Monday, October 29, 2018

Useful Trains - and where to find them

On our recent trip to Europe, we rode and saw a wide variety of trains, metros and trams.  Every city seemed to have a really well developed train and transit network even for relatively small populations.  Here's a smattering along with some commentary.

Stockholm. Population of metro area 2.3 million,  Population of Sweden: 10.2 million

Arlanda Express (airport train). It was built to connect the new airport with the city and reduce emissions.  The line is operated by a private firm, under contract.  It operates at 120 mph, every 15 minutes or better,  and has a 25% market share of travellers to and from the airport.  It's very easy to use, although not cheap - about $30 per person, one way.

At Arlanda

Stockholm Metro:  

The heavy rail component of Stockholm's transit network isn't particularly extensive - there are three lines that cross in the middle of the city, some with branches, but it runs with great frequency and is very well patronized.  It's easy to get a visitor pass for unlimited rides for up to three days at a time.  Also, not cheap.  About $30 for a three day pass.

There are two vintages of equipment.  The older cars are from the 1960s, and the new ones from roughly 2000.  The older equipment is kept in good condition, but the new equipment is much smoother, quieter and more comfortable.

 Stockholm Streetcars

An extensive network has been paired back to light rail feeders to the Metro.  There is one urban streetcar line - the 7.  It's useful for tourists as it connects the city center and shopping district to the museum area.
At the loop at the end of the line.  Bombardier Flexity Classic tram.

Frequent service. 

Dedicated ROW along part of the route

Suburban and Intercity

These trains all run out of the Central Station. Sweden has a good bit of higher speed track and a mix of newer and older equipment operate on the network.  There is open access to the network and some of it has been bid out.  MTR is currently running the Stockholm to Gotenburg route with new equipment of their own.  SJ operates with a mix of 1980's Rc-6 locomotives and coaches, mid 1990s X2000s and mid-2000's double deck EMUs.

The Stockholm commuter trains are part of the city transit network and you can purchase tickets for an upgraded fare with your transit card.  The are contract operated by MTR and are independent of the SJ trains.  Although they cover some the same territory, they do not cross - honor fares. (as I found out the hard way).  All of the suburban equipment is single level EMU equipment from Alstom built in the past 13 years.

Stockholm Central Station

 MTR Express train

In Stockholm Central

Stadler Flirt EMU

The national railway operated all the other intercity and regional lines with the exception of the Arlanda Express.
SJ X40 based on Alstom Coradia built 2004

ASEA Rc-6 built in the early 1980s, 4800 HP, 100 mph mainline power for long distance trains

Intercity train operated by MTR Express between Stockholm and Gothenburg

On the bridge to Gamla Stan

ASEA Ma class built in 1958. 

X40 equipped Uppsala train in Stockholm

Inside the X40, upper level

Stockholm to Uppsala regional train operated by SJ.  The city transport operates commuter trains on this route, as well.  Slower, but cheaper.

Uppsala.  SJ X40 train on left.  City Transport X60 commuter train on right.  Commuter train is operated by MTR Nordic.  Commuter both trains are based on Alstom Coradia.

Original Uppsala station has been converted into retail space while new station has been built adjacent to the south

X2000 premium intercity train.  These were built in the early 1990s and run on the high speed, high density routes at speeds  up to 127 mph

X60 commuter train heading south from Sodermalm

commuter trains pass on bridge leading south from Sodermalm

SJ intercity train with Rc-6 locomotive leaving Central Station

Rc-6 powered coach train sits in Uppsala ready to head back to Stockholm

Inside Uppsala coach train - coaches appear to be about same vintage as Amfleet

SJ bistro car at Stockholm

A pair of Rc-6s in Stockholm
Freight in Sweden is also open access.  Green Cargo is a spin off from SJ and remains government owned.  Mainlines handle a mix of freight and passenger.

Green Cargo diesel totes a dozen or so box cars north through Stockholm.  The locomotive is class T-44.  Originally powered by an EMD 12-645E, now powered by MTU four stroke.

The train and transit network in Sweden is extensive even though there is little through running to Norway or Denmark and the country has a modest total population.  It works in part, because the city transit and suburban rail network in Stockholm is very robust.

Sweden shows that older equipment can perform adequately in intercity service as Rc-6 locomotive hauled coach trains and X2000 tilt trains are over 25 years years old and still in service.  The Rc-4 locomotive and X2000 trainset that Amtrak borrowed in the 1970s and 1990s respectively are still running in Sweden.

Sweden has dabbled in open access with the Stockholm to Gotenburg corridor and the Arlanda Express airport train.  Results have been mixed, apparently, as environmental and economic goals have clashed.

Application for Amtrak.  Don't be so fast to ditch older equipment. Corridors work when cities have good local transit.

