BERLIN — The outlook for a number of transformative passenger projects, along with the potential for greater rail electrification, has the CEO of Siemens Mobility North America feeling optimistic as he contemplates the future of his business.
Marc Buncher leads a rapidly growing business in North America, with its Sacramento, Calif., manufacturing site employing approximately 2,500 people, up from 800 less than a decade ago, with another 1,500 in nationwide, primarily at signal factories and software centers in Kentucky, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Exclusively The trains Interviewing News Wire at the InnoTrans trade show, Buncher discussed the need for more and better passenger rail service in the United States, expressing his enthusiasm in particular for the California High Speed Rail and Brightline project, both in Florida and in the Southwest, where Brightline West plans to connect Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Los Angeles area.
Buncher is clear that when one or more of these projects allow people to see how fast and enjoyable train travel can be, then more people will want to travel. He sees Brightline’s early experience in Florida as showing this; By offering a high level of overall service (such as connecting ground transportation and modern stations with first-class lounges), Brightline has established a brand that is more than just a train company.
New passenger equipment
Speaking of Siemens’ large equipment orders from Amtrak and Via Rail Canada, Buncher notes that major passenger investments are underway even before any purchases have been made in connection with the infrastructure bill of 105 billion US dollars. He hopes the first orders resulting from this funding will be placed soon, perhaps later this year.
While Amtrak rolling stock ordered in 2021 will primarily be designed to run Siemens Charger diesel locomotives, it will feature electric traction equipment. Some of the Venture push-pull trainsets will have what Siemens calls an auxiliary electric vehicle right alongside the diesel. This will be fitted with a pantograph and/or batteries, allowing the train to operate using either overhead power, if available, or on-board batteries, to power the Charger diesels’ traction motors via wired connections, even if the diesel engine is off. This would allow operation in places where diesel power is not permitted or desirable, such as in tunnels or some train stations.
Buncher thinks more electrification of passenger trains is likely and suggests the Pacific Northwest and California are possible locations, despite this week’s announcement that California will buy hydrogen fuel cell trains manufactured by Stadler [see “Stadler unveils first hydrogen train …,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 21, 2022]. And it confirms that Siemens will offer California high-speed rail operators an upgraded, U.S.-compliant version of the Velaro trains widely sold in Europe and currently delivered to Germany. To make high-speed rail an operational option, advanced cab signaling will be required; Buncher says an American version of the European train control system – which Siemens sells worldwide – would be the ideal solution. He adds that it should be made compliant with American standards and ensure that the software was produced in the United States.
New digital level crossings
Siemens is also heavily involved in the North American signaling market, with factories in Pittsburgh and Kentucky, and the company has brought its latest version of the ubiquitous cross-Atlantic railroad crossing barrier system to InnoTrans.
Apparently, small parts of the overall rail system like this are actually a big part of industry spending and level crossings are used all over the world, which explains the decision to expose it to many thousands of miles from home. The design and testing work is no less meticulous than that of new rolling stock.
Called S80, the new version of the familiar level crossing barrier mechanism – the existing model is the S60 – is designed to operate longer and with much less maintenance before it needs to be repaired or replaced. Existing crossing gates can operate approximately 500,000 times before the entire mechanism needs to be replaced, but the S80 can double that. Using a brushless DC electric motor and a gear mechanism that is lubricated for its lifetime once built, the new gate is cheaper to operate and maintain. Clever design means it raises and lowers the door with a smooth start and smooth finish, eliminating wobble that can contribute to wear. Siemens engineers believe this will allow the new design to operate 40% longer without repair.
The S80 was tested on three Class I railroads in the United States and Canada for three years, in areas that Buncher says deliberately included “all four seasons” and a variety of routes. As with almost everything in the modern rail industry, new equipment is ‘digital’, with internal displays showing the status of those responsible for maintaining the equipment; for extreme winter conditions, it has been designed to be worked by maintenance people wearing gloves. Longer term, it is equipped with Bluetooth, which means it can be inspected and maintained remotely. In the future, this may eliminate the need for cables from the adjacent signal pavilion.
New trains on display
As a company based in Germany, Siemens is unsurprisingly presenting new equipment at InnoTrans. Three of the company’s Vectron series locomotives are on hand: a 230 kilometer per hour (143 mph) passenger electric; a dual-mode electric/diesel; and the latest iteration of the design, a dual-mode electric/diesel being built for German freight company DB Cargo to replace older switchers and line haul locomotives.
Also on display are two versions of the European EMU Mireo from Siemens, both hybrids: one is fitted with batteries, while the other is fitted with hydrogen fuel cells instead of a pantograph, but also uses batteries for store energy. While Siemens will replace battery-powered and hydrogen-powered trains in North America, Buncher says it will be done using different designs, not the European Mireo.