Russian Railways (RZD) takes its research seriously. Its rail research institute, VNIIZhT, employs 1700 people at six locations throughout Russia. Its facility at Shcherbinka, south of Moscow, has a 6km circular test track and a research complex six times the size of Derby’s Railway Technical Centre.

Every two years, Shcherbinka hosts Expo 1520 – a trade fair and engineering conference for Russian gauge railways (1520mm). This September’s Expo was the fourth such event with the first being held in 2007. There were six exhibitors’ pavilions totalling 17,000 square metres, 44 static items of rolling stock and a ‘dynamic exposition’ of 40 moving exhibits on the circular test track with 325 companies from 29 countries participating. The Rail Engineer was there to find out more.

At the glitzy opening ceremony, RZD’s president, Vladimir Yakunin, thanked his western partners from France, Germany, Italy, and Slovakia for their support. He felt Vladimir Putin’s directive to construct a high-speed rail line gave potential for further development. The French and German Ambassadors also spoke to emphasise their rail industries’ current contribution and future potential involvement.

In the conference hall

The three day engineering conference covered many topics including the development of the supply chain, light rail, track machines, harmonisation of international standards and Russia’s future high-speed rail line. As at the opening ceremony, the conference had an international flavour with contributions from UIC and European rail companies.

The Russian rail market is clearly important to France. During François Hollande’s Moscow state visit in February, SNCF president Guillaume Pepy signed an agreement with Vladimir Putin to create an international high-speed rail training and research centre. Pepy returned to Moscow for Expo 1520 to give a presentation to the conference’s plenary session when he explained that SNCF’s business strategy is focused on IT, customer relations and the competition.

He illustrated this by three specific initiatives: the low cost high-speed train, WeGo, using Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV) with 20% more seats to compete with cut-price airlines; a Europe-wide travel planner, Mytripset, with travel time and price of all transport modes including cars; and Tranquilien, an app that uses crowd sourcing data to show the level of crowding on each train coach.

The partnerships’ locomotives

RZD is replacing its Soviet era traction with more powerful locomotives. Improved efficiency is also essential as RZD uses 5% of Russia’s electricity. Expo’s displays included next generation locomotives being produced by the Alstom and Siemens partnerships, all of which are winterised for temperatures of as low as -50°C.

Ov steam loco [online]

1890 design Ov class steam locomotive.

The EP20 is a Bo-Bo-Bo single unit dual voltage (3 kV DC and 25 kV AC) passenger locomotive produced by Transmashholding first unveiled at Expo 1520 in 2011. With a 6,600kW rating it can haul 17 coaches at 200km per hour. RZD have ordered 200.

Ural locomotives built its first 2ES10 ‘Granite’ locomotive in 2010. This is a 3kV DC two-unit freight locomotive with a 2 x Bo-Bo wheel arrangement. It has an 8,400kW rating and can haul freight trains of 9,000 tonnes. RZD have ordered 221 of these locomotives for which a 10% energy saving is claimed. Ural also unveiled their prototype 11201 locomotive at Expo. This is an AC version of the 2ES10 which is expected to receive type approval in April 2014.

Also launched at Expo were Transmashholding’s 2ES5 and KZ8A locomotives. RZD has ordered 200 of the 2ES5, a two-unit 25kV AC freight locomotive, the first in Russia with asynchronous traction drive. Rated at 8,400 kW it can haul up to 9,000 tonnes at 120 km per hour. The KZ8A locomotive is similar to the 2ES5 but more powerful at 8,800 kW. 200 of these are to be produced for Kazakhstan, a reminder that Expo 1520 is not just about Russia.

Chief engineer’s view

Expo 1520 provided an opportunity to talk with RZD’s chief engineer, Valentin Gapanovich. He felt that the construction of the new high-speed line would certainly involve international contractors but felt this was an opportunity to localise production. He gave power supplies as a specific example. Localisation would also be a key factor in selecting the supplier for the required forty train sets.

Gapanovich advised that RZD had “big plans” to modernise its signalling and was discussing this with Bombardier and Siemens. A pilot scheme at Sochi will provide radio block signalling to ERTMS level 2. He mentioned that Talgo gauge changing equipment is to be installed on the border between Poland and Belarus. This would eliminate the need to change bogies on Moscow to Berlin trains in 2015.

With RZD wishing to adopt European rail technologies, The Rail Engineer was keen to know what Europe could learn from RZD. Gapanovich considered that Russia led the world with its gas turbine locomotive and rail monitoring techniques which use contactless magnetic field testing in which France and Germany are particularly interested. During a visit to TVEMA’s VD-UMT-1 NDT coach, advice was received that this technique could detect rail flaws at up to 140 km per hour.

High-speed rail to Kazan

With RZD’s high speed plans offering significant business opportunities, the sessions on high-speed rail attracted the greatest interest. Two years ago, RZD was confident that there would be a high speed line to St Petersburg by 2018 but last year it became clear that finance was not forthcoming. After this stalled start, Putin’s announcement in June of a 770km high-speed line to Kazan has put Russia’s high-speed rail programme back on track. This is expected to cost £19 billion of which £5 billion of state funding has been authorised. State funding and private financing (around 30%) is expected to provide the remainder. With St Petersburg already having its 250 km/h Sapsan service, this changed plan is a political decision intended to develop Russia’s eastern regions.

