CZ/SK verze

"DAC – Voice of Reason" Releases Key Memorandum on DAC Implementation—Here's All You Need to Know

&quote;DAC – Voice of Reason&quote; Releases Key Memorandum on DAC Implementation—Here's All You Need to Know
photo: Peter Shaw / Flickr/Railway tracks
10 / 07 / 2024

In a critical step towards modernizing rail freight operations across Europe, the informal group "DAC – Voice of Reason" has released a follow-up memorandum to their initial document signed in Prague in February 2023, outlining the significant issues and preconditions necessary for the successful deployment of Digital Automatic Couplers in the European rail system.

The DAC – Voice of Reason group, consisting of EU national rail freight associations (ŽESNAD.CZ (Czech Association of Rail Freight Operators), AROS (Slovak Association of Rail Freight Operators), ZNPK (Polish Federation of Independent Rail Operators), Hungrail (Hungarian Railway Association), Die Gűterbahnen (German Rail Freight Association), SPV (Czech Association of Owners and Operators of Railway Vehicles), and ZVKV (Slovak Association of Owners and Operators of Railway Vehicles)), highlights the importance of DAC in enhancing safety, interoperability, data exchange, and efficiency in rail freight operations. However, the group warns against hurried implementation, which could undermine the sector’s competitiveness and slow the modal shift from road to rail. "While DAC offers numerous benefits, hasty and arbitrary solutions could further hamper the competitiveness of the rail freight sector and slow down the modal shift," they say.

Despite substantial investments from the EU and stakeholders, several challenges persist in DAC deployment, including high initial costs, technical complexity, and reliability concerns. According to DAC – Voice of Reason, addressing these issues is essential before final decisions on DAC deployment are made. 

Key Challenges

  • Competitiveness of EU Railways: Rail freight must remain the preferred choice for customers. The group mentions that rail companies are commercial enterprises and investments in DAC must be financially justifiable for individual companies to maintain competitiveness.
  • Initial Investment: The substantial upfront costs for DAC infrastructure, equipment, and technology pose a significant barrier. The group insists on fair distribution of these costs and substantial EU and Member States funding. They reference lessons learned from the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) to advocate for voluntary DAC implementation where cost-benefit analyses are unfavorable.
  • Technical Complexity: The sophisticated components of DAC introduce unprecedented complexity into railway systems. It is recommended to prioritize simpler, cost-effective solutions like automated brake tests and suggests that DAC should not eliminate the need for personnel to ensure cargo safety and wagon integrity.
  • Complexity of Railway Operations: External conditions such as mixed operations and infrastructure restrictions must be addressed before DAC implementation.
  • Compatibility Challenges: Integrating DAC into older or non-standard rolling stock is costly and time-consuming. The group points out the critical issue of additional weight and compatibility with non-EU rolling stock, particularly from Turkey and Serbia.
  • Reliability Concerns: Ensuring the reliability of DAC systems is vital to prevent operational disruptions as a single point of failure in the coupling system could halt operations, causing delays and safety hazards.
  • European Coordination: The group advocates for a European coordination center to manage and minimize risks in international transport chains, ensuring a cohesive approach to DAC deployment.

To ensure a smooth transition to DAC, the memorandum outlines several specific areas requiring further work:

  1. Migration Plan for Locomotives and Freight Wagons: Developing a realistic and feasible migration plan is crucial, including solutions for locomotives and wagons that cannot be equipped with DAC.
  2. Retrofitting Procedures: Establishing procedures to share and transfer technical and administrative solutions for retrofitting locomotives and wagons across Europe is essential.
  3. Uniform Standard and Coupling Compatibility: Creating uniform technical specifications for DAC to ensure compatibility and interchangeability between all manufacturers.
  4. Legislation and Documentation: Finalizing and amending necessary legislative documents, including the Fourth Railway Package, to streamline the approval process for DAC.
  5. Infrastructure Impact: Assessing and planning for the modifications and costs that DAC implementation will impose on infrastructure.
  6. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Conducting a thorough, realistic cost-benefit analysis, considering all variables and ensuring independent evaluation.
  7. Funding Model: Developing a viable funding model that minimizes negative impacts on vehicle owners and maintains service quality and customer satisfaction.
  8. Physical Retrofit Issues: Addressing the technical feasibility of retrofitting wagons and locomotives and ensuring sufficient manufacturing and workshop capacities.
  9. Pop-up Workshops for Retrofitting: Establishing mobile workshops for DAC implementation, ensuring non-discriminatory access and efficient operation.
  10. Miscellaneous – Functionality and Reliability: Ensuring all identified deficiencies during the test operation are corrected and maintaining high-reliability standards for the DAC system.

Overall, the memorandum points out the intricate challenges and necessary steps for the successful deployment of DAC in the EU rail system. As Europe moves towards more advanced rail technologies, a cautious and coordinated approach will be crucial to achieving a seamless transition and maintaining the competitiveness and sustainability of the rail freight industry.

Source: DAC – Voice of Reason