With all the talk about the InnoTrans Railroad Messe in Berlin, Germany my friend Michael (www.macfilos.com) and myself finally made it to the exhibit on one of the "open door" days. We had decided to venture out bright and early, right after breakfast. Sure enough at this early hour there were not that many other visitors to be seen. The lines at the ticket booths were mercifully short and we paid our €2.50 (about US$3) to get into the exhibit.
During the "open door" days of InnoTrans only the outdoor exhibition pieces are accessible. That area encompasses about 5 km of track where the manufacturers place their newest creations of locomotives, coaches and other assorted rolling stock. Visitors are allowed to touch, climb over, duck into, push buttons and do things to the exhibition pieces that are normally not allowed. Representatives from the various manufacturers are on hand to sing the praises of their products and to answer questions from the public. As the morning went on it did get quite busy.
Of course I am delighted that all these people have enough interest in railroad technology to spend the better part of a day walking among the exhibits. But it is hell on good photography! Somebody inevitably will walk right in front of your lens, ruining one's carefully composed picture. And then of course all the locomotives and rolling stock are placed so close together that it is difficult to get a good angle for a nice photograph. Be that as it may, I was not particularly bothered by this and just klicked away.
Following are a few impression from the InnoTrans 2012:
A note on these couplers. I had thought that the European Union would have come to their collective senses by now and required compatible Automatic Scharfenberg Couplers for all trains in the Union. Alas, I am wrong. Each manufacturer uses the same basic Scharfenberg Coupler, but uses their own proprietory train control, electrical and signal connections. Thus a Bombardier train can not hook up to a Siemens train. What idiocy!
Of course there was also a bit of nostalgia at the InnoTrans. A steam engine dutyfully labored back and forth on a mile of track giving cab rides to small and big kids alike. Deutsche Bahn even showed a "Schienenbus", a diesel rail car. These units basically saved hundreds of branch lines from closure in the 1960's and 70's and were finally retired in 1983. I have fond memories of riding one of these to school for a few years.
Of course no German gathering of any kind would be complete without food and music, so it was also at the InnoTrans.
A few parting thoughts:
It appears that railroad technology development is proceeding a pace. Not only is rolling stock continuously improved and reinvented, but the ancillary products are also being worked on and improved. One case in point is the railroad track. A good number of European train operators are now starting to build slab track or "Feste Fahrbahn". This kind of track is particulary desirable on high speed lines. There is no ballast which will move around or needs to be cleaned or tamped every so often. Deutsche Bahn stated that the new slab track costs about a third more to build, this is easily offset by the considerably lower maintenance expense and much higher longevity of the track.
Railroad signal technology has also undergone a significant shift to LED "bulbs". Conventional bulbs burn out at a fairly rapid rate, given the every day railroad environment. A lot of railroad signals are difficult to get to, thus a light source that will last for a significant number of years is very desirable. LEDs also use less energy, another benefit.
Railroads also seem to be moving to double deck Electrical Multiple Unit trains for long distance and medium distance service. In a way this is really not surprising. With the ever increasing passenger numbers the train operators have to do something. Just adding another coach or two to a locomotive hauled train is not working anymore in a lot of places for the simple reason that the station platforms are not long enough and can not be easily lengthened. So get rid of the locomotive and double deck everything. Presto: a 55 percent increase in capapcity in the same train length.
Then there is the recent developement of the "Last Mile" electric locomotive. Again, this makes great sense. Particularly in heavily over-head electrified countries it is a pain to have a freight train get somewhere with an electric locomotive only to have to uncouple it and replace same with a diesel locomotive to go the few miles on a branch line. This is expensive. Not only the extra diesel locomotive, but also the extra crew and the waiting time for that crew. Of course this "last mile" idea also works well with commuter lines. Case in point the New Jersey Transit Authority. The authority has ordered a batch of Bombardier ALP-45DP dual power units for its commuter lines. These are based on the Bombardier "TRAXX" family of locomotives, which have been exceptionally reliable.