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Blog- Railway, Abruzzese Style ? for the Italian moments in life - Single-cabbed TRAXX: Trenitalia class E.464 electric from Vitrains with Piano Riba

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Hello again!

In this first post to this blog we will be looking not just at a locomotive, but at a complete train formation. Specifically, our subject today will be a Trenitalia class E.464 electric locomotive and a set of three “Piano Ribassato” coaches, both of which are frequent sights on regional passenger workings in various regions of Italy.

The development which eventually led to the creation of what is now the E.464 could be said to have begun in the early 1980s when Ferrovie dello Stato initiated a study aimed at developing an electric locomotive which was to be especially well suited for push-pull passenger trains, as these were intended to play a much larger role in the future. The class E.646 Bo'Bo'Bo' electrics from the 1950s were fitted for push-pull operation already, and the even older class E.424 Bo'Bo' ones designed in the 1940s were eventually refitted similarly from the late 80s onwards, in order to augment FS‘s fleet of push-pull capable locomotives. However, both classes were seriously outdated by that time and thus no longer constituted a solid basis for future development.

As part of this plan, new types of medium distance passenger stock either with vestibules at the ends (referred to as the “MDVE” type, for “medie distanze vestiboli estremi”) or at 1/3 and 2/3 length (the “MDVC” or “medie distanze vestiboli centrali” type) were introduced as well, to complement the earlier low-floor (“Piano Ribassato”) commuter stock which had been built between 1965 and 1982. Another important piece of rolling stock introduced around that time were the double deck or “Due Piani” coaches, built from 1979 till 1987 and derived from the very similar French VB2N stock which was first introduced in 1975. These coaches were also procured by private operator FNM (Ferrovie Nord Milano), actually before FS followed up.

As for future motive power, one idea brought forth in the course of this project was to create a modular platform, from which four types of locomotives could be created as needed for various types of traffic. These were provisionally designated as classes E.453/E.454 and E.665/E.666, with the former two suggested to be Bo'Bo' configured with a 4,000 kW power output, and the latter two Bo'Bo'Bo' configured with 6,000 kW. The E.453 and E.454 did take shape, though they never left the prototype stage. The E.665 and E.666 designs, on the other hand, were abandoned because it was found their role could just as well be filled by a more powerful, evolved version of the class E.632 electrics.

Two class E.453 and three class E.454 prototypes were built in 1988 and 1989, with the former having been geared for mixed traffic, specifically including freight trains. This did constitute an oddity since the E.453 and E.454 were both single-cab designs, meaning that putting the E.453 to work on freight trains would have entailed certain operational restrictions.

With their external styling having been designed by Pininfarina, they looked quite unlike other Italian locomotives of the time and had an unusual livery of red, white, grey and black, earning them the nickname of “Fire Truck.” The E.453, which had a top speed of 120 kph, was meant to be operated as a back-to-back double unit as operating it singly would have been rather impractical in freight service. The E.454 could work at 160 kph and was meant to be operated in much the same way as the E.464 would later be, with the locomotive's rear end coupled to the train, which in turn was to have a driving trailer coupled to the other end. That way, a semi-fixed formation would result, from which either the locomotive or any of the coaches would only be uncoupled for servicing or breakdown replacement. Both classes had a maximum power output of 3,900 kW, with the E.453 weighing 82 tonnes and the E.454 80 tonnes, and had power controls based on thyristor choppers. They remained in service from 1989 till 1998, but were not very frequently used, as technology had progressed even further by the early 90s which had basically made them obsolete upon entering service. Also, they were fitted only with a TDM push-pull control suite, but not with the older system which used a 78-pole cable, limiting their compatibility with most of the driving trailers in use at the time.

This was E.454.003 – broken up in the meantime – as she appeared in May 1997:


Image by Stefano Paolini, CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence

In 1994, FS then held an international tender for a new type of lightweight electric locomotive which was to finally fill the role for which the E.454 was originally designed. Eventually, ABB Trazione (which was merged with AEG in 1996, forming ADtranz which in turn was eventually merged into Bombardier Transportation) was awarded the contract. Their proposal proceeded from the idea of utilising many parts from the class E.412 dual voltage freight locomotive in order to save time, effort and money.

