• The fall of the wall, Eastern European trains, then and now

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by David Benton
This discussion started in the Amtrak forum , comparing conditions in the USA , to those in Eastern Europe.
Mr Norman said ,
"Who am I to say to the contrary, but the ACS-64 was supposed to be the knock off of a proven design engine used extensively by both the DB and OBB.

I know and respect you both "do this stuff for a living", but somehow I don't think either of those State owned roads would accept those levels of availability you note.

So what do you think is going on; Siemens thought they could throw together a pile of parts with minimal QC (quality control) and force Amtrak to "take 'em or leave 'em", or are Corridor operating conditions so much more harsh and demanding on the engines than found on the European roads? Those engines operate into and within both Czechoslovakia and Hungary, where I'm sure there is still deferred maintence from the pre-'89 "bad old days"."

Excon90 said ,
" It may be that DB and OeBB have a higher and more intensive standard of maintenance, with the object of preventing failures in service, simply because their traffic density--and equipment turnaround--is such that they can't tolerate having a train go "dead in the road." I sometimes think there's a feeling over here that if you replace something before it fails you haven't gotten the most out of it."

David Benton said ,
"From what I observed around that period, Hungary at least , and East Germany had good maintenance facilities, and practices. They were actually exporting equipment, albeit probably on price and trade deals. Certainly none of the minor fixes not been done as per Amtrak ."
Gokeefe said
"Just "for the record" I traveled over both Czech and Hungarian railways in the late 90s. The Hungarians had just managed to get new rolling stock (probably from Siemens). The railroads in the East were clearly a step down from DB and OBB. Having traveled the length of the NEC several times I can comfortably say that Amtrak's Right of Way (WAS-NYP, NHV-BOS) is in far better condition. The signal system in particular is light years ahead of where the East Europeans were at the time (I recall seeing some wire operated semaphores)."

Daybeers asked ,
"Do you know where the countries stand with rail now?"

Jeff Smith suggested we discuss in the worldwide forum , and so here we are.
  by David Benton
First , I must apologise to Mr Norman and co, my first trip to Eastern Europe must have been 1987/88 or so , before the wall fell. The details a bit sketchy now, but I believe I went from Austria ( or possibly Northern Italy), through what was then Yugoslavia, to Greece.
From what i recall of that trip , the infrastructure in Yugoslavia was in reasonably good condition. The passenger trains were similar to those in Germany at the time. but slower. The exception was the train from Skopje(i think ) to Greece. This train was old, filthy, and crawling with soldiers with machine guns, who spent the night loudly playing cards and harassing the passengers. It didn't help that I had caught food poisoning in Dubrovnik, or maybe it did , as I was 1/2 comatose I think.
The only other experience I had on that trip was to see the Orient express pull into Munich station. It was a old locomotive hauling a few filthy cars , I could not tell their type or origin. Hardly anyone appeared to alight or board.
In the rural areas , there was still quite a lot of freight traffic that had already disappeared in Western Europe , with quite a lot of local switching of small stations etc. I can well believe that wire operated semaphore signals were in use , as George observed. Mind you , I saw plenty of those in Wales , Scotland and rural England as well.
All in all ,a brief taste of Eastern Europe, but nothing to compared to my next trip after the fall of the Iron curtain.
  by Jeff Smith
Thanks for the topic! For my own experience, it was limited to pre-wall Western Europe/Germany and DB second class. I loved it; to me, it was rail travel as it was meant to be.
  by kato
David Benton wrote: Sun Jul 14, 2019 12:38 am They were actually exporting equipment, albeit probably on price and trade deals
VEB Waggonbau (rolling stock) in East Germany pretty much exported everywhere throughout the Cold War - from the 50s to the 80s; main customers besides the Warsaw Pact were Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Ghana, Uganda, Indonesia, China and (North) Korea. Some contracts signed during the Cold War were concluded in the early 90s, such as a production run for Ghana.
The currency union in 1990 broke their back on new contracts though; they were simply no longer competitive as is. The only successful new contract that i know of signed in the early 90s was with Russian state railways RZD for 100 sleeper waggons. They produced series of several hundred cars under new contracts for Deutsche Bahn through the 90s.

The factories - other than one - were sold to a US private equity investor in 1996 and resold to Bombardier in 1998. What probably helped in the Bombardier sale was that these East-German companies were just starting to produce a series of cab cars for ICE-T for DB and had a standing contract for double-decker regional passenger train waggons which is basically still active today (and probably had in excess of a thousand cars produced by now).

While the factories were heavily downsized, they've all continued producing and exporting up to today. They even got some rather highly competed contracts. For example the entire series of 300+ truck transport waggons running in the Eurotunnel were built there.

