Europe View



A decade ago politicians and railway managers from Slovakia, Russia and Ukraine met in eastern Slovakia to announce plans to construct a 1,520mm gauge line from eastern Slovakia to Vienna. A 1,520mm gauge line – Širokorozchodna trať (or broad gauge track, abbreviated in Slovak to ŠRT) – already reaches 87.1km into Slovakia from Užhorod in Ukraine. It was built in the early 1960s to provide raw materials for a major new steel works at Haniska, south west of Košice, which was being built at the same time. The ŠRT line opened in May 1966 and was electrified at 3000V DC in the early 1970s. Current traffic consists almost exclusively of iron ore from Ukraine for the steel works, which was privatised in the 1990s and is now owned by U.S. Steel.

During the decade since the first announcement the rail market between the former Soviet Union and the EU has been dramatically changed by growth in ‘New Silk Road’ rail freight between China and a wide range of EU destinations, including both Madrid and London; in terms of volume flows are greatest to German terminals. Much of the China to EU traffic is currently routed via Belarus after transiting Russia and then crosses into Poland at Terespol, where the extensive Małaszewicze marshalling yards are used for transhipment of containers (as well as more traditional transhipment of non-containerised cargo such as coal). The Małaszewicze yards and the connecting railway west towards Warsaw are congested, handling around 25 China to EU trains a week, although major investment is underway to improve matters and quadruple capacity by 2022.

Whilst the Chinese traffic growth might strengthen the business case for westward expansion of the 1,520mm network (removing the need to tranship containers at the Ukraine/ Slovakia border), the political situation has made the project less probable as relations between Ukraine and Russia have deteriorated badly. However, despite the political situation, the Russian government has continued to push the project and Ukrainian Railways continues to be supportive as a member of the consortium of national rail operators promoting the scheme.

In February 2018 Austrian Federal Railways (OBB) and Russian Railways (RZD) signed a new co-operation agreement and specifically announced they wanted to see progress with the project to extend the 1520mm gauge line from Košice in eastern Slovakia to a terminal in Parndorf on the eastern edge of Vienna. Whilst the project has support from the Slovak government, whether it really has Ukrainian support is unclear as cross-border traffic between Ukraine and Russia has since been largely closed by the Ukrainian authorities for national security reasons.

Initial feasibility studies have been completed and planning permission will be sought for some of the Slovak sections of the proposed route in the near future. The cost for the 400km-long single track electrified line from Košice to Parndorf is estimated at €6.5 billion, with over 40km of tunnels and a bridge over the river Danube being required.


The European Commission has made plain it does not support the project, citing the fact that it will only benefit the railway operators promoting it and not create new infrastructure that enhances the existing (standard gauge) EU rail network. The EU has made it clear that any project which does not ensure free and equal access to the new infrastructure for all EU companies is not acceptable and against EU railway market policy. The EC has pointed to the technical solutions used elsewhere, for example in Spain, as options to overcome the gauge differences between Ukraine and Slovakia. Without EU support, funding from EU transport and development budgets is unlikely, which may make the project unviable.


OBB concedes the planned new terminal in Parndorf as a western terminal for the ‘New Silk Road’ will clearly benefit the Austrian economy (some estimates suggest it will create around 127,000 jobs and boost overall GDP by €16 billion). Up to 20 million tonnes of additional freight could be attracted to the terminal by 2030, much of which OBB expects to then be distributed around central Europe by rail.

Whether a new broad gauge line from Košice to Vienna would make economic sense depends on several factors, the biggest single one being the continued and growing operation of trains between China and the EU (and vice versa). Whilst these trains have grown in number rapidly in recent years, the long-term economic viability of rail over such distances is unclear. It is known that Chinese state subsidies support most (and possibly all) the rail freight services, but exactly what the subsidy is, how it works, and the long-term availability of such funds is unknown or unclear. In recent months reports have suggested the Chinese government wants to reduce subsidies for rail freight to the EU (perhaps sensibly as much of the money ends up with rail freight operators in Russia and the EU!); it has been reported that only entirely full trains will in future be eligible for financial support. In addition, other transport modes are responding to the rail-based competition and even road-based movement between China and the EU is being trialled, with road operators claiming this can be done 30-50% faster than by rail as there is no need to tranship freight at the Chinese and EU borders.

Whether it is really economically viable or desirable for the container transhipment activity to be moved from relatively low-cost eastern Slovakia, where employment opportunities are limited, to much higher cost Vienna, where the economy is already reliant on people who commute from neighbouring Slovakia and Hungary, is also unclear.

