Railfuture’s Ian Brown gives his impressions of a visit to Innotrans during the week commencing 22nd September. The rather traditional entrance to Berlin Messe from the direct walkway from Messe Sud S Bahn station. All photos by Anna Brown for Railfuture.
It is exactly 200 years since Berlin held its first industrial exhibition in Berlin in 1822 at the Berlin Messe. Innotrans, the world’s largest rail trade fair held every two years, commenced in 1996. The site, like Excel (London) and NEC (Birmingham) is rail connected for direct visitor access (Lines S3 and S9 to Messe Sud) but is also rail connected to allow access and display for rail equipment including complete trains. Unlike in previous years when Innotrans was open to the public, this year it was trade only and visitors were required to register as rail industry players. Registration is now online only with no facility for registering at the door. The price was 50 Euros for a day pass or 75 Euro for the whole week of the event. Previously there was a public day on the Saturday following the trade show; this has now been abolished. The view was that the event now has its own momentum within the rail industry.
The most striking change is the extent of the supply chain that has grown around the rail industry and the degree of innovation as a result. This is particularly evident in the areas of passenger facing systems including information, supervisory and security systems, ticketing systems and well as technical systems. It is probably the massive demand for new and extended light rail systems that has been the driver for such a significant increase in innovation in the rail sector. The first application of autonomous tram operation is currently under test in nearby Potsdam, for example. It is also evident in the infrastructure area where a whole industry has grown around tunnel construction for metros etc. It is now far easier now for a local body such as a city to go out and buy a tramway or a metro system, provided the funding is available. All this bodes well for the future as campaigning for rail developments is one thing, but to be successful there must be an effective way of delivery, particularly where cities and regional bodies are concerned.
New trains for Wales and Merseyside on display.
Stadler, an emerging Swiss company when it comes to supply of quality new trains to Britain, was well represented at Innotrans, with three new trains not seen in service as yet, launched to the trade and available for visits by invited guests.
The first was the new 3 car Class 398 “Tram train” for Transport for TfW’s Wales South Wales Valley Metro project. Tram trains had a difficult birth with the Rotherham project in South Yorkshire, but this is the first volume application of a mainstream project. It involves electrification and upgrading service quality and frequency on the South Wales Valley lines. These are very attractive light rail vehicles capable of operating on the national network, including into Cardiff station. Our Wales branch will be giving them the detailed once over, but the general impression is of a high quality train attractive to passengers.
TfW’s new Class 231 bi mode train was also launched to the trade at Innotrans. This is a four car diesel electric bimode train, to be operated also from Cardiff on routes to Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Cheltenham, involving running on the electrified main line, surely to be electrified to Swansea. These are also high quality trains with the rather odd looking suspended walk through power pack between two passenger coaches. The design is almost identical to the Greater Anglia bimodes, also supplied by Stadler for use on routes such as Norwich to Cambridge and Stanstead. They work well and are liked by passengers in East Anglia, and again represent a step change in quality on these routes.
When added to the CAF regional trains, the 197, being built in Newport, not on display at Innotrans, Cinderella really will be going to the ball on the railways of Wales – not before time.
Merseyrail gets new trains too, with a twist launched at Innotrans
Merseyrail is getting a new fleet of Stadler Class 777 four car electric trains. Launched at Innotrans and available for inspection was the prototype bimode version which has batteries to allow operation beyond the Merseyrail electrified network. Merseyrail is a well operated network but the trains are seriously long in the tooth. However journeys to Preston beyond Ormskirk or to Wigan beyond Kirkby are a disgrace, with passengers having to walk along the platform to join an old diesel unit for onward travel, if it is not cancelled. This sort of operation cannot effect market shift to rail. It is hoped that Merseyrail will be allowed to operate through services from the Merseyrail electric network to Preston, Wigan Wallgate, Wrexhan and importantly, Skelmerdale. The reward is potentially a more operationally viable Merseyrail network and a serious increase in patronage.
There were many other new regional trains on display.
Here are a few illustrations of other new trains and LRVs where the taller mainland loading gauge provide more space.
Railfreight Modal shift from road to rail is a key Railfuture campaign objective.
This, like urban and light rail, is the second most significant initiative on display at Innotrans. There were 11 locomotives on display including 2 Vossloh ultra low emission diesel electric locomotives for light freight operation. This is not an area to be ignored but, significantly, 8 of the remaining 9 locomotives, many of which were prototypes, were electric, nearly all with ‘last mile’ capability. Last mile is increasing in the form of quite powerful non-electric operation of heavy freights over longer distances, suitable for countries such as Britain with underdeveloped electrified rail networks. Here are a couple of examples.
