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The UK at InnoTrans

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Transport secretary Chris Grayling led the charge as UK rail companies went in search of new international opportunities at InnoTrans. The Railway Industry Association (RIA) struck up strategic partnerships with booming markets abroad and businesses big and small secured new leads.

On a tour of some of the UK businesses that were looking to export their products and services, Chris Grayling was present to witness both Network Rail and Belgium’s infrastructure manager, Infrabel, putting pen to paper on rail supply contracts with British Steel.

“British Steel is seen worldwide as the best to put on railway lines, the highest quality, the most innovative and it’s been great to see the current management really taking the business forward,” said Grayling, who added it was a pleasure to support one of the best – “if not the best” – and most consistent suppliers to the UK’s railways.

Messe Berlin

Around 120 UK companies were showcased at the Messe Berlin exhibition grounds, with many more joining the 160,000 visitors to the world’s largest rail industry trade show. From CRRC, Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens and Hitachi to Knorr-Bremse, Wabtec and Progress Rail, the biggest global rail equipment suppliers were all present. The biennial show, which was in its 12th year and ran from 18 to 21 September, also welcomed a record 3,062 exhibitors, who came from 61 different countries.

Opportunities were seized by RIA, which announced a memorandum of understandings with the Malaysian Rail Industry Consortium as well as the Australasian Railway Association. Both countries are experiencing booms in their respective rail markets and it is hoped the pacts will promote a close working relationship between the suppliers of each country.

World premieres

For others, the show was less about announcing new deals and more about presenting world premieres. Swiss train maker Stadler was one of the busiest, showcasing no less than seven new trains. This includes new FLIRT trains for Greater Anglia and one of Stadler and delivery partner Ansaldo STS’s underground trains (above) for the Glasgow Subway.

Operating within the confines of original Victorian tunnels that have a 3.4m diameter has represented a challenge (For reference, Crossrail tunnels have a diameter of 6.2m), but so has the unique 1.22mm track gauge, which means it is only possible to test the train on the Glasgow Subway system.

The 17 four-car sets – described by one German visitor as the most beautiful metro train he’s ever seen – are being manufactured in Altenrhein, Switzerland, and are set to enter service in 2019.

Opportunities and challenges

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport operations manager David Christie was on hand to talk about the impact that moving from partially automatic trains to unattended train operations will have on staff. While on the one hand it is exploring the option of sending maintenance engineers to Switzerland for two years to acquire the knowledge to be able to maintain the trains, it is also looking at how best to manage a decreasing need for drivers.

He said: “The plan is that we won’t have drivers on trains in the future, but we will not be making people redundant. We will be looking at people who have reached the end of their worklife and want to retire.”

Spread across 41 halls and 3,500m of railway tracks were countless innovations that promise to improve costs, performance and safety. One to look out for is Porterbrook and the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education’s ‘HydroFlex’ train. Following on from the recent commencement of development work, the two have agreed to work together to create the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train. Although they face stiff competition from Alstom and Eversholt Rail to the achievement, the plan is to convert one of Porterbrook’s Class 319s and undertake test runs in summer 2019.

Photo: RIA.
Photo: RIA.

The B word

After four days of walking, talking and exchanging business cards, InnoTrans came to a close.

By the time of the next show in 2020, or even the next major UK rail exhibition Railtex, Britain will have left the European Union. For those that are worried about the impact Brexit will have on the rail industry Grayling had this message.

He said: “This show has businesses from every corner of the globe working with each other, selling to each other, forming partnerships with each other, and that I think is our vision for British companies post Brexit.

“We’ll be back here in two years’ time as a UK team supporting UK companies, you will carry on going from strength to strength throughout the world.

“This is a moment of opportunity for the rail industry. All around the world people are investing in public transport systems, both light rail and heavy rail because of the pressure on their cities. This is not a market that is going to shrink for you and you’ve got some great products to make the best of it.”

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