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As InnoTrans 2012 winds down, a look at the odd, the quirky and how North American railroading shows up in some of the strangest ways

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Friday, September 21, 2012

BERLIN – I despise QR codes, those square boxes with ink arranged like it came out of an old-fashioned dot matrix printer. It’s supposed to lead your smart phone to further information with the press of a button. I’ve never used one, and I only know one person who does, but on the first day of the world’s largest railway trade and technology show, there was one, as big as a living room rug, plastered on the side of Vossloh’s big, new high speed rail grinder. Is it the first train-sized QR code?

Today is the last day for the show, and it’s been a great week with amazing displays of every part you can think of for a railroad, from the wire that goes into electrical cables to entire locomotives and trainsets. A lot of business got done at this show, I think it’s pretty safe to say. But now, as the businessmen from Stuttgart head home via ICE train and thousands of others head to the airport, it’s time to laugh a little bit. So before we depart, let’s explore a few of the questionable sights we saw and also show you how trains from North America keep popping up.

First up, and it’s my favorite since this is a North American company we’re all familiar with: Is that really Newton’s second law of motion, F=ma, on the side of General Electric’s new European PowerHaul diesel locomotive? The answer, yes. It turns out that the owner of the German private railway company that is taking delivery of the first Turkish built, 3,700-hp units puts this time-honored principle of physics on all his units. So there it is, painted in tall letters, proving once more that sooner or later, everything gets painted on the side of a locomotive.

Second, was that really the cast of one of the Star Trek series banging on drums to promote new rolling stock? Answer, apparently train builder Stadler, which brought new electric multiple unit passenger trains with fun names like KISS and FLIRT and a hybrid locomotive called BUTLER figured the best way to attract a crowd was for some people in cool costumes to bang on the drum all day. They looked like they just came off the Enterprise. But they struck a beat. And it worked. A huge crowd formed. By the way, we’re not sure what comes next after FLIRTing and KISSing … maybe we will find out at InnoTrans 2014.

Third, why is there a dog on the front of Solaris’ low-floor tram built for the Polish market? Answer: It’s a dog with short legs and wheels on his booted feet. It’s another clever marketing device by one of Europe’s major bus manufacturers that is now moving into another segment of public transportation. The dog, a representative informed me, doesn’t have to step up to get inside the tram. That must be why he is smiling.

Finally, North American railroading shows up in some of the strangest places. Take for example the business lounge that belongs to Novamedia, a Polish producer of software and electronics for the public transport sector.

They sell pretty modern gear, but on the wall of their booth was an oversized black and white picture of a steam locomotive. I recognized it immediately as Southern Railway Ps4, No. 1396, all ready to go on the point of the Crescent Limited. Being from Southern Railway territory that sure was a surprise. And in another booth was the imagery of another iconic North American steam locomotive. Valley Railroad No. 40, which is operational in Connecticut, is also selling for IP Logistics, but without its number or Valley identification. That was another big surprise. 

And you thought this show was just about funny looking trains in Europe.

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