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On Track for Transformation: European Rail Freight Enters a New Digital Era

On Track for Transformation: European Rail Freight Enters a New Digital Era
photo: DAC4EU / Public domain/Digital Automatic Coupler
12 / 04 / 2024

The webinar series 'Renew - up to date on digital rail freight,' hosted on Tuesday, April 9th, by VPI in collaboration with UIP, provided a comprehensive overview of the ongoing digital transformation in European rail freight transport.

Central to the discussions was the emphasis on Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) alongside a few other digital innovations poised to enhance the efficiency and performance of the rail freight system. The aim is clear: to catalyze a significant transformation in rail freight operations, making them safer, faster, and more capable of handling heavier and longer trains, which in turn, enhances infrastructure capacity and operational efficiency.

The vision for rail freight in Europe by 2030 is ambitious, with rail positioned as the backbone of freight transport. The presentations highlighted two main strategic thrusts: Full Digital Freight Train Operations (FDFTO) and Seamless Rail Freight. The former focuses on fully digitizing rail freight operations incorporating advanced technologies like DAC, while the latter aims to improve interoperability across different transport modes and borders, enhancing the overall fluidity of rail logistics. This vision is supported by digital platforms that are becoming the standard for operational collaboration, with a particular emphasis on digital connectivity within trains to facilitate these advancements.

Source: Europe's Rail

In technical terms, the deployment of DAC across Europe was discussed in depth, detailing a phased approach from conceptual stages to full development and certification. This is part of a broader strategy within the FP5 TRANS4M-R Project, which is structured to integrate efforts across specialized domains, including core development of DAC, operations, and multimodal integration. Such strategic planning is crucial for transitioning to a unified European rail system that is not only technologically advanced but also operationally integrated and standardized. "Our goal is to achieve a single, mature European system," said Gilles Peterhans, the Secretary General of UIP. "We don't want a system that looks good but doesn't work."

Financial and operational strategies for implementing DAC were also outlined, revealing a detailed General Master Plan that extends beyond 2030. This includes establishing pilot deployments and management frameworks essential for the system-wide integration of DAC technologies.

Source: UIP

As for the creation of a central, cloud-based DAC database, it surely will significantly enhance the logistical capabilities of the sector. Fully financed by EDDP, this DAC cloud will be easily accessible via a web portal and managed by a neutral, dedicated database project group. It will ensure authorized access for manufacturers, keepers, and project members, streamlining the assessment and retrofitting processes and supporting volume analysis and effort estimations by EDDP.