[CH] This is the first Vectron for railCare

It is a unique story; A retailer/wholesaler founding its own rail freight operator, setting up its own unaccompanied combined transport (UCT, ‘unbegleiteten kombinierten Verkehr’) network and investing in its own rolling stock. This is exactly what Coop is doing with its rail freight subsidiary railCare. The next chapter in this story is the arrival of new Vectron locomotives, and now the first one has been released by Siemens.

In September 2016, seven Vectron locomotives were ordered for railCare, a contract that also includes service and maintenance of the locomotives for the period of eight years. Now, the first one of this batch has been released from work by Siemens. The designated ‘476 451‘ is an AC-powered Vectron homologated for Switzerland, Germany and Austria and the 6.4-MW locomotive has a top speed of 160 km/h.

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Note that the locomotive has only two pantographs, normal for an AC locomotive, but not for a machine that can run in Germany/Austria and Switzerland. For Switzerland, pantographs with smaller contacts are being used and many electrics that are equipped for this Alp country in combination with other countries have two CH-pantos and two other ones.

Customer specific modifications
The railCare locomotive will also get a Siemens ‘Diesel Power Module’ or DPM for shunting on short stretches without overhead power lines, such as on sidings or while shunting in yards. It enables railcare to perform shunting operation without having to use supplementary shunting locomotives. It is not clear if the 476 451 in this image already has this combustion engine installed though. The railcare Vectrons will be also be able to operate under 11 kV AC catenary, so railCare can be so they can be operated between Chur and Ems. For this purpose tests were done with BLS Vectron locomotive no. 405 in June 2017.

The fleet strategy
Since 2010, railCare is a 100% subsidiary of Coop, the second largest grocery company of the Alp country. Railway transport is a fundamental part of the door-to-door logistic philosophy of railCare. (Frozen) food, non-food, mineral water, salt etc. are transported by train throughout the country. Initially, railCare hired tractive power from BLS or SBB Cargo for pulling its trains. But this changed in December 2012, when the first lease locomotives hired from Railpool entered service. In total five electrics were hired, that all looked different:

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But one year later, these machines had to go again. In June 2013, Swiss freight operator BLS Cargo signed a deal with ERS Railways (Freightliner) to for moving freight traffic between Rotterdam (NL) and Melzo (IT) together. The 186s railCare was using were fully equipped multi system electrics homologated for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands, a configuration that was ideal for BLS Cargo’s new contract, and not a necessity for railCare, that was using these machines in Switzerland only. This resulted in a deal between BLS Cargo and railCare, that replaced its 186s locomotives with BLS machines 465 015-018 and Re 425 series machine in 2013/2014. The 465s got a special design, again using gem stone names:

Now, these 465s will replaced by railcare’s own Vectron locomotives. The first one, the designated 476 451 has a more generic livery design, basic white with large railCare logos and striping. It’s front number design is based on a Swiss number plate.

railCare 476 451 seen in München from the Donnersbergerbrücke on 26.11.2017 –
Photo: Klaus Siedl