The other rail-related combinate in East Germany, VEB LEW (locomotives) sold a good number to Poland, although those contracts seem to all have been in the mid 50s. Supposedly 60% of production at that time was for export - and that was probably some trade exchange.
I don't think they ever exported anything from the 60s onwards, and production basically just completed DR orders in the early 90s with no real new contracts from DB. AEG, which had taken over the factory in 1991, sold them on to Adtranz in 1996, who then sold them to Bombardier in 2001. Since the Adtranz times they're mostly producing EMUs and DMUs for DB, with Bombardier basically moving their EMU business there.
  by David Benton
Thanks Kato. I thought I remember hearing or reading that a lot of East German manufacturing and / or maintenance workshops were kept going after the fall, as they were more efficient, or cost effective. Possibly it was because they were simply cheaper , as i don't think pay parity was introduced between the east and the West straight away. I think it was argued it was still a lot cheaper to live in the East, I suspect they just couldn't afford to pay West wages to all in the East straight away. Or perhaps it was because some of the Eastern equipment was newer than the Western , and it made sense to maintain / build it where it already was. I recall West Germany has quite a bit of old equipment at the time.
Eventually, of course the benefits of reunification far outweighed the trials of unification, and the personal freedom aspect far outweighed the economic ones anyway.
New Zealand purchased new EMU trains from Ganz Mavag in Hungary in the early eighties. Or rather they swapped them for a large amount of sheep meat(mutton), that we were having trouble selling. Despite reservations about their corten steel manufacture lasting in Wellingtons notorious Cook Strait environment, ( The trains were regularly splashed by waves in wild weather), they lasted till recently , and were then reexported to Africa. I don't recall any major problems with them.
  by kato
David Benton wrote: Mon Jul 15, 2019 3:31 am Possibly it was because they were simply cheaper , as i don't think pay parity was introduced between the east and the West straight away.
Per-unit production costs in East Germany were near-equal (slightly higher) compared to West Germany. The salary increases following the currency union in July 1990 compared with an initial non-improvement in productivity led to East German industry very quickly no longer being competitive. By 1993, when the big cut-down in former state-owned Eastern industry began, average production costs in East Germany reached 142% of West German levels.

With regard to rolling stock, the contracts in the early 90s with Deutsche Bahn - still a state-controlled business back then - were a way to prop up the industry and keep it alive. Yeah, they did have a product DB was interested in (a late 80s double-decker passenger car design for regional trains of which DR in the East was running a few hundred already), but the fact that they decided on buying it was a political decision. It still kept the industry alive long enough for Bombardier to sweep in and buy it all up.

With regard to in particular locomotives and powered stock there was a lot of exchange between Eastern-European countries in the 60s to 80s - with the background that pretty much each country kept their own industry in that regard. Hungary built locomotives to a design from East Germany; East Germany got subsystem designs a bit shadily from Czechoslovakia; Romania license-built Swiss and Swedish designs and exported them to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria; Fablok/Pafawag/Cegielski in Poland were the ones that got all the real export contracts (to India, China etc) - and that was starting with systems that mashed up British designs and Soviet technology with local re-engineering.
  by Tadman
daybeers wrote: Sat Jul 13, 2019 12:05 am
gokeefe wrote: Tue Jul 02, 2019 6:07 pm Just "for the record" I traveled over both Czech and Hungarian railways in the late 90s. The Hungarians had just managed to get new rolling stock (probably from Siemens). The railroads in the East were clearly a step down from DB and OBB. Having traveled the length of the NEC several times I can comfortably say that Amtrak's Right of Way (WAS-NYP, NHV-BOS) is in far better condition. The signal system in particular is light years ahead of where the East Europeans were at the time (I recall seeing some wire operated semaphores).
Do you know where the countries stand with rail now?
CD, the Czech national carrier, uses mostly Siemens equipment and the service is pretty decent. There are some legacy communist equipment around, but it was a minority on the Berlin-Prague-Vienna ride I had last year. CD is operating Railjet service with blue-painted identical equipment to OBB's Railjet. I understand this is the same engineering platform as our new corridor equipment. While it is only pseudo-HST and really is conventional equipment, I like the concept of looking a bit like HST. I think half the people on Acela don't really know what an HST is, they just think it's premium and speedy looking. That said, I didn't like the Railjet equipment nearly as much as the true conventional "long distance" equipment used Berlin-Prague. This was pulled by the bigger and boxier Siemens unit (vectron?).

I don't have any other experience with eastern bloc railroads other than DB tracks in former East Germany, which are pretty well assimilated into DB so there's not much to say. I have heard that the Romanians are building and exporting passenger cars. The Brazillian Vale passenger trains (longer day trains pulled by GEVOs) are recently re-equipped with such cars.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Dunville, I rode a Czech RailJet last August Graz to Vienna Miedling.

