ON JUNE 4 Stadler Rail officially opened a SFr20m third assembly hall at its Bussnang plant. The event marked completion of a second phase of expansion at the site in northeast Switzerland.

Bussnang-based Stadler-Fahrzeuge AG has been active in the specialist passenger rail vehicle sector since 1945. Growth took off in 1989 when the company was bought by Peter Spuhler, who sits on the board of several leading Swiss businesses including investment bank UBS; he is also a member of the lower house of the federal parliament.

In 1995 Stadler employed just 90 people at its Bussnang plant, but expansion has been rapid (below). In 1997 Spuhler bought from Schindler AG the Altenrhein-based firm Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke AG (the former Dornier Werke), which had been building aluminium rail vehicles since 1946. The rack railway motive power business of SLM was acquired in 1998, and in 2000 Stadler purchased Adtranz's Pankow works, which had been erected by ABB in 1996 to produce RegioShuttle railcars and U-Bahn trains for Berlin. The need to accommodate further growth led to the opening of a second assembly hall at Bussnang in 2001.

Today Peter Spuhler owns 100% of Stadler Rail and wholly-owned subsidiaries Stadler Bussnang and Stadler Pankow GmbH, plus a 90% stake in Stadler Altenrhein AG. He heads a management board whose members possess extensive experience of the rolling stock industry. Heinz Cronimund came from Adtranz, Dr Wolfram Martinsen from Siemens and Pierino Piffaretti from Schindler Technik. Kurt Rüegg is a director of Swiss Capital Group, and Dr Werner Müller was Business & Technology Minister in Germany's first SPD/Green coalition government and now chairs Ruhrkohle AG.

As a privately-owned company, Stadler is not required to produce a detailed financial report, but a review of performance in 2003 was presented at the annual general meeting in Bussnang. Turnover for the year totalled SFr322m, down 2·5% on 2002, but the company predicts that turnover will increase to SFr447m in 2004 as the new assembly hall allows an increase in the rate at which new trains are delivered. New orders are budgeted at SFr450m for 2004. The group's consolidated debt was SFr22m.

During 2003 Stadler Rail increased its workforce by 151 to the current 894 staff across its three plants, with just over half at the Bussnang site. This total is expected to rise to around 1000 by the end of this year.

Niche products

Stadler Altenrhein mainly supplies niche products. The plant has built semi-modular metre-gauge LRVs for the local Forchbahn and Trogenerbahn, as well as Spatz, (Schmalspur Panorama Triebzug, or narrow-gauge panoramic railcar), a modular metre-gauge EMU. With a 2'Bo'Bo'2' wheel arrangement, Spatz has a powered panoramic centre car. Intended for use on scenic routes, to date it has attracted 17 orders, of which 10 are 15 kV sets for SBB's Brünig line, four are 11 kV sets destined for the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and three are 850V DC units for SNCF's St Gervais - Chamonix - Vallorcine line.

In the rack railway business, where Stadler has a monopoly based on SLM technology, Stadler has built four cars for the Wengeneralpbahn, four for the Jungfraubahn, seven for the Montserrat Railway and one for the Rorschach - Heiden Bergbahn. In May 2004 Hellenic Railways ordered four 750mm gauge diesel-electric units for the Diakofto - Kalavrita line in Greece for delivery in 2006-07 at a cost of SFr34·8m. Other niche products include 10 panoramic cars for the Rhaetian Railway's Bernina Express and centre cars for the Uetliberg Bahn and the Bern - Solothurn Railway. In addition, a number of diesel-electric and electric shunters of various gauges have been built for different Swiss railways. The plant also repairs vehicles for Switzerland's private railways.

Semi-niche products

The next important product group, which put Stadler on the international map, are the GTW (Gelenk-Triebwagen) cars. These are articulated DMUs or EMUs, and so far the company has received orders for 336 for use in nine countries. The cars were described in RG 12.97 p873, RG 11.98 p773 and RG 3.99 p151. It is a partly-modular design built in metre and standard-gauge versions, and for a variety of electrical supply voltages, from 750V DC to 15 kV AC, and even in a dual-system configuration.

