InnoTrans. Held every two years in Berlin, it is billed as “the world’s leading business meeting place for transport technology”. But, just how big is it?

It’s big enough to encompass about 2,500 exhibitors and 110,000 trade visitors. There are representatives from 47 countries spread over 81,000 square metres of exhibition space and on 3,500 metres of sidings. In other words, it’s vast.

Imagine a large exhibition hall and then think of 26 of them with some on three levels. Think about walking to an appointment in hall 25 from hall 2 and having to allow at least 15mins – that is, so long as you set off in the right direction and find hall 25. German signing can be minimalist.

Consider an exhibitor catalogue bound together in two volumes each the size of yellow pages. This is a railway trade fair that is not for the faint hearted or for someone carrying luggage!

Themed displays

By and large, halls had themes. So there were halls with mechanical bits, track bits and bodyshells. It was a bit like mediaeval times where towns would have “Fish” Street, “Shoe” Street and so on.

Halls 8 and 9 were the home of rubbery bits – suspensions and shock absorbers. These sorts of companies sell into the major train builders and are well known in the industry. ContiTech produce a wide range of suspension units and also a very welcome cup of coffee. Vibration control is the forte of Freudenberg Schwab with a UK base just down the road from the rail engineer offices. They demonstrated an extraordinary way of easing a wheel set around a curve. It all had to do with Hydraulic Axle Guide Bearings (Hydraulischer Achslenker Lager or HALL). Here is a solution that, whilst aimed at wheel wear reduction, will undoubtedly reduce track wear as well.

Schrey and Veit were collaborating with a UK university in the quest to dampen noise from wheels and structures. Their clamped-on absorbers in wheel sets are easy enough to understand. The bolted-on array of tuned damper rods in bridge beam webs were completely baffling.

Power and assorted electrical items were tucked away on the various levels of hall 11. LEM, a Swiss company, has a range of voltage transducers that have applications, amongst many others, in the monitoring of point machines. These devices come in sizes ranging from the largest which is the size of a briefcase down to something no bigger than a box of matches. The theory behind them is daunting – it’s comforting that someone can understand it.

Bearings and bushes were in hall 22 where at least two manufacturers, SKF and Timken, were proudly showing off gleaming, and spotlessly clean roller and cylindrical bearings.

From track welding to gearboxes

Hall 26 seemed to be the home of the mobile track welding machines. The Holland Company – a major player with machines now arriving in the UK, Schlatter with their AMS60 and AMS100 and EO Paton (Hong Kong) steadily welding up the Far East.

Plastic sleepers have been around for a while now, with even a few being installed on a test site in the UK. Research leads you to Japan, where they did their testing a few years ago. Now, this product has been expanding all over the world with it now installed on several hundred sites.

The Sekisui stand had a couple of sample pieces of their ‘timber’ that looked remarkably like the real thing apart from the hairy ends of their demonstration pieces. So, no need to cut down trees, but is there an environmental impact in the manufacture of the binding polyurethane foam? It’s all a question of striking a balance in the end. They certainly seem to outlive their natural counterparts.

There were, of course, the displays of immaculate power units and gearboxes. There are probably not many in service with so much chrome plating or indeed any chrome plating at all. There were exquisite examples of precision engineered gears of vast proportions including a fabulously presented sectioned chunk of tram by David Brown Company.

In the hall of the radiators and cooling fans, a sculpture from tubular steel was, in fact, a locomotive exhaust system manufactured by Weihe.

Outside in the sun

Fortunately the weather was perfect, at least on the first couple of days, which meant that it was possible to crawl round all the outside exhibits. The late autumn sunshine did tend to bore into the camera lens and create very bright highlights and dark shadows. Again, this site was enormous, with all shapes and sizes of locomotive and train sets on show. Perhaps it is a sign of emerging railway operating practices, but there was only one example of a straightforward railway carriage. Everything else seemed to come in sets.

Locomotives ranged from huge UK- structure-gauge-busting machines by the likes of Bombardier and Skoda ……right down to the smallest machine that could be called a locomotive manufactured by Zwiehoff. It was a radio controlled shunter no bigger than a dining table, but probably a lot heavier.

Another trend is to provide locomotives that are not totally reliant on diesel or electric power. The Siemens Vectron shunting module – a large locomotive – proclaimed, “Last mile – noproblem”.VosslohpresentedtheirG6MEas a green machine and covered it with pictures of daisies to prove it.

Two coaches of Siemens “Lastochka” Russian EMU were probably the most difficult exhibit to transport to InnoTrans having been carried by road 360 miles from their Krefeld factory to Berlin. Bogies and all underframe components were removed before shipping and then re- assembled on site – everything. They towered above other exhibits, being 0.5 metre higher than the UIC standard gauge, and couldn’t even be placed neatly on the sidings. Their 1520mm gauge bogies just didn’t fit, so the whole lot had to be placed on standard gauge wheel skates.

Although this isn’t the show for big yellow machines, there seemed to be plenty of yellow about. Linsinger showed their imposing rail planer and Robel had what appeared at first to be a long ‘campervan’ vehicle which turns out to be their mobile maintenance vehicle providing a totally enclosed workspace on the track.

Last into the exhibition – and probably first out – was a steam engine complete with viewing platform that was snuggling up to a coach provided by H.F. Wiebe, a track construction and civil engineering company.

If the train exhibitors ever thought that they could hold on to their trade secrets then they really needed to think again. Every nook and cranny was being crawled over, every detail assiduously photographed. Groups of intense engineers from one continent were in intense discussions about a product from a rival continent.Shortofactuallyusingspannerson them, they were taking everything apart.

InnoTrans seems to be an almost exclusively male event. Males in dark suits were generating a low roar of conversation in all of the halls. A surprisingly large number of exhibitors still thought that adorning their stands with leggy blondes was the way to promote their products. Slightly reminiscent of the Motor shows of the 70s, it’s a trend that has gone in the UK.

If you ever thought that the show was for European companies selling to other European companies then it is time to think again. The whole world was there. This is a global bash that just happens to be in Berlin. Blocks of stands were taken by exhibitors from China (a huge presence), Japan (a very “red” presence), India, Russia, clusters from France and even Australia. Stumbling across the Australian press gathering it was a slight surprise to see everyone supping….water. This was in contrast with the copious quantities of German beer being consumed by the Europeans at all times of the day – except, of course, the UK contingent who were strictly on the wagon until close of play…..really.

By midday on the second day the place was heaving and life was getting just that little bit difficult for some. There’s a strange lack of seating for the weary – something that extends to the whole of the transport network in Germany. Jet lag was kicking in for a few of the poor souls from the Far East. For some it was really 2 o’clock in the morning and time for a good kip. The Wi-Fi hotspots – seating of a sort-were adorned with besuited souls who were completely out of it. Their day was over.

There were long queues at each of the eating establishments and the ablution facilities were definitely showing the strain – but maybe this is just too much detail!