The term “Jack of all trades, master of none” dates back to Elizabethan times, with one William Shakespeare being on the receiving end of an early version. Today’s railway industry is very complex technically. The supply chain is made up of many small companies, each with its own specialisation, and several giants who provide a broad range of services and products. To prevent them being “masters of none”, they employ a host of specialist engineers and technicians, masters in their own fields, and combine that knowledge and experience to provide a complete offering.

Even so, every company will still have its strengths and weaknesses. The latter may not necessarily be technical, but could be geographical or political.

On many occasions, the company’s strengths allow it to win supply contracts from its customers. However, there are occasions when the weaknesses might prevent that, or at least throw the result into doubt.

Pragmatic managers are therefore quite prepared to collaborate with other concerns whose own strengths and weaknesses counteract theirs. Joined in a collaboration or joint venture, the result should be almost only strengths, and very few weaknesses.

Planning for speed

This was the case when Italian state railways (Ferrovie dello Stato – FS) first started to consider a new very-high-speed train for its Eurostar Alta Velocità Frecciarossa (Eurostar high speed Red Arrow) services operating Turin-Milan-Florence- Rome-Naples. New lines from Milan to Bologna (opened 2008) and Bologna to Florence (2009) would then combine with the older Direttissima line (1977-1986), resulting in a high-speed corridor between Milan and Rome. Another new line (completed 2009) would take trains on to Naples.

To have a train design ready for the new route, Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda (now Hitachi Rail Italy) started working together in 2008. A design office was established by the joint venture at Bombardier’s Hennigsdorf plant, pulling together experts from various locations around Europe.

“It was not just Germans and Italians,” remembers Marco Sacchi, Hitachi Rail Italy’s head of engineering. “There were Spanish engineers from Trápaga, bogie designers from Derby and an electrical power team from Västerås in Sweden.”

Bombardier personnel were responsible for the concept and detailed design of the trains, the provision of propulsion equipment and bogies, as well as project management, engineering, testing, homologation and commissioning of the first five trains. AnsaldoBreda personnel were looking after the industrial design, carbody, interior, interior systems, doors and signalling, together with final assembly and commissioning of the series production trains. Both parties were involved in detail design and engineering activity.

“But everybody worked in one office,” adds Marco. “It was a strong team to develop the train. It was a very challenging time, the customer had big demands for both technical solutions and aesthetics.”

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In terms of performance, the team was working to produce a train capable of 350km/h (217mph), even though the high-speed lines had not yet been upgraded to allow for running at that speed.

As for the aesthetics, Italy has more than its fair share of design houses that have, over the years, produced some stunning cars. It was to one of these, Bertone, that the joint venture turned to design the shape of the new train. The design brief was complex. Bertone was asked to come up with a style that represented “elegance and speed”, but it would have to include crash protection, meet driver visibility standards and also take account of the functionality of the headlights in terms of international railway standards.

The result was an elegant cab with an elongated nose that incorporated the crash protection structures. The joint venture team checked the submitted design, both theoretically and in the wind tunnel where drag coefficients and crosswind stability were assessed, and found that it didn’t need any changes. The Bertone design had ticked all the boxes.

Changed requirements

After two years of hard work, the design was ready. The team only had to wait for the official invitation to tender and then submit its proposal.

But…

When the documents were opened, all was not as expected. FS, and operator Trenitalia, was now looking for a train with a maximum operating speed of 360km/h, not 350. In addition, the train would have to be able to operate in seven countries across Europe and there was a requirement for condition-based maintenance.

With six months to revise the design, the team was re-established at Pistoia in Tuscany, home of AnsaldoBreda. Almost everything had to be checked and revised.

The new top speed had implications for the design of the bogies, power and control systems and pantograph. The aerodynamics and crosswind stability had to be rechecked. Room had to be found for a number of new signalling systems, although this would be passive provision with the trains to be delivered only with ERTMS level 2 and the legacy Italian system. Power supply and cubicles for other systems would be in place, in case other signalling was to be installed later.

Of course the joint venture’s competitor, Alstom, had the same challenges, but in the end it was Bombardier/AnsaldoBreda that won out.

“I believe we won as we had some special solutions that were appreciated by the customer,” Marco explained. One example of these was the provision made for customers in wheelchairs. As well as having space to park them, and access to the disabled toilet, the walkways are wide enough that a wheelchair can move about the train and visit the Bistro.

Production

An order for 50 eight-car trainsets, worth around €1.54 billion, was signed in September 2010. Detailed design commenced immediately and the first mock-up was shown to the world at Rimini on 19 August 2012. Now called the Frecciarossa 1000, it was also shown at InnoTrans that year where, being a mock-up rather than a finished train, it was parked on a pavement not the railway tracks. Still, the striking looks attracted a lot of attention.

Incidentally, also in 2012, FS retired the Eurostar name and the new trains were to be destined for the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) service, representing the fastest trains. Other services are categorised as Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) and Frecciabianca (White Arrow).

The first actual train was unveiled at the Pistoria factory on 26 March 2013. In a short ceremony attended by representatives of both companies, as well as FS Group chief executive Mauro Moretti and Mrs Lilli Bertone, the new train was named ‘Pietro Mennea’ after the Italian sprinter and European 200 metres record holder who had died only five days earlier.

Testing commenced in August 2013 on the Genoa-Savona line and then moved to night time running between Milan and Bologna. To save time, five trainsets were involved in the testing programme, which included 10 per cent overspeed tests on a specially prepared length of line. During these, the train recorded an actual speed of 399 km/h.

Testing was complete by 25 April 2015, when the president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, boarded the train in Milan for an inaugural run to Rome, where it arrived just three hours 39 minutes later.

Commercial services commenced in June 2015, with 36 trains in revenue service as of September 2016. Today, the final cars are in production and trains are leaving the factory at the rate of two every week. The last train will enter service next year.

Legacy and the future

So the joint venture between Bombardier and, now, Hitachi Rail Italy can be judged a success. A 10-year service contract for the trains has been awarded to the consortium by Trenitalia, worth €250 million. Work on the high-speed lines should shortly result in line speed being increased from 300km/h to the full potential of the train – 360km/h (224mph).

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There seems to have been true cooperation and collaboration between the two parties. Marco Saachi has stated that there were very few ‘black boxes’, in which one of the two companies hid their proprietary technology. The team used English as a common language although, by the end, the Bombardier engineers were quite fluent in Italian.

He then looked back at the whole experience of designing and producing the new train.

“It was a fantastic experience for all the people who worked on this project. It was a very important experience, unique really, to develop a train on this level. The customer has declared that, after three months of revenue service, it was the easiest introduction of a new train into service in their history. That is fantastic to hear.”

Also after three months, the train has hit all of its reliability targets. So would the two companies work together on another project?

“We already are,” Marco replied. “Having developed a good way of working on the Frecciarossa 1000, we (Bombardier Transportation and Hitachi Rail Europe) have jointly designed and bid for a new tube train for London. The success of our first project has shown that, by combining our strengths, we can have the best of both worlds and create a really compelling offer. Also, there are a lot of things we’ve learnt so, if the bid is successful, it will be easier the second time around.”

What is Marco’s abiding memory of the project? “To improve the functionality of the team, we had a meeting for three days in the Tuscan countryside, with support psychologists and everything. It was a great thing to do and, over some nice dinners, the team really came together well…”

There are some advantages in building a train in Italy!

Thanks to James Rollin (Bombardier), Adam Love (Hitachi Rail Europe) and Alessio De Sio (Hitachi Rail Italy) for providing the background material for this article.

Written by Nigel Wordsworth