On the Right Track

Author: Joachim Geiger

Nov 02, 2022 Future Vehicle & Mobility Services / Sustainability / Automotive

Building a new train for the European rail network is a Herculean task for any manufacturer. At the end of the day, the crucial question will be whether the rail vehicle is compatible with European and national regulations. Tangible support is provided by the experts at DEKRA Rail.

The Dutch railroad company Nederlandse Spoorwegen N.V. – an independent, state-owned corporation – is using state-of-the-art technology from France to expand its fleet. The new star in the Dutch railroad sky is an electric low-floor multiple-unit for regional and intercity service from manufacturer Alstom, based in Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine, which will be launched under the name “InterCity Nieuwe Generatie” (ICNG). The future high achiever is part of the Coradia Stream series family and has been manufactured since 2018 in a specially equipped train assembly plant in Katowice, Poland. The ICNG, which can travel at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour, is expected to set new standards, particularly in terms of sustainability. The traction system is designed for regenerative braking, which is said to reduce the vehicle’s energy consumption by 35 percent as well as reducing wear and tear on the wheels. In addition, more than 95 percent of the components used can be recycled.
Unlimited travel through Europe? This will only work if all authorities agree
With all this talent, it seems almost inevitable that the high-tech train will be a hit on the European rail network. Alstom has already received inquiries from rail operators in Denmark, Luxembourg, Italy and Germany. Does this mean that the ICNG has green light for travel in Europe? It’s not quite that simple for the rail vehicle manufacturer, as Jean-Paul van Hengstum, Managing Director of DEKRA Rail in Utrecht, the Netherlands, explains. On the one hand, the European Union’s Railway Agency (ERA), which is responsible for vehicle approvals throughout Europe, is pressing ahead with the harmonization of approval processes. In addition, the “Technical Specifications for Interoperability” (TSI), which contain the requirements and test procedures for interoperability constituents and subsystems, provide excellent leverage for a uniform rail system in Europe. On the other hand, there are different kinds of train protection systems, as well as traction current and train radio systems still in use on European tracks today. A train registered in the Netherlands could therefore not easily cross the border onto Belgian or German tracks. This would be prevented by a myriad of regulations with which the national authorities of the EU member states set their own requirements for rail safety.
Even the application for approval is a challenge for rail manufacturers
“In the approval process for a new type of train, incredible amounts of regulations, rules, and requirements come together at European and national level, all of which have to be taken into account,” explains DEKRA expert van Hengstum. In this context, even the approval application to the responsible authority represents an enormous challenge for most vehicle manufacturers – after all, the responsibility for the preparation, organization, and completeness of an application always lies with the applicant, according to EU law. This poses the question for Alstom whether the new train meets the requirements of European and national safety regulations, with all its subsystems such as power and train control-command, as well as components such as bogies and pantographs.
This is precisely where the experts at DEKRA Rail come into play. After all, the testing and certification of rail vehicles is a central expertise in their extensive portfolio. As a so-called notified body (NoBo), DEKRA also has the recognition of the European Union as a neutral and independent organization authorized to certify on the basis of the Technical Requirements (TSI). At national level, DEKRA has accreditation as a designated body (DeBo) in both the Netherlands and Belgium, where the focus lies on compliance with national technical regulations.
DEKRA plays a key role in the approval process on behalf of Alstom
DEKRA plays a key role in the approval process for the ICNG on behalf of Alstom. The railroad experts from Utrecht are responsible as a designated body (DeBo) for the national conformity tests in the Netherlands. However, by far the most time-consuming part is performed by the staff of the testing and inspection department. In fact, at the beginning of its life cycle, the ICNG is a blank slate for outsiders. In order for the prescribed conformity tests to take place at all, they need data, or more precisely: Huge amounts of data, which DEKRA Rail must identify in measurement and test runs.
This job, however, is a veritable marathon, stretching from the acceptance of the order in September 2018 to the present. The test marathon for the ICNG began in early 2020 with dynamic tests on the Velim railroad test ring of Czech Railway Research Institute VUZ near Prague. This was followed by measurement and test runs on the Dutch rail network, with a large proportion of the test runs mainly taking place at night. The biggest challenge for the DEKRA experts in the ICNG project? The answer from Jean-Paul van Hengstum is fast and precise. “Organizing the tests was a tough job. Many measurement runs had to be carried out at different speeds and with different train configurations. Repeatedly equipping the test vehicles with laboratory equipment such as high-frequency technology, special antennas, sensors, and high-speed cameras also always required a lot of time and effort.”
By now, the DEKRA experts know the ICNG like the back of their hands
DEKRA engineers now know the sleek low-floor multiple-unit like the back of their hands. They have examined the train control equipment and the systems that control and activate the safety relevant functions, but also the electromagnetic radiation in order to rule out any adverse effects on the railroad equipment or sensitive infrastructure along the train route. The test plan also included the measurement of pressure waves during entry and exit at tunnels, as well as noise emissions and the pressure of the pantograph on the overhead line. To date, the DEKRA experts have completed over 250 test runs with the ICNG – most recently on railway lines in Belgium. In mid-2022, they handed over the documentation of their work to their client, Alstom. The certificates from the designated body are already available, as well. So what could be the expert organization’s preliminary interim conclusion, according to Jean-Paul van Hengstum? “The new ICNG can do everything that a modern European train must be able to do.”