Mobility

Night Shift
on Track

The last passengers have hardly disembarked before nightly maintenance work on the fleet of ICE trains begins. A precise timetable is important here too, as shown by a visit to Deutsche Bahn’s newest maintenance depot.

09/2020

Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Engineer Sonja Askew, born in 1983, is the site manager of the ICE maintenance depot in Cologne. Bump caps are part of mandatory protective gear here.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

The sun has gone down. A shut­ter gate rises and the sig­nal switch­es to green. A white high-speed Inter­ci­ty Express train glides at a walk­ing pace onto one of the four tracks in the 410-meter hall. It comes to a stop at pre­cise­ly the place marked for it—in Deutsche Bahn’s most mod­ern main­te­nance depot. This sparkling clean and envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly facil­i­ty in the Nippes dis­trict of Cologne just start­ed oper­at­ing in June of 2018. Sonja Askew is the site’s man­ag­er of train prepa­ra­tion and main­te­nance. She leads a team of tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ists who metic­u­lous­ly inspect both the out­side and the inside of the high-speed trains every night. After being cleaned and repaired, the trains are dis­patched early the next morn­ing on time to set off on their inter-city jour­neys with more than 800 pas­sen­gers on board.

When the ICE comes to a stop, the site man­ag­er glances at the clock. The train is sched­uled for an “IS 200” dri­ve­train inspec­tion and review. The code stands for the sec­ond-small­est rou­tine main­te­nance ses­sion. In less than six hours the next pas­sen­gers will already be wait­ing for this ICE 3, which is 200 meters long, weighs 410 tons, and is autho­rized for a peak speed of 330 kilo­me­ters an hour. Its sched­uled main­te­nance now has to run like clock­work, sim­i­lar to a pit stop at a race­course. The focus is on safe­ty, qual­i­ty, and a com­fort­able ride for its pas­sen­gers. Some­thing else counts too: absolute punc­tu­al­i­ty. If the train doesn’t arrive at Cologne’s main train sta­tion on time the next morn­ing, this would not only annoy the trav­el­ers wait­ing for it but also cause prob­lems for the busy rail net­work in gen­er­al. It would set off a cas­cade of delays.


Insights

Strict checks all around

ICE trains arrive for maintenance in the evening. The work is done during the night.
ICE trains arrive for maintenance in the evening. The work is done during the night.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The hall is 410 meters long and has four tracks. With two ICE trains on each track, it has a capacity of eight.
The hall is 410 meters long and has four tracks. With two ICE trains on each track, it has a capacity of eight.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Upon arrival, ICE trains are checked both inside and outside. Rail segments below can be opened to rapidly change drivetrain components – like at a pit stop.
Upon arrival, ICE trains are checked both inside and outside. Rail segments below can be opened to rapidly change drivetrain components – like at a pit stop. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Sonja Askew considers dialogue essential for performance. Planning and control boards provide transparency.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Inspections on every level: roof platforms offer quick access to the mobile bows on the ICE’s current collectors. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Beer pumps in the narrow on-board kitchen need a supply of CO<sub>2</sub>. This is a job for mechatronics specialist Marcel Rickmann.
Beer pumps in the narrow on-board kitchen need a supply of CO2. This is a job for mechatronics specialist Marcel Rickmann.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Running an ultrasound safety test on the wheelset, Hakan Ilgin uses a monitor to spot tiny cracks invisible to the human eye.
Running an ultrasound safety test on the wheelset, Hakan Ilgin uses a monitor to spot tiny cracks invisible to the human eye. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Consultation: Sonja Askew studied engineering after training as a mechatronics specialist. She values expert discussion, here with the assistant of the site’s manager David Urbild.
Consultation: Sonja Askew studied engineering after training as a mechatronics specialist. She values expert discussion, here with the assistant of the site’s manager David Urbild.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Visual inspection of a yaw damper that ensures stability and comfort on high-speed rides.
Visual inspection of a yaw damper that ensures stability and comfort on high-speed rides.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Oil stains on the wheelset’s primary damper indicate a leak. Emre Demir (right) replaces the part while Martin Dumnitch digitally documents the procedure – an anti-virus distance.
Oil stains on the wheelset’s primary damper indicate a leak. Emre Demir (right) replaces the part while Martin Dumnitch digitally documents the procedure – at an anti-virus distance.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

