CZ/SK verze

DAC Will Be Introduced with Scharfenberg Type, Several Technical Issues Remain Unsolved

DAC Will Be Introduced with Scharfenberg Type, Several Technical Issues Remain Unsolved
photo: Archive/DAC Will Be Introduced with Scharfenberg Type, Several Technical Issues Remain Unsolved
20 / 03 / 2023

The Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) development project continues with some delays. Europe's Rail has already found a consensus on the Scharfenberg-type coupling. However, prototypes demonstrated in various countries and under different conditions have shown significant technical problems, especially in the digital and electrical parts, which are not yet standardised at all.

There are legitimate concerns from transport operators that there will be an attempt by the big players to revolutionise rail freight transport after the prototype has been developed by pushing through TSI standards. Manufacturers of new wagons and locomotives would thus be mandated to change. After such a move, there would only be room for discussion on transition periods and almost no room for an EU-wide discussion on retrofit financing.

The President of the Chamber of Commerce of the Czech Republic, Vladimír Dlouhý, as well as, for example, the management of some large European carriers, have expressed concerns about the way this project is being implemented and have offered the EU cooperation in designing a programme for testing in real operation. Such cooperation should be comprehensive and cover not only functionality but also all the parameters needed for the approval of DAC-equipped vehicles by national railway safety authorities. Another reason why it is vital to pay attention to in-service testing is the situation of individual carriers and their specific market positions, not only at the Member State level but also in the European transport market.

Carriers should be able to have advanced information on the costs and benefits of introducing DAC at the level of individual companies, which would enable them to plan and finance the project. It is not just about the installation of the couplers themselves but about the whole complex of technical, labour resource and management reform of train marshalling in terminals and marshalling yards. It also includes the retraining of railway staff.

There are views from the rail sector that this institution should provide the EU and Member States with aggregated information on the results of the development of the financial framework because it is already clear from the experience of the ETCS roll-out that a pan-European roll-out of DAC will not be possible without a substantial amount of co-financing.

The discussion on the financing of DAC and retrofits has not yet taken off. It is clear that the current European financial framework (multiannual budget until 2027) does not allow for any funding from EU-wide funds, for example, from the CEF programme, not only in terms of availability of funds but also in terms of the legislative framework, which does not allow the CEF to fund vehicle modifications, which include DAC. After all, the priority of the CEF programme is infrastructure. Here, there is room for negotiations with the European Commission because only timely and precise application of the interests of carriers can preserve their position in the transport market and prevent loss of competitiveness not only against large rail carriers but also against other modes of transport.

Europe's Rail, where Giorgio Travaini replaced Carlo Borghini as CEO on 1 March, is therefore considering opening up the possibility of real-life testing to carriers, and a discussion has been launched at the EU level on the need to address the financing of the phase before the introduction of coupling. The testing itself is extended until 2024. The Czech Republic, through the Czech Chamber of Commerce, has been allowed to place a Czech expert in the group preparing the electrical standard DAC. It can be expected that the testing and trials of the electrical digital components of the coupling and air brakes will retrospectively influence the technical parameters and TSI of the coupling itself.