The tram and train manufacturer, Stadler, has appeared many times in our news reports as the supplier of a new batch of stock for light railways in many locations across the world. The company has its headquarters in the Swiss town of Bussnang, in Thurgau Canton in the far north of Switzerland. The town has a population of a little over 2,000 and therefore cannot be the location of the factories in which its wide range of light rail, tram:train, and heavy rail multiple units are built. In fact Stadler has factories or assembly plants in many locations across the world and with an eye for business production facilities are opened up in countries where new metros or light railways are planned. In mid 2019 such factories exist in Poland, Hungary, Belarus, and Spain. The company took over a factory complex in Valencia, Spain, and vehicles for the UK are being assembled there. In India, where smog is an increasing dangerous problem, new Metros are to be built in the cities of Amaravat and Visakhapatnam, and anticipating possible orders for trains for one or both of these new metros Stadler is planning to built an assembly plant in Andhra Pradesh. This will be well placed to handle orders from the Indian sub-continent and nations across the Pacific. A plant in the USA is being considered to meet that nation’s requirement that a large proportion of manufactured items must include local content.
Stadler exhibited at the recent Railtex exhibition in the NEC in Solihull, West Midlands. There were three categories of vehicle about which there was information being displayed at their stand – different types of Low Floor LRV – Citylink tram:trains – and various types of emu for use on suburban railway networks or on new Metro lines. The company has produced attractive leaflets describing each of these vehicles with information about orders from specific customers.
Leaflets gave information about three models of low-floor LRV produced by the company. In 2013 Stern and Hafferl, the Austrian light railway operator, ordered eleven metre gauge five-segment LRVs for use in the city of Gmunden. In many respects these trams are similar to the six standard gauge five-section LRVs ordered for the Croydon Tramlink network in 2011 with repeat orders for four LRVs in 2013, and two more in 2015. Both have a stainless steel body, with four doors on each side, 75 and 72 seats respectively, and standing room for 100 or 134 respectively. The higher number of standing passengers in the Croydon LRVs reflects the slightly wider bodies of the standard gauge LRVs compared with the metre gauge Gmunden vehicles. Both types take power at 750 V DC while the top operating speed is 70km/hour (Gmunden) or 80km/hour (Croydon).
A third type of Low-floor LRV was included in the leaflets – the seven-section LRVs of which nine were ordered in January 2018 for use in Lugano, Switzerland. In many respects these metre gauge LRVs which will be delivered from the Valencia factory in 2020, are similar to the Croydon trams. The stainless steel bodies will have 70 seats and standing space for 228 passengers. Power will be taken at 1200 V DC through a pantograph. These long LRVs will be carried on four bogies and there will be 8 double doors on each side to ensure rapid loading and unloading at stops.
Three types of tram:train were highlighted on the Railtex stand. The oldest version was the Citylink tram for use on the commuter rail network around Chemnitz in Germany, eight being ordered in August 2012, with a further four ordered in July 2015. These standard gauge three section trams operate on power at 750 V DC taken via a pantograph, with diesel-electric power pack
for operation on non-electrified branches. These tram:trains have 87 seats and have standing room for 141. They can attain a top speed of 100 km/hour.
Although tram:trains have operated on various systems in Europe, the UK’s first venture into the type of vehicle is in Sheffield. The South Yorkshire PTE ordered seven tram:trains in June 2013 with delivery in 2017. They were to provide vehicles that could operate over BR metals through Rotherham and onwards to a new shopping centre, and also to add a little to the overstretched fleet on the exiting Supertram network. They can take power through a pantograph at 750 V DC on the existing Supertram network, or at 25kV AC when on British Railways tracks. A top speed of 100 km/hour can be attained. These vehicles provide 96 seats with standing room for 140. The bodies are made with stainless steel and sadly two of these tram:trains have been involved in significant accidents. One has sustained severe damage and has had to be returned to the manufacturer where repairs may be possible. The other was less badly damaged and will be repaired locally.
