Rail E-ssentials


Your regular update for technical and industry information

Your regular update for technical and industry information

Next Stop: Rail crash testing at our railway crash center in Görlitz


In Saxony (Germany), TÜV SÜD Rail operates a railroad test facility with the size of seven soccer fields, where our colleagues serve customers from all over the world. Join us on a tour of discovery with Test Center Manager Felix Bührdel.


railway crash center

Felix Bührdel at our Görlitz Railway Crash Center


Lights! Camera! Action! An 80-ton tank wagon filled with concrete starts down the track, accelerating to 35 km/h as it goes. A few seconds later, the wagon smashes into a solid block of reinforced concrete with full force. There is an enormous noise, and the impact can be heard from afar. Iron and steel deform, and smoke pours out.


While it might sound like a scene from a Hollywood action movie, it’s actually a typical crash test and thus a part of the normal routine at TÜV SÜD Rail’s premises in Görlitz. The strength crash test is carried out on a track with specially installed ramp rigid wall on a massive concrete block and is used to analyze the behavior of the energy absorber. Using the camera recordings, the colleagues can subsequently evaluate the deformations in slow motion.


The crash test has nothing to do with Hollywood – but many spectacular scenes have been filmed on site. “A few years ago, we did some work on a documentary about Moby Dick, to show the forces in play when a whale weighing several tons strikes a wooden boat at 15 km/h,” says Felix Bührdel, who has spent a year in charge of the Test Center, which is located on the western side of Görlitz and has 14 employees. Bührdel has already been deputy head of department since 2016, and he completed his cooperative study program in electrical engineering at TÜV SÜD in 2012.



Felix Bührdel’s workday usually begins at 7 a.m. We have an appointment with the rail vehicle expert to get a tour of the site, which covers some 50,000 square meters and is roughly the size of seven soccer fields. Industrial buildings line the otherwise rather barren plot of land. The agreed meeting point is the entrance on the north side of the property, with our first stop being the 8-meter-high and approximately 550-square-meter-large test hall. We immediately take note of the hoisting system, which is currently lifting a vehicle that is made to travel on railroad tracks as well as normal roads. In another corner of the hall, two members of the staff are focused on preparing a test that is to take place in the afternoon. We don’t want to disturb them any further, so we head back outside again.

checking components

Felix Bührdel checks all the components carefully


rail way crash test

As manager of the testing site, Felix Bührdel always keeps an eye on everything


components of train

The components of the trains are put through their paces


Before we arrive at the next stop, our expert provides an overview of the site, which has been in existence since 1964 and became the property of TÜV SÜD in 2008. “Today we conduct an average of one test per day. For example, we have a shunting locomotive, 27 different freight cars, and a measuring wagon at our disposal for conducting crash tests. Some 4.5 kilometers of rails have been installed for this purpose,” Felix Bührdel reports.




Customers from Chile to China are now taking advantage of the comprehensive range of services. In order to be able to supervise internationally recognized tests of tank containers, the Görlitz test facility has even been officially accredited to Canadian standards by a certification body there since 2007, Bührdel explains. A variety of different types of containers for the transport of hazardous liquids are tested here.


But why do companies on the other side of the world decide to ship their components to Germany at great expense? The head of the plant is not surprised: “On the international stage, TÜV SÜD stands for quality and reliability. We also offer a variety of tests all in one place here, and what we offer is also in the right price range.” TÜV SÜD Rail’s second test facility in Halle/Saale also has customers worldwide. Tests are carried out there for the test areas of running dynamics, brake testing, fatigue strength, and pantograph testing.


We are now standing in the middle of a widely branching rail network that seems to make its way across the site at random. The track sections are actually a deliberately designed network known as a “track harp,” as Bührdel puts it, in which each individual track branches off from a centrally located straight track and re-joins it again elsewhere. The individual sections each form a test stand with curves that vary in terms of how tight they are. “That allows us to test how high the risk of derailment is for a particular freight car, for example,” the 34-year-old explains. 


crash test

Full body effort during the crash test

Something truly unusual


The colleagues who were just standing in the hall are now working on a curved crossing that is specially designed for rail cars with small wheels. “And up ahead, other colleagues are busy preparing for a car-versus-car crash test,” Felix Bührdel says as we walk a few meters to where the twisted measuring track curve is located, which he describes as “something truly unusual.” The test bench was installed in 2003; it made it possible for the first time in Germany to measure the forces with which the vehicle presses vertically on the rail due to its own weight. The risk of “climbing” of the wheel flange, which can cause the train to derail, can be determined on this basis.


A little further on is a ramp test bench with a ferry boat ramp. “The obvious question is: Does anything bind or jam? Are all the cables and lines long enough when a rail vehicle is loaded onto a ferry?” says Bührdel, explaining the device.


We’re back at the point where wagons are deliberately crashed into a concrete block – just like in Hollywood. The fact that Saxony will probably never be California doesn’t bother the engineer one bit. “Our customers are more global here, don’t you think?” says Bührdel, laughing before he heads off to his desk for the rest of the day.


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