In Europe, high-speed trains on high-speed tracks exist in customer service since 1981. The first one was the TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, high-speed train) which is France’s high-speed rail service, operated by SNCF, the national rail operator. It was put in service in 1981 on the South-East line, from Paris to Lyon. Over the last 30 years, the system has been developed widely.
The TGV trains were developed by Alstom (previously GEC-Alsthom) and were quite reliable from the beginning. Extensive testing and good engineering were at the basis. In the mean time, several types have seen the light. The first TGV’s have been fully renewed in the mean time, and are still operating well.
In Germany, the local operator, DB, started to develop their trains some years later and various ICE train types were delivered by Siemens since 1991. In the beginning, reliability was with some versions a critical point. Other countries, such as Italy and Spain, developed derived versions, and several high-speed tracks are in service now.
In the nineties, two further new destinations were brought in service. First the Eurostar, which started service in 1994 via the Channel tunnel. The trains are derived from the TGV type and have several similarities. In 1996, the Thalys was opened, a connection between Paris and Brussels, with direct trains to Amsterdam and Cologne. The Thalys is also quite close to the TGV models.
All this worked and works well, and the various systems continued to extend their destinations via new high-speed tracks.
In the beginning of the 21st century, both The Netherlands and Belgium wished to replace their ‘old’ connection by a new modern high-speed train. They wished also to use these new tracks for local connections.
The bright idea was born to develop/invent a new train type (V250), using the latest european technologies. After an official selection process, the decision was taken in 2004 to order these trains from an Italian company, Ansaldo Breda. For train and tram enthusiast, this was a real shock. Because everyone, and I repeat everyone, having some knowledge in the industry, knew that this company did and does not have a good track record of reliability and delivery.
Delivery of these trains, in the mean named Fyra, was foreseen for 2007, but due several delays, the first trains were only delivered in 2009. And, even after these delays, many new further issues and problems were discovered, so the new trains were not brought in service. Delays and issues already brought up the invoice by many millions of euros for both countries.
End of 2012, it was decided finally to start the official Fyra service between Amsterdam and Brussels. After a few days of service, the problems exploded. Delays, snow issues, technical problems, quality problems, etc. brought the service to a halt only several days after the start in December.
Since then, technicians from supplier and rail services, supported by technical experts have examined the Fyra. Today, NMBS, the Belgian operator informed the press that they cancel the contract with the supplier and start legal actions. The NMBS also disclosed several photos of quality issues, and experts and users do not believe their eyes.
The Dutch operator, NS, runs still the local service from Amsterdam to Breda. I do not if this works well, but I expect also the Dutch to decide to cancel the contract with Ansaldo in a few days or weeks.
Many questions will arise after this scandal, and pretty sure this will become a highly political issue. Some people will have a difficult time to answer questions, such as why this supplier, why not just order the same TGV or Thalys trains (which by the way still run on the same tracks as the Fyra). The word incompetence comes to the mind of many people, and the taxpayers in The Netherlands and Belgium will have to pay the bill.
The Fyra website is still accessible today. Only some words that the service is temporarely postponed. You can count on it that still many words will be written on the Fyra. But for me it is one of the biggest failures of the last decade. So Fyra: no way!
Back soon with a new blog. Take care.