Trans Europe Express rides the rails again!

Anybody who grew up in continental Europe during the 1950's and 60's will most likely remember the TEE (Trans Europe Express) trains. The network was originally set up in 1957 and reached its zenith in 1974. It was jointly run by the railroads of the Netherlands (NS), France (SNCF), Switzerland (SBB-CFF-FFS), Italy (FS), West Germany (DB), Belgium (NMBS/SNCB) and Luxemburg (CFL). 

The network was conceived to mainly attract business people, the timing of the trains generally allowing a trip outward, having enough time to conduct business at the destination, and then being able to get back to ones origin later in the day. In the beginning the trains had First Class only and were considered expresses, therefore only stopping at major cities. 

The TEE Network at it's most expansive in 1974

Due to the different voltages being used by the various European railroads, the initial train sets used for the TEE network were all diesel powered. All trains were named. One example being the "Helvetia", operating between Zürich in Switzerland and Hamburg in then West Germany. 

With the continuing electrification of the European railways over the years and the developement of multi-voltage capable locomotives, the diesel powered train sets were in due course replaced by electric locomotive hauled trains.

An example of a modern four voltage system electric locomotive. DB AG Class 189. Notice the four pantographs needed for the different systems.

By 1984 the concept of the TEE network was basically abondoned. The operating railroads decided to try out some other, supposedly more modern, concepts.

Since the TEE trains were to be distinctive and the best the railroads had to offer at the time, some interesting designs were put on the rails, one of the most intriguing being the diesel units run by the German railroad (DB /Deutsche Bahn).

A German TEE train at the Verkehrsmuseum, Nürnberg in Germany. Photo by Ralf Meier

These train sets (designated Class VT 11 by DB) consisted of seven semi-permanently coupled units, with a diesel powered propulsion unit at each end. In addition the train consisted of three passenger coaches, a restaurant coach and a bar car. The first VT 11 ran in 1957 and was an instant hit with the traveling public. 

This video is by and property of "sinabrigo". Music: "Trans Europa Express" by Kaftwerk.


Two years ago the German company PIKO, manufacturer of model trains, announced that they would produce an affordable VT 11 in G scale. The announcement was a sensation. The company KM1 had come out with their own VT 11 gauge 1 model some years earlier, but it was hellishly expensive. In contrast, PIKO was aiming to sell a three unit set for roughly $700. 

Of course I could not resist and ordered one of the PIKO sets through my local model train store, Engine House Hobbies.  It did arrive last December. (Read my initial review here) Since the train was delivered during the winter, there was no way to give it a test run on the Chesapeake & Tenleytown Railroad. Well, that day finally arrived yesterday!

The day was bright and sunny, so my new toy was brought up from the basement and put on the rails. As I suspected in my intitial review, it proved somewhat fiddly to couple the cars together. The couplers are current conducting, thus have connecting pins and are therefore difficult to connect. Perhaps over time and with practice, this will cease to be an issue. My other concern was the unrealistic spacing between the coaches. Once the train is on the track and one steps back a bit, it is not as bad as I originally thought, though still noticable.

A PIKO VT 11 train set on the Chesapeake & Tenleytown RailroadPIKO VT 11The train runs well. I had replaced the plastic wheels on the intermediate coaches with metal wheel sets, which probably helped a lot to run smoothly. I realize PIKO had to hit the right price to value formula, but, come on PIKO! Plastic wheels? The same goes for interior lighting: for a bit over $700 it ought to come as a standard feature on this set. To PIKO's credit, retrofitting interior lights on the VT 11 is exceedingly easy. Quite unlike the tedious procedure one has to go through to add lighting to their City Bahn "Silberlinge" coaches.

The train is indeed an impressive sight. Here is a short video: