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Railjetting into Red Bull Country

by DoDo Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 06:02:18 AM EST

Two weeks ago, I travelled to the region of Salzburg in central Austria. On the occasion, I also tried out what Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB calls its "new high-speed train": the railjet.

Two joined trainsets as railjet 63 to Budapest pass high above the large pre-Alpine lake Wallersee

The name is an allusion: the three-class interior, its styling, the premium class comfort, the speed should imply an airplane on rails.

The trains are certified for 230 km/h. Not that much in international comparison – but a world record for locomotive-hauled 'normal' trains. What's up with that? Follow me for an explanation below the fold, where I also detail my personal impressions – illustrated with several photos of my own.

Locomotives vs. multiple units

First things first, some definitions:

  • Locomotive: an autonomous powered rail vehicle for traction, carries no passengers or cargo
  • Railcar: an autonomous powered rail vehicle carrying passengers or cargo
  • 'Normal' train: locomotive(s) pulling (one or several coupled) unpowered cars (a "consist")
  • Multiple unit: an autonomous consist of permanently coupled cars, of which one, more, or all could be powered
  • EMU, DMU: electric resp. diesel multiple unit
  • Powerhead (tractor head): powered end car of a multiple unit that carries no passengers or cargo

Nearing on the left: locomotive ÖBB [class] 1116 [no.] 215 heads ÖBB EC 262 to Munich. Receding on the right: ÖBB 4024 110, an articulated four-car EMU, in service on Salzburg's S2 rapid transit line

Choice was for long (and is) a dilemma. On one hand, the advantages of multiple units are:

  1. less aerodynamic resistance (and thus noise)
  2. lower weight (and train length, especially if power equipment is underfloor)
  3. higher acceleration (if enough cars are powered)
  4. quick reversal at terminals
  5. more spacious, even doorless gangways between cars

...on the other hand, the advantages of locomotive-hauled trains are:

  1. cheaper (and quicker) production
  2. easily variable train length (by addition/removal of cars)
  3. consequently, maintenance is also simpler (and cheaper)
  4. high utilisation (loco can be put to another use even when the cars are serviced)

Another look at ÖBB 1116 215 with ÖBB EC 262: the locomotive is one designated and painted for railjet service

This dilemma led railways to swing their preference either way several times.

Just in the field of express service: the first speedy multiple units (Fliegender Hamburger & co) were the stars of the thirties, but soon hit a capacity problem. Then, in the late fifties/early sixties, multiple units had a renaissance in TransEuropExpress service, until capacity and maintenance issues brought locos back again by the seventies.

But then for high-speed trains, EMUs seemed to have won decisively: aerodynamics and weight were very strong benefits, while streamlined full-train maintenance reduced that disadvantage. Thanks to the new asynchronous motors from the eighties (which allow continuous acceleration), EMUs/DMUs also gained an edge in rapid transit/commuter rail (though push-pull trains with locos and double-deck cars could keep up in efficiency).

High-speed locomotives

Now, why is ÖBB running against the trend?

That it can even consider locomotives is due to lack of demand for a truly high-speed train: Austria has no plans for 300 km/h lines, its biggest project is the four-tracking of the busy Westbahn from Vienna to Salzburg, with two tracks for 200 km/h.

Before I give the real answer, first let me blur that nice contrast between distinct categories I established in the previous section.

Enter driving trailers: put a cab that remote-controls the loco at one end of a car, put that car at the train end opposite the loco. You gained multiple unit benefit #3 (quick reversal) at the cost of losing normal train benefit #2 (add/remove cars). But driving trailers are ever more popular with railways, recently spreading up to locomotive-hauled express trains.

ÖBB IC 693 (with the idiotic sponsored name "betriebliche-altersvorsorge.at"), though an entirely domestic train from Klagenfurt via Salzburg to Vienna, is run with a complete German Railways (DB) train. The morning Sun glimmers on the leading driving trailer near Bad Vigaun, just the morning when the artic cold spell peaked here (it must have been -15°C, I learnt only after my return home)

The three locomotive-hauled trains built for speeds above 200 km/h go even further.

