Liberalisation of the European rail freight transport market has created to possibility for everyone (that possesses the mandatory safety and operation permits of course), to start its own rail operation company. By permitting new operators on the various European networks, competition levels should increase and prices should drop.
Newly founded open access operators entered the market, competing with the privatized national railway operators, to profit from the increasing demand for transportation. The open access operators come from various backgrounds,, but share a common problem. They have to start small, with tight budgets, often too tight to invest in modern, expensive rolling stock right from the beginning. Next to that, an operator first has to be sure that it has gathered a number of transport contracts with customers that are such a solid base that one can economically justifies serious investments in new rolling stock.
The workshops of Linz assisted the factories in Munchen in expanding the Dispolok fleet rapidly (2004).
A leasing pool
The market for cheaper second hand vehicles was soon overloaded, inspiring Siemens to come with an interesting alternative for rail operators. Being a manufacturer they were able to set up a pool of modern electric and diesel locomotives in a relative short period. A pool of new and therefore state of the art locomotives, not for sale, but available for hire or lease to rail operators on a very flexible basis. Machines could be hired for one day, 6 months or even years, depending on the number of service contracts an operator is able to acquire. Risk of Investment is therefore being reduced.
Siemens also set up a service system for its pool locomotives. Mobile teams can service machines on location, for example during (un)loading its train. For repairs, general overhauls etc, a network of work shop was created throughout Europe. Should a machine accidentally break down, Siemens even guarantees direct replacement.
founding Dispolok GmbH
To manage its leasing and servicing activities, Siemens founded a separate subsidiary; Dispolok GmbH. The ES64U2 series is one of three successful products that Dispolok offers to its customers since 2000. It is identical to the OBB 1116 series, a versatile high performance locomotive, that can be used for both freight and passenger services. Its main service domain includes Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary and it will extend further towards Eastern Europe, up to Turkey if desired.
In practice, the ES64U2 series is mainly used on domestic services in Germany and Austria, as its size and the fact that it can only run on networks with AC currency systems prevented it from becoming a real European locomotive up till now. To cover the market for genuine international and borderless rail transport Siemens first had to introduce the ES64F4 type in 2003.
Dispolok locomotives have become a well-known phenomenon in modern freight transport.
Dispolok for sale
This proved how fast the market for rail transport was changing, also affecting the position of Dispolok in the market. Independent investment companies discovered the lease market and massively invested in modern electrics and diesel locomotives. Lease companies were slowly becoming important customers for the railway industry, because they order locomotive power in large quantities. Their demands increasingly influence the innovation strategy of the industry. With its Dispolok pool, Siemens was increasingly competing with its own potential customers, so in 2006 it was decided to sell the subsidiary and to focus more on their core business again: building locomotives. Of course, the transaction was also financially attractive, raising money which can be invested in developing new products.
In October 2006, Mitsui, a leasing company originally form Japan, got permission to take over Dispolok, including the complete locomotive fleet. The deal also included an order for 50 new electrics, the first order from a leasing company for Siemens. Dispolok was positioned next to MRCE, the Mitsui subsidiary that was already active on the European market. Both companies were given a different focus. Dispolok serves customers in Austria, Italy, Poland and South East Europe, MRCE covers the other parts of Europe.
The near future
For now the position of Dispolok as independent company seems to be save. It is however questionable what will happen to its distinctive yellow and silver ES64U2 series machines. Firstly, Mitsui loves black paint, so its not unthinkable that some ES64U2s change colour very soon. We can also expect that over the years ES64U2 series machines will be sold to their operators, what already happened with several ES64F4 type machines. Then Mitsui can invest in new locomotives again.