Straight, fast and cool: the region is heading for the leading spot in train testing industry

Northern Sweden has become a major player in the car testing industry due to excellent infrastructure and stable winter climate. But why stop there? Rail Test Nordic are looking ahead to a bright future if state funding is approved for updating existing railway – international manufacturers are already keen to get started. And if the plans are realized – northern Sweden will have every opportunity to become the location for the hottest, or rather coolest, test industry cluster in Europe.

One of the largest obstacles in building a testing facility for trains is the large investment required. The actual starting point for the project Rail Test Nordic is the solution to that problem. There is already a railway in place, one that hasn’t been frequented since the 1990’s. Read more about how the project started back in 2014 here.

The track in question is 75 km long and in many ways ideal for train testing and the Swedish Transport Administration has now started the process of giving RTN the legal rights to the track. The first part between Jörn and Glommersträsk is 32 km long and straight – which is a condition for testing high-speed trains driving 200–250 km/h. The other part of the track is more traditionally curved and is suitable for other types of tests. Since it’s been a while since the track was frequented, it needs to be restored in order to fully function. But this, in comparison to building a brand new similar facility, is a much smaller investment. Still, some sort of government grant is needed for the development of the project.

Around 650 million SEK is needed to complete the first stage of the track and the issue is now being discussed on the highest level between Swedish Government’s enterprise and treasury departments.

The interest for the train testbed is immense

There is no doubt about the coming demand for a new testing facility. Facilities in Europe are overbooked, and getting timeslots on rails in use are both dear and time-consuming while having to compete with regular traffic. There are also no proper test tracks in cold climate – besides from a test-tunnel in Vienna where still-standing trains can be tested. But that’s all very different from actually being able to operate the train in extreme conditions. Three of the largest train manufacturers in Europe, Stadler, Bombardier and Alstom, are already partners in the project and give continuous feedback on the plans and how the facilities best can accommodate market needs. They are all eager to start scheduling tests on the track as soon as possible while they lack proper test facilities for deliveries scheduled for 2019-2020.

Collaboration is vital to success

During the process, local authorities such as Skellefteå Municipality and VIA has shown large interest for the project and offered support in the pre-studies looking into possible markets, financing and political dialogue amongst others. Since the project is covering the two northernmost regions in Sweden: Västerbotten and Norrbotten, Invest in Norrbotten has also been an important part of the process giving access to the local network in the region.

– We have great advantages by working together with Invest in Norrbotten, especially since we have our base in the neighbouring county. They are a great connector regionally, but they also have extensive experience in the cold climate testing industry from the automotive side, and they contribute with important insights. As this project move forward we will hopefully have the opportunity to work together in packaging this investment opportunity in an attractive way, says Karolina Sundström, Marketing Manager at Rail Test Nordic.

The financing of the project is divided into two parts: The public, including restoration of the tracks and embankments, and the private, including workshop, railway yard, power supply, garages and maintenance facilities etc to a total of some 1.1 billion SEK. As the public financing awaits political decision, the public part is well on its way.

– The European Investment Bank has shown a clear interest for the project as well as other financial partners. Swedish construction company Skanska is already a partner in the project both as a constructor and financing partner. A special business model has been developed and tested among the investors. This business model also makes it possible for the train manufacturers to become part owners, an opportunity that has been received in a very positive way.  Once the public financing is definite, we can pretty much start projecting instantly.

In addition an operational company is planned as a service point taking care of operation, maintenance and test administration. Also this has moved on with far-reaching discussions with an international test actor and regional investors.

The rest of year 2017 will be decisive while the project start-up organisation funding is running out by the end of the year.

Future position as cold climate testing cluster

The planned testbed in northern Sweden have every opportunity to offer the market a unique package where academia, R&D, and businesses go hand in hand in developing the industry in the future.

– The development and growth that we see ahead will be continuous for many years coming. If we look at the development in the car testing industry, one can get an indicator of the effects over time. This can go even faster than the car test industry’s development.

Instant job opportunities and long-term positive effects

Rail Test Nordic have made several calculations on the effects of the planned testbed. Besides enhanced competence and knowledge on the area, there are several positive socioeconomic effects to be expected for the midland communities involved. During the planned 3-year construction period, around 1000 annual work units will be needed. Once in full operation, the facility will require 150 annual work units, and another 50 jobs are very likely to be created in other businesses as a direct result of the project

– We are confident that this testbed is vital contributor to a continuous positive development in area. It is a great way to take advantage of the momentum that we have today – and a great way to make the most out of the natural conditions in this region. This will become a development arena for Swedish and European train industry and with a competence centre as a vital part.