  • The British InterCity 225, built for 225 km/h though operating only at 200, is headed by asymmetric locomotives (Class 91): one end is (more or less) streamlined, the other flat. Almost like the powerhead of an EMU, except for lack of permanent coupling and cabs at both ends (though it rarely pulls trains flat cab ahead).

  • In Spain, local maker Talgo specialised in the production of articulated trainsets: these are light, smooth running, lack gangway doors, and are permanently coupled by nature. Almost like the middle cars of a high-speed EMU with powerheads (indeed the company needed to add little else for the Talgo 350 high-speed train). Class 252 locos pull Talgo VII sets at up to 220 km/h. (See pictures of both such a train and a Talgo 350 in High-speed to Barcelona.)

  • A recurring dream of railway execs that just refuses to die is an exclusive elevated-comfort train for business travellers, despite zero success stories and several failed attempts. One of these was German Railways DB's MetropolitaN, for Cologne–Hamburg services at 220 km/h. The cars were upgraded normal IC cars, but coupled among themselves permanently with special couplers, allowing wide doorless gangways. This concept was inherited by the railjet.

To confuse things even more, there are Italian State Railways FS's class E.414 locos: created from former powerheads (of the unfit first-generation ETR 500 high-speed trains, see Red Arrow to Bologna) simply by fitting them with normal couplers – and they continue to operate in pairs by sandwiching cars... Though, sandwiching is done with normal locomotives, too.

Two ÖBB 1016 or 1116 locos sandwich EC 113 (Frankfurt–Klagenfurt), a configuration ensuring a speedy climb while crossing the Alps.
Photographed at the gate of castle Hohenwerfen, which you may be familiar with as the location for the crappy war movie Where Eagles Dare

On European railways, sandwiching (as above) or multiple heading of cars by locomotives is the rule: locos aren't allowed in the middle of trains, with rare exemptions. But, as a novelty, the railjet is such a case: coupling of two trains is unrestricted. (In fact, look at the above-fold photo again.)

My train home. A single-trainset railjet arrived with driving trailer ahead from Munich, and is about to walk up for coupling with the end of a second trainset: 1116 204, which thus will be in the middle of a train of 16 vehicles

So, again, why did ÖBB choose a locomotive-hauled train that is almost like a multiple unit? The reasons cited (from a presentation [pdf!] in German, edited/translated):

  • inside like a multiple unit (elegant, wide and open gangways)
  • technically simple
  • steel carbody
  • flexibility: can be extended to up to 10 cars
  • use of existing locomotives

As I explained, the first has a price. The second and third mean quicker development and cheaper purchase, however, they also mean greater train weight, thus more energy for acceleration and stronger stress on the rails.

"Flexibility" can be safely considered a marketing guff: you can add cars to high-speed EMUs, too (f.e. the ETR 500 P got +1); and it would be difficult to reach top speed with even a couple of cars more. (A standard 7-car railjet with loco is 414 tons empty; the best comparison, the ICE 2 high-speed train – powerhead + 7 cars – is 364 t.)

Thus, in (not just) my view, what really made the difference for ÖBB was the last point.

The Universal Red Bulls

In the early nineties, with the prospect of rising line speeds and the traffic increase expected for after Austria's EU accession, the necessity of a new high-performance locomotive emerged. Siemens and its (later absorbed) local partner SGP responded by delivering three prototypes of what was the world's most advanced (and, IMHO, beautiful) locomotive well into this decade, the class 1012.

However, ÖBB refused to purchase them. The main objection being the high price; another the use of too many unique, not off-the-shelf parts (which result in expensive maintenance). So Siemens had to start over, and create a much leaner and cheaper design under ÖBB's watchful eyes.

The result: the red-painted Taurus locomotives, and a giant order for 400 of them from ÖBB (classes 1016, 1116, 1216).

ÖBB 1116 244 and 245 (not visible) – both of the two-system version that can cross over into Hungary and the Southern halves of the Czech Republic and Slovakia – sandwiched EC 112 from Klagenfurt to Frankfurt. Photographed on the descent from the Tauern summit tunnel in Bad Gastein

Not long after I made the above photo, I was detained by police for questioning. A long back-and-forth followed, during which I was accused of walking on the tracks, which I did not and denied, showing my photos as evidence. At the end, the story I think I got was: my denouncer was some local politician, worried about suicide jump statistics... they have regional elections in March, the campaign was at full swing.

