October 28th, 2011
12:42 PM GMT
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Germany (CNN) – I thought that building trains would be a greasy, oily, noisy business. But as Marketplace Europe discovered on a trip to Germany, building trains is tidy - the messy bit is figuring out how to get them travelling easily across Europe's borders.

When we arrived at Siemens Rail systems factory, just outside Dusseldorf - the home of 2,000 workers - it was like we had landed inside a giant train-set. It was neat, shiny and bright.

Building trains in the 21st century is pretty much mess-free. Apart from welding and painting, it is all about assembling component parts, rather like wiring a highly complex computer - albeit one that will move at 300km per hour.

It is only when you see it that you realize just how much technology goes inside each train. Each car has about 60km of cabling packed inside the walls and flooring. So it is no wonder that every engineer here has had a minimum of three years training, much of that at a specialist center on site.

And those engineers can feel quietly confident about their jobs, Dr Ansgar Brockmeyer, CEO of high speed and commuter rail for Siemens Rail systems, tells me. “The impact (of the financial crisis) has been nearly nil," he said. “There were huge stimulus programs which helped us through the crisis. It helped us that we did not have to lay off any personnel here so we had huge contracts to work on.”

We saw the team working on the next generation of Velaro D, which Europe’s rail passengers will recognize as the “ICE” family of high-speed trains, plus the very first new-style Eurostar’s aluminum body shell, marked “001” in blue felt-tip pen.

More high-school than high-tech? Perhaps not here at Krefeld, where they say that sooner or later every regional and high-speed train built by Siemens in Germany will pass through.

But a playground mentality is arguably getting in the way of Europe having a seamless rail network. Governments are developing rail infrastructures in conflicting ways and at varying pace. For example, Brockmeyer tells me, countries have their own signaling system and electrics - and the train has to deal with all of it.

It would be a whole lot simpler - and cheaper - if European nations coordinated their plans to build infrastructure. Because while these trains are made to go at top speed, the journey can only be stop-start across the continent while it work remains splintered across countries.

I also interviewed the EU’s Transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, in Belgium. These “missing links” are one of his frustrations, and he believes they could seriously impede the region’s economic growth.

Kallas’s vision for a new European network will connect 83 main European ports with rail and road links, 37 main airports with rail connections into major cities and upgrade 15,000km of railway line to high speed, all by 2030.

But 2030 might be a bit ambitious for a project with so many interested but disparate parties. Indeed the commissioner said so himself, telling me off-camera that just publishing a would-be rail map of Europe was a battle. “Oh there is going to be such a big row!” he told me. “Everybody wants their village connected. It took us such a long time to get to this stage. It is very hard to agree.”

So we left feeling a little deflated. What hope is there really for a joined-up Europe, on the rails, roads or otherwise, if the commission itself doesn’t ooze confidence in the success of their own endeavors?

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Havildar

    Yet here in the USA the stone age republicans in congress are causing the US to fall behind even Africa with their lack of Vision, Foresight or Imagination. Just plain greed fills this bunch of tea party republican Multimillionaires in the Senate & Congress. What a waste voting republican!!!!!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  2. A Guy

    Some people are mad.

    October 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  3. Walter Buzzhead

    SIemens produced so many Trains since many years for the whole world, most in Europe, much of them for the Asian Market, they do produce very high quality for sure. But in some countrys the railsystems are old and not good enough to let the trains drive more speed than this 300 km/h. Its no problem to make the train faster but without changing the hole railroads it doesnt make sense.

    October 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  4. Acropolis

    Train not aviation is the future in travelling.

    October 29, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  5. marie gibson

    i am a liberian. live in liberia and a business woman as well that go to china and the usa as well.i wanna to part of busineess/my number +2316512989/+2316235513/+23177014309/thamk wait for ur reply

    October 29, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  6. king akpabio

    siemens is bad news in Africa particularly Nigeria were the company had really help in promoting corruption and sleaze it is company's like this that made the popular 419 flourish. despite the billions of dollars both corrupt and legally earned money by seimens, there is no single significant corporate social responsibility that can be credited to it. too bad mr. too good in Europe.stop underdeveloping africa for ur selfish development

    November 1, 2011 at 11:42 am |

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