On the right track

'The Jerusalem Post' tours the manufacturing facilities where its trains are built - in Germany.

Train coach interior 521 (photo credit: Bombardier)
Train coach interior 521
(photo credit: Bombardier)
Last month a group of Israeli journalists was invited to visit Bombardier engineering workshops and maintenance depots in Germany. According to Bombardier’s website, this Canadian aerospace and transportation company, with 59 railway production and engineering sites in 23 countries, is the only company that builds both planes and trains.
Bombardier built the double-decker trains used by Israel Railways, and in October 2010 the company received an order from IR for a further 150 coaches, to be delivered to Israel over a year and a half, with the first arriving a month ago.
The group of journalists visited the engineering works in Görlitz, Germany’s easternmost city. The Eisenbahn-Wagenbau- Anstalt railway carriage factory was founded in Görlitz in 1849, and railway vehicles have been constructed in the town ever since. The works were acquired by Bombardier in 1998. The site covers 34 hectares, and has 1,200 employees. Half of all output is double-deckers, and the company was delighted to receive the Israel Railways order.
Jean Berge, Bombardier’s vice president of marketing and sales, said that with its small size and short distances between cities, Israel is a perfect country for public transportation. Train ridership in Israel has grown annually by 12 to 15 percent in recent years, making more rolling stock necessary to meet the increasing demand.
Of the 150 coaches comprising the Israel Railways order, 192 are trailer (standard passenger) coaches, 51 have access for the disabled and 53 are power coaches, used at the opposite end to the locomotive to provide additional motive power. The power cars are specific to Israel because of the climate. A standard doubledecker train consists of a locomotive, four trailer coaches, one wheelchair-accessible coach and a power coach.
A double-decker train has 75% more seating capacity than a single-decker train of the same length. The high station platforms in Israel allow greater capacity because the doors are immediately above the wheels, which is not possible in Europe where the lower platforms necessitate placing the doors between the bogies (wheels), thus limiting capacity.
Berge said the high-speed Tel Aviv to Jerusalem line, now under construction, needs to be electrified because of the steep gradients, and this would lead to electrification of the country’s entire rail system, which is planned to be fully electrified by 2020. He said Bombardier can provide a solution for converting existing rolling stock to electric.
Diesel trains can be converted to run on electricity. Electric multiple-unit trains allow for more seats on the same length train and are consequently more efficient. The planned Haifa to Karmiel line, expected to open in 2015, will be electric, as a first stage in the electrification of the entire Israel Railways system.
Berge said he doesn’t believe Maglev (magnetic levitation) is the future of railways because it would mean rebuilding everything from scratch. He also said that solar power, while good in principle, would provide enough power for internal lighting but not to move a train.
The group toured the workshops and saw railway coaches in various stages of completion. Some were “naked” metal shells lined up awaiting completion. A curved roof, the entire length of a coach, swung from a crane and was lowered gently to the floor. In another area, coaches already painted red and bearing the Israel Railways logo were having their doors attached.
The coaches are tested at temperatures of up to 50º, and also for waterproofing, using simulated rain. They are then shipped to Ashdod and taken by rail to Dimona, where the seats and tables are installed.
THE GROUP then visited the Bombardier workshops in the nearby town of Bautzen, where light rail vehicles and trams are built. The Israel connection here is that Bombardier will be bidding for the contract to build vehicles for the Red Line of the Tel Aviv light railway system. (The Jerusalem light rail cars were built by Alstom, one of Bombardier’s competitors.)
Hicham Ait Chahdad, sales manager for Turkey, Middle East and Asia, said this plant is the largest tram factory in Europe, having been established in 1846 as a foundry and engineering company. Electric trams and railways have been built in Bautzen since 1897 and the site was integrated into Bombardier in 1998. Today it has 1,500 employees.
The company builds light rail vehicles for cities around the world. The basic mechanics of the vehicles are the same, but the exterior and interior are designed in consultation with the client to fit in with the city’s character and culture; for example, the trams for Marseille are in the shape of ocean liners to fit the French city’s maritime ambience.
While a light rail runs on a dedicated track, separated from other vehicles – as in Jerusalem – a tramway shares the road with cars and buses. Bombardier is developing a new technology for powering trams without overhead wires. The Primove system works on inductive power transfer. Underground cables connected to the power conditioning and supply network are energized only when fully covered by the vehicle, ensuring safe operation. A pick-up coil underneath the vehicle turns the magnetic field created by the cables in the ground into an electric current that feeds the vehicle traction system.
Switching over to the Primove system would mean no more unsightly overhead wires – an aesthetic consideration in areas of historic importance (imagine how much better Jerusalem’s Old City walls would look with such a system in operation) – and easier maintenance. In addition, tunnels for Primove trams would be of smaller diameter – and therefore cheaper to construct – since there would be no need to accommodate the overhead catenary.
THE GROUP of journalists also visited Berlin. The city has a population equivalent to that of the Hadera-Gedera region, but in contrast has 28 light rail lines, 12 suburban lines and nine underground metro lines. Compared to Israel, Berlin has one-third the number of road accidents, twice as many cars, and half Tel Aviv’s air pollution.
One and a half million people enter both Tel Aviv and Berlin daily, but whereas only 2% in Tel Aviv use trains, in Berlin the proportion is 40%. Bombardier trains carry seven million passenger trains daily throughout the world.
André Navarri, Bombardier’s president and chief operating officer of transportation, said rail transport is the most sustainable and efficient solution for future mobility, carrying more people in less space. As the company builds both planes and trains, it can use plane technology for very high-speed trains, which can travel up to up to 380 kph (the world’s fastest trains, in China), and it would be interested in the possibility of incorporating such trains for travel between Tel Aviv and Eilat.
The company has built the world’s first hybrid train, in France, which can work on different voltages and also on non-electric line without interruption. Navarri said Bombardier is also an outstanding leader in double-deck technology.
The lifetime of a train coach can be 30 years, so maintenance is important. Maintenance costs more than the original acquisition of a coach, as there are more than 12,000 parts in a double-decker train. Navarri said Bombardier wants to stay in Israel in bad times as well as good, and has signed a 15-year maintenance contract with Israel Railways.
The writer was a guest of Bombardier.