Initially, 50 locomotives of this new class – called E.464 – were ordered in early 1996, with procurement plans at the time specifying a total of 250 locomotives. Externally, the E.464 closely resembled the E.412, having largely the same visual styling which was originally developed by Roberto Segoni and Paolo Pizzoccheri from the DES.TECH design office.

The first batch of 50 locomotives was delivered between 1999 and 2000 and allocated to the Lazio region. Although they never went through a dedicated prototype testing phase, the new locomotives were quickly proven to be effective and reliable, and several follow-up orders were thus made between 2001 and 2007.

Aside from Trenitalia, private operator FER (Ferrovie Emilia Romagna) ordered six E.464s for its regional workings in the area around Bologna, Modena and Parma. Furthermore, Trenitalia called upon an option for an additional 100 locos which had been agreed upon in 2009, and also placed an additional order for 50 E.464s – thereby bringing their total number of orders to a staggering 688. Likewise, FER decided to expand their E.464 fleet to ten units, and another operator – Trasporto Ferroviario Toscano from the Tuscany region – also ordered one locomotive.


Technical description

By European standards, The E.464 is, of course, quite remarkable in being a single-cab design. Strictly speaking, the class could be considered as what is usually referred to as power units, as they can only be sensibly used with push-pull passenger trains.

The class – which is also known as the TRAXX P160 DCP type after having been adopted into Bombardier's portfolio – also shares various key components with locomotives like the E.412 and indeed the German class 101, on which the E.412 was largely based. The bogies, for example, are quite similar on all three classes, as are the traction motors. Meanwhile, the E.464’s power control and command elements are related to those used on the Swiss class RABDe 500 “ICN” tilting EMUs. Compared with the E.412, originally conceived as a mixed traffic locomotive but now used mainly for freight services, the E.464 is shorter, lighter and has a lower maximum speed and power output. It could be said to be a cousin to the German class 146 regional locomotive, which aside from its two-cab layout serves a similar role.

The body was designed with self-supporting corrugated steel sides for the purpose of weight reduction, while the roof is made of aluminium. The cab face, on the other hand, is a composite moulding.

The cab is laid out according to the unified FS93 type design, with the driver being seated on the left and the secondman on the right. The E.464 is prepared for one-man operation on less frequented lines. On the rear end of the locomotive, there is a baggage and bicycle compartment behind the engine room, which also includes a small auxiliary shunting control desk on the left. Speed is automatically restricted to 30 kph when using this desk. The baggage compartment can be accessed both through two lateral sliding doors and through the gangway from the train. The auxiliary control desk in the baggage compartment can be locked to prevent any unauthorised manipulation.

On the rear end, buffers and UIC couplers are provided. Initially, the cab end was identically fitted on the first Trenitalia E.464s, but soon upon entering service it was decided to prepare all E.464s for split-and-join operation. Therefore, a Scharfenberg type automatic coupler was installed on the cab end, and the buffer pads were removed, leaving only the shafts as backup impact absorbers. The idea was to assemble formations consisting of one E.464 and a variable number of coaches, with the driving trailer being similarly outfitted with Scharfenberg couplers. In fact, a batch of Piano Ribassato driving trailers were thus refitted and the driving trailers for the newly designed Vivalto double deck stock were specified to be delivered with Scharfenberg couplers.

However, the first six FER E.464s retain buffers and UIC couplers on the cab ends for the time being. The single TFT E.464, on the other hand, is also fitted with a Scharfenberg coupler on the cab end, and joined with a matching formation of Vivalto type stock.

The bogies are built with all-welded frames, utilising helical springs and supplemental hydraulic dampers for primary and secondary suspension. The wheelsets are held in roller bearings and are outfitted with a quill drive and frame-suspended traction motors for good riding abilities at high speeds. Two inside brake disks are provided for each wheelset.

