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Test Of Digital Automatic Couplings

posted on 1st Oct 2020 13:40

Since July 2020, a consortium headed by Deutsche Bahn is preparing and testing the use of digital automatic coupling (DAC) on various wagons. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) awarded the contract for this pilot project to the consortium of six companies from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. The project, aimed at demonstrating, testing and obtaining regulatory approval for digital automatic coupling in rail freight transport, will run until December 2022. 

Digital automatic coupling automatically connects wagons, as well as their lines for power, data and compressed air, without any need for strenuous physical work. DAC makes this process much more efficient and relieves strain on rail workers. The consortium is made up of DB, its subsidiary DB Cargo, and five other companies: SBB Cargo and Rail Cargo Austria, along with wagon keepers Ermewa, GATX Rail Europe and VTG.

„It wouldn't make sense to manage the EU-wide introduction of DAC from the Member State level alone,“ said Enak Ferlemann, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. „We need to find solutions at the European level. The financial challenges involved are considerable, and they are not the kind of thing that companies alone can solve; we will need a comprehensive European program with sufficient funding. The German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure will continue to support the introduction of DAC, and we have commissioned the DAC demonstrator project to this end. We will be providing some 13 million EUR in funding for this research project over the coming two-and-a-half years.“

In the first phase, 12 freight and tank cars from DB Cargo, VTG and GATX were equipped with prototype couplings from four different manufacturers. Then the initial technical tests will begin. The results of these tests will determine which type of coupling is ultimately selected. In the second phase, a demonstrator train consisting of 24 wagons equipped with the selected coupling type will run in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other European countries. This will allow DAC to be tested in daily operations in a variety of areas, including at marshaling yards.

The goal is to prepare the process of selecting one type of coupling to introduce throughout Europe. DAC will open the door to a system of rail freight transport that is fully automated and digitalised. A coordinated approach within Europe will be key to achieving full-scale implementation of the technology.

Voith CargoFlex

Voith also participates in test phase for Europe-wide introduction of automatic freight coupling. In order to cope with the problem of constantly increasing transport volumes, Voith has developed the CargoFlex coupling for more safety, efficiency and transport performance in rail freight service. Recently, four automatic freight couplings were installed in test wagons of DB Cargo and GATX in Germany as well as Green Cargo in Sweden.

The official start of the test series, which is being commissioned and financed by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in Germany and Shift2Rail in Sweden, is planned for 5 October 2020. By spring 2021, all couplings of the participating manufacturers are to be thoroughly tested, including their winter suitability, and a decision for a Europe-wide introduction of a standardised coupling head is to be made.

Since May 2019, the Voith CargoFlex has already been successfully deployed in day-to-day operations at SBB Cargo. For the tests, this coupling was upgraded with a digital component that enables power and data transmission. The electric head used for this purpose functions purely mechanically, so that no change in the brake pipe is necessary. 

The CargoFlex coupling is also compatible with the UIC 530 directive and ensures that no modification in the wagon structure is required. Furthermore, the coupling is optimally adapted to the high loads in rail freight transport and, thanks to its light yet robust design, is created for extraordinary reliability and a long service life. The whole system is complemented by a modular concept for expansion with existing and future modules as required, for example, automatic uncoupling.

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