1. The expansion of Polish manufacturers
After a brutal phase of mergers and closures, a decade ago, the (globally dominant) European rail industry seemed to consolidate towards three all-round manufacturers with at most niche suppliers around them: Germany-based Bombardier Transportation (belonging to Canada's Bombardier but headquartered in Berlin) and Siemens, and France-based Alstom. However, the picture changed again not only due to the export ambitions of makers from Japan, China and Korea, but also the expansion of the product palette and market reach of European niche makers like Switzerland's Stadler, Germany's Vossloh, Spain's CAF and Talgo, and the Czech Republic's koda. Fuelled by new vehicle orders in the wake of regionalisation, now Polish manufacturers are joining the fray (as first indicated in my diary on multiple units), and their expansion was particularly evident at the InnoTrans.
PESA, a maker previously successful with electric multiple units (EMUs) and more recently trams, also presented LINK, its new diesel multiple unit (DMU). The exhibited specimen (photo below) was already a Western export success: it was built for Oberpfalzbahn, one of the regional services operated by German "private" railway Netinera (which is majority-owned by Italian State Railways FS). A much bigger success was that at the InnoTrans, PESA signed a framework contract with German Railways (DB) about the delivery of up to 470 LINKs.
Out of the blue, PESA also presented the prototype of an electric locomotive family, named Gama (the prototype is suited for 3 kV DC supply only; more on it in the third section):
previously morein the last few years successful with DMUs and refurbishments but somewhat standing in PESA's shadow on the EMU market (though they also built the Papal Train EMU) presented a mid-size diesel locomotive, and a member of its new EMU family Impuls (this one for Warsaw's devolved commuter network):
At the last InnoTrans, Poland's traditional but post-1989 struggling locomotive builder ZNLE (owned by NEWAG since 2008) presented the (3 kV DC only) prototype of the six-axle electric loco Dragon (already mentioned here). They
still haven't received two orders for that so far [see comments], but now they presented a triple-voltage, four-axle version named Griffin, which is a direct competition for the products of the three West European giants (including the Bombardier TRAXX for a Polish regional railway visible behind it):
There is a lot of ambition, but I have a feeling that by the time of the next recession, only one of the
threetwo big Polish manufacturers will remain standing.
2. Energy efficiency
Reducing energy consumption was a popular theme this year. Bombardier presented a prototype of a heavy diesel locomotive for passenger service with four diesel engines, the TRAXX P140 DE MULTI-ENGINE (of which DB ordered up to 200 last year). The smaller diesel engines not only have lower specific emissions, but can be shut down separately when full power isn't needed. This can bring substantial benefits in train services not involving too frequent starts/stops.
The four engines also allow for the return to a straight central aisle in the machine room of TRAXX locos (in the current generation, a loco driver trying to escape a collision would have to turn left and right in the middle section).
German diesel locomotive manufacturer Vossloh also presented a multiple-engine locomotive: a two-engine diesel-electric version of its G6 shunter.
DB and German diesel engine manufacturer MTU presented a battery-diesel hybrid vehicle which is about to enter test service in regular traffic. It is a two-car Siemens Desiro DMU turned from diesel-mechanic into diesel-electric and fitted with a roof-mounted battery system (with two battery boxes above each car's door area) that can store 4.7 kWh, deliver up to 120 kW and has a mass of just 220 kg.
In the wake of the nuclear shutdowns after the Fukushima disaster, saving energy is a top theme in Japan. Mitsubishi Electric geared its entire exhibition around this theme, including:
- 100% regenerative braking (no use of friction brakes) with efficient control electronics,
- energy storage units at substations (so that the grid can absorb regenerative braking energy),
- LED lights and roof-mounted solar cells at stations, combined with load-dependent operation of lights and air conditioning.
3. Locomotives for freight transport
Globally, the market for large diesel locomotives used to be dominated by US American manufacturers EMD (formerly a division of GM) and GE. For Europe, GE used to produce a state-of-the-art (but expensive) locomotive jointly with Bombardier, but the latter pulled out to sell a diesel TRAXX instead. GE is now returning to Europe with the PowerHaul, which already has a (narrower cross-section) British version, and now the "continental" version was presented:
I think GE came late in the game, however: the demand for large freight diesels is dropping strongly in (non-CIS) Europe. In fact, Alstom declared that they see such a low demand that instead of re-entering this market, they focus on the development of a new battery-diesel hybrid shunter, the H3.
