Every even-numbered year, the world’s railway industry gathers in Berlin for InnoTrans. This immense trade show covers 28 halls, many of them on two floors, and there are complete trains on show on the sidings outside

Visitors must be prepared to walk. There are three internal shuttle bus routes, but it is still possible to walk long distances. Just getting from one appointment in hall 1.2 to the next in hall 10 can take nearly 15 minutes.

So let’s get the statistics out of the way. InnoTrans 2014 attracted 2,758 exhibitors from 55 countries. Their displays covered 102,843 square metres and 145 vehicles were featured on the outside tracks.

There were 138,872 trade visitors from more than 100 countries. They saw 140 products that were making their world debut and a host of more-established products. Entire halls were devoted to train interiors, and power systems, and tunnelling, as well as railway infrastructure and technology.

So why go?

But, putting side all of those statistics, what is the significance of InnoTrans?

Well, to put it simply, everyone who is anyone is there. If a regular exhibitor decides not to exhibit one year, everyone thinks they’ve gone bust. If a major exhibitor downsizes their stand one year, then they are obviously in trouble. Being seen is as important as what is being shown.

Bombardier is a case in point. With the largest stand in hall 2.2 (that’s upstairs in hall 2) and further displays on five tracks outside, it is a major presence at the show. But are all the visitors looking at the technology on display? No, they are chatting to Bombardier staff and visiting the on-stand bar. Outside there are certainly visitors looking at the trains, but inside it is all about contacts – meeting new ones and re-establishing old ones – not about looking at new motors or signalling equipment.

The same thing is happening at Alstom, and Siemens, and all of the other major companies. They take great care in choosing their exhibits but hardly anyone looks at them – at that level it is all about meeting people.

Further down the food chain, and the story changes. Here, the product is all-important.

All around the exhibition, people are peering at exhibits, and having them explained, and trying to grasp new concepts. From LED lighting modules (Nightsearcher) to data loggers (Deuta- Werke), stands are busy with enquirers.

Contracts and press conferences

Major contracts are announced. Of course, all the work was done in advance, but InnoTrans is a great time to announce a new contract with the world’s rail industry press in attendance. Stadler Rail announced that the Finnish rail operator Junakalusto Oy had placed an order worth 200 million euros for a further 34 Flirt trains. On another stand, an agreement was ‘signed’ between Deutsche Bahn and the Polish manufacturer Pesa for the supply of 26 Link trains for Bavaria valued at some 100 million euros. Representatives of Alstom and Vossloh signed a contract with a value of eleven million euros to equip Vossloh locomotives with the latest train control systems (ETCS).

And it’s not all about product. Deutsche Bahn and the French rail operator SNCF signed an extension to their joint venture agreement for high speed, cross-border services with TGV and ICE trains which will now run until 2020. Also, the Japanese Toshiba group and the train operator Singapore Rail Engineering set up a joint venture to market propulsion systems to mass transit operators.

As well as stands, and displays, and trains, there are also press conferences. InnoTrans has a fine press centre on the third floor of hall 6 – with security on the door to keep the rif-raf out. Here, as well as a dedicated press-only wifi network, various companies arrange to give formal press conferences with simultaneous translation, press packs, PowerPoint displays and all the trappings (free coffee and biscuits).

Only the most hardened journalist would attend all of them, but even so they can surprise occasionally. Halfway through a predictable presentation on Bombardier’s worldwide performance, chief executive Dr Lutz Bertling suddenly started discussing innovation and research & development. He teased his audience by refusing to give figures for expenditure over the next few years, but he said that “we are not speaking about 50 or 100 million – we are speaking about real money”.

InnoTrans 2014

As Bombardier were displaying the Innovia monorail, and Primove battery-powered buses, they are already developing some interesting technologies so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

The British presence

Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin was at the show on the first day. He took part in the launch of the Class 700 – Siemens’ new train for Thameslink of which three carriages were at the show. He also toured a few other stands but had a marathon session planned for the second show. Unfortunately, he was unable to go through with that as he was called back to London, disappointing some 70 companies he was due to meet. He had a cabinet meeting to attend, but the wisdom of letting down 70 companies in the rail sector, not to mention International guests at Wednesday night’s reception, to discuss a matter which had absolutely nothing to do with transport must be questioned.

The reception was organised by the Railway Industry Association (RIA) on behalf of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). In the Secretary of State’s absence, Clare Moriarty, Director General Rail Executive at the Department for Transport, was the principal speaker. “I had a whistle-stop tour of very large numbers of UK companies, and they had brilliant products,” she told The Rail Engineer afterwards. “It was fantastic to see – they have good products and they are constantly innovating. And there are companies which are absolutely out there at the cutting edge with different kinds of materials but thinking about new kinds of uses.

