INTRO: The wide variety of lightweight diesel railcar designs ordered for regional services in Europe are proving popular with passengers, but most have failed to meet the operators’ ambitious delivery timescales. Harry Hondius MSc Eng reviews developments

LOOKING AT THE lightweight diesel railcar industry at the end of 1998, it is clear that many of the expectations that spurred the ordering of over 800 new vehicles over the past four years have not been met. With the exception of Duewag with its original RegioSprinter, no supplier has been able to meet the often unrealistic delivery timescales envisaged by regional rail operators for their newly-developed vehicle designs. Even the agreed delivery dates were frequently not achieved.

In some cases this caused extreme embarrassment to the new companies which had won regional operating concessions in competition with German Railway, as they had committed themselves to taking over the services too early and then had to ask DB to continue running them at their cost. It seems to have been virtually impossible to borrow existing rolling stock, either domestically or from other countries.

Practically all the vehicles have come out heavier than originally anticipated, and none was immediately fault free. Most suffered from teething troubles, usually minor but annoying, often quite unexpected but persistent. Prices too have increased rapidly, from around DM22000 per m2 of floor area to DM30000 or more.

But after these initial setbacks the operators generally seem quite happy with their cars, as they appear to be attracting more passengers than anticipated.

During 1998 another 220 vehicles were ordered, bringing the total to 834, of which 764 have been ordered since October 1995 (RBR 1996 p21). Bombardier Transportation is the current market leader with 276 cars, comprising 166 Talents, 74 Stadler/Adtranz GTWs, 13 double-deck and 23 LVT/S railbuses. In second place Siemens-Duewag has orders for 190 cars: 150 of its new modular Desiro family and 40 RegioSprinters. Alstom is third with 184 cars, of which 101 will be built by LHB and 83 by De Dietrich. Adtranz has contracts for 135 RS1 Regio-Shuttles, Stadler/Adtranz will deliver 32 GTWs directly, and the sole outsider is Jenbach with its 17 Integral articulated cars.

Of the 432 cars ordered by DB Regio AG (Table I) around 60 have been delivered. Of the 274 cars for the non-federal railways, around half have arrived (Table II), but none of the 128 export orders (Table III) have yet been delivered. An interesting development is the number of orders for electrically-powered derivatives, which already total 93 cars (Table IV).

Technical comparisons

Tables I and II provide the latest available technical data for the various German designs, which can be split into two main categories. Firstly, there are those developed by the industry at its own initiative such as the RegioSprinter, Regio-Shuttle, Talent, GTW 2/6, double-decker, LVT/S and the Integral. The later designs were heavily influenced from the outset by the railways, leading to a more conservative approach; these include DBAG classes VT640, 642, 643 and 644, and the Franco-German VT641/TER X 73500 where SNCF took the lead.

Of the 834 cars ordered, 237 are built to a welded all-steel design, some with rust-resisting plating - essentially the DWA, Jenbach and LHB/De Dietrich designs. The 150 Siemens-Duewag Desiro cars (VT 642) have an integral aluminium welded design, and a further 146 (the Stadler cars and RegioSprinters) use the Alusuisse-Lonza M 5438 bolted aluminium technique. The remaining 301, mainly the Talbot Talents and Adtranz Regio-Shuttles, are hybrid modular vehicles, combining steel, glass fibre and sandwich construction. Nearly all cars have glass fibre reinforced noses glued to the bodyshell.

As a benchmark for comparison, DBAG’s latest regional diesel multiple-unit of Class VT628/928-4 has a specific weight of 550 kg/m2, or 482 kg per seat, and a power/weight ratio (empty) of 6·89 kW/t. The VDV initiative to develop lightweight railcars started out hopefully, with the RegioSprinter 20% lighter than the VT628, with a high power-to-weight ratio of 12·7 kW/t. But how do the other new designs compare?

All cars have better adhesion and higher power/weight ratios, ranging from 7·67 to 14·29 kW/t. Of these, 312 cars fall in the range 7 to 10 kW/t, 324 from 10 to 12 kW/t and 195 from 12 to 14 kW/t. At the upper end of the range are the RegioSprinter, Regio-Shuttle and LVT/S railbus, which are closest to the original VDV concept. But are these cars really lighter? In terms of weight per m2, only 244 cars are 10 to 20% lighter than the VT628-4, and 38 are 0 to 10% lighter. Another 406 are up to 5% heavier and 146 are as much as 10% heavier!

Apart from the double deck railbuses and the RegioSprinter, all cars are designed for an end buffing load of 1500 kN. And in another departure from the original concept, 271 cars (32·6%) do not have bus engines. However, all but three designs are equipped with ZF or Voith hydro-mechanical bus transmissions with five or four gears and built-in retarders.

What about prices?

The average cost for a two-car VT628 works out at DM24000 per m2 of floor area. The RegioSprinter cost DM1·58m, or 22200 DM/m2. With a selling price per m2 less than twice that of a modern low-floor bus, the design was meant to be a breakthrough offering a modern car with an attractive design at a modest cost. The price was based on expectations of orders for 100 cars that sadly never materialised. In service on the Rurtalbahn, a RegioSprinter uses 66 litres of fuel per 100 km run.

The Talbot VT643 Talents were also priced at around the same level, whilst the 18 GTW 2/6 cars for the Hessische Landesbahn were slightly more at 27000 DM/m2. But the price for the 150 VT642 RegioSprinter derivatives is 30000 DM/m2, which is the lowest price available today for lightweight railcars. Also in this bracket are the RegioShuttle and the LINT 41.

Once a more sophisticated vehicle is specified, the price moves rapidly up to 34000 DM/m2 or more. The Jenbach Integral, for example, costs 35800 DM/m2, which is three times the equivalent price for the low-floor bus. So the ’old railway’ adage has completely overtaken the original idea. Although the money seems to be available to buy these more expensive designs, the inevitable higher amortisation costs must threaten the long term survival of regional lines which the lightweight railcars were supposed to guarantee. The original concept of a fast, low-priced but attractive car has been superseded by the desire for ever greater comfort and a flashier image.

Between them, the big four suppliers and Jenbach have developed 11 completely new car families with 16 vehicle types since 1994. The result is some very attractive trains, with easy access from 380 or 550mm high platforms and good acceleration. However, they are not really any cheaper than the classic VT628 DMU which they are replacing, and in many cases not much lighter.

Class by class

Looking at progress with the various designs, Alstom-LHB has completed its first LINT 27 of VT640 for DB Regio AG (RG 12.97 p869). A new development is the LINT 41, a two-section version using an articulation bogie and as many standardised components as possible. There is also a proposed LINT 53 two car unit with each car on conventional bogies (Table II). Production of the fleet is now in full swing; there will be 40 VT641s built by LHB and 83 TER X 73500s by De Dietrich.

Adtranz has been very successful with its Regio-Shuttle; 135 cars have been sold, and the company hopes to reach a total of around 200. In its modular product platform strategy launched last April (RG 5.98 p343), Adtranz unveiled the Itino as its regional railcar platform. The basic change is a move to welded aluminium bodyshells, with the four-axle car slightly longer and lighter than the RS1. The drive would be identical. Adtranz is initially planning to concentrate on the two-car version.

At Bombardier Transportation’s Waggonfabrik Talbot, the production of Talents (RG 4.98 p245) is in full swing. The 29th VT644 was on show at InnoTrans in Berlin last October, but as at mid-December not a single car was in service around K