EUROPE: Hamburg-based wagon leasing group VTG announced on November 16 that it is to equip its fleet with new wheelsets suitable for heavier axleloads. Starting with all newly-built wagons, plus those registered in Germany and Austria, the programme will cover up to 20000 vehicles and is expected to take between eight and 10 years. VTG is also considering whether to expand the programme to cover wagons which are registered in other countries.

New wagons will be fitted with wheelsets certified for 25 tonne axleloads, although they will still be limited to the 22·5 tonne standard for international operation in Europe. Existing wagons cleared for 22·5 tonne axleloads will also get 25 tonne wheelsets, whilst those limited to 20 tonnes will be fitted with 22·5 tonne axles.

Although there have been suggestions over many years that Europe needs to raise axleloads to make rail freight more competitive, at this stage there seems to be no intention to use the additional capacity to raise payloads. VTG says the aim is to provide a greater margin of safety, adding that recent research showed the transport of dangerous goods by rail was already 40 times safer than by road.

Earlier this year, the fatal derailment of a train of LPG tank wagons at Viareggio in Italy was attributed to a broken axle on a GATX-owned wagon (RG 8.09 p3), and a review by Germany's Federal Railway Office last month found that wheelsets were responsible for around 20% of all reported wagon defects.

VTG says the upgrading will be partly funded from savings in future inspection and maintenance costs, although it believes that customers may be willing to pay more for improved safety. The group says it is currently investing in the modernisation of the wheelset maintenance facilities at its Brühl wagon works, including new automated inspection and testing equipment.