Ukrainian locos in the EU: this photo was taken just a couple of kilometres away from the border at Mat’ovce, Slovakia, where westbound trains are handed over to Slovak electric locos. Ukrainian Railways (UZ) twin electric loco No VL11M 068 leaves Mat’ovce on 5 July 2018 with eastbound empty iron ore wagons bound for Kryvyi Rih in the east of Ukraine. Keith Fender
First day in service: ČD loco No 362 060 leaves the Ejpovice tunnels’ western portal at Plzeň-Doubravka (running wrong line) with Rx774, the 07.03 Praha hlavni to Plzeň on 17 November 2018. This was the first day of full operation through the southern tunnel; the northern bore did not open until 7 December. The first passenger train through the tunnel, a diesel-hauled media special, ran the previous day. Shaun Wallace


French Railways owned SNCF Logistics subsidiary VIIA launched a fourth ‘rail motorway’ route on 6 November 2018, using new innovative swing platform wagons made by French intermodal wagon specialist Lohr, between the port of Calais in northern France and Orbassano in the suburbs of Turin in Italy. SNCF forecasts the new route, operated by Fret SNCF in France and Trenitalia freight subsidiary Mercitalia in Italy, will attract 31,000 semi-trailers annually. VIIA has also operated a similar shorter 175km-long ‘rail motorway’ route from Aiton (near Chambery) to Orbassano (again in conjunction with Mercitalia) since 2003; this runs up to four times daily and carried 35,500 semi-trailers in 2017.

The new route is the second from Calais, both of which primarily aim to serve cross-channel freight operators. The first (1,470km long) to Le Boulou (south of Perpignan, near the Spanish border) began in March 2016, but was then suspended due to migrant related security and safety concerns. It restarted in February 2017, since when it has run up to two train pairs a day, carrying 6,500 semi-trailers during 2017. The route from Calais to Le Boulou followed the successful 1,045km-long service from Bettembourg (south of Luxembourg city) to Le Boulou, which runs three times daily and carried 64,700 semi-trailers in 2017. SNCF says the ‘rail motorway’ service offers logistics firms a cost saving of a round 15% compared to moving the trailers by road, whilst reducing carbon emissions for the trailers’ journey by around 80%.



A new 14.1km double track 160km/h line has been built east of the Czech city of Plzeň to replace a slower, longer and more sinuous route. The new route to the south of the existing line via Chrašt is 6.1km shorter than the old one, made possible by new twin bore tunnels west of Ejpovice to Plzeň-Doubravka. The two tunnels, which cost CZK6.8 billion (£240 million), were built by Czech company Metrostav between 2015 and 2017 using a tunnel boring machine supplied by German firm Herrenknecht. At 4.15km (northern bore) and 4.17km (southern bore), they are now the longest tunnels in the Czech Republic, being more than double the length of the next longest.

The new line via the tunnels is the most significant in a series of upgrades in recent years, some also involving new alignments, which have reduced the distance by rail between Prague and Plzeň and increased operating speeds. This enabled journey times between Prague Smichov and Plzeň to be reduced by 12 minutes to 1hr 6min from 9 December 2018, when linespeeds in the new tunnel were increased to 160km/h (from 50km/h during the first few weeks of operation). The new tunnels have been built with slab track for future 200km/h operation.

The western section of the old line between Plzeň-Doubravka and Chrašt has been closed, with demolition beginning as soon as the new route was operational; this section will be converted into a cycle path. Services on the Chrašt to Radnice branch line now start at Ejpovice on the new line and use the eastern section of the old main line as far as Chrašt.

The new tunnels impose some new operational constraints for Czech operators – the biggest being a restriction on trains not equipped with retention tank toilets (the minority of vehicles, but not unknown on the route); such toilets have to be locked out of use whilst in the tunnels. Czech infrastructure manager SŽDC has imposed a ban on steam traction using the new tunnels, which has been challenged by some of the country’s many charter train operators; tests are planned later in 2019 to establish if the route can be used by steam-hauled trains effectively coasting through the tunnel section. European Train Control System (ETCS) will be fitted on the line as part of plans to equip the entire Prague to Plzeň route from 2021.



Siemens has presented the first of its new Mireo family of regional EMUs designed for the German market. They will be used by operator DB Regio, which has won the contract to operate the fleet of 24 new Class 463 EMUs to provide regional services on the ‘Rhine Valley’ route between Offenburg and Basel Bad from June 2020. The state of Baden-Wurttemberg’s ROSCO Landesanstalt Schienenfahrzeuge Baden-Wurttemberg (SFBW) will own the new trains.

