škoda 2024

RegioPanter operations in Latvia stabilized

posted on 23rd Mar 2024 09:19

On 15 December 2023, Pasažieru vilciens started regular operation of the Class 16EV EMUs, initially with three units, with plans to have eighteen or nineteen in service by the end of the year. The arrival of the Class 16EV was associated with the introduction of the Vivi brand. This stands for "Vienā vilcienā" ("On the same train") and is merely a brand in the operator's relationship with the public. This does not change the name Pasažieru vilciens (Passenger trains).

However, shortly afterwards, problems with the new trains emerged, resulting in cancellations and a great deal of media coverage, which even led to the resignation of PV management. The causes of such widespread problems can be broadly divided into three parts: infrastructure, operator, manufacturer.

Influence of infrastructure

Although Latvian Railways (LDz) has committed to modernise its infrastructure, this has not been done to the appropriate extent, which means, among other things, large voltage fluctuations in the catenary. In fact, under the 4th railway package, the new EMUs were designed according to the new European standards, but were approved for an infrastructure that has many elements according to the former Soviet GOST standards. Therefore, if the traction voltage exceeds the range set by the standard according to which the production type 16Ev units were designed, it means failure of the new vehicles, which are currently full of sensitive electronics and are less robust in this respect than trains of older design.

Recall that the Class 16EV EMUs operate at 3 kV DC and that they are designed and prepared for the installation of a 25 kV 50 Hz traction equipment. This can be fitted as an option and can be ordered by the customer during train deliveries. This has not yet happened, nor has the planned conversion of the power supply system on the LDZ lines.

Influence of the operator

The second part of the problems concerns the operator itself and can be divided into several groups. First of all, the necessary maintenance facilities were not created for RegioPanters. Only the present depot in Riga is still available for all activities and its capacity is exhausted, so that the necessary activities or repairs cannot be carried out in time. So the maintenance is to be made on tracks on the outside, which, however, firstly, does not provide proper conditions for work on the underside of the vehicles and the roof, and secondly, maintenance is rather difficult to carry out in sub-zero temperatures.

Although Pasažieru vilciens had already issued a contract in May 2021 for the design of a new depot in Riga, which was to expand the capacity after the delivery of 32 four-car RegioPanters and which was to be completed in 2022, this plan has not yet been realised and the new depot will have to wait for several years (see PV's replies at the end of the article).

Another role also played the fact that PV‘s drivers did not have sufficient experience at that time in operating completely new vehicles. Their training was started ahead of time, but type approval was awaited, which was not granted until 17 November 2023, so it was clearly not enough to get the routine needed for normal operation.

In addition, the operator, with a view to deploying the Class 16EV, let older EMUs lapse into availability (also due to financial savings at maintenance), so it did not have enough reserves to replace failed RegioPanters.

Influence of the manufacturer

And the third part of the problems must be attributed to the manufacturer. It explains the inabilities of the trains by "minor defects and picking up deficiencies at the start of regular operation". In the first three weeks of January alone, 26 level A defects were detected on 17 new RegioPanters, which prevented their operation. These were certain serial defects that repeated more than three times in at least two trains, e. g. a malfunctioning faucets sensor in the toilet or the automatic extension of the steps at the boarding doors, etc.

The occurrence of these defects was discovered only after the vehicles were taken over and the manufacturer started a detailed analysis of the causes. As a result, the control software is more adapted to specific operating conditions, and the newly delivered EMUs are already tested with a large number of braking and opening doors.

Martin Bednář, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Škoda Vagonka, stated: "The process of manufacturing and supplying trains was not easy. The war in Ukraine has completely changed the usual logistics chains, so that, among other things, it is not possible to deliver fully completed trains to Latvia by rail, as originally planned. Instead, the RegioPanters are assembled twice - the first time in the Czech Republic so that they can be certified by independent laboratories, as required by European Union law, after which, after receiving all the documents that are uploaded to the ERA register, they are partially dismantled, transported by truck to Latvia and reassembled in depot in Riga".

Next steps

The plan to improve the situation contained several points, mainly maintaining the necessary operational reserve (minimum two to three units) and deploying RegioPanters as little as possible on single-track lines. From 1 February, drivers, driver-instructors and PV technicians, under the guidance of specialists from Škoda, began to receive additional training on how to proceed in non-standard situations such as fault detection, battery charging problems and emergency traction. According to the information on the most frequent malfunctions, it was found that in addition to defects that can only be removed by Škoda technicians, there are also problems that could be solved by the drivers themselves. All 80 train drivers and another 74 PV employees went through this training.

On 22 February 2024, the operator announced that ten of the 17 trains delivered were available, of which eight were in service and two as reserve in accordance with the risk reduction plan. Five RegioPanters underwent test runs and two RegioPanters additional tests to eliminate defects. These tests take place depending on the nature of the defect and are carried out over one or three days and cover a distance of at least 200 km or 600 km, which simulates normal operation according to the timetable. The operator also announced that Škoda Vagonka fulfilled its promise and removed most of the defects on the new trains in less than 24 hours.