The third type of tram:train lies in the future. The Wales and Borders franchise to operate heavy rail services throughout Wales was awarded in 2018 to the Keolis Amey Wales consortium which has decided to invest heavily in local rail services. They have ordered 36 three segment Citylink tram:trains and also 35 “Flirt” trains. The tram:trains will operate on 25 kV AC as well as battery power enabling which will avoid the need for providing costly overhead power wire equipment on quieter sections of the routes. The tram:trains will have the usual stainless steel bodies, will seat 130, and provide standing room for 256 passengers. There will be three double doors on each side of the tram:train and hopefully this will be sufficient when a service is filled to maximum capacity. The top speed for these tram:trains is 100 km/hour. These vehicles will take over services along the South Wales Valleys and will transform the level and style of service that exists at present.
There remains for consideration multiple units for use on standard gauge suburban railways, and one oddity – a medium gauge underground railway with an extremely restricted tunnel diameter.
First let us look at the WINK multiple units ordered by the Netherlands Railways. The eighteen two-car trains are designed for this era when there is concern for the future of the planet and when pollution is something that we are starting to realise is damaging the fabric of our world. These trains will operate at 1500 V DC taken from an overhead wire, or from engines powered by diesel fuel or by hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). There is a longer term plan to replace these diesel or HVO powered engines by batteries to make the WINK units zero emission trains. They are likely to be introduced into service in 2020 and will seat 135 (151 if tip-up seats are included) people. They will reach a speed of 140 km/hour and there will be three wide doors on each side.
The largest order received by Stadler in recent years – for 52 four car emus was received in February 2017 from Merseytravel to replace the entire fleet operating of Liverpool’s Northern Line and between Liverpool and destinations in the Wirral. These services are among the best performing local services in the UK with high levels of customer satisfaction but the trains are now elderly and new trains are the only sensible answer. Platforms throughout the network are a standard height so these low floor emus are able to achieve level boarding for passengers. The trains will be able to be retrofitted for ERTMS and for handling a power supply at 25 kV AC when appropriate. At present power at 750 V DC is taken from a third rail. They will have batteries to allow movement in depots etc where there is no third rail. The new trains are expected to enter service during 2019-20 and each train will seat 182 people, plus 8 tip-up seats. They will have a top speed of 120 km/hour. These new trains will transform travel on what has been a group of lines that has always achieved high standards.
Now what is the odd sounding last in our list of current Stadler contracts? It is a line well known to myself – the 4’0” gauge Glasgow Subway that follows a roughly circular course between the city centre and inner suburbs to the west of the city. The tunnels are small in diameter so careful planning was necessary to produce a train that would fit in the tunnels and which would provide space inside the coaches for a tallish passenger. Originally the first trains were hauled around the route by gripping a moving cable but the route was later electrified using tramcar motors. The original stock was eventually replaced by the present fleet and the time has come for a third fleet to take over services on what is the third oldest underground railway in the world. Seventeen Metro trains have been ordered and each comprises two half-trains coupled together to form what looks like a four car train, the outer coaches being somewhat longer than the two middle coaches. Each complete train will have 104 seats plus 8 tip-up seats, and space for 199 standees. It must be stressed that all the train/LRV types detailed so far have assumed that standing passengers will be 4 per square metre. On the Glasgow Subway, on which travel times will be very short, the number quoted is on the basis of 6 standees per square metre. Watch out! Co-ordinate your breathing! More seriously, there will be a powerful ventilation system. The complete train will have four coaches so that the complete train can negotiate the relatively sharp curves along the route. A three coach train, as with the present fleet, would have longer coaches which would have to be slightly narrower to fit along the route. There will be six double doors per train side to allow rapid loading and unloading.
The Subway had a charmed life in the later part of the 20th century with the tunnel walls crumbling and all the equipment on the trains and at the Govan Depot out of date. Many of the suburbs on the south side of the city had seen a sharp decline in population and whole areas had seen the demolition of virtually all of the buildings. Govan Parish Church, a truly historic ancient building, stood alone with all other nearby buildings swept away. Today new building has brought people back to these areas and the Subway is proving to be the pollution-free way to travel. The new trains should be introduced during 2020 and will have a top speed of 58 km/hour although there will not be many places where this can be achieved.