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.