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Live from Innotrans 2022: Digital Automatic Coupling - Transforming Europe's Rail Freight

Live from Innotrans 2022: Digital Automatic Coupling - Transforming Europe's Rail Freight
photo: Z. Lola/Live from Innotrans 2022: Digital Automatic Coupling - Transforming Europe's Rail Freight
21 / 09 / 2022

The RAILTARGET editorial team welcomes you to another live coverage from InnoTrans 2022 (20.-23.9.2022) from the Digital Automatic Coupling - Transforming Europe's Rail Freight event under the auspices of Europe's Rail.

15:05 Mark Topal, CTO of ÖBB, takes the floor. Two years ago I was asked to lead this DAC programme and it took me two seconds to decide. Why? The DAC is a unique opportunity for the whole railway sector. And it is one of the most crucial steps for the future of rail. We need to work as a family to implement DAC. Understand all the pitfalls and resolve them. Thank you!

15:10 The following is Henrik Hololei, Director General of DG MOVE. To modernise rail we need to think Europe-wide and understand that this is the future. We must not continue to live in the past. DAC will help us with the renaissance of the rail sector, both passenger and freight. That is also why we must open up to the DAC, destroy borders and think beyond our national borders. And we are capable enough to implement DAC. But there are still those who think we don't need something like that. That's not true and we need to start now. Plus, it will make it easier for us with the SERA project. The DAC will also help with increasing transport volumes by up to 50%. Yes, it is an ambitious plan. But together we can do it and only then. Europe is also the last part of the world where automatic couplers are not even used, although many inventions are being made in Europe. An interesting paradox. And ER JU together with DG MOVE can make it very easy to implement DAC by 2030. I also like very much that DAC is gaining traction in the Member States. We seem to be on the right track. But we also need to recognise that European funds are not bottomless and an effective funding plan will need to be developed. I hope that the EDDP will ensure the successful implementation of the DAC and also that this event will provide fertile ground for the success of the DAC story.

15:20 Alberto Mazzola, ERA Executive Director, continues. First of all, we need a suitable infrastructure that has to be digitized and also on which everybody will be able to ride at the same speed. The implementation of DAC will be very challenging, but we can do it by 2030 with the help of ER JU. We need a joint effort because the benefits of DAC are known. We are currently working on an implementation plan. Also, I would hate to have a DAC Deployment Manager. I think we can do without one, but we still need to work together. And we need public support. It may seem out of reach right now, but if we start now, we can do it.

15:25 A representative from the German Ministry of Digitalisation and Transport takes to the microphone. Rail will help us reduce our carbon footprint and transport more freight thanks to DAC. I'm glad there is so much enthusiasm around DAC. The German government thinks that DAC will be a great benefit to rail freight. And it's not just a German interest or a project for us to gain prestige. DAC will ensure the competitiveness of the railway and take it further. Everyone will inevitably benefit from it. Even the rail workers, for example, whose jobs will be made much easier. It is also one of the next steps towards the digitisation of the railway and, above all, a Europe-wide project. It is not a matter of each individual Member State implementing its own version of the DAC. It has to be a collective effort, which will then help to remove borders in rail transport.

15:30 Sigrid Nikutta, member of the DB Board of Management for Freight, is now taking to the microphone. The year 2030 is the target when we want to have DAC across Europe. The biggest problem now is capacity. For a long time, we debated about not having customers, but now it's different. Everybody wants more freight on rail. Today we are moving more people and more freight on rail than ever before and to be able to move, even more, the DAC and the air brake will help us with that. In fact, the DAC will help with a 10-15% increase in the capacity of the infrastructure. The technological development of DAC is underway and we have to prepare for its implementation in parallel. The European fleet must be ready for DAC. This will be achieved by the EC and the carriers setting a binding date. Then we also need to secure funding - we are on the threshold of a green revolution. Germany will set an example for other countries. We have never been more ready to make this revolution for rail freight.

15:40 SNCF CTO Raphael Viard takes to the podium. The best solution for implementation would be a direct migration to DAC type 5. DAC is changing the game and at SNCF we want a direct migration. We need to present the benefits of DAC to the whole rail sector. We also have to prepare for the question of how and where we implement DAC. We need capable people to manage the implementation process to make it as smooth as possible. The top leaders of the European rail sector must come together and monitor the whole implementation process. We also need data on how many, where and when DAC cars are on the line, which is why we also need GPS implementation. DAC is customer-oriented because we will transport more.