From city to city every thirty minutes

The Deutsche Bahn mobil­i­ty group is con­stant­ly work­ing to improve the many fac­tors that affect the on-time record of its rail ser­vices. The group’s efforts are now even more impor­tant in light of the ambi­tious aims it has set itself. In the future it wants to short­en the inter­vals for its fastest trains with­in Ger­many. “We’re going to have our trains depart for major Ger­man cities at con­sis­tent thir­ty-minute inter­vals,” says Berthold Huber, Man­age­ment Board Mem­ber for Pas­sen­ger Trans­port, in explain­ing one of the pil­lars of the group’s strat­e­gy. Called “Starke Schiene” (“strong rails”), it is intend­ed to make trains the most attrac­tive means of trav­el. And it has good prospects for suc­cess. Mod­ern, high-per­for­mance rail con­nec­tions with a spe­cial focus on cus­tomers are what the pas­sen­ger trans­port sec­tor needs. They are viewed as the heart of an intel­li­gent net­work of future-ori­ent­ed trans­porta­tion. Fur­ther­more, the cri­sis in the avi­a­tion sec­tor trig­gered by the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic could lead air trav­el­ers to switch to trains—not only for their pri­vate needs but also in the more lucra­tive nation­al busi­ness-trip sec­tor.

Huber announced that Deutsche Bahn plans to launch its half-hour sched­ule of depar­tures with­in Ger­many on a truly well-used set of rails—the very pop­u­lar con­nec­tion for busi­ness and pri­vate trav­el­ers alike between the port city of Ham­burg and the cap­i­tal city of Berlin. An ICE train cov­ers the total dis­tance of around 280 kilo­me­ters on that flat stretch with some per­fect­ly straight high-speed seg­ments in only 106 min­utes. Cars often need twice as much time. Deutsche Bahn is offer­ing intro­duc­to­ry prices of well under 20 euros in a 2020 mar­ket­ing cam­paign, even though it has vir­tu­al­ly no com­pe­ti­tion beyond slow­er inter-city buses. For prof­itabil­i­ty rea­sons, flights for this rel­a­tive­ly short dis­tance were stopped back in 2002. But the high demand for rail ser­vice here deserves a cor­re­spond­ing­ly high level of qual­i­ty. More trains will be need­ed to meet the goal of thir­ty-minute inter­vals. They will also clock more kilo­me­ters and need cor­re­spond­ing­ly more main­te­nance, inspec­tions, and repairs.

WORKING WITH EXPERTS FROM PORSCHE CONSULTING

Twice the perfomance – how is that possible?

Christian Dittmer-Peters, Partner, Porsche Consulting
Christian Dittmer-Peters, Partner, Porsche ConsultingPorsche Consulting
“At Deutsche Bahn’s ICE high-speed rail service maintenance depot, the ideal situation is similar to that of a pit stop on a racecourse. Every second counts and everyone on the perfectly trained team does their job at just the right moment,” says Christian Dittmer-Peters. As a partner at the Porsche Consulting management consultancy, he and his team of experts helped Deutsche Bahn achieve the important goal of servicing eight instead of four trains in a single shift at its depot in Cologne. “Improved planning and control with digital support, standardized communications, and intensive training for everyone involved have led to better coordination of personnel and better use of resources. Clear visuals mean that everyone can monitor workshop processes,” adds Dittmer-Peters. The most important and obvious goal: as soon as an ICE train is finished, it leaves the track free for the next one. The motto here is never to waste valuable time in the “pit” and to always return rapidly to the track—just like at a car race.

High transparency, twice the frequency

This is where main­te­nance depots in Cologne and eight other loca­tions for long-dis­tance rail trav­el enter the pic­ture. They need to ser­vice more trains each night with­out low­er­ing their safe­ty or qual­i­ty stan­dards. But they also need to keep costs under con­trol. Site man­ag­er Sonja Askew began work­ing on improv­ing her new depot’s per­for­mance right after it opened, with the sup­port of spe­cial­ists from Porsche Con­sult­ing. Togeth­er they con­cen­trat­ed on opti­miz­ing process­es, enhanc­ing plannabil­i­ty, and build­ing an over­all team with excel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tions. This approach has worked well. “We can now do main­te­nance work on eight trains a night instead of four,” says Askew. “We’ve achieved this in large part by ensur­ing a high degree of trans­paren­cy in how we con­trol our work, plus a per­fect sched­ule that all of our team mem­bers fol­low.” Here it should be noted that Askew and her staff are depen­dent on a great many fac­tors. Such as when the trains actu­al­ly arrive at their depot. Or sur­pris­es like a cracked wind­shield on an ICE driver’s cab, or any num­ber of other prob­lems that have to be dealt with right away. Pre­cise­ly for this rea­son the depot also needs the great­est pos­si­ble flex­i­bil­i­ty.

