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Engineers debate high speed expansion

24 Sep 2007

Next month the German and French railway engineering associations VDEI and AFFI will be holding a colloquium in Strasbourg to look at the role that engineers can play in furthering rail development across the continent

Prof Dr-Ing Lothar Fendrich is President of the Verbund Deutscher Eisenbahn-Ingenieure, and Pierre Dupriet is President of the Association Ferroviaire Fr ançaise des Ingénieurs et Cadres (AFFI)

COMING SIX months after the launch of revenue services on LGV Est-Européenne, the European timetable change on December 9 will see the effective start of full international high speed services between France and Germany.

So it is no coincidence that we have selected Strasbourg as the venue for a joint conference of the German and French railway engineering federations. We believe that it is appropriate to highlight the role that engineers have played in the development of Europe's emerging high speed network.

But at the same time, we need to consider how engineers must adapt their thinking if they are to contribute to securing an effective and efficient future for rail in a changing market. Today, engineers are not just involved with technical systems, but must think beyond this to the development of marketable products which are commercially attractive to the railway's customers.

Strasbourg is a focal point for the international high speed services between France and Germany. Today ICE trainsets link Paris and Frankfurt over the northern route via Saarbrücken and Mannheim, with TGV POS sets serving the southern route between Paris and Stuttgart via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe. From December there will be five through ICE trips each way between Frankfurt and Paris, and four TGVs each way between Paris and Stuttgart. Two of these services will run beyond Stuttgart connecting Paris with München.

Apart from significantly shorter journey times, passengers between Germany and France will experience a substantially improved quality of service. DB is deploying its latest ICE3MF multi-system trainsets on the Frankfurt service, whilst SNCF is using its multi-system TGV POS sets on the services to southern Germany.

With the launch of high speed services, SNCF and DB are looking to grow their market share substantially against road and air travel. By 2012 the railways expect to be carrying around 1·5 million international passengers a year on the two corridors, which is roughly a 50% increase on today's traffic levels. A UIC study of the Frankfurt - Paris route suggests that in the longer term rail will have a 40% share of the air+rail market.

The opening of the first phase of LGV Est Européenne is also of huge significance for domestic traffic, opening up eastern France for through services across the country, with trains running at up to 320 km/h from Day 1.

As well as the high-profile spending on the new line, approximately €570m is being invested in upgrading work on the German portions of the two international corridors. The Saarbrücken – Kaiserslautern – Ludwigshafen section of the northern route and Kehl – Appenweier on the southern corridor have been extensively rebuilt and upgraded for 200 km/h. The main station at Saarbrücken has also been remodelled.

At Kehl a new bridge over the Rhine will improve capacity into Strasbourg. This bridge is quite symbolic, as it fills one of the biggest gaps in Europe's emerging high speed network.

But development of the network is far from over. The next big boost will come with the completion of the recently-approved €6bn programme covering the Stuttgart 21 remodelling and construction of the Stuttgart – Ulm Neubaustrecke. And we hope that it is not too long before we can celebrate the completion of LGV Est Phase 2 between Baudrecourt and Strasbourg.

Changing role of engineers

Our colloquium is being held under the patronage of SNCF President Anne Marie Idrac, DB Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn and European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, with high-ranking speakers from both France and Germany.

We hope that many senior figures from the European railway industry will participate, and benefit from some fresh thinking to give high speed rail a new impetus. The main themes for development will be interaction, expertise and innovation, but we will also be looking at boundary conditions, borders and safety issues. Political and railway industry decision-makers will have plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Perhaps the key issue is interaction. Railway engineers can no longer afford to focus their knowledge and practical skills on classic railway technology, even where we are talking about such important aspects as the wheel-rail interface.

In the light of increasing competition between and within modes, it is the engineers' role to use their expertise in improving the offer to the customer over the longer term, developing attractive, comfortable, safe, reliable and punctual products. These must be easily accessible - not just physically, but also in terms of fare structures, ticket sales, and timetable information. And increasingly the railways must work with other modes to provide truly integrated transport.

In short, the engineer must also consider the social aspects of the railway.

