The experimental set-up is really quite simple: at the right, a massive concrete wall, at the left, a tank wagon filled with concrete weighing a total of 80 tons, which will later be accelerated to exactly 24 kilometers per hour. The simplicity is deceiving, however, because this TÜV SÜD facility on the outskirts of Görlitz, in southeastern Germany, is a site of pilgrimage for engineers from all over Europe. This former rail yard of the East German Railway at the Polish border is one of the continent’s few testing centers in which passenger trains, freight trains and even subway cars and their components can be tested for their ability to withstand derailments and crashes.
Martin Herda, aged 32, stands in the cab of the V22 switch engine, built in 1976 in the country of East Germany. TÜV SÜD engineers discovered it in a junkyard after the fall of the Berlin Wall and whipped it back into shape. Nowadays the 24-ton vintage switcher with its 220-HP diesel engine reliably performs its duties.
On a cool November day, the facility is testing a new deformation system. Previously, railway vehicles were linked only by bumpers—also known as buffer stops—but these days the connections are high-tech devices that cost as much as small cars. Their job is to protect the expensive railcars and locomotives in the event of an impact.