“Some of the companies I spoke with are here because they have done very well in the UK market and they haven’t got into exporting and they are starting to say that actually, there is a world out there. It was fantastic to go around this afternoon with Robin Barnett, our ambassador to Poland, because he was saying to them ‘Have you thought about central Europe?’ And some said that they had – there’s a company called Kilfrost who manufacture deicing fluids and they have got contracts in Russia, because, if you do that sort of thing, that’s the place to do it.

“But there are other companies who haven’t thought of those sorts of opportunities and there’s lots of places for them to go. In central Europe the combination of the scale of investment they are making and the relative maturity of the existing industry – there are definitely opportunities there.”

Paul Heardman, Consul-General in Munich, was equally enthusiastic. “Competition is tough and companies know that. For most products there are strong competitors out there so we always say to British companies thinking about the German market that it’s the case of trying
to work out the USP (unique selling point), particularly if they are competing against local German companies, of deciding what helps them stand out, thinking about using UKTI to help them find a local distributor, and of building up the long-term contacts.

“It’s very rare that a company just turns up and signs a contract in the first meeting. It’s based on patient work over weeks and months, which is obviously time consuming, but German companies expect that and they are looking for trust as much as the quality of the product.

“There is some excellent innovation in the UK, and it is part of our job here in Germany to help British companies work out the opportunities and then showcase that.”

Popular displays

British stands were certainly busy. Rowe Hankins was displaying an enhanced range of speed sensors which are now accurate down to -60oC rather than the -40o of the earlier model. The company was also showing three and four-channel sensors, again an improvement of the two channel ones which have been on the market for some time.

Business manager Geraint Davies also reported that, during the show, Rowe Hankins signed a representation agreement with Parts Supply Centre of Japan.

Perpetuum was showing its range of self- powered remote condition monitoring sensors. Powered by the vibrations from the train, these wireless devices report on bearing and wheel condition, allowing early intervention at service and helping to prevent failures. Company president Roy Freeland was very pleased with the support his team had received from RIA and UKTI in preparing for the show, and stand staff kept disappearing for meetings as several commercial opportunities were coming to fruition over the course of InnoTrans.

Brits were also looking around the show. One was Marcus Meyers, programme and portfolio manager for FutureRailway, who was particularly concentrating on innovation. He was impressed by a new toilet from Welsh company PCC. In addition to impressive technology, the company had a clear vision of the business benefits which added up to tens of millions of pounds of the life time of the product, little of which had to do with sales price or use of the toilet.

Given a planned FutureRailway Investment Innovation competition in propulsion, Marcus spent a couple of days looking at propulsion systems, power units and traction motors. Three products stood out in this category. The first was the Cummins 4,200hp QSK95. Although too powerful for UK use, it is a fine example of incremental innovation delivering a world class product with a clearly articulated business case based on reliability, fuel saving and environmental compliance.

The Chinese company CSR had a 600kw permanent magnet traction motor currently used in ultra high speed trains that is only 600mm wide, while German manufacturer Voith was showing an interesting traction package for use in trams. The innovation was putting the traction motor to the side of the wheels rather than in between them, allowing for lower floors and easier maintenance.

Don’t forget the young people

Another reception, on the Thursday night, was hosted by the Young Rail Professionals. Adam Stead, chairman, spoke with The Rail Engineer. “We have had lots of young railway professionals from other countries join our website as members. InnoTrans is one of the ways in which we can reach them and deliver the benefits of networking together. This is a chance to meet people from all over the world and see how young people are developed and network within their own countries.

“For example, I’ve met with a group of young people from an engineering school in Paris who have their own smaller equivalent of Young Rail Professionals but are now interested in how they form an industry-wide organisation. We’ve also had the Australasian Rail Association interested in how we can support them to form a YRP in Australia.”

Also at the reception was David Kramer, Chairman of Jonge Veranderaars (Young Innovators) from The Netherlands. “The JV has the same aims as the YRP – to promote the sector and contribute positively to its image by promoting cooperation between companies. We are part of a larger network called Rail Forum and it is the CEOs of those companies that are saying to us ‘You’re not kicking us enough, you’re not telling us what we’re doing wrong enough. So it’s basically about networking and getting the companies to work better together.

“I came to InnoTans because of my interest in the train side and also because of this networking event. I think it’s really important that the young people of Europe work together more across country lines and really start to see the system as an integrated whole as opposed to every country figures it out and hops it all works out in the end.”

Which really gets to the heart of what InnoTrans is all about. Yes it’s an exhibition, and a big one, and many companies spend a fortune showing off their latest products. But really it’s about networking – meeting people – and making the global rail industry larger and more coherent and the world a smaller place.