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Belgian M6 cars take to the rails

01 Feb 2002

INTRO: Belgian National Railways expects to put its first M6 series double-deck inter-city coaches into service in May

PASSENGERS on the busy peak-hour services from Brussels to Oostende and Kortrijk are in for a treat. From mid-2002, Belgian National Railways will start to phase in the first of its M6 double-deck trainsets on these two corridors. By the end of this year the 160 km/h vehicles should also be running from Gent to Genk; the inter-city routes to Antwerpen, Luxembourg and Poperinge will see them by the end of next year.

Another early benefit of the high-capacity trainsets will come in July and August, when SNCB plans to deploy them on weekend extra trains to the coastal resort of Blankenberge, renowned for heavy summer traffic.

The 210 vehicles were ordered in July 1999 from a consortium of Bombardier and Alstom. Bodyshells are coming from Alstom's Valenciennes plant, and bogies from Bombardier in Crespin. Final assembly and fitting out of the interiors is being done in Brugge.

The first vehicles were rolled out in mid-December (RG 1.02 p13), and are currently undergoing climate testing in Austria and running trials in Germany. A full trainset should be ready for operation by early May, and deliveries will follow at a rate of two cars per week. The first sets will be maintained at Kortrijk, with the later units to be based at Châtelet near Charleroi.

The M6 cars will operate as 35 six-car sets, each with four 140-seat second class coaches, a 124-seat first class vehicle and a multi-functional coach. This has 55 seats for smokers on the upper deck, while the lower deck combines luggage racks and a conductor's office with wheelchair positions and a toilet for mobility-impaired passengers, plus tip-up seats leaving space for bicycles. Total capacity is 786 per set, or 1572 for a 12-car train compared to 920 in a 12-car set of the latest I11 single-deck stock.

Based on Alstom's Coradia Duplex modular design, the M6 cars are slightly larger than SNCB's earlier M5 double-deckers, making full use of the UIC B loading gauge. Headroom for both decks is 2m, and the seating is less cramped than the much-criticised M5s. One innovative design feature is the offsetting of face-to-face seating bays on each side of the coach, with matching changes to the window positions (Fig 1). Each vehicle weighs 49·7 tonnes.

The sets are designed for push-pull operation, although no driving vehicles are included. The cars have full air-conditioning, and air suspension. Axle-mounted brake discs are augmented by magnetic rail brakes. LED interior and exterior passenger information displays are provided.

Retention toilets are fitted at one end of each coach, as well as the disabled-accessible module on the lower level of the multi-functional car. This car also has a low-level doorway in addition to the standard mid-height end vestibules which have a floor level 1190mm above rail. Double swing-plug doors give an entrance width of 1880mm.

Rolling stock strategy

SNCB is investing €210·75m in the M6 fleet, and expects to place a follow-on order as part of its 2001-12 investment plan authorised last year (RG 5.01 p292). This allocates €3·84bn for rolling stock out of a total spend of €16bn. Almost €3·5bn will go on new stock, and a further €361m on refurbishment (Table II).

The aim is to bring the average age of loco-hauled coaches down from 23 years at present to 15 by 2005, although the average for EMUs will rise from 19 to 23·5 over the same period. A major mid-life refurbishment has been authorised for the M4 fleet, and the ageing M2 stock will be withdrawn as the M6 sets are delivered. By 2012, SNCB's seating capacity is scheduled to increase from 247000 to 320000, excluding the proposed Brussels RER fleet.

TABLE: Table I. Basic data for SNCB M6 coaches

Length mm 26800

Width mm 2830

Height mm 4574

Axleload tonnes 18

Maximum speed km/h 160

Seat pitch mm First class 1990

Second class 1740

Minumum curve radius m 80

Doorway width mm (2 per side) 1 800

TABLE: Table II. SNCB rolling stock investment plans 2001-12 (km)

New build Refurbished Total

EMUs 795 213 1008

RER trainsets 260 - 260

DMU cars 184 - 184

Domestic coaches 294 108 401

International coaches 119 6 125

Main line locomotives 651 10 660

Shunting locos 300 - 300

High speed trains 258 - 258

Freight wagons 444 25 469

Other 175 - 175

Total 3479 361 3841

CAPTION: Interior of the M6 series coaches provides 2 m of headroom on both decks. Individual seats are provided in both first and standard class

CAPTION: Fig 1. The series M6 multi-functional coach has 102 seats including 55 for smokers, plus accommodation for staff, luggage and disabled passengers