BOUGHT by Vossloh from Siemens in 1998, the former MaK diesel locomotive plant in Kiel is back in the loco business in a big way. Now known as Vossloh Schienenfahrzeugtechnik, the company has won two major orders that secure its place in the traction market.

First on the order books was the contract for 90 locomotives for Belgian National Railways which VSFT inherited from Siemens at the time of purchase. This was followed by an order from Austrian Federal Railways placed in December last year for 60 locomotives, with options for up to 90 more. The Belgian units are already being delivered, while the first Austrian loco will be delivered in January 2001. Both are diesel-hydraulic units, but they differ considerably in that the Belgian Class 77 was built to a traditional railway specification whereas the Austrian units were developed from a performance specification.

Vossloh's purchase followed extensive research into the market for diesel locomotives. Of the 6500 units in Germany, around 1500 are surplus to requirements and in many cases stored out of use. Another 900 are less than 20 years old and do not need replacement. Of the remaining 4100 that are 25 to 40 years old, around 3000 will certainly need replacing and fall within Vossloh's market. VSFT estimates DB's maintenance costs for diesel locos to be DM3·20/km, and suggests that replacement units from its own design range would require only DM0·75 to DM1/km. Within Germany, the Netz 21 project to separate freight and passenger flows is likely to lead to increased use of diesel traction.

Other opportunities exist elsewhere in western Europe where there are around 40000 diesel locos. Potential exists for replacement locos in several countries, notably France and Italy. Worldwide, VSFT estimates that there are 100000 diesel locos, many of which are in North America, where the market is dominated by domestic giants General Electric and General Motors.

In its assessment of competitors, VSFT concluded that most European-based companies did not have a major focus on diesel locomotives, and that only two were likely to be a real threat. The company has focused on diesel-hydraulic units, which it says have lower life-cycle costs than locos with electric transmission and do not require frequent redesign of major components to keep up with the rapid changes in electric traction technology.

On the basis of this work, VSFT put together a range of five modular diesel-hydraulic locos based on proven designs previously supplied mainly to privately owned railways in Germany. Demand for industrial locos has never dried up completely, and by catering to this small but less cyclical market VSFT has been able to develop its designs gradually to incorporate technical advances. A wide range of options is available, for example with Caterpillar or MTU engines.

Bottom of the range is the G400B, a two-axle unit rated at up to 400 kW. Next is the three-axle G600C rated at up to 650 kW and intended for use in steelworks and similar environments. The medium-range G800BB/G1000BB is a four-axle design, which forms the basis of the Austrian order - an initial unit should be ready for trials late this summer. Versions can be built with a power rating of 1200 kW and a maximum speed of 120 km/h.

The G1700BB is popular with Germany's private railways, and over 30 have been built in the last two years. Company policy is always to build a number of speculative units to allow it to respond rapidly to the market - it has yet to build a unit that has not been sold or leased before assembly was complete.

The fifth design is the four-axle G2000BB, which is the only unit not yet assembled. Although having bogies and other components common to the other locos in the family, it is a new design intended to meet the rapidly growing market for traction among open access and other new operators. Rated at up to 2500 kW with a maximum speed of 140 km/h, it uses Voith's newly-developed L620 drive, has end cabs and is suitable for radio remote control. The first unit will be on display at Innotrans in September, after which VSFT will test it for six months - the company is mindful of the problems Siemens had with the Di6 locomotives in Norway, and troubles with other German rolling stock such as the Adtranz-built VT611 diesel units and ET424 S-Bahn EMUs.

In VSFT's future plans is a six-axle locomotive with electric transmission for the high horsepower market - a prototype rated at around 3000 kW is to begin trials in 2001.

To cope with the rapidly growing demand, a new production shop is to be built at VSFT's Kiel site.

Vossloh is to relaunch its Eurotrac GmbH Verkehrstechnik subsidiary as a company specialising in railcar maintenance. A pilot project sees a DM7m workshop being built in Kiel to service vehicles on the Nord-Ostsee Bahn, a DEG subsidiary. Up to 20 workshops may be built in the next 10 years in Germany and elsewhere, and the company could have a turnover of DM80m to DM90m within four years.

CAPTION: The G2000BB can be delivered with cabs offset to one side to allow space for a shunter to stand beside the cab. The first unit will be at the Innotrans exhibition in Berlin later this year

CAPTION: Locos destined for Belgium occupy a production line at VSFT at Kiel, while one of the standard industrial designs takes shape on the left. The company is stepping up production from 25 to 100 locos a year

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