Roger Janis Grigulis, chairman of PV's board of directors, said: “I would like to emphasize that Škoda Vagonka has behaved responsibly so far by providing both additional staff for repairs and its own driver for test runs. At the beginning of January, after negotiations, the manufacturer committed to ensure 95 % availability of trains within two months, i. e. until 9 March". As of 26 February, twelve trains were available for operation. In the last week of February, availability reached 98.23 %.

On 5 March 2024, Pasažieru vilciens told us that "currently Škoda has eliminated defects in all 17 delivered units. Fourteen of them are used for passenger transport, but we are running tests on three to make sure that the previously identified and rectified defects do not recur and that the trains can be reliably used for passenger transport. The accuracy of the services was therefore restored, Škoda Vagonka ensured at least 95 % train availability and a plan was drawn up to prevent the recurrence of serial defects in the upcoming 15 trains".

In addition, Pasažieru vilciens changed the procedure for receiving new EMUs. The manufacturer must now first confirm that the serial defects occurring earlier have been removed. Otherwise, PV will not take over such trains. On 6 March, the operation of RegioPanters on the Riga - Jelgava single-track line was resumed, and the use of the Class 16EVs on other single-track lines gradually began to increase.

Other impacts

On 24 January 2024, members of PV's supervisory board announced their resignations, because "the solution to the crisis caused by the new Škoda trains is beyond the scope of the supervisory board's functions and powers, starting with the long-term neglected infrastructure - electrical supply, tracks and platforms not adapted to the operation of new trains - and continues with a non-functional information system for passengers at stations and platforms. Even after repeated requests, funds were not allocated for the renewal of the rolling stock, which makes it impossible to replace failed trains in a crisis situation and thus ensure the performance of passenger transport functions to the required extent. A significant part - almost half - of the park is almost 50 years old".

On 7 March, Rodgers Jānis Grigulis followed with the same step, announcing: "In order to reduce public pressure on the Pasažieru vilciens team, I have decided to resign from the position of chairman of the board. The last few months have not been easy for both parties. But in February we managed to restore train punctuality to 98.6 %, which is the same level as last year, 17 new trains are in operation and for the second month in a row we have seen an increase in the number of passengers.

Today, traffic was affected in the Riga - Tukums section and on connecting lines. The cancellations or delays of the morning services were not caused by new vehicles, but by infrastructure problems, especially power outages. This incident shows that we must not let our guard down. At the same time, there are still other tasks ahead of us - building a new depot, taking over the remaining new RegioPanters, resuming international traffic and introducing interval timetables."

On 8 March, a meeting of the Supervisory Board of PV was held, at which the current member of the Board of Directors, Raitis Nešpors, was confirmed as Chairman of the Board of Directors until a new person is selected in the selection process. The selection procedure will be announced in the near future.

PV reports passenger growth for the second consecutive month. In February 2024, a total of 1,302,409 people traveled on Vivi trains, which is 141,200 (i. e. 12 %) more than in February 2023, when 1,161,209 people chose the train as a means of transport. February also saw a significant improvement in timetable performance compared to January this year, with train accuracy of 91.67 % in January and 98.56 % in February, which is even slightly higher than the 2023 average accuracy of 98.36 %. A total of 17.1 million passengers were transported last year.

Pasažieru vilciens promises further growth in the attractiveness of rail transport since the deployment of RegioPanters. At the beginning of March, units by 16EV-025 were present in Latvia. Completion of deliveries is planned by June 2024, which will make it possible to withdraw the entire fleet of old Soviet-built EMUs.

We asked PV:

1) The Class 16EV EMUs are operated at a voltage of 3 kV DC and are prepared for the installation of traction equipment for 25 kV 50 Hz. This can be installed as part of the option and the customer can reorder it during train deliveries. Does PV expect to apply for this option? If yes, at what time? 
2) I expect that the conversion of the LDz network from 3 kV to 25 kV did not start yet. Do you know, when the work is expected to start and when the first 25 kV section(s) will be opened?
PV answer: „It depends on when VAS Latvijas dzelzceļš will open the first 25 kV section. LDz should be asked about the plans.“

3) Pasažieru vilciens already in May 2021 issued a contract for the design of a new depot, which was supposed to expand capacity after the arrival of 32 four-car RegioPanters and which was envisaged to be completed in 2022, but this plan was not realized. Question: how does the whole project look at present and when should the new depot be finished?
„We plan to implement the project until 2030. Currently, the new depot concept has been developed and the final solutions are being coordinated. Until the end of the year, we plan to start work on the development of the technical project.“

4) When the Class 16EV delivery delay was being discussed last year, PV mentioned problems with financing from EU sources for trains that would not be delivered until the end of 2023. How exactly did that turn out? And how will the batch of trains delivered this year be financed?
„In order not to lose funding, amendments to the CFLA (Centrālā finanšu un līgumu aģentūra, Central Finance and Contracting Agency) were prepared and submitted, dividing the project into phases: Phase 1 until the end of 2023, Phase 2 in 2024. Currently, the amendments are in the process of coordination“.


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