Just what is the job of ... the team at the gauge changeover installation in Cerbère?

Yan Donval and others work to make sure trains can travel between Spain and the rest of Europe without delays.

When transporting freight between Spain and the rest of Europe by rail, operators encounter the same issue every day: a difference of 233 mm in track gauge. Yan Donval and his team are professionals when it comes to quick and efficient gauge conversions.

Every year, some 1,300 freight trains hauling 40,000 wagons cross the Franco-Spanish border in both directions. For us, this means changing 80,000 wheelsets. However, converting trains from the broad gauge used on the Iberian Peninsula to the standard gauge used elsewhere in Europe can be done relatively quickly thanks to modern technology. To change out wheelsets, a wagon is rolled into the conversion installation, its axle locks are released and hydraulic winches lift the wagon so the existing axles can be removed. Then the new axles are installed and the brakes are adjusted to finish the job. The entire process takes about three minutes for a single wagon and six minutes for a double wagon.

“I always compare changing axles to a Formula 1 pitstop. It only takes us two hours to change the gauge on a 700 m full-length train with 44 wagons.”

Copyright: Dani Pujalte

Handling heavy axles
While it's true that gauge conversion work follows a set routine, it is still a highly complex process. After all, the teams have to deal with extremely heavy axles. The process calls for a high degree of attention, concentration and precision – it would be disastrous if an axle were to crush someone's hand or foot. A total of 60 people are engaged in track-side work, while another 20 employees form the team at the gauge changeover installation. Some of these employees are responsible for equipment maintenance, while the others are involved in train logistics and making sure the proper axles are available. These duties are crucial to keep everything running smoothly. If one part of the process hits a snag, this has consequences for everyone else.

Contact our expert now.

Yan Donval

Head of the Cerbère gauge changeover installation, Transfesa Logistics S.A.

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