MESSE Berlin, the organiser of InnoTrans, has a challenge this year: how to squeeze in yet more companies into its 41 halls which are already full, while providing more space for existing exhibitors who want to expand. A new hall is under construction, but this will not be ready in time for this year’s event which takes place on September 18-21.

“We have a waiting list for 5000-6000m2,” says Mr Matthias Steckmann, Messe Berlin’s senior vice-president, mobility and services. “Our main objective is to bring as many exhibitors in as possible, so companies that want more floor space will have to go up in height and have two or three floors. We want to give existing exhibitors as much space as possible, while attracting new exhibitors.”

“In 2016, we made the walkways between the stands narrower, and moved all the restaurants outside the halls, so we were able to work everything out well before the show, but this year we are fighting to accommodate everyone on the waiting list and it will go right up to the end,” says Ms Kerstin Schulz, exhibition director.

TLWJan18InnoTrans is a victim of its own success. The first show in 1996 was a modest affair with just 172 exhibitors occupying 4524m2 in three halls and attracting 6376 visitors. The second InnoTrans in 1998 was held jointly with International Union of Railways’ (UIC) Eurailspeed high-speed rail congress, and was already more than double the size with 403 exhibitors occupying 10,534m2 with 13,164 visitors. In 2000, InnoTrans doubled in size again without the need for any outside assistance to boost attendance, and reached the position of what Steckmann describes as a “leading trade fair worldwide” by becoming a global event.

InnoTrans has been growing inexorably ever since, with growth rates of between 20% and 40% from one event to the next. Even the global recession in 2008 failed to dent growth. In 2016, InnoTrans hosted 2955 exhibitors on 111,984m2 and welcomed 137,391 trade visitors.

InnoTrans has also become increasingly international. The proportion of foreign visitors has grown steadily compared with the number of Germans attending the event from just 13% in 1996 to 55% in 2016, while the percentage of non-German exhibitors has increased even more from 12% in the first year to 62% in 2016. Just over 25% of visitors and 22% of exhibitors now come from outside Europe, with 19.6% of total visitors and nearly 16% of exhibitors coming from Asia. “We started with just two or three US companies exhibiting, but now we have around 60,” Steckmann reveals.

The new hall, to be known as Hub 27, will add another 10,000m2 of floor space to InnoTrans in 2020. But once this has been filled with exhibitors, Steckmann does not see any opportunity to increase floor space beyond this, save for the effect of any more mergers within the rail industry which tend to result in the new merged company taking less space than the individual companies occupied prior to the merger. On the other hand, there has been a steady increase in the number of companies expanding beyond their home market which is driving the demand for space. In 2016, InnoTrans introduced an event called Cube to enable start-up companies to engage with the rail industry, and this will be repeated this year.

So why has InnoTrans been so successful? “We started at the right time,” Steckmann says. “But it was not our idea. The railway industry wanted to build a worldwide event to replace a lot of smaller events. We decided to invest in our USP: the tracks outside the halls which are absolutely necessary for a railway-focussed exhibition. We also decided to focus on the trade fair platform rather than trying to stage a congress with an exhibition alongside.”

Despite its growing success, InnoTrans has introduced innovations to broaden the appeal of the event. “We introduced the Future Mobility Park in 2014 and Hyperloop was one of the first exhibitors,” Schulz says. It will be renamed Mobility Vision Lab this year to enable designers to showcase future transport concepts.

InnoTrans has also done a lot to aid recruitment and career development for the rail industry, with around 3500 students visiting at the last event. In 2016, InnoTrans sponsored two competitions in the United States and China to give students a chance to explore job opportunities in the rail industry, and students from other countries will be invited to take part this year. One hall is devoted to promoting a career in the rail industry by enabling exhibitors to have human resource specialists on site. There is an online job wall, and exhibitors interested in recruiting people are encouraged to display a Career Point sign on their stand.

With InnoTrans 2018 set to be another record-breaking year, it seems the only way is up for the world’s biggest railway event.