Finally, we need to consider the question of competitive or co-operative interaction with rival operators on the roads and waterways or in the air. And when considering the construction of new high speed lines in Europe, the infrastructure has to be fitted into an increasingly congested and populated landscape.

The influence and interaction of the railway industry at the boundaries with its customers and the wider community have to be identified. We hope that by comparing the different approaches adopted in our two countries we can move on to consider if – and how - a single model can be derived that would be applicable across the whole of Europe.

Feedback loop

The completion of LGV Est, the construction of other new lines in both countries, and the continuing evolution of both the TGV and ICE families reflect the strong depth of engineering excellence in both countries. But the question is increasingly how we develop systematic co-operation in technical know-how, creating a so-called 'technology feedback loop'. All too often the practical experience of the users and operators is still not being passed back to the manufacturers and their sub-suppliers. This is a major area of concern right across the railway industry.

In a rapidly-changing European railway sector, what skills and expertise should an engineer seek to develop? Where and how can these abilities and talents be acquired? Would it be helpful to develop common European standards for the training of railway engineers? In short, how does someone become a railway engineer, and what must they do to remain one?

Where will this expertise, the product of experience and continually-updated knowledge, be found, and how will its future evolution be secured? And finally, what should be the role of the human resources and career development functions in companies across all sectors of the railway industry?

Our conference will provide an opportunity for debate between operators, users, designers, managers, certifying bodies and regulators. Peronnel development will be a focus for discussion, looking at topics such as the content of training courses, making provision for staff to move between companies, and the retention of knowledge and skills across the whole rail sector. Everyone is looking for answers, and everyone will have something to bring to the debate.

Innovation and environment

A degree of innovation is desirable in the rail industry, but is it essential, and how far should we be going? Whilst we do not wish to present ready-made solutions, we hope our conference will provide a stimulus to fresh thinking. Our role is to ask the right questions, to review past goals and experiences, and to tackle the key issues.

Why is there still a resistance to change in parts of the railway and the supply industry? Is this grounded in the weight of experience over the past 150 years or simply a reflection of the number of people involved? And how can we facilitate innovation at a European level?

What will be the shape of the infrastructure and vehicles of the future? And how far will innovation be driven by the spirit of invention, and how much by the changing needs and requirements of the customer?

Infrastructure managers in particular need to find synergies and common solutions to meet the requirements of operators running trains across more than one network. Communications technology will clearly play a role, as well as enabling advances in the provision of information and services on board the trains. One aspect for discussion is whether there are any limits to this process, and if so where they are located.

Engineers also have a role to play in improving rail's environmental credentials, particularly at this time of greater public awareness. A significant area of concern is the external costs of transport, which must be considered and tackled promptly in the context of the advancement of the European Union's transport policy.

As an example, transport in Germany generates approximately €80·4bn in external costs which are not recovered from the users, and no less than €77bn of this is from road transport. The need for urgent progress to internalise such costs is recognised at the highest levels.

When you consider that transporting a pot of yoghurt from Hamburg to Roma costs just €0·01, the conclusion must be that transport is really too cheap!

Competition is here to stay

The recent agreement over the European Commission's Third Railway Package (RG 8.07 p477) reminds us that future railway development will take place in a substantially more complex environment. New boundaries are being established by European regulations. Innovation will come, not just for its own sake but as dictated by the market and competition.

This is to be welcomed, because a market mechanism will help to counter the temptation – which is not uncommon in our industry - to adopt complex and therefore expensive technical solutions. As engineers we are not protected from these trends, which are increasingly bringing the customer's needs into the centre of our focus, and we need to concentrate on innovations that the end-users want and are prepared to pay for.

Wherever there is good business and good products, there will also be competitors, who also want to make money. It may be a challenge for some of us, but nevertheless the net result should be favourable for both the customers and the players in the market. Competition stimulates business.

  • CAPTION: Europe's engineers must participate in the effort to create high speed lines that not only meet stringent design standards, but also offer marketable services to passengers
  • CAPTION: One focus of the Strasbourg colloquium will be the harmonisation of safety and operating standards across borders to harness the latent potential of international services in Europe