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by DoDo Sun Dec 21st, 2014 at 11:00:51 AM EST

In this first train blog in a long time, I bring two disparate stories only connected by the theme of renewal and their closeness to me.

First, after more than two decades, there is a change at the helm of international trains between Prague and Budapest. Both the old and the new loco type was noteworthy for matching or exceeding the performance of contemporary Western products.

Czech Railways (ČD) 380 020 with an EC train to Budapest runs along the Danube on its last kilometres in Slovakia

The locos now retired from international service, are the Slovak Railways (ŽSSK) class 350 "Gorila" (Gorilla).

Back in October, ŽSSK 350 019 hauls a damaged sister and its EC train in the outskirts of Budapest

The first "Gorila" was built by Škoda Works in then Czechoslovakia in 1974. It represented the pinnacle of classic electric locomotive technology with step control (the use of thyristors in later locos allowed continuous regulation of power/speed). At 4 MW (permanent) the "Gorilas' were the most powerful four-axle multi-system locos of their time. The dual-system capacity was needed in domestic service: the northern half of Czechoslovakia had DC electrification and the southern half AC. Proving quite reliable (though there was some modernization over their 40-year lifespan), they started to cross the border in regular service only from the early 1990s, and their power was sufficient for the maximum line speeds of 160 km/h to this day.

The last "Gorilas" retired from international express service with the mid-December timetable change. On the last, unfortunately cloudy day, I made my way to shoot some commemorative photos. When I made the one below, there was another group of photographers a hundred metres away, and the locomotive driver greeted us with a short honk.

The successors, the ČD class 380, are also products of Škoda (currently owned by a Cyprus-based company, itself a front for off-shore companies), under the type designation 109E. As triple-voltage locos with a continuous power of 6.4 MW and a top speed of 200 km/h, they match or out-perform the products of the three Western European giants who up to now controlled almost the entire European market. However, the approval process of the Škoda locos took much longer than planned and they will have to prove their reliability in service to reassure potential customers. They will now have a chance to do so in Germany: German Railways (DB) ordered six of them (for its only regional trains on a high-speed line).

ČD 380 020 left Štúrovo, Slovakia with an EC train to Prague

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In the diary Infrastructure against delays, I showed you something that is forgotten memory for Western Europeans: a main station where passengers have to cross the tracks to board/get off the trains.

The station shown is that in my home-town, and the second photo (from May this year) already shows the first signs of a total reconstruction (largely funded by the EU). Now that the rebuilt station was opened for normal service with the mid-December timetable change, I show a bit of photo-documentation with critical commentary. First of all, the construction of one of two underpasses as it looked in August:

For half a year up to August, construction moved at glacial speed. The quite obvious reason was an old signal box (probably under heritage protection): for months the first three newly laid tracks stopped in front of it, then the signal box was torn down, the tracks were re-connected and construction suddenly moved quickly. Construction companies can now do that because the Fidesz government massacred the architectural heritage protection law.

A brand-new class 415 (Stadler type FLIRT) suburban electric multiple unit just left the new tracks of the station for Budapest

As far as I know, the main contractor is a company belonging to one of the new Fidesz-loyal (and government-order-fed) oligarchs. From what I saw, the work was quite shoddy, with platform roof beams bent all over the place, badly tamped platform ground, no elimination of so-called water pockets under the tracks, lots of dead time due to badly scheduled successive works, and lots of hurried last-minute work before the deadline. (I refrain from a detailed documentation of the defects at this place.)

This station had to serve up to seven trains at the same time (due to the regular interval time-plan), so for the time of the reconstruction, this was limited to three trains. With the mid-December timetable change, it's back to full capacity.

But construction is far from finished. Below you see the exit of a platform underpass into a new parking lot. What you don't see: behind my back there are still mountains of cobble-stones to be laid in the parking lot, the platform lifts don't work, cables hang from the platform underpass ceiling, the other end of the underpass is still in construction, and the closed second platform underpass is still little more than a concrete hole to nowhere.

Below is the restored front of the old station building (actually the oldest in Hungary). What you don't see is that around it, the gaps between the cobble-stones haven't been filled up for weeks.

All in all, this opening-on-time in an unfinished state reminds me of a TV sketch from the eighties: dignitaries arrive for the opening of a new hotel, but it is still far from finished. What to do? Fake it! So the construction workers do a lot of Potemkin cardboard work, pull the lift by hand, speak from behind a cupboard to fake a telephone call, and so on.

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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

Needless to say, this was an election year, so political propaganda was not far. For months the disgusting faces of PM Viktor Orbán and my utterly useless and corrupt local mayor greeted me at the station entrance.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Dec 18th, 2014 at 01:13:33 PM EST
Sadly, it's the same the world over. A lot of the work that happened on UK railways was similarly idiotic and corrupt, right up until trains started falling off tracks.

I remember Tony Blair seemed genuinely surprised and affronted that he might be held responsible for the crap state of the national rail infrastructure.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 21st, 2014 at 01:54:33 PM EST
For the record, I have no doubt that the end state of the station renewal will be a vast improvement compared to the state before the renewal, if and when it's finished: idiotic and corrupt, but trains actually have an improved ride. Most of my gripes aren't with what we get but how we get there, and other than that: a low-quality platform roof that may become leaky in a few years or an entrance-level platform that may become bumpy due to differential ground settlement is still better than none at all, and water pockets aren't a new problem (even if not tackling them when there is opportunity is a criminal act of senseless cost-saving).

Then again, today was the first day I boarded a train rather than got off one there since the full-capacity opening, and I had to notice another major deficiency: there are no passenger information displays on the platforms or in the underpass (I couldn't even find potential holders/cable sockets for future installation). The result: several passengers roaming around confused.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 22nd, 2014 at 12:24:38 PM EST
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