Now, the holy grail of electric locomotive development from the seventies was the universal locomotive: one equally suited for heavy and light freight, heavy and light expresses, and stopping passenger trains.

Universal locomotives became possible because locos with the then new traction electronics (asynchronous motors, inverters, electronic slip control) have no ideal load and speed regime: unlike diesels, steam or older electrics, they are almost equally (over 95%) efficient at all loads and speeds. However, the re-organisation of railways into semi-independent passenger, freight and long-distance branches from the nineties put an end to this development almost everywhere.

Except in Austria. The Tauri weren't just suited for universal operation, but ended up being used that way. The reason: that order for 400 proved too big.

ÖBB 1016 037, one of the initial 50 single-system units, arrives with a freight train from Germany in Salzburg main station

With the delivery of ever more locos, ÖBB began to retire older classes en masse, then began to use Tauri even for some local trains on the flat lowlands near Vienna. In fact, an order change resulting in the more expensive 3-system class 1216 reduced their final number to 382.

I note that Siemens showcased the qualities of this latest model on a test run on Germany's latest high-speed line between Nuremburg and Ingolstadt on 2 September 2006, breaking the world record for locomotives with 357 km/h. Albeit with a single test car. (Check this page; where you'll see that the previous record holder, a French loco from 1955, was brought over from a museum for the occasion!)

So, to conclude, would ÖBB have ordered a large number of EMUs for railjet service, the Red Bulls would have ended up under-utilised. In contrast, by ordering locomotive-hauled trains, ÖBB not only kept the Tauri busy, but saved the cost of powered cars. And time.

Though, from what I heard and saw, ÖBB and Siemens rushed things a little too much to deliver on time.

Travelling by railjet

My train waits for departure in Budapest Keleti pályaudvar [East terminal] in sleety rain

I travelled second-class, so my impressions correspond to that comfort level.

What I liked about the seats was their height: as someone used to the choice between headrests scaled for standard 170 cm citizens poking my shoulder blades or no headrest at all, a welcome change on second-class. However, they are steep. And on a more than 5 hour ride, one does get to feel the lack of a foot rest.

My seat. You can make out another thing I didn't like: like boorish graffiti painters, ÖBB painted the "railjet" logo across the windows, reducing sight

The first thing you notice when the train starts is... a rattling noise emitted along the entire length of the cars. The culprits are the plexiglass luggage holders and the plastic panels on their underside: no damping against vibrations. This is a frequent problem on new trains; but one ÖBB would normally pay attention to.

(A colleague of mine tried out premium class. He reported that the rattling of the luxury inlays is even worse, so he switched to normal first class, which was quiet.)

The Budapest–Vienna relation is normally served by express trains of up to 14 cars hauled by Austrian Tauri (ÖBB 1116) or their Hungarian sisters (MÁV 1047). So the second thing I noticed was the greater acceleration with only seven cars. In fact, on the way back, my train got 5 minutes early on a 50 km section.

Note that constrained by line speeds, currently the trains only do 200 km/h – just like any normal express. ÖBB promises 230 km/h for 2010. However, some scepticism is in place: that speed may require track modifications (chiefly, raising the outer rail in curves) ÖBB may not have money left for. But, maybe the in-construction Vienna–St. Pölten section will be prepared for that (in 2012).

The trains have these (airline-style, I am told) on-board info systems with GPS and LCD screens, displaying the schedule, a zoom-in map with the train's line and current location, and current (well, data-buffer-delayed) speed.

We were racing through the station of St. Valentin at maximum speed. 'Neo-German' class designations imitate airplanes, too

The display is bilingual: English/German. Possibly another result of rushing things: on brochures, flyers, menus, and loudspeaker announcements, ÖBB showed ambition to use four languages – including Hungarian.

This language ambition showed even on stations. In Vienna, they apparently even employ a native speaker of Hungarian. In Salzburg, it was fun to listen to the various announcers as they struggled to recite "Budapest Keleti pályaudvar" in a phonetically near correct way (including the killer Hungarian a-s).