Helsinki Finland:  Population 1.5 million.  Finland population: 5.5 million

My only exposure to the railways in Finland was a visit to the Helsinki Train station.

Railroads in Finland share Russian 5 foot broad gauge and there is through service with Russia.  VR is the state run railroad that operates all the commuter and long distance service.  A mix of commuter and long haul trains were in the station when I visited.  They are dabbling in open access, but have had only a pair of takers on the freight side, so far.

Impressive Station from the early 20th Century.  Famous Finnish architect Eero Saarinen's father did the design.

Fairly small, but nice concourse

Decent sized train shed.  A must for Helsinki's climate. Double decker trains on right are typical intercity equipment.  

Commuter rail network is extensive for a fairly small city.

Penolino train arriving Helsinki.  This equipment runs the five principle routes in Finland. Apparently, this equipment has been troublesome but is popular.

Stadler Flirt trains in commuter service

Locomotive hauled long distance train.  4000 HP locomotive built in 1977.

"Restaurant" Car and double decker coach.
Helsinki City Transit:

Helsinki has a robust network of tram lines.  The network covers 60 miles.  Trams are meter gauge.  Transtech, Valmet and Bombardier are the manufactures.

Valmet tram

Transtech Artic

Tram stop at train station

Running down the main street, Mannerheimintie


Helsinki is a moderately sized city in a small country, but is connected to the large city of Saint Petersburg, Russia by a higher speed rail line.  Rail network is rather extensive for a small country.  Once again, the good city transit is present.

Amtrak application:  Troublesome equipment is no unique to Amtrak.  Acela teething pains were worth the effort. Off the shelf equipment might not have been an improvement.

Saint Petersburg, Russia

Being on escorted tours the whole time left no opportunity to explore the railroad scene.  Here a few grab shots.

Extensive tram network, seemingly well patronized

Rail infrastructure was woven into the industrial fabric of the city

St. Petersburg has quite a few trackless trolley lines
Diesels under the wire.

Classification yard under wire.  MOW train for track panels (orange) in yard.

 Tallinn, Estonia.  Population just over 1/2 million.  Country population 1.3 million.

The railways in Estonia also follow the Russian 5 foot gauge and were constructed as part of the Russian empire.  Current service in Estonia is basically commuter/regional service with Tallinn as the hub.  There is apparently some service through to St. Petersburg on a 15 hour overnight schedule.

Tallinn's station is a small, trim stub end terminal with a small waiting room.  The equipment is entirely Stadler Flirts.


Tallinn Station.  Smart, new stub-end platforms

Tallinn also has a few tram lines.

Trams well patronized in mid-day

TATRA tram.  Note lowered center section.  Each end is on a single truck.

TATRA tram

CAF tram - entirely low floor

Private ROW

Also, at the Tallinn station was an old Russian  decapod from the early 1950s
Russian 2-10-0 built in 1953.  Long after western countries had stopped building steam locomotives.

and a diesel switcher.
Six axle, 1300 HP switcher.  Built by CKD.  770 Series

I was probably in the wrong place to see those ex-UP C36-7 locomotives used in freight service.

Takeaways:  Even small cities can benefit by a robust transit network.  Useful even without a robust intercity network, regional transit works.

Berlin/Warnemunde:  Rostock is the nearest major town to Warnemunde. Population less than 250,000.  Berlin population: 6 million.

Germany has one of the most robust, well organized and easy to use rail transportation systems in the world.  No matter where you are in Germany, the U bahn is city heavy rail transit, often a subway, the S bahn is suburban trains, Regio is the regional trains, IC is intercity and ICE is high speed.  Better yet, a single ticket will get you from any stop on the network to any other stop on the network.

Germany also moves a good amount of freight on their network open access style, and operators have to buy their "slots" on the routes they run - and make sure their trains can move in those slots.

It's a massive, highly choreographed operation.  We got to taste and see just a bit of it.

S bahn train connecting Warnemunde with Rostock.  Appears to be a Stadler Flirt.

Warnemunde station as seen from cruise ship in port

Charter train used to haul cruise passengers to Berlin.  Seems to be older commuter equipment.  Mid-car vestibules with a mix of compartment and center-aisle seating.  No air conditioning.

This equipment was only good for 87 mph, and we ran exactly that fast all the way to Berlin.

At Ostbahnhof in Berlin.  About 900 people were on this train.
S bahn train crosses the Spree River

S bahn

S bahn train at Friedrichstrasse station

Regio train.  Cab car leading

Siemens EuroSprinter locomotive pushing.  Similar to Amtrak's new ACS-64s.

Leaving Berlin

Passing S bahn train

Back in Warnemunde.  On time.

Trams run only in the former East Berlin. 

