Authors: Manana Ghoghoberidze and Ia Asatiani
In 2016, Mamuka Bakhtadze called the introduction of double-decker trains in Georgia a “special surprise”. We were told that “Stadler” made a discount for us and sold the trains cheaply. However, no one can explain why the Swiss company showed such kindness.
Georgian Railway paid $ 45 million (GEL 97 million) for the four double-decker trains. Shortly after the signing of the contract, we learned that “Stadler” would be the so-called sea train, going from Tbilisi to the sea resorts of Adjara and having its stops only in Ureki, Kobuleti and Batumi.
You will learn from our article that double-decker trains were not cheap at all. In addition to 45 million dollars, “Georgian Railway” spent another 2.1 million GELs to adjust the trains to our infrastructure. They were made for Russia by Stadler, after all.
How did the Stadler electric train end up in Georgia?
On May 28, 2013, the Russian transport company AeroExpress signed a 685-million contract with Stadler Busnang. The company had to buy 25 double-decker trains running from Moscow to Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukov Airports.
The financial guarantor of the project was Gazprombank. One year after the signing of the agreement, Russia faced a financial crisis. In 2014, over the annexation of Crimea, the United States imposed sanctions on Russian companies, including Gazprombank. In 2015, Ukraine also imposed sanctions on Gazprom. Due to the crisis, “AeroExpress” changed the contract with “Stadler”. Instead of 25, they only agreed on 11 trains.
It turned out that “Stadler” had 14 trains specially made for Russian infrastructure and climate left for sale. Four of them were bought by Georgia and nine by Azerbaijan. The fate of another train is unknown. GRS – 011, GRS – 012, GRS – 013, and GRS – 014 series trains have entered Georgia.
The Fact that AeroExpress was no longer buying 24 trains became known on May 26, 2016. And right on the previous day, the agreement between “Georgian Railway” and “Stadler Busnang” was signed.
How “Georgian Railway” purchased the trains
Georgian Railway announced the first bid for procuring double-decker trains on February 13, 2016. Swiss Stadler Bussnang AG and Chinese CRRC Nanjing Puzhen took part in the competition. The price of one Stadler train was GEL 29.4 million, while that of CRRC was GEL 33.7 million.
Two months later, on April 12, 2016, the procurement procedure was terminated. According to the bid committee of the Georgian Railway, Stadler did not submit a bank guarantee document. Therefore, its proposal could not be considered. If the trains were bought from the second participant, the Chinese CRRC, they would have to pay a total of 17 million GELS more. The committee, therefore, decided to procure the trains from Stadler, but without a bid, via simplified procurement.
Within ten days, the Georgian government issued an order authorizing the Georgian Railway to procure only if German Deutsche Bahn experts verified that the Stadler documentation met the requirements of the Georgian Railway.
We first requested a document drafted by the Germans from JSC Georgian Railway. We were told that we have no obligation to disclose this information as these documents are part of the company’s commercial transaction and cannot be publicized.
Then “iFact” contacted Deutsche Bahn. We asked when a positive conclusion was issued and asked them to send a copy of the document. However, we were told that documents are not often sent and that they do not answer such questions as well.
Even without receiving this document, we knew that the “Stadler” did not have to meet the demand set by the “Georgian Railway”, because the train adjusted to these parameters was already ready for Russia.
The technical parameters and requirements imposed by the Georgian Railway on Stadler coincided with the requirements of the Russian transport company AeroExpress. For example, Aeroexpress demanded that Stadler should take into account the harsh climate of Russia and manufacture the train wagons that would easily move and park at temperatures of -40 or +40 degrees. Surprisingly, this is exactly what the Georgian Railway demanded.
“Georgian Railway” put exactly the same characteristics in the bid requirements that the trains made for Russia already had: rail width – 1,520 mm; Nominal voltage – 3 kV. DC; Axle load – 210 kN; Maximum speed – 160 km / h.
The requirements also stated that there should be space for standing passengers in the carriages. The “Stadler” train runs on the Tbilisi-Batumi route and, naturally, the passengers will not be able to stand on their feet. However, this was possible in Moscow, where these trains had to run a maximum of 40 kilometers, from Moscow to Vnukovo, Sheremetyevo, or Domodedovo Airports.
We purchased the double-decker trains within a month of the cancellation of the first bid by simplified procurement. The trains were already in Georgia in another month after the signing of the contract, and in two months it made its first run. We wondered if this was happening elsewhere.
We learn from the official website of “Stadler” that the countries sign the agreement several years before the operation of the train. This is because the company has the time to build a unique model tailored to a particular railway.
Trains arrived in Germany after three years of purchase, and in four years after purchase, the trains arrived in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the United States.