Alexander Misharin, chief executive of RZD’s high-speed rail lines, advised that the Kazan line would be built for 400km per hour to reduce the current 13 hour journey time to 31⁄2 hours. He declared that the line would be completed for the World Cup in 2018. Acknowledging that this was ambitious, Misharin commented that it is “a project timetable that government has prepared for us”.

Benefits to mainland Europe

In a session on high-speed rail and economic growth, speakers from France, Germany and Italy described the benefits brought by high- speed rail. Deutsche Bahn’s head of business development, Niko Warbanoff, described how it had increased the importance of small cities and “had more than paid back their costs”.

Michel Leboeuf, adviser to the SNCF president, echoed this point and stated that, rather than being expensive, high-speed was very profitable as only 25% of project costs increase with speed and speed significantly boosts revenue. For this reason, the French experience was that new high-speed lines attract private finance.

Having carried two billion passengers on its high-speed network, Leboeuf was certain of its socio-economic benefits. It had also proved to be carbon positive after ten years and delivered safety benefits with a shift from road to rail. He was in no doubt that building 500 TGV sets for the high-speed network had saved the French rail industry. His advice to the Russians was “be ambitious”.

Euro-Russian rail partnerships

Just as Alstom has benefited from a domestic market for its TGVs, so has Siemens from its local rail market including high-speed trains. Both companies also have strategic partnerships with Russian companies to meet the country’s requirement for technology transfer. This gives them a high profile and Henri Poupart-Lafarge and Dietrich Möller, respectively presidents of Alstom and Siemens in Russia, are invariably prominent speakers at Russian rail conferences.

Ural locomotives is Siemens joint venture with the Russian Sinara Group to produce Lastochka EMUs and freight locomotives using Siemens electrical equipment that will eventually be produced in Russia. In May, it opened a £160 million factory at Yekaterinburg for EMU production which is the first in Russia to weld rail car bodyshells. As reported in The Rail Engineer issue 106 (August 2013), Lastochkas had previously been produced by Siemens in Germany.

FLIRT DMU [online]

Stadler’s FLIRT DMU with its power car.

Alstom’s partnership is with Transmashholding, in which they have a 25% share, and it has sent 200 of its engineers to Russia. The two companies have formed TRTrans, a joint venture to design new passenger and freight locomotives in Novocherkassk using Alstom’s electrical equipment which is also to be produced in Russia.

Cooking with gas

VNIIZhT designed a prototype gas turbine locomotive, GT1, which was built in 2007. It has an 8,300kW gas turbine powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) directly driving a 6,000 rpm generator. Cryogenic equipment and a heat exchanger had to be developed to handle and recycle natural gas. With Russia’s abundance of this fuel, it is 30% cheaper to run than a diesel locomotive.

GT1 comprises two units, each having three bogies, with a total weight of 300 tonnes. One unit has the gas turbine and the other has a 17 tonne LNG tank. LNG has three times the density of a compressed gas and so can give the locomotive a range of 750km. At the last Expo 1520, GT1 hauled a record breaking 16,000 tonne train which, at 2.4 kilometres long, occupied 40% of the circular Shcherbinka test track.

This year the Sinara Group unveiled their production gas turbine locomotive, GT1h, for which RZD has placed an order for 40. Valery Tolstov, Sinara’s technical director, explained how lessons learned from the GT1 prototype included better regulation of turbine speed between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm and improved adhesion with four bogies on each unit, giving the locomotive 16 powered axles. GT1h uses Sinara’s TE8 diesel freight locomotive’s chassis that has, at each end, two bogies fixed to a spreader frame.

Dynamic exposition

Twice a day, Expo 1520 offers its ‘dynamic exposition’. This is a parade of rolling stock through the ages around the Shcherbinka test loop. This is led by seven preserved steam locomotives, the oldest of an 1890 design followed by Soviet era diesel and electrics.

Then come the next generation of locomotives including GT1 with its unmistakable turbine whistle. Bringing up the rear was a range of on- track machines.

A ride on a FLIRT

Stadler provided an opportunity to ride around the Shcherbinka test track on their FLIRT DMU which was part of an order for 20 DMUs and 18 EMUs for Estonian railways, Elektriraudtee, placed in August 2010. Although 900 FLIRT units have been ordered, the Estonian order is the first for diesel units for which a power car was developed after the order had been placed.

Stadler’s Ralf Warwell explained that the FLIRT DMU is identical to the EMU except for the insertion of a five metre long diesel power car on articulated bogies between two passenger cars. He explained that, with automatic control of the power car, the driver’s controls are also the same as the EMU. The power car has a central passenger corridor with diesel generators either side which gives the motor bogies at each end of the train a total power output of 1340 kW.

Lessons from Russia

It is always fascinating to learn about Russia’s impressive rail developments. Although RZD’s operations are significantly different to British practice, Expo 1520 provides much food for thought for the UK rail industry.

Russia’s ambitious high-speed rail programme and the European experience that supports it is a significant contrast to UK’s anti-HS2 establishment. It was interesting to hear from SCNF how their development of a high-speed network had created the domestic market to support its rail industry that is so lacking in the UK.

This year RZD will procure 803 locomotives at a cost of £1.6 billion which is a small part of its massive rail investment programme. Whilst Russia looks to mainland Europe for support, sadly the UK is not seen as a player. Yet it is difficult to accept that Britain does not have the expertise to be part of this market and it would be great to see a British company at Expo 1520 in 2015.