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Monday 3 June 2013

High Speed Farce, Italian Style

Trains to run on high speed rail lines can nowadays be bought from a range of manufacturers, all of whom can point to tried and trusted designs, many millions of miles of reliable service, and a commitment to development that gives confidence to prospective buyers. They also have a record of delivering the goods more or less when they say they will, which is a useful bonus, given the sums involved.
AnsaldoBreda V250 trainset. Photo: Jeroen de Vries

European buyers can choose a Japanese builder, like Hitachi, or from within the EU there is Alstom (TGV and Pendolino) and Siemens (ICE). Spanish constructors CAF and Patentes Talgo (the latter with technical partner Bombardier) also have a good record of supplying high speed trains. So when the Netherlands and Belgium wanted a train for their new high speed service, they were spoiled for choice.

And the requirement was not the most onerous: a maximum speed of 250km/h is well short of, for instance, the 310km/h of the Anglo-French Eurostar trains, and they’ve been around several years now. So which of these manufacturers got the nod? Sadly, the answer is “none of the above”: the choice was to award the contract to Italian builder AnsaldoBreda.

Worse, the new trains, christened V250, would be AnsaldoBreda’s first venture into the mainstream high speed rail market: the Dutch and Belgians would be their launch customer. But the order got placed, and a service date of 2007 was pencilled in. Two years later, the V250 had not carried a single fare-paying passenger: a slower locomotive-and-coaches service entered service instead.

Eventually, more than five years late, the V250 entered regular service on the new high-speed line between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Brussels. The “Fyra” branded trains lasted no more than a month and a half before the Belgian authorities revoked their safety certification. Technically speaking, the V250s suffered from bits falling off. Or working loose. And corrosion. And bad build quality. And iffy brakes.

In January this year, Belgian operator NMBS (or SNCB if you’re talking French) gave AnsaldoBreda three months to sort their corporate lives out. The sorting out failed to happen. NMBS have therefore pulled the plug on their V250 order, along with all guarantees of payment. Netherlands operator NS is still thinking about it, while seeing Alstom and Siemens products operating reliably into and out of Amsterdam.

There are lessons to be learned here, and the most important one is this: AnsaldoBreda should not have been bidding if it did not have a product fit for purpose. Moreover, they should consider themselves mightily fortunate if they get away without being taken to the cleaners for all the problems caused by their rash decision to enter a market they clearly knew so little about.

Fortunately, nobody else will be ordering the V250 any time soon. If ever.


Anonymous said...

Would I be right in thinking this is the Ansaldo in the Cambrian Line ERTMS farce?


Tim Fenton said...

I was thinking more of the Manchester South signalling business, which didn't exactly come in on time.

SteveB said...

To be fair, both those projects involved a lot of Railtrack/ Network Rail which meant they were doomed to chaos before a contractor was appointed!

Anyway, it's not only the Belgians baling out. Bert Meerstadt, CEO of Dutch State Railways (NS) has been replaced and the Minister is looking into his options of scrapping the bigger Dutch part of the project. And the Danes are doing the same for their IC4 project, also Ansaldo and running even later than Fyra.

NS have been digging themselves deep into trouble for years, with serious problems of dirty trains, ticket office closures and new trains with no toilets (but the guard can offer emergency bags of water retaining crystals and you may use his cab to fill it!!). And why does this affect Britain? Because NS owns Abellio, who run the Greater Anglia, Northern Rail*, Merseyrail* franchises and various London buses. Remember how the right wing rags welcomed the arrival of continental operators because any fool knows that continental public transport is better than ours?

*In association with British oustourcers Serco, famous for every from Gatso cameras to prison vans.

Anonymous said...

A batch of Stoptrein Sprinters are toilet-free, not unreasonable considering they stop at every station and typically cover quieter metro-link routes. The newer ones (due to government intervention) have toilets, as do the intercity and double decker regio-runner trains.
The closure of ticket booths in small stations is more to do with adoption of OV-kaart system more than anything else, and there are always ticket machines.
NS had serious issues late-90s/early 00s due to rushed and poorly implemented 'reforms' (which have since been reversed), but if those are two of NS' biggest problems then it must be doing very well.

SteveB said...

I didn't realise NS's PR guardians scanned UK sites.

Tell us about how the ticket machines/ offices only accept coins or 2 types of debit card which are not widely available (banks in many countires are dumping Maestro and V-pay is only adopted in a few), with only 2 stations in the whole country accepting "real" Mastercard or Visa. Or how the ticket offices that are still open now charge a booking fee for the privilege of handing over your money - assuming it meets their tight restrictions.

And if not fitting toilets in Stoptreins was reasonable why did the government need to intervene? Presumably because the Dutch people didn't agree - and they own the damn the company so they must be right!

Let's not forget their biggest stunt, transferring ownership of the train fleet to a subsidiary company in Ireland and leasing it back (you can guess why.....)

Anonymous said...

The state of rail travel in the UK, and Europe's backwater lines (those away from TGV, ICE, TALGO etc..) leaves much to be desired, class 142 pacers already paid for nearly 30 years ago now leased for large sums, as said before, we have next to no transport policies.


Anonymous said...

"I didn't realise NS's PR guardians scanned UK sites."

I'm British, but used to live there and visit friends regularly (2-3 times per year), if buying tickets was so hard I think I'd have noticed.