15:50 Followed by a panel discussion with representatives from SNCF, Arcelor Mittal, ÖBB and Dellner. We could get a lot of interesting opinions on DAC from this panel. Whether DAC will be a success story or not depends on how your company approaches it. To achieve an increase in rail freight traffic, we need several new technologies like DAC. This could help with standardisation across Europe. Moreover, rail freight is in the industrial chain, so we should help it. Increase its strength, i.e. its capacity. And then it will be competitive and help with the Green Deal objectives. But the problem is money, so we need to reduce the cost of production. Then the operation and maintenance of the DAC itself have to be standardised. The benefits for transport are then indisputable, Europe must unite, and speak European and not in its own dialects. So we could get to full DAC quite quickly.

What about occupational safety? It takes quite a long time to couple a train, so DAC would help to create a fully automatic train coupling so there would be no need for the human factor. The depots would actually be self-contained because of this. And the data collected from the trains would then be used for predictive maintenance. That's the goal. It is a problem to provide manpower for these depots, there is no interest. So DAC could solve this problem as well. Then it could open the door to autonomous train operation (ATO). And brake tests will be completely eliminated.

Is 2030 realistic for full DAC implementation? It's a big challenge, but if we look at how many cars we sell in Europe, it might not be such a problem. We are talking about installing about 1 million DACs. But we have to solve the money issue and there is no time to negotiate too long on how to finance the project.

16:20 Representatives from ERA are appearing before the audience. They focused on the socio-economic aspects of DAC. There are many benefits of DAC, for example just job security and time-saving. With DAC, we will gain efficiency and reduction in transport times, so we will send more trains to the railways. In-depth CBA has shown that investment in DAC is worthwhile. That's why we're here to show it, too. But the CBA doesn't tell the whole story for funding. That's where the implementation schedule and overall cooperation are important. Then DAC will help with climate change mitigation, so it should be implemented. Another CBA is also underway to verify that DAC is indeed worth investing in. Above all, clarity is needed on the financing of DAC.

16:35In the following panel discussion, representatives of ŽESNAD.CZ and ČD Cargo will also speak, as well as Keir Fitch! ČD Cargo sees potential in DAC, but what about the money? First we need to secure it and we estimate that implementing DAC across Europe would cost €61 trillion. Moreover, the digital part of the coupling is still under development. What about the old locomotives? Will we have to buy new ones? What about the wagons? And in the process of implementing DAC, who is going to cover the losses for the time when we cannot serve our customers. Then there is the question of what about non-EU countries. How will the legislation be dealt with there? But the main thing is money - even with ETCS, we have not been able to secure sufficient funding. Tomáš Tyll from ŽESNAD.CZ takes the floor. No one will pay the full price for DAC from the carriers. So how in 7 years or so will DAC make rail more competitive with road, which is its real competitor. The members of ZESNAD.CZ are afraid that DAC could kill their business. Member States experiencing an energy crisis will not be able to pay for DAC in the future. And realistically, there is no telling how much DAC will actually save. So aren't we chasing dreams? Carlo Borghini counters by looking at European cities and their problems. Keir Fitch also points out that if we don't invest in DAC, the road will overtake us as it too is electrifying and starting to use hydrogen power. If we don't go DAC we won't kill the rail sector because there won't be one. So DAC will help create a competitive environment for the railways. We need to constructively address those which may not be financially sustainable. We will stay with investment. We are talking about 2054-2055 when those investments will be recovered. But if nothing is done, there may not be a railway. 

But if nothing is done, there may not be a railway. In conclusion, Tomáš Tyll asks how DAC will realistically help the competitiveness of rail against the road. He asks for specific figures so that people can get a better picture. And the DAC funding includes not only the implementation itself but also the other things related to it. What are the operational figures for DAC? And if we implement DAC as it's being presented now, it will be a step backwards. Keir Fitch wants to oppose. While he says that the EC will not actually pay for the whole thing, we can talk about diversification of co-financing between the EC and the Member States. There will also be a need for funding from the sector itself. Plus we need a European solution, i.e. the DAC. Otherwise, the Czech Republic will remain alone in the middle of Europe. The opponents of Tomáš Tyll's views continue. DAC will significantly reduce the number of people and the time needed to build trains. Mark Topal points out that today's discussion has shown that DAC supporters are very transparent about DAC and he is glad for these discussions which bring new perspectives.

17:20 End of the event! Thanks for watching today's live coverage of InnoTrans 2022 and we look forward to seeing you at the next one!