Hans-Peter Müller, a spe­cial­ist in plan­ning and con­trol, and nine of his team mem­bers sit at mon­i­tors in the depot’s office build­ing. They draw up plans one and a half years in advance for the trains that will under­go main­te­nance work in Cologne. Their work con­sid­ers ques­tions like what tasks need to be done, how long these will take, and how much buffer time should be allo­cat­ed. For Müller, a “train fan from day one,” all the plan­ning revolves around a sin­gle tar­get fig­ure, name­ly, sched­ule point 1. That is when main­te­nance work is com­plet­ed and the train leaves the depot at a pre­cise­ly defined time—and moves into a des­ig­nat­ed free slot in the dense traf­fic on Cologne’s rail lines. Philipp Stadie, who coor­di­nates train depar­ture from the depot, needs to put these plans into action while also retain­ing a degree of flex­i­bil­i­ty. He com­mu­ni­cates with peo­ple like the depot’s loco­mo­tive engi­neers, known as train run­ners. They drive the ICEs four kilo­me­ters to Cologne’s main sta­tion where the engi­neers for long-dis­tance trav­el prompt­ly take over the con­trols.


Insights

Eyes on the goal

“We know eighteen months ahead of time which ICE train will roll through the depot door for maintenance tomorrow.” <br/> Hans-Peter Müller, Planning and control specialist
“We know eighteen months ahead of time which ICE train will roll through the depot door for maintenance tomorrow.”
Hans-Peter Müller, Planning and control specialist
Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
“I send replacement parts to my colleagues for installation right at the track. On time and in perfect quality.”<br/>Emre Ibis, Materials management specialist
“I send replacement parts to my colleagues for installation right at the track. On time and in perfect quality.”
Emre Ibis, Materials management specialist
Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
“At the workshop, we have two customers in mind: the ICE fleet and the passengers.”<br/>Stefan Mannz, Foreman
“At the workshop, we have two customers in mind: the ICE fleet and the passengers.”
Stefan Mannz, Foreman
Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
“By replacing wearing parts early, we can limit time-consuming, unplanned repairs.”
Niklas von Hollen, Deputy vehicle systems director
Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
“At the end, it’s my job to make sure clean trains stand ready to go at the main station.”
Philipp Stadie, Departure coordinator
Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Earlier maintenance, fewer repairs

Because plans do not always pro­ceed as expect­ed due to unfore­seen events, the depot also has a lot of “ad hoc” busi­ness, as Niklas von Hollen calls it. As the deputy direc­tor of vehi­cle sys­tems, this mecha­tron­ics engi­neer is respon­si­ble for ensur­ing that work­shop oper­a­tions run as effi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble. Before ICE trains roll into the depot in the evening, they trans­mit elec­tron­ic sta­tus reports dur­ing the day. Loco­mo­tive engi­neers and atten­dants also report prob­lems that von Hollen imme­di­ate­ly assess­es. Whether it’s a mat­ter of the cof­fee maker in the on-board kitchen, the air con­di­tion­ing, or the trac­tion sys­tem, the main­te­nance crew can save a lot of time if they are per­fect­ly pre­pared for their spe­cif­ic tasks before the ICE actu­al­ly arrives. This includes know­ing what spe­cial tools they will need, which tech­no­log­i­cal process­es will be employed, and what mate­ri­als need to be ready right at the instal­la­tion site. But von Hollen also wants to reduce the num­ber of repairs in gen­er­al. Pre­dic­tive main­te­nance can pre­vent the need for repairs in the first place. Replace­ment inter­vals for wear­ing parts can be short­ened, and the qual­i­ty of mate­ri­als used can be improved. This type of thing is much eas­i­er to plan than ad hoc oper­a­tions.

Emre Ibis is the mate­ri­als man­age­ment spe­cial­ist who ensures that the right replace­ment parts are ready for use. “I need to be well orga­nized and coor­di­nate close­ly with our sup­pli­ers in order to have the right mate­ri­als in stock and bring them imme­di­ate­ly to the repair tracks,” he says. The range of parts is wide and var­ied. In addi­tion to the ICE 3 and the new ICE 4, Deutsche Bahn oper­ates three other gen­er­a­tions. The trains have ser­vice lives of thir­ty or more years, includ­ing mod­ern­iza­tion peri­ods.