On Friedrichstrasse.
Takeaways:  Seamless travel is what DB does better than anyone. Even our chartered train ran flawlessly.  Germany is yet another country that relies on a robust network of intercity and suburban trains coupled with solid urban transit for for mobility.

What Amtrak could learn:  Through ticketing.  For example, you should be able to plan a trip from Islip on the LIRR to Bowie on MARC on a single web site, and purchase a ticket.  Suburban access to intercity trains.  Amtrak could use some suburban stops for some of their long distance trains.  Without a robust network of suburban trains, there is no easy way to gather travellers up for the one, large central station stop.  Many suburban locations in the US have grown dramatically since Amtrak's schedules were developed.

Aalborg, Denmark

Aalborg population: 200,000 Denmark: 5.7 million

Aalborg's train service is much like that in other small cities in the Netherlands or Germany - a mix of regional and intercity trains.

Aalborg's station

HO scale Aalborg station on model railroad in the station.

IC3 intercity train equipment

Siemens Desario DMU

Stavanger, Norway.  Population: 320,000.  Norway: 5.3 Million

For a small country, Norway tries hard.  They have a useful rail network with lots of new equipment, even if it has had teething pains.  The newest equipment, the class 73, hasn't found it's way onto the Bergen - Oslo route, it seems there have been issues with snow, but they run everywhere else, including the southern line from Oslo to Stavanger.  Stavenger is also served by regional/commuter trains.  The west coast of Norway is a classic "you can't get there from here" situation due to deep fjords and high mountains.  Consequently, there is no direct rail route between the two largest west coast cities without going all the way back nearly to Oslo.

This small station tucked away in the middle of town is the terminal for the Sorland Line.

Class 72 commuter equipment built by AnsaldoBreda

Class 73 intercity equipment connecting Stavanger with Oslo

Bergen, Norway.  Population: 420,000

Bergen has a nice, small station with a small trainshed.  Outside the passenger station, there is freight yard that seems to do a good bit of intermodal business.

The line out of Bergen is a tough piece of railroading.  Nearly the entire distance between Bergen and the next stop 10 miles away are through a tunnel.  Then the railroad winds along a fjord, climbing, then leaves the fjord and climbs all the way to the top of  Norway, over 4000 ft climb from Bergen.

Inside the train shed

Small concource with a few shops and a nice mural

Small, but appropriately-sized train shed, a couple old Class 69 trains are in the station.  Built in the 1960s, these cars were modernized about a decade ago.

Intercity train to Oslo.  These were all locomotive hauled trains. These are 7000 HP, built by Adtranz in the late 1990's.
These trains generally consisted with the class 7 coaches, built in the late 1980s and some class 5s, built in the late 1970s.

Stadler Flirts used in regional/local service

Intermodal equipment at Bergen. 
Not a particularly graceful transition between the locomotive and a class 7 coach

Inside a refurbished first class, class 5 coach. Floors in all cars are sheet vinyl.  Carpeting and the climate in Norway are a poor match.

The family car includes a play area

Stadler Flirt at Mydal

First class includes unlimited free coffee and tea.  Cafe car had pretty fair menu - adequate for a 7 hour trip.

Dale is a typical rural Norwegian station.  They are all this ochre color.

Takeaways:  Old equipment can be worth keeping.  The family cars are well patronized.  The service is fairly frequent and fast enough to be competitive with driving, and stations and transit at each end are more than adequate.  It would be great if Norway could figure out how to do a open air sightseer car like New Zealand.  These trains are more regular transportation than tourist service, but there were plenty of tourists riding for the scenery.

Amtrak applicability:  Don't be so quick to ditch Amfleet equipment.  Adapt to the markets.  Family car was a novel idea.  Self-serve coffee machine another cheap way to provide an amenity.

Oslo Norway. population 1.6 million

Norway spend a ton of money in Oslo.  They built a new airport and connected it with a high speed rail line.  They tunnelled out of their Central Station to the west to create through service and they purchased a bunch of new equipment.  It paid off.  The new station is a thriving mixed use center.  The airport train is well patronized, fast and runs 6 times an hour.  The service is well designed and easy to use.

Freight service is on an open access basis.  I saw some signs of it including a train of timber being operated with an electric on one end and a diesel on the rear, seemingly in DPU...

It wasn't always easy, though.  New EMU equipment has had trouble with deep snow.  The new tunnel leaked.  But, in the, Oslo has a highly functional intercity and commuter network.

Norwegian Di4 locomotive equipped with EMD 16-645E3 engine.  Sort of a Norwegian SD40-2.  Later to be DPU on timber train.

Siemens Vectron AC electric.Later to be leader on timber train.

Pushing through Oslo Central Station
Brick and mortar station.