Arrival in Salzburg – my train will travel on to the Bavarian capital

Even on second class, Facing seats have plugs for notebooks. Maybe it was the notebooks blowing a fuse that caused lights to go out three times on my way to Salzburg. Teething problem category – though, again, ÖBB normally pays attention to such things. Interestingly, the fully automatised toilets have hand-pulled doors with simple swinging door-locks – that may be cost-saving, but it may also be a wise decision to exclude a potential frequent maintenance problem.

The wide passageways are fun. Their motion is still not as restricted as on some EMUs (not to mention Jacobs bogies like on the TGV), so when traversing switches on a station, they move like a ship deck on high sea. But they enable a high-level on-seat catering service: the bistro trailers hand-pulled by the porters are HUGE.

It was interesting to listen to fellow travellers.

On the way to Vienna, an old man spoke about the train with the conductor, both Austrians. The old man praised the ride comfort, making some comparison with a car. To which the conductor replied: "I wouldn't know, I don't drive a car!" Kindred spirit, I thought.

On the way back, two old Hungarian-speaking couples sat near me. At the end, one of the old ladies summed up her opinion about comfort. She criticised the same issues about the seats I did, but also the lack of adjustability, and the shared arm rests between pairs of chairs. But, all this in comparison to business class on an airplane! So – I was thinking laughing to myself –, with old people not having to pay the ticket price anyway, why haven't they bought a first-class seat reservation?...

As an overall impression: this train could be something – but it aint' yet.

Trains reverse at Wien-Westbahnhof (Vienna West terminal). This is also where the two trainsets are separated again. More than enough time for a photo in afternoon sunshine

The rival

As a final note, the fun thing is that the locomotive-hauled railjet trains start service with a direct EMU comparison.

The ICE T are 230 km/h tilting trains. Since December 2007, a pool of 15 of the seven-car version (DB class 411) are in regular bi-hourly service between Frankfurt and Vienna, and some services on other routes. (In fact, for reasons of balance, three of them were bought by ÖBB.)

ÖBB 4011 092 and a German sister pass Seekirchen am Wallersee. They will soon reach Salzburg, from where they'll continue separately to Bregenz resp. Munich

Then again, the ICE T has its problems presently, too. After the discovery of a crack in an axle last autumn, DB withdrew them all for ultrasonic tests, and then put them back into service with the tilting mechanism deactivated.

The reason for the crack is not clear yet, and the manufacturers are pointing at each other. The trains have second-generation Pendolino (see Red Arrow to Bologna again) bogies and tilting system. However, the trains built on them by Siemens and Bombardier have a maximum axleload 15% higher than the ETR 460 (for which the axles were designed for).

:: :: :: :: ::

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

By the way, what was the coldest you experienced during the big January artic cold spell?

I myself, maybe thanks to the Sun, noticed that my second morning there was colder than usual only after my hour-long morning walk, when feeling warmed up took several minutes in a closed room.

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

by DoDo on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 02:14:53 PM EST
The coldest here was -12°C. I am glad the temperature has gone up again.

Great pictures, have to read the diary once more and slower. :-)

by Fran on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 02:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... two weeks ago here in Ohio was only 0 degrees.

But Farenheit, so -18.

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 26th, 2009 at 06:42:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you tell which image was heavily photo-shopped (well, GIMPed)? (That may be easy) And what exactly I did with it?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 02:51:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm, I don't think I can tell.  Although I do see why you thought that 'Winter Impressions' would be a good theme for this week's blog!!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 02:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's the night photo at the platform (in Salzburg). What have I done with it?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 05:41:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did you add the text on the sign or something? It looks like it may have been bright enough to bleach out.  If not that, I have no idea apart from colour balance adjustments?!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 05:20:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I sensed that the brightness range is too big, so I made two photos on the same spot with different exposures (with the display indeed bleached out on the longer exposure), trying to stabilize the camera by pressing it against a column.

Unfortunately, I still failed to do so on the exact same location; and didn't notice that the surface wasn't vertical. So what I did was rather crude and messier than I expected: I cut the bright display from the shorter exposure image, and corrected perspective only by aligning the corners (unfortunately there is a bend, too, which is off). Then rotated the picture, saw that a simple rectangular crop would cut off the left top edge of the display, so instead I filled up the empty triangle on the upper left edge with copies of the sky from elsewhere in the picture. (Then brushed sharp edges.)