Siemens launched the Mireo concept in 2016 after two years of development work; the order for the Rhine Valley contract was announced in January 2017. Siemens has built eight pre-series trains, which will be used for testing to gain EBA (German safety case) approval for use in service during 2019. Dynamic testing began with the first train at Siemens’ Wildenrath test centre in November 2018.

The Mireo concept was designed to offer a train with reduced whole life costs, reducing energy, maintenance and track access charge operating costs (partly by weight reduction), but also initial construction costs relative to comparable similar trains from both Siemens and its competitors. Through the use of articulation and longer than industry standard aluminium body shells, the 70-metre Mireo is 20% lighter than the equivalent length Siemens Desiro ML train. This is due to the reduction in bogies (from six to four) plus use of the lighter inside frame bogie design, meaning the weight of traction equipment and bogies is 40% lighter in the Mireo than the equivalent Desiro ML. The weight reduction will result in energy and maintenance cost savings and ensures the train does not breach the 20-tonne maximum axle loading for operating on German secondary lines.

New design: Siemens Mireo unit No 463 002 was presented to customers and the media at Wildenrath for the first time on 6 December 2018. Keith Fender

The Mireo can be built in lengths varying from two to seven cars and uses articulated vehicles and newly-designed SF7500 inside frame bogies (derived from the SF7000 used under the UK Class 700/707/717 Desiro City trains). The articulation trailer bogie features axles 2.3 metres apart; Siemens has yet to receive an order for Mireos longer than 70 metres but is developing a traction bogie version of the articulation bogie, with traction motors enabling trains longer than four cars to be supplied if required.

Siemens describe the Mireo interior concept as an ‘empty tube’, allowing customers to decide on layout and interior details. The Rhine Valley Mireo, equipped with on-board CCTV, passenger Wi-Fi and passenger counting technology, has 200 seats and four pairs of doors on each side of the train. A separate order, also from DB for Mireo units for the Rhine-Neckar S-Bahn network serving Mannheim, will have six pairs of doors on each side of the train as the fleet will be used for busy commuter services. The Rhine Valley trains are specially fitted with inter-vehicle fire resistant doors (incorporating roller shutters to be used in emergencies to seal off any fire) to meet the Technical Standard for Interoperability (TSI) for operating in long tunnels (the Offenburg to Basel route includes the 9.4km-long Katzenberg tunnel, which opened in 2012).

Siemens has confirmed design work has also been undertaken for an EMU version with batteries to enable up to 80km of operation away from catenary (known as Mireo Plus B); this will build on the experience gained from the Desiro ML Cityjet Eco, launched at InnoTrans in September 2018 and due to be trialled in Austria in 2019. Siemens has previously announced the development of a hydrogen fuel cell Mireo prototype (Mireo Plus H) in conjunction with fuel cell manufacturer Ballard and the technical university in Aachen; this train will appear in 2022.



With passenger numbers on Iarnrod Eireann (IE) services increasing at 8-10% per year and surpassing previous records, all available rolling stock is now being used as much as possible to combat overcrowding.

IE saw €1 billion invested in new trains between 2000 and 2008, but since then nothing has been added to the fleet thanks to the global financial crisis, which hit the Irish economy particularly hard.

The economic recovery in Ireland resulted in around 45.5 million rail journeys being made in 2017, up from around 37 million in 2012, with the 2018 increases expected to be a further 6%. Use of the new cross-Dublin service via the Phoenix Park tunnel is exceeding all expectations, and services on the route were expanded to operate all day and later into the evening from December 2018. IE did not foresee that the largest growth in recent years would be in inter-city passengers; IE now needs to have 85% of its operational fleet available in service daily but is constrained by the need to keep expenditure within the current annual overhaul and maintenance budget of €80 million.

In 2016 IE conducted a capacity review and considered options to increase fleet capacity.

Now in service: a pair of the new CAF SNG trains arrives at Leiden on 4 December 2018 with the 09.51 Den Haag CS to Haarlem service, with four-car set No 2711 leading three-car unit No 2315. Keith Fender
Highly reliable: 2600 Class DMU No 2602 arrives at Cork Kent from Cobh on 30 August 2017. The semaphore signals in this picture are now history, having been replaced by colour lights in November 2018. Keith Fender

Initially the National Transport Authority (NTA) didn’t support the request for the 41 additional 22000 Class vehicles, but a tender was put out to refurbish the 2700 Class DMUs and the core DART frequency was increased to every 10 minutes. Just one compliant bid was received to refurbish the 2700 Class units, and at a cost of €33 million for core work alone IE considers this too expensive and it is now unlikely to happen.