Another ochre wood framed train station.  This in suburban Oslo

Meeting opposing train to Bergen

Meet complete

Oslo suburban train.  Stadler Flirt

Class 72 suburban equipment meets Class 75 
Class 71 high speed EMU in Airport Express Service

Through train from Sweden.  Bombardier Regina EMU

Excellent train information board in Oslo

Old Oslo train shed now shops and restaurants is connected to the new station
Intercity train.

"See Norway.  Take the train."  Okay!

Airport Express...

if you miss one, the next is in ten minutes, at most.

New station

Airport Express interior

Terminal at Airport

Oslo had first rate transit. Even the buses are easy to use and have "next stop" displays in them.  The bus, tram and metro system work seamlessly to get you where you want to be.  Just by a transit card just about anywhere and load it with an unlimited day pass and off you go.  Simple

Transit terminal in front of the train station

On board the tram

On the bus.  Next stop listing.  Very helpful.  Had similar "next bus" signs at the bus stops.

Oslo Metro

Takeaways:  Oslo is like a smaller Stockholm.  Both have well developed transit, suburban and intercity trains.  Norway is a bit more modern, likely due to its oil wealth.  It shows that even smallish cities can have robust rail transportation.

Amtrak application:  The train information board in Oslo station is worth copying.  It has route maps and train arrival and departure info.  The signage on the platforms is equally good.  A lot of what you see now in Oslo is the result of planning over the past couple decades.  Long lead times are not unique to the US.  Norway does have the advantage of being able to buy "off the shelf" equipment like the popular Stadler FLIRT with much shorter lead times.

Edinburg, Scotland  population 1.3 million

Edinburgh is the first sizable city in this list that doesn't have a lot of urban rail transit.  The "new town" has a tram line, but, by and large, Edinburgh transit relies on double decker buses.  However, this doesn't dampen the activity in the main train station, Waverly.  The suburban and intercity rail network out of Waverly is extensive.  Trains in Britain are operated over the national rail network owned by the state with operating rights being controlled by companies under contract.  The network is parsed out and operators bid on the section they want to operate.  Despite this, ticketing can be done through National Enquiries and through ticketing is transparent.

ScotRail operates the regional and suburban train and LNER (who took over for Virgin this year) operates the intercity trains on the east coast, with Virgin operating routes on the west coast from Edinburgh.

Edinburgh's Tram in New City


Waverly - looks like a giant greenhouse

Standard UK style train information board and fare collection gates

Stadler/Vossloh 3800 HP, 100 mph, Caterpillar engined Class 68 diesel electric

Hitachi 385 class EMU

Arriving North Queensferry

Arriving North Queensferry for Waverly

Inside a Turbostar DMU

Turbostar DMU at Waverly

Looking east from Waverly

Express Sprinter DMU at Waverly

LNER HST or InterCity 125 train.  In "patched" Virgin paint.

LNER painted on where "Virgin" used to be.

Interior of LNER HST train

Virgin HST locomotive at Waverly

Freight - miscellaneous

Mid-60s built class 47 "City of Truro".  Now in freight service.

92 class electric locomotive.  Built in early 1990s.  Used on Caledonian Sleeper train.

Class 66 crossing Firth of Forth.  The class 66 is roughly what a 12 cylinder version of a US SD70.

The LNER east coast trains all tie up in Kings Cross

King's Cross Station

HST locomotive with commemorative 50th anniversary of the Deltic locomotive plate

Mark 4 cab car (DVT) next to HST locomotive

Southeast and Southwestern Railway operating companies in England

Southeastern operates on the lines from London to the Channel Tunnel, including the new, high speed route.

St Pancras.  Right across the street from King's Cross

New trains shed for high speed trains on the new southeast line.

Hitachi built Javelins

Javelins can run on 750VDC third rail as well

Arriving Canterbury

Class 375 Electrostar EMUs at Canterbury

Departing Waterloo East

Waterloo Station. Southwestern trains operate from here.


Desiro City class 707 EMUs interior

Interior of the Desiro City.  Near full width diaphragms.
Desiro City class 707 EMUs at Windsor.  This equipment is nearly new.
Takeaways:  The British Rail network seems like a good template to follow if you want a quasi-privatized rail network.  British Rail owns the track and lets out intercity contracts on a regional basis with bidders having to prove they can and will supply the service specified in the contract.  This model could work in the US in certain areas/corridors - you just have to build profit motive into the contract so that the franchise owners "win" by trying to attract riders. Ridership is way up since the UK went to this system.

Amtrak lessons:  Once again, through, combined ticketing between operating agencies makes for easy trips.  Contracting out operations of routes to independent, for profit entities can be an attractive option, done right.  This does not mean that passenger rail is profitable, as it may not be feasible for the contractor to pay the network owner the full cost of access, but making the contract provide for profits can only cause good things to happen.