ON JUNE 9 Czech Minister for the Environment Libor Ambrozek opened a new paint shop at the former CKD rolling stock assembly plant in Zlicin in the western suburbs of Praha. Purchased by Siemens for around KC700m, the factory became the property of Siemens Kolejova Vozidia, which opened for business in February 2002.

The Praha site has strategic importance in the German company's long-term plans, and so far Siemens has invested around €25m in modernising facilities and equipment, including €5m on the paint shop. The original purchase included options on adjacent land which would allow the capacity of the plant to be increased by 20% to 30%.

According to Manfred Seibert, Plant Manager of SKV, the Zlicin plant can produce 230 car bodies a year, but there is clearly potential to exceed this. At present the plant is turning out 80 aluminium bodyshells for the build of Desiro UK vehicles for the West Coast Main Line (below left), and one of these was the first car to be liveried in the new paintshop. The bodyshells are shipped to Krefeld for fitting out, although Zlicin will be able to fit them out in the future.

Also on the production line are the first of a total of 222 VAL208 bodyshells for automated rubber-tyred metro lines in Torino, Rennes, Toulouse and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport (right). More conventional vehicles under construction include 21 five-car trainsets for Praha Metro, and the company recently received an order for six identical sets.

SKV is on the point of launching a production line for steel double-deck EMU cars destined for the Zürich S-Bahn. The plant has built a number of similar loco-hauled double-deckers for Austrian Federal Railways, but new jigs are to be installed. These will allow rapid adjustment for the production of different vehicles. Steel shells are also to be used for a batch of 26 locomotive-hauled inter-city coaches just ordered by Czech Railways.

Historically, CKD built thousands of tramcars, but none are currently under construction. However, SKV owns the former CKD rights to Tatra designs, allowing resumption of tram production should this be required.

According to Klaus Aigner, Head of Business Administration at SKV, labour and production costs at Zlicin are around one-fifth of those in a comparable plant in western Europe. Aigner predicted that this would continue for some time, in which case Siemens could well look to transfer production to Praha from some of its other plants.