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DAC is the solution to connect the whole of Europe, so we must not let any country fall out, says DAC Ambassador Libor Lochman

DAC is the solution to connect the whole of Europe, so we must not let any country fall out, says DAC Ambassador Libor Lochman
photo: RAILTARGET/DAC is the solution to connect the whole of Europe, so we must not let any country fall out, says DAC Ambassador Libor Lochman
12 / 12 / 2022

Are you interested in the topic of Digital Automatic Coupling? In an interview with DAC Ambassador Libor Lochman, you will find out the latest information on this topic. What is the status of testing and financing the introduction of Digital Automatic Coupling in Europe?

We are at a seminar in Bratislava dedicated to DAC, and I would like to ask you about today's event. Why do you actually think it is crucial to hold these events?

So I guess I will start from the other end. Why is it important? If we really want to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of rail freight transport, we need to find a mutual understanding of how to do that and the seminar today for the automatic digital coupling is about one of those components that brought us closer to that. We need to continually and constantly increase that knowledge base of what it is, how we want to achieve it and how we can implement it together across Europe because the important thing is that we really need to do it together. We cannot let any of the countries fall out, and that is why we are in Slovakia today. Next week it will be in Prague, and the next one will be elsewhere. We really need not only to talk about this but also to discuss how to connect Europe in this way.

You followed up on my next question beautifully. Last week the DAC conference was held in Prague, and now we are meeting in Slovakia. What other places will you be heading to as a DAC ambassador in the coming months or years?

Well, I'm going to break the circle. I am, more or less, done because I've already seen Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Western Balkans, which is also vital, even though it's not part of the European Union but has to be connected as well. That is why we are not only talking about EU countries in connection with the coupling but countries which also have a gauge of 1 435 mm and which must be connected by rail freight, and that is specifically the Western Balkans, that is, to say, the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Turkey. These are also important.

Then, of course, I have also been in Sofia and Bucharest, so we have done the first round, but that was a bit of an initiation. First of all, it has to be said that despite more than two years, almost three years now, the knowledge of Southern and Eastern Europe is weak, and if we are going to link it up in that particular year, we have to get those people to us.

During your speech, you emphasised cooperation across Europe, which is extremely important. You literally said that if we do not get along, the coupling will lead, in quotes, to disaster. How do you assess the overall awareness of the market players? Is it sufficient?  

It is certainly not sufficient, and I did not really just mean the disaster in quotes, but realistically. Realistically, there will be a disaster because, contrary to the expectation that we will connect Europe and, more than that, be able to move freight more efficiently, what we will achieve is that we will create barriers. After all, if indeed the majority or a certain part of Europe decides to migrate to that coupling and another will not, then a technical barrier will be created that will make it difficult to move shipments and the consequence will be that those costs will go back on the road or stay on the road, which we really do not want. So it will be a disaster.

What is your assessment of the response from market players to the introduction of DAC? In your view, are they positive, or are there more question marks?

It depends on who you call the market operator because, for me, the market operator is the one at the very end, the user or the haulier. Well, there I have to say that on the side of the haulier, they choose the transport route that is most advantageous to them, so I do not think there is any particular enthusiasm there. They are going to look for the most advantageous transport streams and chains, and we have to be able to offer that to them. So, when we can do that, for example, by giving them shipment data, which we are not today because I don't have any sensors, the coupling will allow us to do that, and then we will be able to get them on our side more than we do today.

You said that by 2025 the development of DAC must be completed and that reliability must be assured. Is that plan realistic in your view?

That is what I commented on in my speech as well. We have, or we will have, as Carlo Borghini rightly said, a contract within the ERU to ensure that those in the consortium have actually completed the technology by the end of 2025 and have it reliably verified in testing. So that is the intention here. There is a contract for it, or there will be a contract for it, and it has to be delivered because if they don't deliver it, they will be penalised.

If you're asking me whether that's realistic, many of these technical opponents and engineers in the field have said, "In two and a half years? It must be a joke!" But when you consider the fact that huge resources are being poured into this project and several experts will be involved in this as part of the consortium, let's believe that they have the incentive to achieve this, because if they don't, as I said, they will be penalised. But the whole project will also be a question mark as to whether it can be taken that step further after 2026.

You talked about the huge investments that are already being made in DAC. Can you elaborate on how big these investments are and who is making them?  

At the moment, it is the case that what has been implemented so far in the last two or three years has been paid for by the European Union because it really came from the research support programmes. So the initiatives came from there and partly from national sources, such as the train that appeared in the Czech Republic, which was called DAC FOR EU, that is, a train that was financed by the German Ministry of Transport to test prototypes of the automatic coupling. In any case, this is either European or state funding.

Now the situation is going to change a little bit. The tens of millions that were mentioned in the context of technological development are 50% from the Union and 50% from the cooperating companies. It is really a reversal, where the way of looking at the whole thing needs to change because this is a sectoral initiative, and the sector is going to fund it, so we cannot imagine that it is going to fail, so to speak, because then why would the companies put money into it at all? Because it is no longer just European Union taxpayers' money but also the companies' own money.