Two end cars with driving cabs are hinged to a central power unit, around 4m long, that runs on a two-axle truck. Hydraulic dampers between the car modules ensure stability. The end sections are assembled from extruded aluminium profiles, partly welded and partly bolted together. The main production build has a floor height of 585mm above rail top, rising to 1000mm over the bogies; width is 3000mm and a car typically seats around 100 passengers.

The three-car version known as GTW 2/6 with a 2' Bo 2' wheel arrangement varies in length from 31·2 to 39·5m for the standard-gauge builds, and the four-car GTW 2/8 (2' Bo 2' 2') for Regionalverkehr Mittelland based in Burgdorf is 53·5m long. Weight of the electrically powered versions rated at 520 kW is around 57 tonnes for the GTW 2/6, giving a weight to floor ratio of 505 to 520 kg/m2. The latest RM and Thurbo cars rated at 700 kW are heavier at 62 to 65 tonnes, with the ratio varying from 524 to 564 kg/m2. The 17 GTW 2/8 cars for the Seetalbahn are only 2·650mm wide and have a floor height above rail of 400mm to suit 380mm high platforms. Here the GTW 2/8 weighs 74·5 tonnes or 526 kg/m2.

The diesel version with 550 kW MTU engines is in the same weight bracket, with the exception of the New Jersey cars (585 kg/m2) and the latest generation Val Venosta cars, which have a pair of 390 kW MAN engines and weigh 66 tonnes or 557 kg/m2.

The GTW story began in 1993 when BTI and CEV placed orders for 11 metre-gauge DC cars. Stadler was responsible for the car bodies, ABB Transportation for electrical equipment and SLM for the bogies. The next step was the formation of a consortium with Stadler building the centre powered section, DWA Bautzen supplying the other car bodies, and AEG Hennigsdorf the power equipment; Alusuisse was responsible for engineering the car bodies. This grouping built a prototype diesel-electric GTW 2/6 to compete in the German market for regional trains. Mittelthurgaubahn was the first customer, taking delivery of the first vehicle plus two identical cars in 1996-97.

The drive to enter the German market was successful. The consortium received orders for 30 cars from Hessische Landesbahn followed by orders for 66 vehicles from DB Regio. At this time the consortium was led by DWA Bautzen (now Bombardier), which built the end sections. Stadler supplied the power section, and Adtranz Transportation Schweiz provided the electrical equipment and the SLM-designed bogies.

Of the so-called first generation of GTW cars, 119 diesel-electric and 31 metre-gauge electric units received SLM bogies; 10 MThB and 14 Linzer Lokalbahn cars had bogies from SIG, now Alstom Schienenfahrzeugtechnik, and these had fully-sprung drives. A consortium of Bombardier (leading) and Stadler, using Bombardier's international contacts from the ABB and Adtranz era, obtained all the large orders outside Switzerland.

All subsequent GTWs have had bogies developed by Frauenfeld-based LRS, and these are marketed under the Stadler brand. They were designed by experienced former SLM and SIG engineers and in some ways they resemble the original SLM and SIG designs. Neuweiler & Meyer produce the bogie frames for final assembly in Bussnang. The latest GTW cars have electrical equipment from ABB Schweiz, which has re-entered the traction market.

RegioShuttle added to the portfolio

After a year of negotiations, Stadler Rail signed a contract with Adtranz on November 28 1999 under which it became a 70% owner of Stadler Pankow GmbH, a company that had been set up in 1996 by ABB Henschel to develop its activities in the Berlin area.

At the time of the negotiations RegioShuttle cars and cars for the Berlin U-Bahn were erected in the Pankow shops. The joint venture produced vehicles which could be described as 'Adtranz customised by Stadler', and in 2001 Stadler became the sole owner. It continued to build RegioShuttles, and the orders now total 339, of which 128 were received since Stadler took over. The RegioShuttle is the only single-car DMU built in Germany in large numbers.