Electrical equipment comprises the traction inverter, which consists of two liquid-cooled GTO units – one per bogie – and two liquid-cooled auxiliary inverters with a maximum output of 450 V at 60 Hz. One of these feeds the traction motor cooling circuit, while the other serves to supply the compressor, blowers, battery charger, air conditioning and the braking rheostat. The traction inverter and traction motors are designed to offer maximum redundancy in case of failure, so as to assure the locomotive's ability to clear the line even with a major traction circuit malfunction. On the roof, two type 52/92 diamond pantographs are provided, featuring fully suspended heads with forced graphite lubrication.

Braking gear is built around a Wabco type and the pneumatic brakes are laid out with two brake disks per wheelset. As on most any modern locomotive, the dynamic brake – which is laid out as a rheostatic brake on the E.464 and provides a maximum brake force of 80 kN – takes precedence over the pneumatic brake, with the latter being blended in usually from about 30 kph onwards.

Safety and control equipment comprises the SCMT (Sistema di controllo della marcia del treno, Train Operation Control System) train protection system, augmented by the older RS 4 Codici automatic warning system as a back-up. Finally, the MU and push-pull control suite comprises both the more modern TDM system and the older 78-pole one for greater compatibility. Using the TDM system, a total of four locomotives can be controlled from one cab, with the control suite also offering a translator mode for use with different types of locomotives.

Most recently, locomotives E.464.241 through 299 have been allocated to the new "Vivalto" double deck formations which were procured to supplement the existing Piano Ribassato and Due Piani sets, while at the same time offering up to date passenger comfort. In total, the number of Vivalto coaches ordered by Trenitalia thus far is sufficient for 90 sets, and includes 90 driving trailers – which are fitted with Scharfenberg couplers on the outer end – , 90 1st class coaches and 270 2nd class coaches. They were built by the Corifer consortium, which consists of Fervet, Officine Ferroviarie Veronesi, Magliola Antonio & Figli and Italia Rail Services International. These sets were given a specially designed livery and look like this:


Image by Wikimedia user "Friedrichstrasse," CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence


In addition, locomotives E.464.189 through 198 were operated by TILO on the Milan-Chiasso line between 2004 and 2008, this company being a 50/50 joint venture of the Swiss Federal Railways and FS Trenitalia. TILO trains were also given a special livery, which looked like this:



Image by Stefano Paolini, CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence

Some, or indeed all, former TILO locomotives retain the basic livery, however, with only the TILO inscriptions having been removed. Since December 2008, regional services on the Milan-Chiasso line are again operated by Trenitalia proper.

Meanwhile, FER's E.464s look like this:


Image by Wikimedia user "Friedrichstrasse", CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence

FER have also ordered a total of eighteen Vivalto coaches in the meantime to supplement their fleet of E.464s. The FER Vivalto sets are wearing the same livery as the locos. Train lengths on the FER lines would appear to vary between two and four coaches, with some formations involving top-and-tailing with one E.464 on either end.



Let us also have a look at the cab:


Going from left to right, there are the following instruments:

