000) and low-floor (350 mm, K4000 and K4500) versions of the same modular type. I think it should not be too difficult to put together a mixed version (apart from the connection between underfloor and roof-mounted electric equipment).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 19th, 2009 at 05:34:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that first would be ideal for the trailer module, then there would be street access in all three modules and station level access in the back.

Loops at all ends are no problem, so if the design is modular, there's only a need to customize the trailing module for platform access, avoiding the need to monkey around with a standard cab module.

For instance, the common Church Street end of the tram/train routes is intended to be a one way terminal loop in any event, as the most effective route ...

Among the five routes ... one CBD route in stage 1, two urban routes in Stage 2, two regional routes in stage 3, there are two pure balloon loops, but one is ducking underneath a rail bridge and the other is in the dead space inside a rail triangle. The rest are routed as one-way loops.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 19th, 2009 at 07:08:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting, thanks.

By the way, the Chinese companies mentioned in the article are not subsidiaries of "China State Railways" but branches of China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation (Wikipedia entry).

by Gag Halfrunt on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 06:41:01 PM EST
...which used to be a subsidiary of CR (indirectly, via the now defunct LORIC) - checking, 8 years ago... sloppy read-up on the author's part. (I remember when LORIC was gone, so was its website, which was then about the only non-Chinese-language official source on Chinese rail industry products.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 18th, 2009 at 08:06:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the rules about quoting ET material in letters to politicians? May I use extensive quotes from this in a letter to my congressman?
by asdf on Mon Jan 19th, 2009 at 07:55:50 PM EST
Heh... with attribution, I authorise you to quote the entire article :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 20th, 2009 at 01:37:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Tue Jan 20th, 2009 at 04:12:14 AM EST

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