The "two-tone" Blue livery is far more attractive than is that of the OBB sets (Mr. Google has plenty of photos of both liveries).

But I'm afraid I had my "Ugly American" moment on that train. I ordered a 375ml bottle of a Czech wine, which was "nice". Now the Attendant comes with the check. It's for 235 "something or others". I look at him and say "what is this, Czechloslovian funny money?"

Uh, "not nice"

He then said "it's about 11 Euros". "Fine" says me.

But it was a great ride over Semmering Pass - and I had the even greater company of an English speaking "fortysomething" Polish gal to accompany me for the journey.
  by David Benton
My second trip to Europe must have been just after the wall fell. Parts of it were still up , you could chip a bit off yourself , or buy a piece. I remember trainloads of Russian tanks and other military equipment in East Germany, ready to be railed back to Russia.
I had cycled from London, well most the way. I'm pretty sure I took a train to Berlin, not sure from where now. A fairly large East German town. I had met a young West German cyclist at the "border", we cycled together in East Germany. The East Germans wern't that interested in me(Kiwis had been allowed in for years), but were fascinated with the West German, bombarding him with questions about the west. A welcome break for me. the other lingering memory, the crashed Bmw's on almost every corner of the country roads. Apparently, the need to slow down for corners was new to the East !. The passenger trains, I don't remember been outstandingly good or bad, maybe a bit drab, but clean and comfortable. Th ere was still alot of freight traffic, and still railway lines that ended at the border, that hadn't been used for years.
From East Berlin I took a train to the Polish border, not a through train, I cycled across the border. The trains in Poland were good , the carriages seemed similar to the French Corail stock. there were a couple of narrow gauge steam trains I rode. One a tourist operation, one still daily transport. I also rode a railbus type of operation, rail truck probably more accurate. Also seemed to be the daily transport for the locals. Fun bouncing along with the driver changing gears. Overall rail transport was good, the service a bit better than East Germany. I really enjoyed Poland , there was a real sense of liberation in the air. At the campgrounds people would tell me it was nice to camp without knowing one of your neighbors were watching, ready to report any perceived "wrong doings". but also how much there was still to change, the empty shops, and the air pollution in Katowice. From there I headed to the border of Czechoslovakia, another installment to come.
  by Tadman
Ah I had the same frustration. The guy didn't even want to consider taking Euros. I had two weeks on the continent and less than a day in Prague. I told him he could have $20 US or E$20 for the same ~$11 bottle of wine. It wasn't like we were in a distant country, we were in a neighboring country with a huge tourist trade. I didn't use the term "funny money", however.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Dunville, on my overseas journeys, I'm usually planning my "Euro exit strategy" some two days prior. The housekeeper's tip is a good part of it, but then paying cash at even the hotel's bar burns off more. Last year, at a Starbucks adjacent to the Salzburg train station, I had about €9 left. The check was €7 something, paid it, and then just "upended" my wallet into the tip jar.

I got aboard the 8A Euro City to Munich Ost/Airport with $0 foreign currency.
  by Tadman
The currency exit strategy always catches up with me. I always overspend and wind up using credit card then still have that pile of Euros in my wallet. As of today I have 60 Euros in my wallet waiting for my next trip. There's also a box on my desk with Argentine pesos, Peruvian Sols, and Loonies. The toughest part is remember the darn things when I leave for said country... whoops.
  by David Benton
There are usually Charity boxes at airports happy to take your leftover change. Strikes me as rather mean spirited to go to such lengths to end up with no foreign currency.
Anyway , hopefully back to the sprinters
  by spRocket
I've seen cab footage from Eastern Europe on YouTube, and things are highly variable depending on where it was filmed.

A passenger run taken in Poland had plenty of track good for 160 km/h; unfortunately, I don't have a link handy for that one. A freight run from Přerov, Czech Republic, via Bratislava, Slovakia to Rajka, Hungary (just across the border) showed the Czech and Slovak lines in generally good condition.

Dušan Vujović, from Belgrade, Serbia, has put together some outstanding cab videos from Serbia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Slovenia's rail network looks like it's in good shape, but those in Montenegro and Serbia definitely show the effects of deferred maintenance; low speed limits, slow orders on top of that, and malfunctioning signals are a real problem. However, the line from Subotica to Belgrade is being refurbished; the EU assisted in building a new road/rail bridge across the Danube at Novi Sad with one track in service and a second for future expansion, while much of the trackwork is being rebuilt with Russian aid. Currently, though, there is a great deal of 40 km/h between Subotica and Novi Sad.

(Personal opinion: the only things the wars accompanying the breakup of Yugoslavia accomplished were to murder a lot of people and vaporize a lot of money, and the effects are still being felt over twenty years later.)