December 20, 2013, at 1:02 p.m. That's the exact moment the operating license for German national railroad operator Deutsche Bahn's newest ICE high-speed train came through from the Federal Railway Authority (EBA). Martin Steuger remembers this not because he was surprised, he says, but because he was pleased.
Steuger - who works for Siemens, the German train manufacturer - currently has the most thankless job in the German railway industry. A heavyset man with unshakeable good humor, he is responsible for the development of the 407-series ICE, also known as "Velaro D, " which has become a massive disgrace for Siemens.
Due to a disagreement over technical details, the approval process for the train ended up taking two years longer than planned. Siemens will now deliver 17 trains instead of the 16 originally ordered - with one thrown in for free as an apology for the delay - and will likely pay compensation on top of that. The company's transport division now has accrued liabilities of 360 million, largely because of the Velaro D.
Steuger, one of the few top members of the development team who still has his job, is currently sitting in the dining car of his new train as it takes a demo ride. Two press relations officers are watching over him while he explains the Velaro D's story. The first thing he says: "The Federal Railway Authority didn't throw up roadblocks." It's clear Siemens has no desire to provoke the EBA.
Disasters Cause Overhaul
You need to look back as far as 2000 to understand what happened, Steuger explains. That's when railway engineers and authorities all around Europe ratcheted up licensing regulations in the wake of a disastrous ICE accident - caused by a fractured steel tire - that occurred on June 3, 1998. Because of an avoidable technical defect, 101 people lost their lives - a tragedy, it was determined, that could never be allowed to happen again.
Then, on July 9, 2008, an ICE 3's wheelset axle - made of a form of high-strength, but easily damaged steel - broke as the train was pulling out of Cologne's central station. The EBA's regulators were once again alarmed. These days, Steuger says, "the licensing regulations are at a very high level of complexity."
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