At InnoTrans, it’s fun to go to the press briefing … and stick around late!

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, September 17, 2012

Here's a unique rail vehicle on display at InnoTrans, a portable work station, where the rolling stock moves into place, opens up like a camper, and the track crew can work in a sheltered environment with tools and gear within easy reach. Photo by Jim Wrinn

The Italian-made Crab, basically the same concept as an American Trackmobile, is on display at InnoTrans 2012. Photo by Jim Wrinn

Among the final chores prior to the opening of InnoTrans 2012 is to wash the windows on all of the trains. These workers are cleaning up a Polish light rail vehicle.

Look at all of these new trains on display at InnoTrans 2012! Photo by Jim Wrinn

BERLIN — I have been planning my afternoon of the press briefing at InnoTrans for months. Today, the world railway press, from as far away as South America and India, gathered to learn why InnoTrans is the leading world railway trade and technology show. About 200 of us crammed into a room at the Berlin fairgrounds to learn why exhibitors and decision makers love this show. Simple answer: Everything you need to railroad right is right here! Being in the press corps at this briefing is a lot like being at the United Nations. You get a headset and translators broadcast in the language of your choice.

The headline from the press conference was the declaration by the head of the German railway industry association that locomotive building is way off and the best way to remedy this is to institute a tax credit on new diesel switchers to replace them with new, cleaner units. Green is really big here, and it is a hook for business, not an impediment. Think of it as the European railway version of cash for clunkers. Whether the scheme happens or not is anybody’s guess, but at least someone is trying to prime the business. The good news from the briefing is an industry market survey that finds that railroad business is thriving worldwide. Asia has probably spent its wad of dough on fast trains; now the hotbeds for growth will be Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Oh, the U.S. got points for spending big bucks on Positive Train Control. So, the economic train that is worldwide railroading just keeps on chugging and shouldn’t slow down any time soon. Once again, it’s an affirmation that it is a great time to be in the railroad business.

After the formal briefing, this mob of journalists went on a two-hour lightning round tour of world premieres and innovations that industry types will get to see Tuesday (sorry, no public until Saturday and Sunday). We were allowed to view a new type of traction transformer that is the size of a coat hanger compared with the microwave oven-sized version it replaced. We saw Chinese representatives stand in front of models of high speed trains they want to sell to the world, but alas, they did not bring a full-sized model with them. We met a company that builds escape pods for tunnel workers, heard about tunnel boring techniques from the company involved in the New York City subway expansion, and saw a really cool new passenger train seat that looks like a comfortable version of your dentist’s chair.

Then we headed outside. Now, this part of the show is like Christmas morning for someone like me. I mean, here sit two miles worth of brand new trains, most of them polished and shined to a glint, some unique and special (one remained under a tarp all day to be revealed during the show), and all pretty cool. Passenger trains dominate the field here, but freight is represented too. Some of the surprises in the yard: a new dome car, a multi-engine freight unit that Bombardier built for the German railway system (and much like the MP54 dual electric-diesels the company built for NJ Transit in 2010), and a rail vehicle that moves into place and opens like a pop-top camper to shelter track workers while providing them with tools and accessories. All in all, pretty cool stuff, and we’ll write more about it later this week.

So after the press tour was done, I wandered around a bit … 115 new pieces of rolling stock being shined and readied for a major show is a beautiful thing. The more I wandered, the more I wanted to learn more about these strange locomotives, passenger cars, and on-track equipment. I look forward to telling you more about some of them later this week.

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