One reason for the use of big freight diesels was non-electrified freight transit lines (those to a number of North Sea ports and to Poland), but these have been or are being electrified. Another use was on routes that are mostly electrified but necessitated a change to a diesel shunter at one or both ends (say a lightly used industrial track or a container terminal with cranes). But, with the development of small compact diesel engine blocks for multiple units and the reduced weight of electric components, you can put a so-called last-mile diesel engine on an electric loco.
Bombardier first implemented the idea last year in a TRAXX version (which was on display). PESA's Gama prototype had it, too. But the one that may enter commercial service first is a version of Siemens's new Vectron locomotive platform, which was also shown (see the two small air intakes on the roof incline above the "Vectron" script):
4. Noise protection
Noise is another environmental issue, and there were plenty of noise-reducing products in the infrastructure section: mats laid under the ballast, pads laid under the rails on sleepers, track covers used on light rail lines, noise-insulated track-mounted brakes for marshalling yards, and noise barriers.
Traditional noise barriers deal with noise but constitute visual pollution: obstructing the views of both the residents around the tracks and the travellers who'd like to enjoy sightseeing from the train window. Since up to about 200–250 km/h, the dominant type of train noise is rolling noise, lower noise barriers should be possible. A few years ago, DB felt forced to start a research program in search for these. One participating manufacturer is Tuxbel/Ekobel from Poland, which showed a full-scale section of its latest development, the INN-DB III (Katrin linked to a story on an earlier version).
The noise-absorbing element is just 53 cm high above the rail, and doubles as a walkway. The walkway has an up to 140 cm high inward-bent railing with acrylic glass cover, which reflects sound back on the absorber. The whole noise barrier lies close to the noise source on the side of the trackbed, fixed to an axis parallel to the track. It can be rotated outwards around this axis if track maintenance of special transports require more space.
5. Freight wagon bogies
As discussed last week too, freight wagons are especially noisy, which is mostly related to their running gear. This has to be as robust and simple as possible, unlike that of passenger vehicles which sees frequent (and thus expensive) check-ups and maintenance. The main problem is old brakes, made of iron and acting on wheel treads, which squeal during braking and the rough wheel surfaces they create increase running noise at speed. The second problem is the simple suspension, which causes many vibrations, and doesn't do much to align axles properly in curves.
There are now a number of new bogies in service or development which address these deficiencies with disc brakes or composite tread brakes, damped rather than steel coil spring primary suspension (the one between wheelsets and bogie frame) and an elastic rather than rigid secondary suspension (the one between bogie frame and carbody). Common to all of them is the increase of axle load (loaded wagon mass per wheelset) from 22.5 to 25 t and the possibility to increase top speed from 120 to 160 km/h (albeit that with an axle load of 20 t).
The first to mention is British maker Axiom's TF25 family, which is relatively complex (primary suspension is hydraulically damped metal coils) but can boast 13 years of practical operation in wagons in Britain and Sweden (the latter in postal trains at 160 km/h).
Another new bogie, currently in approval if I read documents right, is DB Waggonbau Niesky's DRRS 25 L (photo below). It is a further development of a bogie built by Talbot (now part of Alstom) two decades ago for DB's 160 km/h freight trains, which were discontinued a few years later for being uneconomical, and the construction wasn't the best either because the wagons were down-rated to 140 km/h. DRRS 25 L has rubber primary springs, and its great advantage is that it can be exchanged with the by far most common freight wagon bogie type in Europe, the Y 25 (which is of French origin).
Another East German maker, Eisenbahnlaufwerke Halle (recently acquired by Slovakian rival Tatravagónka) presented its RC25NT-D, which just got approval for normal 100–120 km/h service. (I asked about 160 km/h, for which they ran trials in Sweden, but was told the tests were insufficient for an approval and they plan another go for it.) In addition to rubber primary springs, this bogie has steel coil secondary springs.
A third(!) East German maker, TransTec Vetschau, presented a three-axle bogie with a two-part bogie frame. Each half-frame holds both ends of an end axle and one end of the central axle, and the two half-frames can swing relative to each other, so that axles align properly in curves. A third bogie piece connects the two half-frames. Primary suspension damping is hydraulic. The version shown at the InnoTrans, named HFB 3.25, is not on their webpage, but there is an apparent development version which I copy below.
6. Trucks-on-trains systems
If you want to put trucks on trains, as discussed recently, the main limitation is corner height: the upper corner of the trucks has to fit under the curved roof of older tunnels. In Europe, the most widespread solution is the RoLa system, which involves low-floor platform wagons with a floor height of 480 mm above rail at the bogies. This is often not enough for standard 4 m-high semi-trailers, for example, it only permits 3.8 m high trailers on Switzerland's Gotthard line.
