FROM THE ARCHIVES: Stadler - delivering with Swiss precision

“One of our latest projects is for the Glasgow Subway, and is a classic Stadler ‘tailor made’ solution. This metro system has very special requirements, particularly in the size of the car bodies, so that’s why we went for that first. In parallel we took on the Sheffield tram-train project in Valencia (formerly Vossloh), which is also a tailor-made product.”

Founded as an engineering office by Ernst Stadler in 1942, the company started to build battery-electric and diesel locomotives in 1945. Passenger vehicle production didn’t commence until 1984, but really took off in the mid to late-1990s with the launch of new products and the acquisition of two other Swiss factories building specialist rail vehicles for rack-and-pinion and narrow gauge railways.  

Much of Stadler’s success has also come from offering innovative products which can be closely tailored to individual requirements, and from absorbing popular or upcoming designs through a series of acquisitions. Two product lines in particular stand out, as they played a huge role in establishing Stadler’s credentials in the late-1990s and early-2000s. 

The RS1 ‘Regio-Shuttle’ diesel railcar was designed and originally built by Adtranz. But when this group was acquired by Bombardier in 2000, European Union competition authorities insisted that its regional and tram products be divested. Initially, Stadler operated a joint venture with Adtranz, but in 2001 it took 100% ownership of the Pankow factory in Berlin, giving it a manufacturing base in Germany for the first time. 

Since then, the RS1 has become almost the standard railcar in Germany. More than 800 have been built (497 of them built and sold by Stadler), and used by dozens of regional operators as well as Deutsche Bahn and Czech Railways. Pankow has also proved to be a vital tool in winning orders for the enormous German regional train market, which has been transformed since the turn of the century. 

More than 600 of Stadler’s own GTW design (short for Gelenktriebwagen, or articulated railcar) have been produced since 1995 in diesel, electric, standard and narrow gauge form. Units have been sold to Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as further afield. The GTW is based around a central power pack onto which two or more unpowered, lightweight passenger vehicles are hung - an arrangement pioneered by the Great Northern Railway (Ireland) in 1936! 

However, Stadler’s biggest success has come with its Fast Light Innovative Regional Train (FLIRT), the first of which were delivered to Swiss Federal Railways in 2004 (see RAIL 810). More than 1,400 of these low-floor, articulated regional trains have since been sold to 16 countries across Europe, plus the USA, Algeria and Azerbaijan. 

FLIRTs come in many different shapes and sizes - from three-car regional sets to luxurious inter-city units, wide-bodied units for Scandinavia, and broad gauge versions for Finland and former Soviet Union countries. Diesel FLIRTs have also been produced for Estonia, and the Valle d’Aosta Region in northwest Italy has ordered the first electro-diesel sets for delivery in 2018. 

Greater Anglia will add two further variants to the family from 2019, with 378 vehicles built in Bussnang to the UK loading gauge and formed into 20 12-car inter-city/Stansted Express 25kV AC electric sets, 24 four-car and 14 three-car electro-diesel regional units. This £610 million order was Stadler’s first for main line trains in the UK, and part of a £1.54 billion total fleet replacement programme by GA franchise holder Abellio. Stadler will also maintain the new trains at Norwich Crown Point depot. 

How much of a challenge is it to adapt the tried and tested FLIRT design to UK conditions - most notably our restrictive loading gauge? 

Jenelten explains: “When we took the strategic decision to enter the UK market two years ago, we ran feasibility studies, made drawings and designs, and worked with Network Rail, train operators and leasing companies to develop a strong idea of what was required. We’re confident that this will not create a problem for us, or the delivery timeline. We are working with a very experienced operator and customer in Abellio.”

Warwel adds: “We have also engaged with a number of experienced UK-based partners, and set up working groups with various stakeholders to help us as we gain the experience that we still lack. We’re buying in experts to help us.

“Roughly three months after signing the contract we have already built a wooden mock-up for the design review. This allows us to check whether the equipment all fits into the car body, if it suits the customer, and we can involve stakeholders such as disabled groups in the process at this stage. We don’t want to have any negative experiences later.

“The whole basis of the procurement of the new Anglia fleet is to have it in place before the new PRM (Persons of Restricted Mobility) regulations come into force on January 1 2020. So we will start delivery in spring 2019 and all 58 trains will be in service by the end of the year.” 

Success with the FLIRT family spurred on Stadler to extend its product range in the late 2000s, adding the KISS double-deck electric multiple unit from 2008. Originally developed for Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) for Zürich area commuter services, more than 250 trains have now been sold to operators in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the USA for both regional and inter-city work. 

Over the same period, many Swiss narrow gauge and mountain railways have modernised their fleets. This has required Stadler to produce many small production runs of ‘tailor-made’ trains suited to the particular characteristics of these diverse lines serving commuters, tourists and busy regional routes. 

Outside Switzerland, Stadler’s expansion has been accompanied by the development of new assembly facilities in Hungary (2005) and Poland (2006), serving the growing eastern European market, and in Belarus (2012) for the former Soviet republics. 

Further acquisitions have also resulted in the Swiss company Winpro AG of Winterthur (2005), Voith Rail Services of the Netherlands (2013) and Vossloh Rail Vehicles of Valencia (2015, RAIL 816) being brought into the fold, broadening the range of products and services Stadler can offer. 

Light rail and metro is increasingly important to the group, with Variobahn trams being delivered to operators in Germany, Norway and Croydon Tramlink in the UK in recent years. Stadler’s first contracts for underground trains came from Berlin in 2015, but the company’s biggest success in this area came in December 2015 when, in a joint venture with Siemens, it won a massive framework order for up to 1,380 vehicles from Berlin S-Bahn, to be completed by 2023.

The £92m order for 17 underground trains for Glasgow’s Subway was also won from Strathclyde Passenger Transport in March 2016. Part of a £200m upgrade package won with Ansaldo STS, the trains will be Stadler’s first for an automatic, driverless system. They will be built at Altenrhein in Switzerland. 

That was followed in December by another coup for the Swiss, winning a £460m order for bespoke electric trains from Merseytravel (RAIL 817), although this is currently subject to a legal challenge from Bombardier. These four-car articulated metro-style EMUs will be delivered in 2019-20 to replace ex-BR Class 507s and ‘508s’ dating from the late 1970s. More than 200 vehicles will be formed into 52 trains able to carry 60% more passengers than the current fleet. One train per week will be delivered from the summer of 2019. 

More unusual orders have included ten passenger coaches for Canada’s ‘Rocky Mountaineer’ tourist operation and 30 luxurious gauge-changing sleeping car and restaurant coaches for Azerbaijan Railways’ future service between Baku, Tbilisi (Georgia) and Turkey. 

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  • AndrewJG8918 - 05/09/2019 02:17

    Stadler should continue on manufacturing more new trains including the Class 777 "Metro" to replace the Merseyrail's ageing Class 507 and Class 508 stocks. And to continue on manufacturing more new Flirt stocks including replacing the Class 455 and Class 313 on Southern.

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