The history of railway rolling stock, followed by the VÚKV a.s., has been very extensive. Today ´s VÚKV a.s. (former Research Institute of Railway Rolling Stock) has come into existence as an outcome of continuous development originating in the design and construction office of the Ringhoffer works. The company thus directly follows the tradition of development and manufacture of transport means at Prague’s Smíchov district.
The Ringhoffer works were incorporated on 1 December 1852. Even though the establishment of a separate design and construction department was only first mentioned in writing in 1880, in-house drawings of the company show that Ringhoffer manufactured railway vehicles even before that date and so the actual commencement of railway vehicles design may date back to 1867.
Ringhoffer works at Smíchov merged in 1936 with the Kopřivnice, Studénka, Kolín and Česká Lípa wagon plants as well as with the electro-technical company Sousedík at Vsetín. That was the origin of the large concern dealing with manufacture of railway vehicles and called Ringhoffer-Tatra works. The central construction office was included in the so called Record Office, abbreviated to EVIKA, where orders for design solutions for all plants were accumulated and processed. After 1949 the EVIKA design office was reorganised several times. The last reorganisation resulted in the Prague Research Institute of Railway Rolling Stock (VÚKV), commencing independent existence on 1 April 1958. At that time the Institute was part of the Czechoslovak Wagon Plants Tatra, association of state establishments, with registered seat at Studénka.
In 1965 the association of state establishments was wound up and the VÚKV together with the wagon plants were incorporated in the trust called Heavy Engineering Plants of Martin, Slovakia. Since 1970 the VÚKV was incorporated in the Czechoslovak Wagon Plants Concern with registered seat at Prague, which was not even affected by movement of the Directorate General to Poprad, Slovakia, in 1983. At that time the VÚKV had branches at Cerhenice, Česká Lípa, Studénka, Poprad and Žilina and reached its maximum size in history with about 350 employees.
After the change of the political and social status of Czechoslovakia in 1989 the concern was wound up too and VÚKV became an independent state establishment. On 1 May 1992 the assets of the Research Institute of Railway Rolling Stock in Prague were transferred to a joint-stock company - VÚKV a.s. - with 100 % state share, privatised with the coupon method in stages later. Until 2000 the VÚKV a.s. was owned by various Czech investment funds, companies and minor shareholders including the employees themselves. But none of these owners held the decisive property share in VÚKV a.s. In the abovementioned year 2000 the first fundamental change in the ownership structure of VÚKV a.s. came. The company Czech TÜV s.r.o., part of the TÜV Süddeutschland Holding AG in Munich, gradually purchased more than 96 % of the shares and thus the VÚKV a.s. first became owned by a single decisive owner. As TÜV has mainly been active in the area of testing, the same subject of business activity was developed most in the VÚKV a.s. too. After more than three years of ownership the Czech TÜV s.r.o. sold in February 2004 its business share to the industrial group Škoda Holding a.s. The latter majority owner in 2006 purchased shares of the remaining minority shareholders of VÚKV a.s., thus becoming the sole owner of the company.
As since 1920s the design office for railway vehicles was seated in the administrative building of the former Ringhoffer works and remained there until August 2004, the company disposes with a remarkable historical file of archive materials of the company and its predecessors, including but not limited to drawing and photographic documentation. Its continuity since mid 19th century, not even interrupted by move of the company from the old Ringhoffer Palace to the brand new Office Park at Nové Butovice, unparalleled across Europe, the experts say.
The VÚKV, in the period 1958 - 1989 fulfilling the function of a research, development and experimental base of the Czechoslovak wagon industry, produced studies and drawings of prototypes of virtually all passenger carriages, driving motor cars and electric multiply units manufactured by the Czechoslovak wagon industry. In addition to carriages the designers also prepared constructions of wagons. Special attention was paid to development of bogies for all vehicles manufactured by the Czechoslovak wagon plants.
Commuter multiply units developed in that period include the first commuter electric multiply unit series 451 and 452 (EM 475.0, EM 475.1 and EM 475.2), commuter electric multiply unit series 460 (EM 488.0) and 560 (SM 487.0) and prototypes of the unit of the 470 series. This unit also included the first Czech double-deck carriages.