In the most established post-RoLa system, the Modalohr of French maker Lohr, the low-floor part of the wagon holding the trucks (the "pocket") can be rotated sideways, so that all wagons can be loaded at the same time. Since there is no need for the trucks to drive over the bogies, floor level is lower than the RoLa's. Now French State Railways SNCF wants to launch a new Modalohr service across the Gotthard. At the InnoTrans, they presented the cut-away model of a modified version of Modalohr wagons for these services: floor height is kept at 225 mm above rail independently of load, and the sides are lower. The model had a 4 m high truck loaded on it, and was inside a cardboard showing the loading gauge:
Portuguese wagon builder MetalSines invented yet another new system, Eco-Picker, which is noteworthy for its simplicity and robustness. Here the bogies can be separated from or coupled to the pockets with a single pull resp. push of a shunter locomotive, and it's all mechanical. The separated pockets drop on the rail on miniature auxiliary wheels, and the truck can roll off – practically anywhere where there is pavement on the rails, there is no need for a big terminal.
Eco-Picker is almost as low-tech as the US American RoadRailer and Terminal Anywhere systems, but without the need for special semi-trailers. The only obvious downsides I can think of are that wagons can't be unloaded simultaneously and that the length of the bogies is wasted train length. What I suspect will be key to the success or failure of the idea is how the mechanical system for the coupling-uncoupling of bogies and pockets endures wear.
7. Very-high-speed trains
To keep up the competition against open access operator NTV, two years ago, Italian State Railways (FS) ordered 50 new high-speed trains with a maximum speed of 360 km/h from a consortium of Bombardier and Italy's AnsaldoBreda. At the InnoTrans, Bombardier showed a mock-up of the front end, which had a small movie theatre inside showing a 3D PR film about the train. Although the train, currently dubbed Frecciarossa 1000 by FS, is based on Bombardier's Zefiro 380 (one of the types ordered by China for 380 km/h operation before top speeds were cut to 300 km/h in the wake of the Wenzhou disaster), they went past South Korean rail nationalism in the PR material by claiming it to be "100% Italian".
Spain was the first country to aim for 350 km/h service top speed. Those plans were severely delayed due to the slow commissioning of the necessary train control system, but that was finally achieved 11 months ago, and they started to raise scheduled service top speed in 10 km/h increments. (I was told it's 330 km/h on some sections now, which is the current world best after the Chinese slowdown.)
Ambitions picked up on the manufacturer side, too. Talgo is a Spanish maker of special low-floor articulated trains with individual-suspension wheels, including the 330 km/h service top speed Talgo 350, in which such a trainset is sandwiched by two traction heads (this one will be exported to Saudi Arabia, too). Three years ago, Talgo announced its concept Avril for a 380 km/h train, in which propulsion would be concentrated under some high-floor sections at the ends and in the middle of the train. At the InnoTrans, they presented first cars of a more conventional prototype. It still has traction heads and is slower, however, it has more capacity: Talgo's designers utilised the extra width compared to other European trains (made possible by the shorter carbodies: less allowance is needed for curves) for a 3+2 seating arrangement. They told me that the original plans are still in the pipeline, but they divided development into two stages.
The centrepiece of the stand of CSR, one of China's two big manufacturers (which now lead the global industry by turnover), was the test train for speeds above 500 km/h which was presented last December. I was told that the vehicle is still in laboratory testing, during which it achieved a simulated 600 km/h in a rolling rig test. Asked about possible series successors, the CSR representative was rather negative, pointing out that its width (similar to European trains but some 30 cm narrower than normal Chinese or Japanese high-speed trains) limits capacity.
8. Crash optimization
Voith, which owns the license for the Scharfenberg type of automatic couplers (found on almost all modern multiple units), now also builds complete front ends, including crash elements. They displayed a cutaway model of an EMU front. You see
- the coupler at the end of a deformation tube at centre,
- a pair of glass fibre reinforced plastic crash energy-absorbing tubes in the line of the buffers, with so-called anti-climbers at their ends which shall prevent colliding trains from jumping up on the other,
- another pair of
carbon fibre compositealuminium honecomb elements protecting the
steelglass fibre reinforced plastic force-bearing columns,
- a thick
steelglass fibre reinforced plastic plate protecting the driver against metal parts acting as projectiles, and
- a similar floor plate.
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