Some of the work done at the Gremberg sheds is indeed similar to what is done on automobiles, like pouring antifreeze into the windscreen washer system, which locomotives have, too. The system holds an impressive 18 litres of fluid. The headlights, including the full beams, need to be inspected, and door gaskets of course have to be sealed. Technicians also thoroughly check the oil levels, battery acid and heaters.
But that's where the similarities with cars end. After all, you won't find car owners stocking up on sand for the winter or greasing their pantographs. That is one of the reasons why it takes around three hours to check locomotives for the winter, not just a couple of minutes.
Telling frost to get lost
The compressed air systems of locomotives are drained so their brakes will keep working flawlessly even at sub-zero temperatures. The grease on pantographs also ensures that nothing freezes. Locomotives used for international transport have up to four different pantographs on board — for overhead lines in Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland, for instance. There is quite a bit that needs to be done on the roofs of locomotives, which are 4.25 m off the ground.
And not least, sanders have to be sealed so nothing trickles out inadvertently. Locomotives haul up to 300 kg of sand to give their wheels purchase on smooth tracks when needed, usually when braking but also during acceleration. Depending on the weather conditions, enough sand is on board to last for up to 20,000 km – just a drop in the bucket compared with the total mass of a locomotive weighing in at 90 tonnes.
More than 20 different freight locomotives are maintained in Cologne-Gremberg. However, the roughly 200 employees at the maintenance depot do more than just servicing electric locomotives. They are also gradually upgrading freight wagons with whisper brakes by 2020 and giving older diesel locomotives a chip tuning to reign in their fuel consumption.