“This is how it works – you name your goal, what you need it for and the train construction company offers the concept. Then you announce a bid, choose an acceptable option, and then it is being constructed. If someone gave it to us as a gift, it is still not allowed to operate this train on the Georgian Railway. It is a Stadler train, but the Stadler was accompanied by Russian engineers in Austria, where the first trains were built. It was built according to their dictation, their assignment, their drawings, their numbers,” – said David Gochava, the founder of the Professional Railway Club.
Dachi Tsaguria, Director of Passenger Transportation Branch of JSC Georgian Railway, does not see any problem in the fact that two months after the signing of the contract, Stadler trains were already in operation. On the contrary, it is an advantage when the order is delivered so quickly:
“This is not a panacea that the trains can be ordered three or four years in advance. Those factories are not frozen, right? There are different pre-determined orders, the relevant order must be included in this cycle. “Maybe someone has already done some work and it might be ready, it is their business and they know what’s right.”
Dachi Tsaguria also says that “Stadler” had already prepared a train for a similar project: “This is about Stadler Kisi project 1520, which we bought. A specific model of the train is manufactured, if you want to buy it, you can buy it, if not, you walk away. If you want, you can order a special edition and pay much more.”
“These trains are not built specifically for our country, our Railway bought it ready-made. At whatever low price these trains are offered, buying them is a reckless decision. That is why Stadler had problems in Georgia. If we pass a 160 km / h train in a tunnel at a speed of 15 km / h, it does not mean that it overcame it. We adapted to the Stadler and not vice versa, this is an anomaly, ” said Ilia Lezhava, deputy chairman of the new trade union.
We asked the Georgian Railway if they have a document confirming that the Stadler trains are adapted to the Georgian Railway infrastructure and its operation is safe. Dachi Tsaguria tells us that they possess such a document, but he does not even name it:
“Of course this document exists. If it is available for the public, I shall provide it or even not. When I provide the document, the name is written on the top and there you will see what it is called. If it is necessary to share this information with you, I will share it. “
Georgian Railway has never sent the document to us.
Double-decker trains failed to adapt to Georgian infrastructure
The Stadler train travels the five-and-a-half-hour route from Tbilisi to Batumi, stopping only at three places – Ureki, Kobuleti, and Batumi. This is because the trains are designed for high, 1,100mm platforms and do not fit the 200mm platforms of our railway stations.
“Why should it stop at another station? This train is for a specific purpose. “The train is not a taxi you are sending to Borjomi today, tomorrow to Kutaisi and the day after tomorrow to Batumi,” said Dachi Tsaguria, director of passenger transportation at the Georgian Railway branch.
It seems that the Georgian Railway knew in advance that it was buying a train that was not suitable for our platforms. The bid requirements show that if the railway line and stations do not fit the dimensions of the trains, adaptation cannot be discussed. However, exceptions are made in the case of platforms:
“This does not apply to the height of the platform, which may be adapted at some stations to match the height of the train entrance.”
In this case, the Georgian Railway instructed the manufacturing company to make a special construction for the safe boarding and disembarking of passengers from the low platform.
This special construction is probably the mobile, escalator-like stairs that were used in Samtredia and Mtskheta stations. An anonymous source provided us with a video showing passengers boarding a double-decker train from the low platform of Samtredia. This only happened once, in July 2016.
“The stairs were specially welded and that was how they were going to serve the passengers. Then they removed it, as they understood, they were doing nonsense. They rerouted it from Tbilisi to Batumi, and made stops in Ureki, they built a special platform and decided to operate this train this way, ”said David Gochava, the founder of the Professional Railway Club.
“Georgian Railway,” tells us that such stairs serve passengers in extreme conditions. Samtredia stop was such a case.
“Once upon a time, there was a special voltage drop. This train has a relevant protection system and it stopped several times. Such metal constructions are available at various railway stations for extreme situations. The voltage drop caused the train was frozen without voltage for about an hour. This means that the air conditioning is turned off. Therefore, for avoiding the suffering of people, we decided to take them to the Samtredia railway station. We stopped the train and the passengers got off the train.
How much does it cost to upkeep Stadler trains?
“Georgians bought it cheaply, it is good, right? why on earth is it bad?” – Bidzina Ivanishvili said in 2016, when a journalist asked him about the safety of “Stadler” trains. He probably meant the cost of the contract in “cheaply”. However, due to the fact that our infrastructure was at least partially adapted for the trains, the Georgian Railway had to spend extra money.
The double-decker train was suitable only for the platforms of Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kobuleti stations. Since it was called a sea train, the stop was added to Ureki as well. Elevating the Ureki platform height cost 302,000 GELS to the Georgian Railway. A total of three bids were announced. Two bids in 2016 – for design and for elevating the platform, specifically, and in 2018 – the third one for the extension of the already elevated platform.
