Part volksmarch, part theme park, part party city, all business: It’s InnoTrans

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Like ants flocking to their hill, visitors to InnoTrans flood into the fairgrounds at Berlin for the world's largest railway trade and technology show. Photo by Jim Wrinn

Here's a typical exhibit booth with plenty of people, big-time graphics, and video displays. The trains are outside! Photo by Jim Wrinn

We're at Lucchini RS' exhibit for a briefing about research into steel for high speed wheels ... and then, as they describe it, 'a typical Italian reception.' Photo by Jim Wrinn

BERLIN — So, you ask, what is it like to attend InnoTrans, the gigantic railroad trade and technology show that takes place in Berlin every two years? I have been trying to think of a way to describe it to anyone who has not been or who may have gone to one of the several trade fairs in the United States. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who is involved in railroading is here, it seems!

The best way to start to grasp this show is to sum it up in one word: “overwhelming.” Even for return participants, it is a bit daunting to think that displays pack into every corner of 26 — yes, I said 26 — buildings at the fairgrounds here. They are spread out, too, and exhibits are on multiple levels of each building. So, rule No. 1 for InnoTrans, come with a basic level of fitness, and prepare to walk, walk, and walk in something of a volksmarch. Wear comfortable shoes and your day is great; wear the pair you’ve been meaning to toss, and you’ll limp back to your rented apartment or hotel room.

Then there are the exhibits, the meat of what everyone comes for. Let’s not even talk about the 2 miles’ worth of new trains sitting outside. No, that’s off-limits this time. Let’s focus on the inside exhibits that range in size from a small booth in a restaurant to ones that are literally as big as average houses. I’ve seen many with penthouses, most with bars, many with lounges, and at least one with a water sculpture. Some exhibits are bigger than apartments I had when I was young — I am not kidding! Some exhibits have the actual item that the vendors are selling, and I don’t mean hand tools: Manufacturers bring in wheel sets, trucks, test stands, couplers, track — you name it. They populate their booths with pretty women and businessmen in dark suits. Most offer food and drink, especially later in the day when it is time to relax and make deals. About late afternoon, the food gets better and live bands play. Just about all vendors have a giveaway, from the yo-yos at Timken to porcelain bookmarks at the China pavilion. So, you cannot say that you leave the show hungry, thirsty, or empty-handed. That would be a lie.

And that brings me to the people. They are wall to wall. Some 25,000 per day for four days. That’s more than double each day what the largest trade show in the U.S. (held last September in Minneapolis) saw over four days! The place becomes its own village with lounges, restaurants, business centers, and traffic jams. Think of it as Disney World for train people! This year, for the first time, American companies have their own pavilion. Here you’ll find Loram, Knox Kershaw, Herzog, Georgetown Rail Equipment, and Nordco in addition to the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association. They’re doing their part to fit in, giving away cool stuff (bottle openers and smartphone cleaners), and offering up a beer.

Oh, and if you’re not a railroader or a supplier but you really want to see a lot of pretty new trains, they have got that covered, too. The weekend after the show, the buildings close, but the trains on display stay in place and are available for viewing for a paltry two and a half euros, and kids up to 14 get in free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

So, after two days at InnoTrans 2012, that is the quick course in the show. I’d write more, but I’ve got to go: There’s a nightclub in downtown Berlin called Felix that is having an exclusive party for InnoTrans participants, and I sure don’t want to miss it!

Read more of Editor Jim Wrinn’s reports from InnoTrans on our daily News Wire, available to subscribers. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter, and look for more blogs later this week!

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