Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

How long will the future wait?

Posted in Europe, High Speed, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 29 May 2010

We’re coming up to 30 years of high speed rail in Europe, with the LGV Sud-Est having opened in 1981. As France was the pioneer of genuine high speed, it maintained an advantage in terms of the technology, espeically when considering rolling stock. The TGV layout of train, where although it is described as a multiple unit, this is because the train is articulated (where one bogie sits under two adjacent cars) – the cars themselves are unpowered, with instead the train having a power car at each end. When Germany entered the world of high speed rail with its ICE network, its first trains, the ICE1 and ICE2, operated along the same principle of a pair of power cars and unpowered coaches. However, the third generation ICE train, ICE3, is a genuine multiple unit, with the traction and power generation equipment located along the length of the train, which can be seen by the fact that pantograph is located in one of the middle cars. Seemingly as a result of this change, the French have decided that the new generation of trains will also be genuine multiple units. The Automotrice à grande vitesse (AGV), just like the ICE3 and its descendents, has its equipment distributed under the floor of each car along the entire length of the train, which allows greater space for passengers, but, like its TGV predecessors, is also articulated, giving a smoother ride. Best of both worlds it would seem. Except that it is brand new, and isn’t in service anywhere yet. NTV in Italy is the launch customer, having ordered 25 units for its open-access services that will be launched in September 2011. But, as yet, no one else has made any orders, with the Siemens Velaro taking a big slice of the market with orders from Germany, Spain, Russia and China. So, given that it’s still over a year until it enters service, where does this leave AGV? Of course, you would expect SNCF to purchase it when the time comes to start replacing its 1st Generation TGVs, but where will the export of the technology come from if people are turning towards an already proven product like Velaro? Given that most national operators with high speed networks have relatively young fleets, whether they have developed their own trains or purchased existing types, it will be some considerable time until they even think about replacing trains. Indeed, as an example, Eurostar have begun the mid-life update process on their fleet, with it having been in service for a decade and a half, suggesting it will be at least 10-15 years before they look to replace. The only prospects as it stands are those countries looking to build high speed lines, or open-access operators like NTV looking to start up. The difficulty is that high speed lines take a long time to build, while purchasing a brand new fleet of trains for a start-up open-access concern will be very expensive. So who will purchase AGV?

AGV - where is the market?

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