There was also a completely hydrogen powered freight locomotive on display.
Innovation on freight is aimed at making rail more flexible and more cost effective. Last mile electric traction is key, but innovation on wagon design was also on show. Low weight, low height, maximum container wagons were featured, critical to carrying containers on the UK network, as were container wagons that can operate across gauge changes, sharpening rail competition on routes such as Spain to Britain. Freight customers are international in terms of distribution and so must be our railways, not simply a UK niche operation, not worth the bother. We might even yet see a land bridge from the continent to Ireland via Holyhead! (PS not featured at Innotrans!)
Putin has trashed Russian Railways as a transit rail operator, but where one door closes another three may open in terms of rail infrastructure projects, the third most significant element featured at Innotrans.
Russia has left the world stage of railways with all connections to the west (except for the spine to the Kaliningrad enclave through Lithuania) and so accordingly, the rail network of bordering countries is being realigned and regauged to integrate with the mainland European standard gauge rail network. This applies to Ukraine and also to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania where the massive standard gauge rail spine project is now subject to the procurement process – Rail Baltica. This is a new standard gauge railway from Tallinn, Estonia, via Riga, Latvia and Kaunas, Lithuania to Warsaw, Poland and hence the rest of the European Rail network.
A new Silk Road from China
Although Russia, once a big exhibitor at Innotrans, is finished as an international rail operator to the West, and all the sleeper trains to Moscow now scrapped, other doors are opening. The Silk Road intermodal trains, particularly to Germany (one even to Barking) were growing massively and are now trashed. 12,000 through trains were operated in 2020. What was evident however that the principle of rail freight transportation to Europe from China is now established and new routes avoiding Russia, through Turkey are being established.
China is taking a different approach and has launched a new multi voltage electric locomotive at Innotrans, built by the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation CRRC), made in Beijing. CRRC also displayed a range of bogies for freight wagons. It does seem that China is not going to let a tyrant in Russia stop its rail operation to Europe. The CRRC locomotive is potentially capable of operation in the UK as far as Barking as are many of the electric last mile electric locomotives on display.
A third major infrastructure was also featured. The undersea Femernbelt multi modal immersed tunnel from Germany to Denmark.
The project started construction in November 2021, due to be completed in 2029. Journey time by train will reduce from 4 hours 30 mins (5 hrs 20 mins current) to 2 hours 30 minutes, a saving of two hours over the present ferry route. Combined with the recently opened Storebelt rail/road bridge, it will offer a direct rail route to Sweden via Malmo to Stockholm and to Oslo, so effectively joining 4 European capital cities as Berlin will also feed directly feed into the new tunnel.
It is quite amazing that 8 European capital cities are planned to be linked directly into the German high speed rail network over the next decade. The 8th capital city is Kyiv, Ukraine, now in the early stages of planning, no doubt to be featured at a future Innotrans.
From a UK perspective all three of these rail projects demonstrate the importance of getting another, more commercial train operator to run high speed rail services from Britain to Germany. Eurostar’s lack of interest in any development whatsoever must surely result in another operator, with more vision such as DB, entering the market, so potentially adding three more capital cities directly connected to the German high speed rail network.
Great Britain and Northern Ireland (sometimes also referred to as the United Kingdom!)
Mercifully the “Britain is GREAT” brand used by DTI has recently been refreshed with the less cringeable GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland brand launched during COP 22 in Glasgow in 2021. A fleeting visit to the stand showed a rather sparse offering showcasing smaller British suppliers. It is good that DTI do this at a railway exhibition. (I have even represented them at conferences in Germany). There is little on offer given no overall railway strategic guiding mind here, but Britain is becoming an important place for investment in rail production facilities both for the British market but also allegedly for supply to other world destinations. Hitachi setting up in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham and also investing in a major Scottish construction machinery base in Cumbernauld is one example. Another is CAF setting up a train production facility in Newport, Gwent.
The future is clearly bright for railways in mainland Europe and would be here if all parties concerned were not on a path to destroy our rail industry. We must get beyond this situation, driven by lack of effective leadership and direction and use the setting up of Great British Railways (another great!) to form a platform for re injecting leadership in our rail industry towards the destiny advocated by Railfuture – an industry attracting the brightest not the dullest with a mission to deliver on wider objectives and effect modal shift to rail.
Innotrans demonstrated that the market is there as is the innovation that could just do this, provided we are all up for it.