How special rail vehicles transported on their own wheel?


A transport of a High Speed Train on it’s own wheels should be easy because the train is build to travel on it’s own you might think.

You’re wrong! In general it‘s titled „Special Transport“ for a lot of reasons.

First of all new build High Speed Trains, Diesel Multiple Units, Electric Multiple Units or Rail Construction Machines do not have a valid licence for the transit route normally. In 9 out of 10 cases the brakes are not working as well, which leads to the need of additional brake wagons. Another problem is that especially HSTs, DMUs and EMUs have a central buffer coupling system mostly. As a help-coupling is not build to be used for long distances, in most cases additional coupling wagons are needed as well. Due to the missing licence a transport permission by all involved rail operators is obligatory.

The normal procedure to get such a transport permission is the following:

  • Shipper asks the railway in the departure country for permission – providing all necessary technical data.
  • Railway in the departure country asks all other involved railways/operators for their permission.
  • Other railways/operators give their permission backward -> Destination country answers first.
  • Railway in the departure country issues complete transport permission (BZA)
  • Shipper forwards permission to forwarding agent
  • Forwarding agent gets in contact with the railways/partners  to get rates.
  • Forwarding agent issues offer
  • Client accepts offer
  • Forwarding agent provides transport instructions
  • Transport starts
145 - Yüksek Hızlı Tren Taşımacılığı. Foto: Thomas Hertinger ©
High speed train transportation

However, as it happens often, the procedure looks a bit different in reality:

  • Shipper asks forwarding agent for an indication.
  • Forwarding agent provides indication based on experience
  • Client accepts the indication
  • Either client asks railways for transport permission – providing all necessary technical data or forwarding agent asks railways for transport permission where all necessary (technical) data provided by the shipper
  • Railway in thedeparture country asks all other involved railways/operators for their permission.
  • Forwarding agent gets in contact with railways/partners to speed up the permission procedure
  • Railways answer in no particular order
  • Railway in the departure country issues complete transport permission (BZA)
  • Forwarding agent confirms indication / changes final rates
  • Client gives the order
  • Forwarding agent provides transport instructions
  • Transport starts

Apparently above mentioned procedure takes a lot of time but that’s no problem. From the first inquiry for an indication to the realisation of a transport it could easily take 1,5 years or more. The big challenge is to coordinate such a transport.

There are only a few specialists in every country who are familiar and have enough knowledge with that kind of business, which makes the correct partner decision very important. Though the transport price is of course relevant to the client, an even more significant  point is a safe and smooth transport. HSTs, DMUs and EMUs are high value goods, worth several million of Euros – of course armed security is traveling with such transports almost at all times. A basic is the availability of a responsible contact person 24/7 to solve smaller problems during the transport as well. Special Transports can’t be done casually – they’re a lot of work with dozen of phone calls and hundreds of mails even before the real transport starts.

When a High Speed Train arrived at Kapikule border on late 2013, everybody was happy about the arrival but only few knew about the hard work behind the curtains. The preliminary studies started already back in 2012 with a detailed inquiry in 2013. At that time there’ve been a lot of problems with traffic restrictions and route closures of TCDD. Nevertheless, indications have been made and meetings with the client have been held to discuss the operational stuff and to avoid problems. In August the HST producer had chosen the operator with the most suitable solution and on the same day, the detailed coordination started. The transfer of the HST started in late 2013 from Germany as planned and arrived on 6th day, just after midnight with only a short delay at the Turkish border. Various problems on the route (technical issues in Hungary, power blackout at the Romanian border, a broken locomotive in Bulgaria which blocked the way) have been solved – sometimes in the middle of the night.

Summarised, everyone who’s dealing with Special Transports love and hate their job at the same time. They might curse their job by picking up the phone at midnight to solve a problem – they might think about giving up due to apparently insolvable issues – they might hate it to be contacted when they’re on holidays – but they accept all this because they love that moment when their special transport arrives at the final destination, that feeling to finish a project and that they’ve been part of a difficult and complicated, but at the end successful transport.

Written by Thomas Hertinger

Hamza Thomas Hertinger, born 1984 in Vienna, started his career 2004 at DB Schenker. After 2 years of learning the basics at the PowerRailer department, he switched to European Rail Transport to gain more knowledge and a deeper impression of railway business. Trained by Manfred Bernleithner for some years, he took over Special Transports by 2010. With the beginning of 2013, Mr. Hertinger was also acting as head of departments Steel, Special Transports, Building Materials and Agricultural goods for DB Schenker Vienna with further responsibility for South-East Europe until the end of 2014. Starting from January 2015 and after more than 10 years, he changed from DB Schenker to CEL Logistic Company GmbH a Member of Far East Land Bridge Group - now acting as Director of Project Department.

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