Out of 115 pieces of rolling stock at InnoTrans, two favorites emerge: A Euopean dome car and a jacked up track maintenance rig

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We’re looking at the seating area of a former German railways dome car under restoration by RailAdventure, a Munich-based company. Jim Wrinn photo

RailAdventure, a Munich, Germany-based company, is rebuilding this dome car into a private car for charter use. The panels on the side show what the interior will look like once it is done. Jim Wrinn photo

The Robel-built Mobile Maintenance System looks like a giant yellow caterpillar but provides a portable workstation for track maintenance under its fold-out sides. Jim Wrinn photo

We’re looking at the interior of the Robel Mobile Maintenance System, which has electrical power, overhead cranes, illumination, and protective sides that drop down. Jim Wrinn photo

BERLIN, Germany – After less than a day total at InnoTrans, the world’s largest railway trade and technology show, I’ve wandered around the rolling stock display area twice. It’s opening day today on Tuesday, and it’s easy to let the bright and shiny trains of Bombardier, Siemens, and so many other manufacturers dazzle you. But if you wander around long enough, you’ll start to see what’s unique.Among the locomotives, the integral passenger trains, and light rail vehicles, I found two prizes buried way back in the pack. One, a dome car, stands out because it is so unusual and surprising to see in the middle of Europe at a show that is all about new trains. The other is a funky maintenance train that creates a sheltered track work site anywhere on the railroad where it pulls up and stops.

Come and take a look at both of them with me.

The dome is vintage 1962 and one of a handful built for the German railways. They were used mostly in service along the scenic Rhine River, but the last turned a wheel in regular service some 25 years ago. According to Web sources, as few as 5 were built. The car on display has been gutted and its restoration is ongoing, said representatives of RailAdventure, a Munich-based railroad supplier. The company plans to put a lounge in one end and a bar in the other. The dome, though short by our standards, should provide a spectacular view, wherever it is used. It’s an on-going project for the company that mainly does specialized moves, including the movement of new locomotives and trainsets for testing.

Now when I think of dome cars, I think of the American West with a streamliner showing the beauty of the Rockies, but I have to admit that this car is intriguing. “Maybe in two years we will bring back the finished car,” said a woman with RailAdventure.

I hope so.

A few tracks over is the maintenance of way train that makes me think of a big fuzzy yellow caterpillar but seems to be so darn useful that I’m surprised someone didn’t think of it sooner.

Robel, maintenance of way equipment maker in Freilassing, Germany, built the mobile work site train at the urging or Austrian railways. The three-unit train features one car that forms the worksite by expanding its sides and dropping tarps to the ground, a second car for storage of track materials and tools, and a third power unit that also features lockers, restrooms, and a kitchen.

The car that’s open to the tracks below is amazing: it has electrical service to power tools, a 5-ton overhead crane, places for hand tools, and stairs on each end.  Gone is the need to shut down an adjacent track while repairs are made, said spokesman Thomas Hunter. Illumination means that work can go on at night or during the winter. The workers are safely enclosed inside the train. They don’t even have to leave to fetch rail or tools: They’re in the adjacent car. He says he thinks more North American railways would be interested in the concept. I think so too.

The mobile maintenance train is relatively new: Austria put a handful into service in recent years. Their experience before was that it took four hours to work on a short section of track, Hunter said: One hour to set up the work site, two hours to work, and one hour to tear down the work site. The new train sets up or shuts down in five minutes. 

Amtrak has one of the units, built under license by Plasser, Hunter said. The unit on display goes to Norway for service, and another unit is in use in the Netherlands.

I look forward to seeing Amtrak’s in service sometime, but today, I got a nice preview of this innovative track maintenance train.

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