Ibis has to ensure avail­abil­i­ty of not only strict­ly tech­ni­cal items like com­po­nent assem­blies but also items that direct­ly affect pas­sen­ger sat­is­fac­tion. They include replace­ment screens for infor­ma­tion dis­plays, new arm­rests for dam­aged seats, and even replace­ment parts for wall games in the com­part­ments for small chil­dren. “For me it’s very impor­tant to pro­vide only top-qual­i­ty parts for instal­la­tion,” says Ibis with pride, and that includes the visu­als. “I wouldn’t even give a scratched item to my co-work­ers but instead would send it straight back to the man­u­fac­tur­er.” And when Ibis takes the train for per­son­al rea­sons, he has his own lit­tle rit­u­al. “The first thing I do is look around the car­riage to see if every­thing is in good shape and the pas­sen­gers appear sat­is­fied.”


Insights

Ultra­sound tests, then a wash

Good visibility for ICE train drivers: Marcel Rickmann quickly tops off the windshield washer fluid.
Good visibility for ICE train drivers: Marcel Rickmann quickly tops off the windshield washer fluid.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The ultrasound measurement system is tested for accuracy on a specially prepared orange trial wheelset before and after each use.
The ultrasound measurement system is tested for accuracy on a specially prepared orange trial wheelset before and after each use.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The principle is embroidered on the polo shirt: precise intervals and slots help the night shift keep more trains in good shape.
The principle is embroidered on the polo shirt: precise intervals and slots help the night shift keep more trains in good shape.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Irregularities on the steel wheels are smoothed out on the gigantic underfloor wheelset lathe.
Irregularities on the steel wheels are smoothed out on the gigantic underfloor wheelset lathe.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The “comfort milling” process drops metal cuttings into the collection tank like locks of hair. Passengers will no longer feel any jiggling.
The “comfort milling” process drops metal cuttings into the collection tank like locks of hair. Passengers will no longer feel any jiggling.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The settings on the ICE wash program are “fast,” “light,” “standard,” and “intensive.” The departure coordinator makes the selection based on need.
The settings on the ICE wash program are “fast,” “light,” “standard,” and “intensive.” The departure coordinator makes the selection based on need.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The boss is satisfied with a final check of the spruce ICE. Sonja Askew wants trains from Cologne to leave “no cause for complaint.”
The boss is satisfied with a final check of the spruce ICE. Sonja Askew wants trains from Cologne to leave “no cause for complaint.”Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
As soon as nightly maintenance work is completed, the ICE train has to leave the hall. The next train immediately takes its place on the track.
As soon as nightly maintenance work is completed, the ICE train has to leave the hall. The next train immediately takes its place on the track.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
A train runner drives the first ICE to Cologne’s main station shortly after 3 am. Passengers are already waiting to board.
A train runner drives the first ICE to Cologne’s main station shortly after 3 am. Passengers are already waiting to board.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

“No cause for complaint on trains from Cologne”

Askew, who stud­ied engi­neer­ing and came to Deutsche Bahn from the avi­a­tion and aero­space indus­try, is delight­ed with how her crew focus­es on the cus­tomers. She main­tains a high level of moti­va­tion with the help of con­crete inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions. They all dis­play the same head­ing: “No cause for com­plaint on trains from Cologne.” This slo­gan can be seen in many places at the depot. And it’s clear that the employ­ees iden­ti­fy with it—from the mechan­ics and other skilled work­ers at the track to the plan­ners in the offices.

The boss has big plans for her employ­ees. She wants to give the well-trained mechan­ics and other spe­cial­ists more time for their demand­ing value-adding tasks. To achieve this, robots, cam­eras, and sen­sors are expect­ed to relieve them of time-con­sum­ing rou­tine test­ing work. And she wants to give her plan­ners and coor­di­na­tors more cer­ti­tude by tak­ing greater advan­tage of pos­si­bil­i­ties offered by dig­i­tal­iza­tion. “We still need to do a lot more with the data all the trains send before they arrive at the depot,” says the Cologne site man­ag­er. She knows that every minute the depot can save dur­ing the night is paid into the “strong rails” account that makes Germany’s fastest trains run on sched­ule dur­ing the day—at future inter­vals of just half an hour.

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