Georgian Railway tells us that we needed to elevate the platform because the project of these trains already existed. Introducing the changes to it would make it more expensive. Dachi Tsaguria says that if necessary, platforms will be elevated at other stations as well:
“This would cause a much higher cost for the Georgian Railway than 302 thousand GELs to elevate the concrete platform. This type of train project already existed and the more you demand, the more expensive it becomes. It is much more profitable economically this way. Similar trains run in Baku, and there also, where such platforms were absent, the platforms were elevated.”
The maintenance of “Stadler” wheelsets turned to be expensive for “Georgian Railway”. The wheelsets are the main driving part of the train, consisting of an axle and wheels attached to either side of the axle. The old trains in Georgia have so-called rollers, a general type of wheelset. This means that they can be used for both passenger and freight cars.
Davit Gochava, the founder of the Professional Railway Club, tells us that “Stadler” carriages, unlike our old trains, stand on soft, delicate wheelsets. In Georgia, the rails on which these wheelsets must move are quite harsh. They are suitable for freight and heavy carriages. According to Mr. Gochava, as the delicate wheelsets of “Stadler” were put on these rails, it will wear out more than other electric trains:
“It was intended for short distances in Russia, there are no freight shipments there at all. What freight can be from downtown Moscow to Moscow Central Airport?! We have a combined type of railway, but still, the load falls on the need of freight shipment. To say in a nutshell, Russia’s goal was different and our goal is different.”
It seems that due to the fact that the wheelsets of double-decker trains do not fit into the Georgian infrastructure, it has become necessary to repair them constantly. This requires a special cutting machine. We have a machine in the Tbilisi Locomotive Depot, but it is not suitable for “Stadler”.
“The cutting machine owned by Tbilisi Locomotive Depot (кж-20б) does not ensure the cutting of the existing wheelsets of the trains manufactured by Stadler Bussnang AG due to its construction,” Georgian Railway noted in the basis of the purchase.
In March 2016, Georgian Railway purchased a 1.6-million-dollar wheelset cutting machine. In October 2016, it paid 138,000 GELs to the foundation of this machine.
The basis of the purchase notes that the foundation should be purchased as soon as possible, as the wheelsets of the “Stadler” train may break down at any time.
“It is impossible to predict when we will need to cut the wheelsets, as we are not insured against such damages to the wheelsets during the running of GRS series electric trains, such as the wheelsets flat spots (выбоина), wheelsets ridge wear, wheelsets circular wear. “If the mentioned construction works are not carried out soon enough, there is a danger that the electric train wheelsets will be damaged at any time, and in the absence of a cutting machine installed in the appropriate foundation, the GRS series electric trains will stop,” Georgian Railway explains.
Dachi Tsaguria, Director of Passenger Transportation Branch of JSC Georgian Railway, says that the introduction of “Stadler” was a technological innovation for Georgia and we have to follow up the novelties. According to him, the purchase of a modern cutting machine was a request of the train manufacturer and if they did not do that, “Stadler” would disapprove the service of “Georgian Railway”. Eventually, the warranty period would be terminated.
“This is a high-tech cutting machine, which was required by Stadler, and which also serves another train and provides more savings for our company. We do not want to serve the Stadler with poor quality, we serve the Stadler with high quality. The introduction of “Stadler” in Georgia did not bring comfort only for the passenger. This brought even more high-tech development. You also have to develop in order to serve this train. We bought a cutting machine, isn’t it good? This purchase was very advantageous, I wish we had the same quality cutting machine all over the country, I will be very happy then, ”Dachi Tsaguria told us.
At first, they bought the cutting machine for the worn-out wheelsets, and three years later, they bought the wheelsets. In May 2019, Georgian Railway paid 971 thousand GELs for 200 new wheelsets. A month later, they spent 333 thousand GELs on the repair of 24 wheelsets.
Georgian Railway paid 1.7 million GEL for five years of insurance for Stadler double-decker trains. Furniture for the train crew’s waiting room cost GEL 5,600. New uniforms were made for the staff of the “Stadler” train, for a total of 15 thousand GELs.
“Following the image of the organization, it is necessary to select new uniforms for the staff of these electric trains with an updated design, which will positively affect the customer and increase the prestige of the organization,” – wrote the “Georgian Railway” on the state procurement page.
In the end, thanks to Georgian Railways, the Russian Aeroexpress slipped smoothly out of the financial crisis. And we got $45 million worth of hard-to-maintain and non-compatible trains with the Georgian infrastructure.
We asked Dachi Tsaguria from the Georgian Railway if they purchased trains made for the Russian Aeroexpress. He replied:
“We bought very cool trains, very cheaply. You seem to have phobias. I don’t know the story and I doubt you know it. What do you even know about these trains? Even so, what’s wrong with that? “We don’t care what Aeroexpress ordered there.