Photo: Herman Welter

EUROPE: All Fyra International trains between Amsterdam and Brussels were suspended on January 17, after Belgium’s national safety authority DVIS withdrew permission for the AnsaldoBreda-built V250 trainsets to carry passengers. Three of the nine trainsets delivered so far had been damaged by a build-up of ice and snow under the vehicles.

Rather than reverting to running conventional trains via the Roosendaal route used by the Benelux inter-city service until December 9, NS Hispeed switched passengers onto its loco-hauled Fyra domestic service between Amsterdam and Breda, with a bus shuttle to Antwerpen connecting with SNCB trains to and from Brussels.

On January 19 AnsaldoBreda issued a formal apology for the V250 problems, which it said ‘seem to be related to an undue accumulation, under the vehicles, of a big quantity of snow, that turning into ice and detaching during the train running, damaged some parts of the underframe.’ However, it insisted that ‘these setbacks have never affected the safety of the trains or of its passengers’.

Noting that the problems had not emerged during extensive testing of the V250 trainsets at Velim, the Wien Arsenal climate chamber or in the Netherlands, AnsaldoBreda said it was ‘committed to the utmost to solve this unexpected situation’. The supplier ‘immediately’ assembled a team of 40 people to conduct ‘in-depth investigations’ and ‘find the right solution’, dispatching 30 of them to the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, NS has stopped acceptance of its remaining seven trainsets and the three ordered by SNCB. The Belgian operator convened an emergency board meeting on January 21 to consider its position, threatening to cancel the contract if AnsaldoBreda could not solve the problems within three months.

The two railways have insisted that they will only put the V250s back into service once they are sure the trains work reliably. Even before the ice and snow problems, only half of all services were arriving within 5 min of right time, although this improved to 71% after changes to the maintenance regime. According to NS Hispeed Managing Director Jan-Willem Siebers, the multi-system trainsets had been experiencing ‘electronic communications failures’ between train and infrastructure, leading to emergency brake applications.

Given that the V250s are unlikely to return to traffic for some months, the operators are now looking at options for some form of interim service; SNCB has already announce plans for extra services to Roosendaal. Meanwhile, the Belgian parliament’s infrastructure commission and the Dutch parliament’s Second Chamber have called for a joint meeting with SNCB, NS and NS Hispeed to discuss the situation.