The NTA did approve a resubmitted request for 41 22000 Class vehicles in 2018 and procurement from Rotem in South Korea is progressing, with delivery spread over two years starting from March 2021. Separately, the 22000 Class fleet is now undergoing a ‘refresh’ programme, which will provide new leather seat covers which are easier to maintain plus new wall laminate to replace the tired looking corduroy wall finish, as well as USB sockets and upgraded toilet lighting.


As a potential replacement for the 2700 Class units, which will remain out of use, IE has confirmed to Modern Railways that it is also currently discussing leasing (and re-gauging to 1,600mm) UK Class 170 or 185 DMUs with UK ROSCOs, which anticipate having these vehicles available in the near future. The IE board has decided not to purchase any more ‘pure diesel’ trains, so in future new stock will be electric or hybrid (or battery); this decision may not preclude leasing existing trains if a suitable leasing deal can be agreed.

IE is fortunate that the reliability of its older DMUs is exceptional, with the 25-year-old 2600 Class achieving an incredible 350,000km between ‘in service’ failures, and ‘2800s’ around 260,000km.


The IE locomotive fleet, all built by General Motors/EMD in the 1980s/1990s, comprises all 18 of the 40-year-old 071 Class, now used for freight and engineering trains. All these have recently been refurbished and repainted to give a further 15 years of service.

The 22 serviceable 201 Class locos, built in 1994/95, are used on the Dublin – Cork route with Mk 4 passenger coaches, and on the Dublin – Belfast ‘Enterprise’ services (with dedicated push-pull sets), although 12 are stored long-term. The 67 Mk 4 carriages are formed into eight sets (with three spare vehicles), and all sets are now required in service daily.

To ease locomotive availability one loco (No 225), which had been stored with collision damage, will be returned to service in 2019.

As previously reported in Modern Railways, IE has been looking at re-engineering the 201 Class fleet to reduce fuel consumption and emissions and improve reliability, with a multi-engine arrangement proposed as an engineering solution. No compliant bids were received in response to tenders, so this work is now unlikely to proceed; however, IE’s Inchicore Works will undertake some form of refurbishment work on the operational locos. IE’s current strategy is to retain loco-hauled operation for key services, with a new fleet of push-pull stock for the ‘Enterprise’ by 2025 and new bi-mode locomotives, with the aim of increasing Dublin to Belfast service frequencies to hourly or better. Future electrification to Cork and Limerick (from 2035) would also use loco-hauled push-pull operation.


The €2.2 billion DART expansion to Maynooth, Hazelhatch and Drogheda is progressing, with three railway orders planned in 2019, to be submitted separately in case one gets held up! IE plans that electrification work will begin from 2024.

A new 480-vehicle DART EMU fleet (to be known as the 8530 Class) is being procured, with a contract to be awarded in early 2020 at an estimated cost of €600 million over a 10-year delivery schedule (which includes replacement of the LHB-built 8100 Class fleet from 2029 onwards). The first batch of 250 vehicles is to be battery/EMU or bi-mode DEMU for operation on non-electrified lines, with later deliveries to be EMU only. The first 8530 Class train is likely to be delivered in 2023. Tim Casterton



Dutch Railways (NS) introduced the first of 118 new articulated Civity EMUs being built by CAF on 12 November 2018, with two trains initially in use working as a seven-car set on the Den Haag to Haarlem route. NS ordered the Sprinter Nieuwe Generatie (SNG) trains at a cost of approximately €500 million in 2014 for use on its ‘core’ network. They will operate Sprinter stopping and semi-fast trains, replacing older loco-hauled push-pull trains and Sprinter EMUs, both dating from the 1970s to 1990s.

CAF is building 68 three-car and 50 four-car SNG EMUs at its Spanish factories. The 60-metre-long three-car version has two powered bogies, whilst the 75-metre four-car version has three.

The SNG trains will be introduced in stages. From December 2018 they replaced older Sprinter EMUs on the remaining Den Haag to Haarlem diagrams, and from February they will take over Leiden to Hoorn (via Schiphol airport) services, followed in April by a range of services in the north of the Netherlands. Further batches of new trains will follow later in 2019, enabling a cascade of older trains. This is expected to result in the withdrawal of all Class 1700 loco-hauled push-pull DD-AR sets dating from the mid-1990s early in 2019 (those not converted to new intercity trains were previously withdrawn in mid-2013, only to be reinstated to cope with traffic growth from December 2014). When more of the new SNG trains are in service, withdrawals of earlier 1970s-built Sprinter EMUs are expected; the entire SNG fleet should be in service by March 2020.