  • Far left: indirect brake valve (the large, cylindrical item with brass body and short black handle) and direct brake valve (above indirect brake valve, only partially visible).
  • In front of these: brake pressure gauges.
  • Immediately next to these gauges: reverser and power/brake handle for manual control – called "LINV" (leva di inversione) and "LCM" (leva di controllo manuale) in Italian railspeak.
  • In front of reverser and manual control handle: master status display, which contains such information as OHLE voltage, current, selected speed, battery voltage and other related items.
  • Continuing to the right, we have the tractive and braking effort indicator (left dial) and speedometer (right dial, partially hidden by the bag), and the diagnostic display to the right of that. This is mainly used for troubleshooting. However, both displays are designed to take over either role in case one of them should fail.
  • Below the tractive/braking effort dial, we have an array of various switches related to the circuit breaker, pantographs and other related functions. To the right of this, there is is the train protection system interface, with the one seen here representing the older RS 4 Codici system, which has since been amended by the more recent SCMT (Sistema di controllo della marcia del treno; Train Operation Control System) system with additional functionality and a larger speed range, allowing this system to also be used on the Italian high speed lines. The SCMT system uses balises installed in the centre of the track, whereas RS 4 is based on frequency-modulated transmission through the rails. However, SCMT includes RS 4 compatibility for those lines not yet fitted with SCMT.
  • Left of the bag, there is another pair of levers which are used for operation with the speed control or "marcia automatica" system. The left one is the power handle (abbreviated as "LCA"; leva di controllo automatico) and the right one is the speed selector (LV; leva di impostazione della velocità). This speed control system is similar to the German AFB device and relieves the driver from continuously adjusting the locomotive's power output to maintain any given speed. The driver can also set a maximum OHLE current limit, meaning that the locomotive adjusts the maximum power output such that this limit is not exceeded.
  • Along the edge of the desk below where the bag has been placed in this photo, there is a row of illuminated indicators and buttons for lighting, air conditioning and several other functions. Finally, the red "bang" switch next to the bag is an emergency shutdown button. There also is a GSM-R based radio device located to the right of the driver‘s position.

And then there is the auxiliary control desk, which, as outlined before, is located inside the baggage compartment, and looks like this:


This, of course, offers only basic functionality as it is meant for shunting only. To the left, there is a direct brake valve, with the brake pressure gauges being located immediately behind. There also is an emergency shutdown switch, followed by the reverser (which is only a small three-position switch here) and power handle, the latter of which is laid out as an "up/down" impulse controller. In front of these, there is a row of switches, and a simplified status display. As the plaque on the left indicates, the locomotive is limited to 30 kph when operated from this desk.


Technical specifications

Length, width and height – 15.64 m over buffers or 15.75 over coupler (51.7 and 51.3 ft); 3 m (9.8 ft) and 4.10 m (13.5 ft)

Configuration – Bo'Bo'

Distance between bogie pivots – 7.54 m (24.7 ft)

Bogie wheelbase – 2.65 m (8.7 ft)

Service weight – 72 tonnes (70.9 long tons)

Power output – 3,500 kW/4,693 hp

Tractive effort – 200 kN

Maximum speed – 160 kph



The model

Italian producer Vitrains, who I understand were founded by former Lima employees, has become known for a variety of mainly Italian outline H0 scale models, but has also produced a few non-Italian – mainly 00 gauge UK outline – models thus far. The E.464, in particular, has been produced in several varieties as of yet, including the TILO, FER, Vivalto and Trenord liveries. The model I picked is offered with reference 2150, representing 464.664 in the standard XMPR livery.





I think the visual similarity between this class and the E.412/EU43 mentioned further up should be immediately visible. Looking closely, you can see the Scharfenberg coupler, flanked by the buffer shafts.

I am not directly familiar with UK outline Vitrains models, but the E.464 at least is provided with a fairly large number of detailing parts to be fitted by the buyer. Remarkably, the handrails on the front, around the cab doors and along the roof are actually made of metal, which ensures a high degree of durability. Aside from these handrails, the parts bag includes the Scharfenberg coupler (consisting of the body, alignment bar, electric and pneumatic lines), brake pipes, ETS (or „REC“ in Italian terminology, meaning „riscaldamento elettrico carrozze“ or „electric coach heating“), UIC and 78-pole command cable sockets, horns and whistles as well as the forward sand containers, traction bars, snow plough and RS 4 antennas.






I think calling this „the cab end“ is quite appropriate on this locomotive! Note the running number and works plaques to the top right of the cab door, which are cast metal pieces on the prototype; as well as the combination of a whistle and a horn on the rooftop. Furthermore, take note of the traction bar to the rear of the bogie and the RS 4 antennas immediately behind the snow plough. The SCMT system uses a pickup antenna mounted along the loco‘s centreline as the balises are placed in the middle of the track.

Overall, the model captures the E.464’s appearance very well and is sufficiently heavy for providing good tractive effort.






