Development of variable-gauge powered bogies will bring significant time savings on multi-gauge routes

HIGH SPEED trials were due to be staged last month on JR West's Sanyo Shinkansen with Japan's gauge-changing EMU (RG 3.99 p155).

Developed by the Railway Technical Research Institute, the prototype train underwent preliminary testing in early 1999 on JR West's 1067mm gauge San-In line at up to 100 km/h.

In April 1999 the train was shipped to the USA where it began endurance trials on standard gauge track at the Transportation Technology Test Center in Pueblo, Colorado. These lasted until January 2001, when the train returned to its birthplace. More tests were carried out in November 2002 on JR Kyushu's 1067mm gauge Nippo line, which features frequent curves and steep gradients. Further tests followed on JR Shikoku's Yosan line in May 2003.

More recenly, another gauge-changing track has been installed at Shin-Yatsushiro to permit trials on the recently-completed Kyushu Shinkansen.

The high speed tests are the culmination of a long development programme, paving the way for RTRI to start work on a second variable-gauge train. This will be led by Japan's Technology Research Association for Gauge-Changing Train.

In Europe, gauge-changing rolling stock has run for many years between France and the 1668mm gauge Iberian network, and from Poland to the former Soviet countries where the gauge is 1520mm. Freight and passenger vehicles were lifted so that wheelsets or bogies could be replaced at the border station, but Spain's Patentes Talgo pioneered a faster method in the 1960s. Short passenger cars with extendable stub axles were developed to run through a gauge-changing installation, and through services between France and Spain began in 1968. The technique required the locomotive to be detached, with the unpowered rake of cars being pushed or pulled through the gauge-changer.

As Spain's standard gauge high speed network expands, more breaks of gauge are inevitable, and rapid progress is being made with two types of train featuring variable-gauge powered bogies.

Using technology developed for a prototype Talgo XXI power car built in 1998, Talgo is working with Bombardier Transportation to build a fleet of 22 high speed variable-gauge regional trainsets. Able to run at 250 km/h, each train will be formed of two variable-gauge electric power cars enclosing a set of nine unpowered Talgo cars similar to those currently in use. Bombardier is supplying traction equipment for the power cars, but the powered bogies are Talgo's responsibility. The first of 44 power cars is due to be delivered to Spanish National Railways in June 2006, with the last handed over in August 2008.

A second design, also for 250 km/h, is being developed by Alstom in partnership with CAF. The two companies are building 45 four-car EMUs for delivery between October 2006 and January 2008. CAF will use its BRAVA variable-gauge bogie featuring drive to one of the two axles. The trains are being designed to run through a gauge-changer at 15 km/h without stopping, and they will be fitted with dual-voltage traction equipment for Spain's 3 kV DC supply on the broad gauge network and for 25 kV 50Hz on the high speed lines.

To the east, Polish State Railways is using a gauge-changing bogie system known as SUW 2000 after its inventor, Richard Maria Suwalski. Passenger and freight bogies have been developed, and commercial application began in 2000.

The 25AN/S passenger bogie is fitted to stock running between Warszawa and Vilnius in Lithuania, and the 4RS/N freight bogie is used on wagons that work from Szczecinek and Mielec to Kazlu Ruda in Lithuania. The 4RS/N is designed to run at up to 120 km/h with axleloads of up to 25 tonnes.

An agreement was signed in June 2003 between Polish State Railways and Ukrainian Railways for passenger trains with variable-gauge bogies to run between Krakow and Kyiv. A similar accord was concluded on August 1 2003 by the railways of Poland, Belarus and Russia. This envisages that variable-gauge coaches will run between Warszawa, Minsk and Moscow, cutting journey times from 19h 30min to 14h 35min and eventually around 12h.

  • CAPTION: This prototype diesel-hydraulic Talgo XXI power car was fitted with a gauge-convertible powered bogie developed with Krauss-Maffei and Voith. The drives are centred on each axle to give equal space on both sides for the wheels to move when changing gauge
  • CAPTION: These PESA-built sleeping cars operating between Poland and Ukraine are fitted with 25AN/S5 gauge-changing bogies using the Suwalski SUW 2000 technology