Lax regulations are to blame for ice problems?

The special inspection of the ICE-T will be completed in February, promises the railway. However, the question of blame for the axle problems remains unresolved. Is it the material or the road surface? Or are the valid standards outdated, as railway expert Loffler assumes to

First an ICE-3 derailed in Cologne Central Station. One axis was broken – how this could come about is being investigated by the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing on behalf of the Cologne Public Prosecutor’s Office. Then a hairline crack was discovered in the axis of an ICE-T. The railway withdrew all trains of this series, which was specially designed for winding routes with its tilting technology, for a special inspection. In the meantime, a hairline crack has been found in another train of this type.

The railway speaks of material defects and thus blames the manufacturers of the ICE. The company reserves the right to claim damages. They reject the allegations and warn that a factual discussion should be returned to.

Do trains and track beds do not match?

But speculation about the causes of the problems with the wheelset shafts continues. It may be the rail network that is damaging the wheels and axles. The trains run over tracks that are sometimes firmly on concrete, sometimes embedded in gravel.

Ekkehard Wendler, professor at the chair for railway engineering at RWTH Aachen University, waves across the street this site from: "We have a good quality track in Germany". It is true that the wheel and rails always interact, but that applies to all trains. And so trains other than the ICE-T, for example, would also have problems if they run over certain routes and these were damaged. The fact that the ICE-T drives a little faster than an IC hardly makes any difference, says Wendler.

Gunter Loffler, who holds the professorship for technology of track-guided vehicles at the TU Dresden, sees it a little differently. Concrete track beds for high-speed trains are important and more stable than a ballast substructure, but there are no studies on the long-term effects of slab tracks, he says in an interview with this site.

Standards may not be sustainable

However, from Loffler’s point of view, a large number of factors could have caused the axles to be affected. Unsuitable routes or material defects are only two of them. Probably everyone involved – the railway and the manufacturers – would have adhered to the applicable regulations, says Loffler. "But you have to check again carefully whether these regulations are still acceptable. It is possible that the loads were not recorded in them as they occur in reality." These regulations, European standards with the designations EN 1314, have been defined by a committee, according to Loffler, which includes representatives of railway operators and industry from home and abroad.

Problems like those in Germany are not known from other countries. In France, the high-speed trains TGV only run on dead straight new lines. The tilting technology was dispensed with. Tilting technology is used in Italy, but trains there are slower.

Rail: security guaranteed, delays too

The railway itself is holding back from all these speculations. "We are waiting for the result of the public prosecutor’s investigations into the ICE-3 derailment in Cologne," said a spokesman. For the safety of the passengers, precautionary measures have been taken: The company is now examining its ICE-3 and ICE-T around ten times as often as before and has switched off the tilting technology until further notice. In this way, any fault on the wheel shafts can be discovered in good time so that it cannot cause any further damage.

For passengers, this means that the replacement schedule will apply until at least mid-December, and accordingly the trains do not run quite as often on some routes as they used to. In addition, the journeys may take longer until further notice. According to the train, you have to calculate around 15 minutes more for the route Stuttgart-Zurich, on the way from Frankfurt to Leipzig the delay can be up to half an hour.

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