During Bombardier's take over of Adtranz, Germany's competition authorities insisted that it should transfer licence rights for the Variotram design to Stadler, and the company is planning to exploit this.

Competing with the big suppliers

Until now Stadler had remained a 'semi-niche market' supplier. That changed abruptly when Spuhler decided to bid for SBB's Flirt project (Flinker, Leichter, Innovativer, Regional Triebzug or smart, light, innovative regional train). Flirt was intended as a form of S-Bahn unit to be used on the Zug Stadtbahn, on the regional S-Bahn in Basel and on the Wiesentalbahn.

Stadler succeeded in obtaining an order for 42 Flirt units with an option for a further 100. This 74m long, 2880 mm wide train with a Bo' 2'2'2'Bo' wheel arrangement seats 180 passengers and weighs 123·4 tonnes or 578 kg/m2. Floor height is 570mm, increasing to 1120mm over the bogies. Power is provided by four 500 kW traction motors which should allow the train to reach 160 km/h. Electrical equipment is supplied by ABB Schweiz.

With Flirt, Stadler developed a completely new train in 20 months in direct competition with Bombardier, which offered the Nina design as used on the S-Bahn in Bern. Flirt units are priced at SFr8m or 24376k/m2, about the same price as a DB Class ET425 S-Bahn trainset with eight 300 kW traction motors.

Emphasising the change in Stadler's position was a subcontract the company received from Siemens to build the two intermediate unpowered cars for the future Zürich S-Bahn trainsets, and to commission the completed four-car sets. The other two cars will be built by Siemens in Praha. It was teaming up with Stadler to raise the local content that enabled Siemens to win the order for 35 double-deck EMUs against competition from a consortium of Alstom and Bombardier.

Bombardier appears to have assumed that SBB will continue to order these cars, and sees no future in the Swiss market after the end of its contracts for the IC 2000 and ICN inter-city trainsets. It is closing the works at Pratteln that employs 520 people, leaving only its Vevey arm to compete with Stadler. There are also fears that the Alstom plant in Neuhausen will follow Pratteln.

Spuhler maintains that his business is just complementary to that of the major systems integrators, but with 1000 staff in high-wage countries, Stadler is now a fully-fledged car builder in direct competition with the big rolling stock suppliers.

There is a latent danger that orders from SBB may dry up in the future and deprive Stadler of a solid home market. The company is therefore bidding to sell Flirt, still unproven in commercial service, to the countries that have recently joined to the EU. Spuler has just announced that Flirt will be offered to Warszawa and Budapest in response to enquiries for an S-Bahn design.

In Poland there are 1200 EMUs which have an average age of 28 years, and Spuhler hopes to take a share of the replacement business. To this end Stadler proposes to build an assembly plant in Siedlce, 90 km to the east of Warszawa. Construction of the factory would begin as soon as an order for Flirt can be obtained.

  • CAPTION: Even before the SFr20m third assembly hall at Stadler's Bussnang plant had been completed, work was underway on Flirt and electric GTW2/6 sets for both Regionalbahn Mittelland and Thurbo
  • CAPTION: Stadler's turnover, expressed in million SFr, has grown rapidly following the acquisition of the Altenrhein plant in 1997 and the subsequent expansion at Pankow
  • CAPTION: In June Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn took delivery of the first of 25 RegioShuttle trains built by Stadler Pankow for use on local services in Berlin and Brandenburg from December
  • CAPTION: Swiss Federal Railways is Stadler's biggest client, and ordered 17 GTW2/8 Class 520 cars for the 15 kV, 162/3Hz Seetalbahn between Luzern and Lenzburg. SBB and Thurgau canton's regional joint venture Thurbo AG will take delivery of 80 GTW2/6 units from 2007, in the largest single order for electrically powered versions of the GTW
  • BELOW: The first Flirt unit for SBB was rolled out on June 4 after 20 months of development. It is expected to enter commercial service on S-Bahn services in Basel with this December's timetable change
  • CAPTION: Hellenic Railways ordered 17 standard and 12 metre-gauge GTW units in 1999, which will be used to increase services during this year's Olympic Games