I wish I had brought a tripod -- still, on Friday, you will see that I made some pretty good night photos even without a tripod.

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

by DoDo on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 05:58:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah ha!  I barely spotted it so that was a job well done!  I'll look forward to seeing your photoblog offerings.  I'll be up in Edinburgh though so I'll catch up when I get back.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 04:30:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
-18 degrees.

On the night I was out for a drink with an old Indian colleague from my direct marketing days. To Cafe Zapata in Tacheles.

On the way back to Hackescher Markt I had to evade the hookers, as usual on the Oranienburger at night. A bit less scantily dressed than usual, but still. One of them asked me what the temperature was. I told her it must have been minus ten. Cold. Couldn't feel my toes by the time I got to the U-Bahn.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 05:44:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FYI Finnish horses are not allowed to work under -13 C.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 06:07:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the sole video of the 357 km/h record run I found on YouTube -- scroll forward to 03:20:

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

by DoDo on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 03:45:53 PM EST
I was detained by police for questioning.

Don't do this in France. You'll quickly be identified as an activist with an ultra-left group around a suspicious-looking website sending international messages, and you'll be held indefinitely under anti-terrorism laws. The Interior Minister will communicate energetically, but Sarko will out-communicate her as usual by organising an on-track photo op in which he will declare that he will not allow unionists to destroy the rail system that decent people need to get to work and back, whether the unionists use strike action or smuggle in foreign sabotage specialists.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 03:16:42 AM EST
I take it you wear a hi-vis vest when you're over the boundary. That would deflect a lot of criticism.

In the UK be wary, unless you have a specific place permit, you will find that even taking photographs at stations passenger-side can be problematic. but I understand even here that a hi-vis jacket just makes you that bit more (ahem) invisible

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 10:35:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, as far as I'm concerned I don't even go to the supermarket without a dayglo orange jacket and a hat marked SECURITY. And twenty pounds of headlines stapled to my chest.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 03:50:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And you wondered why I tried to pretend I wasn't with you in Carrefour...
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 05:18:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Reminds me: I wonder what treatment I would have received, had he not realised that I'm a furriner from the East only at the end, when he asked for my documents to record my data ("Ah... Sie sind aus Ungarn!").

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

by DoDo on Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 06:03:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A small question, the ICE-T, with tilting and fixed bodies and a lot of streamlining has the same top speed as this apparently much more simple Austrian solution, then what is the reason for the ICE-T?

Is it just higher initial cost versus lower power consumption later on? Or is the ICE-T a sort of byproduct of the ICE 3? (that's the fast one isnt't it)

by GreatZamfir on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 08:13:56 AM EST
A small question

More like a couple of them :-)

  1. Tilting doesn't increase potential top speed: it enables increases of speed in curves (where trains have to slow down).

  2. Higher initial cost versus lower power consumption later on is indeed a point. Note that a Taurus has a continuous maximum power of 6.4MW, a seven-car ICE-T is powered by 4MW only.

  3. The ICE-T is not a byproduct of the ICE 3, but the two projects were pursued in parallel, with many technical similarities; and the styling was written out for competition jointly and then made by the same designer.

  4. The reason for the ICE_T was DB's intention to raise the service level of trains on conventional lines closer to the ICE, especially in terms of comfort. Speed was less of a factor than the interior and the image. The image factor is well underlined by the fact that the trains were originally to be called "IC T", but an E was added to give them the popular ICE brand name just before entering service - something I considered silly back then. (If this and the previous point sounds familiar to Wikipedia's ICE T article, that's because I wrote this into it :-))

  5. I note that the ICE T is now over a decade old. In fact, older than the METROPOLITAN, that locomotive-pulled 220 km/h DB train I mentioned in the diary, the design of which was taken over by the railjet. However, it's instructive to consider the that on one hand, (1) while the project started years later, the METROPOLITAN was in service before most of the ICE-Ts were delivered; however, (2) the METROPOLITAN was scrapped/rebuilt into normal IC cars long ago.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 27th, 2009 at 05:29:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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