Extensive development works were implemented in the area of driving motor cars. In 1960s the VÚKV developed driving motor cars of the 820 series (M 240) and 850 and 851 series (M 286.0 and M 286.1). In the late 1960´s a trainset with two Class 853 (M 296.1) railcars and associated trailer cars were developed for international traffic and, designated as the Vindobona express, put into service on the Berlin-Vienna line. The railcar served as a model from which the Class 852 (M 296.2) for Czech domestic railway network was derived. In early 1970s prototypes were prepared for the driving motor car of series 860 (M 475.0) with all four driven axles and electrical output transfer. In 1970s a two-axle driving motor car of series 810 (M 152.0) including trailer cars were developed . A few hundred of these driving motor cars completed modernisation of passenger transport along the side lines of the Czechoslovak Railways. In 1980s four-axle driving motor cars were developed under series no 842 (M 273.2) and especially the driving motor car AČ 2 for the Soviet Union, manufactured by the Studénka Wagon Plants in the total number of 122 pieces of driving motor cars and 244 trailer cars.
Newly developed passenger carriages included for example the Baim series, which were manufactured in several lines of production..
One of the major development activities focused on bogies development for carriages and wagons. Among other things the VÚKV developed the first bogie in Czechoslovakia for the speed of 200 km/hr. Knowledge gained by development of these bogies was later utilised by the international bogie development project GP 200, implemented by the VÚKV together with the Görlitz Wagon Works in Germany. The VÚKV also developed the first bogies with air suspension within the socialist countries then.
At present another major activity carried out by the VÚKV in 1980 is slowly falling into oblivion. The activity included project coordination and design of modular oil pumping stations for the Soviet Union then. Very valuable was the close cooperation of the VÚKV with the Studénka, Poprad and Trebišov wagon plants in this context.
Following the social changes in 1989 the Czechoslovak Wagon Plant concern was wound up and the VÚKV had to find its new role in the area of development and testing of railway rolling stock. Contact was established quickly with international companies and the VÚKV left the Czechoslovak, or the Czech development market for a while. That was the period of development of many successful projects of railway vehicles and bogies.
In the area of railway vehicles there is also the project of modernisation of the historic tram for Lisbon (manufactured by AEG) or development of the very successful driving motor car Regio Shuttle RS1 for ABB Henschel. Today the latter vehicle has been manufactured by Stadler Company. Another extensive cooperation was developed with PFA Weiden, including development of the sleeping carriage Comfort Schlafwagen, whose manufacture, following certain adaptations, eventually became Siemens. VÚKV a.s. also contributed to the underground carriage development for Bombardier Company for the city of Guangzhou in China or the series 680 unit for the Czech Railways, manufactured by the Italian company Alstom Savigliano.
In the field of locomotives the VÚKV a.s. developed, among other things, the narrow-gauged locomotive for Gmeinder or reconstructed the V 100 locomotive for Bombardier.
Extensive activity in the area of bogie development by VÚKV a.s. included successful development of bogies for Bombardier. The bogies were used by the Bangladesh railways, by the trams for Okayama and the underground carriages for Helsinki and New York.
In addition to development activities there was also the experimental activity. While before 1989 the tests were mainly carried out for the Czechoslovak wagon industry, after 1989 the situation changed radically. The VÚKV a.s. testing laboratory was the first foreign laboratory accredited by the German Federal Railway Authority in 1996. The acknowledgement opened the way to European manufacturers. The clients therefore have included all major manufacturers of carriages, wagons and locomotives.
The extended client portfolio required construction of a new modern testing facility, improvement of quality of the professional structure and last but not least purchases of modern competitive testing and measurement technology. Towards late 1980s extensive innovation was carried out on the special equipment for static strength tests followed with ongoing replacements of the data acquisition systems for static and dynamic strength tests. Also the universal railway instrumented car, allowing for top-standard measurement in the course of trial runs, was renovated. The instrumented car is the only one of its kind in the Czech Republic for the speed of 200 km/hr. The past decade saw successful development of the unique instrumented wheelsets for the measurement of the dynamic behaviour of railway vehicles.The calibration bench for instrumented wheelsets and the equipment for safety against derailment testing have been developed by VUKV a.s. too.