50 c/s Group (Groupement 50 Hz – 50 Hz Arbeitsgemeinschaft)
I had no idea to come back to my professional live. In view of the decline of my former company I however felt the longer the more I should put down in writing the unique success story of the lasting international cooperation of six European locomotive manufacturers.
In times politicians did rarely meet, company leaders in four different countries anticipated the enormous potential of joint development and cooperation in the global transportation market. They founded the 50 c/s Group in 1954. It was recognized that the old-fashioned steam traction, which was still in operation in many countries, should be replaced by the more efficient electric traction. Contrary to the European countries of the traction pioneers who have adopted their own electric power supply with 16 2/3 Hz, the national power supply systems (50 or 60 Hz) should provide the electrified railway lines with energy. Such large project did exceed the capacity of a single company. Only mutual efforts, combined funding, the joint and several liability, and the sharing of the risks were promising opportunities. The founders were right in the end: The result was phenomenal: the competitors from UK, Sweden, USA and Japan lost nearly every contract while the Group was low bidder in India, Portugal, Turkey, South Korea, China, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Brazil. Thanks an internal competition, the group of companies reached low prizes, short delivery times and excellent technical solutions. Sharing the supplies did not overheat the individual workload.
In 1980 the Group investigated a large locomotive project in Mexico for Ferrocarilles Nationals de México (NdeM). The locomotives were intended for use on a new double-track electric line between Mexico City and Irapuato. January 5, 1981 US President Ronald Reagan met with Mexican President Lopez Portillo in Ciudad Juarez. It really annoyed me when the order was placed in the USA without public bidding. Unfair business is beside bribery the worthiest what can happen to a company!
What I want to point out is the trustworthy teamwork. We were six (at the beginning seven) companies from Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, speaking different languages and competing in other areas! We held rotating summit meetings, debated the strategy, we fought for the supply volumes and the prizes. Like in a family, quarrel can arise. In a time of crisis we hold a meeting in the Benedictine Monastery of Einsiedeln and left as peaceable members!
Whenever tensions came up afterwards, a Frenchman said: Remember the spirit of Einsiedeln!
After the merger of BBC and Asea, my new company ABB left the 50 c/s Group since the Swedes were opposed to share volumes with “competitors”. Take it or leave it was the slogan – a big mistake!
I keep contact with many of my competitors, who have become partners and reliable friends. A few, however, have passed away.