And a look at the rear end with the baggage compartment and associated sliding door. Note the destination display just in front of the door and the TSI-formatted running number, 91 83 2464 664-8 I-TI. Also, there would now appear to be an UIC certification grid, also located above the rear bogie. The loco‘s top speed of 160 kph is written out in a separate box towards the loco‘s centre.






Of course, some of those small parts should be secured with a very small amount of glue, especially those pneumatic lines connected to the coupler. Also note the red warning panel between the lower headlights. Unlike in earlier years, recent E.464s also have the frontside running number written on the right-hand side above the headlights rather than inside the warning panel, and with the „E“ prefix deleted. One interesting item to note is that the small panel in the centre of the snow plough is actually a door, behind which is a storage space holding a Scharfenberg coupler adaptor for locomotives not fitted with this kind of coupler. This adaptor meant as a breakdown assistance aid for use with locomotives not outfitted with Scharfenberg couplers.







The bufferbeam on the rear end can be fitted with brake pipes and fake UIC couplers, which of course should be left off for use with coaches. The small windscreen belongs to the auxiliary control stand. Note that like on the cab end, a whistle is provided on the roof.







And a top-down view at the roof where the two Type 52/92 diamond pantographs are the most prominent items. The small superstructure between them contains the inverter ventilation device, while the grid to the right rear of the forward pan covers the braking rheostats. Also note the small hatch located over the baggage compartment.






Although composed of models from two different producers, the full train looks very nice, and is about 108 cm long.



Coaching stock commonly used with E.464s includes MDVC and MDVE semi-fast stock with vestibules at ? and ? length or at the coach ends respectively; as well as Due Piani and Vivalto double deck stock, and the Piano Ribassato coaches with low floor accommodation which had been fairly innovative when first rolled out. Researching options for the region of Italy I had in mind, I eventually concluded that a three-coach formation of Piano Ribassato stock would be it.

With MDVC and Due Piani stock having been produced by Vitrains and MDVE stock by Rivarossi, ACME have come forward with Piano Ribassato coaches several years ago. These coaches are available both in Epoch IV Ferrovie dello Stato slate grey, and in the current XMPR livery with different logo varieties, and with and without air conditioning. Piano Ribassato stock is all 2nd class, and comprises driving trailers for push-pull formations.

I assembled my coach formation with references 50084, 50085 and 50086. 50084 and 50085 are standard, non-air conditioned 2nd class coaches, while 50086 is a non-air conditioned driving trailer.

The real coaches were built in two variants and across three batches from 1965 till 1982. The first variant, also referred to as Type 1965, was outfitted with tread brakes and axle generators, while the second variant – called Type 1972 – was built with disk brakes and with static onboard supply inverters fed through the ETS circuit in lieu of axle generators. The coaches are 26.4 m long, 2.86 m wide and 3.71 m high, with 901 non-driving coaches and 175 driving trailers having been built.






In the Italian designation system, the Piano Ribassato coaches are listed as nB type coaches for intermediate coaches, and npBD for driving trailers. These letters refer to the following properties:


n = push-pull capable coach („n“ for „treno navetta“, which is the common Italian term for push-pull formations),

p = driving trailer („p“ for „pilota“)

B = 2nd class seating

D = multipurpose space for wheelchairs, bicycles, strollers or luggage












For an overall look at ACME’s Piano Ribassato coaches, I would like to offer this photo of the npBD driving trailer. Similar to the early driving trailers for the German „n” Stock, or „Silberling”, coaches, these driving trailers were built with a split cab on either side of the gangway on one end. Unlike their German equivalents, the driver is, of course, sat on the left. Note the headlight clusters on either side of the gangway, as well as the horn being installed in the left-top corner of the gangway.

The yellow-and-black „rotor” plate, which you could see on the E.464’s cab face and is seen here attached to the folded-up gangway walkplate, indicates that the train in question is a fixed push-pull formation. Interestingly, this plate is also hung on DMUs and EMUs, which by their design cannot ever be split outside of workshops. Sometimes, this sign is also provided as a sticker put on the cab face.



And for some live action, have a look at these videos as the closing note:


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