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A Call to Revolutionize European Rail Freight: Stakeholders Seek Public Support for Implementing DAC Technology

A Call to Revolutionize European Rail Freight: Stakeholders Seek Public Support for Implementing DAC Technology
photo: Archives/A Call to Revolutionize European Rail Freight: Stakeholders Seek Public Support for Implementing DAC Technology
07 / 07 / 2023

The transportation sector in the European Union is on the brink of a transformation. With an eye on the EU's stringent greening targets, stakeholders in the rail freight industry are recognising the importance of automation and digitalisation to streamline their operations. Currently, rail freight is environmentally more friendly, causing nine times fewer CO2 emissions than road transport. As the electrification of road transport is yet to mature and become cost-effective, strengthening rail freight could offer a substantial step forward in Europe's Green Deal and decarbonisation targets.

Yet, for this environmentally-friendly mode of transport to thrive, a comprehensive upgrade is required. Stakeholders in the industry believe the adoption of Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) technology, which allows freight trains to be coupled and uncoupled automatically, will play a significant role in increasing the efficiency of rail freight, making it more attractive for logistics service providers. But the market alone cannot bear the cost of such a large-scale transformation. The investment needed for such a sweeping change is immense, requiring collective action and substantial public support, especially for the introduction of DAC and associated digital technologies.

The DAC and its related automation and digital technologies are part of a concerted effort to revitalize the European rail freight sector, currently experiencing a decline. Despite the challenges, rail freight is seen as key to the European Union's Green Deal and decarbonisation targets due to its lower CO2 emissions compared to road transport.

The AC's development, under the collaborative efforts of the European DAC Delivery Programme (EDDP), has been strongly supported by the European Commission and the European Union Agency for Railways. However, before it can be deployed, several preconditions must be met, including establishing evidence of its benefits, harmonizing its technology and operational procedures, and creating a European funding scheme.

In terms of the next steps, the European rail freight sector is continuing to work towards meeting the DAC deployment preconditions. The signatories of this latest proposal are calling on the European Commission and Member States to start work on shaping the political, budgetary, and legal framework conditions necessary for a coordinated European deployment of DAC and its automation and digital technology. This includes the creation of a legal and budgetary framework for DAC deployment and funding for a large-scale testing phase and full-scale deployment, and the effort should ensure considerable public backing for the upcoming phases while complementing the essential ERTMS and infrastructure investments.

The roadmap comprises:

  • Establishing a DAC Legal Package from the present time until approximately 2028, entailing the creation of the necessary legal and budgetary framework for DAC Deployment. This includes provisions for authorisation and the establishment of a DAC Deployment Management Entity at both the EU and Member State levels.
  • DAC Pre-Deployment is anticipated from 2025 to around 2028, with estimated costs of approximately €210 million. This phase involves financing a large-scale testing period across Europe for DAC-based technology, using around 100 pre-deployment trains to prepare for successful migration and initiate DAC industrialisation. It also includes the setting up of a Pre-deployment Management Entity.
  • Full-scale DAC Deployment, expected to commence around 2028, with total costs of approximately €13 billion (based on 2021 prices). This stage covers the funding of a comprehensive DAC deployment in Europe and the Deployment Management Entity.

This call to action signals the start of a potential revolution in European rail freight, which, if successful, could radically redefine the future of transport in the EU and play a pivotal role in meeting the Union's greening targets. The transformation of the rail freight sector could be a long, complex journey, but with shared commitment and support, it could mark a turning point in sustainable transport in Europe.

DAC Sector Statement