The intelligent freight train: A milestone on the road to digital, automated rail freight transportation for the 21st century.

From the innovative freight wagon to the intelligent freight train

Over recent years, the Technical Innovation Circle for Rail Freight Transport (TIS) has made significant progress in advancing the development and implementation of basic innovations in the area of the freight wagon. There is now an industry-wide consensus that innovations for rail freight wagons are urgently needed and should be based on the 5L-criteria – low-noise, lightweight, long-running, logistics-enabled, life-cycle-cost-­oriented. The intensification of innovation activities in the sector is now immediately obvious to any observer.

The intelligent freight train: transferring the innovation philosophy to the entire train

However, generating tangible improvements in the competitiveness of rail freight transportation will require more than the promotion of isolated innovations in “freight wagon” design. Digitisation and automation strategies for the entire train must be devised in order to unlock its full potential. The project is now ready to take the next step: combining these innovative freight wagons into intelligent freight trains. In the past few months, TIS has structured and kick-started the necessary processes. The Roadmap to the Intelligent Freight Train is complete. The digital automatic coupling (DAC) with integrated power and data bus line is the heart of the intelligent freight train. It creates the necessary conditions for the comprehensive digitisation and automation of rail freight transport and will make railway operations significantly more efficient. The position of TIS is therefore clear: the Europe-wide introduction of a DAC must be made a top priority.

Innovation needs funding

The innovations being developed for the intelligent freight train require close coordination within the sector and are associated with high investment costs. Both are particularly relevant to the DAC since the migration to this standard will have to be a Europe-wide process. Considerable political and financial support will be required to put the intelligent freight train on the tracks. This also applies to the roll out of basic innovations which often involves high levels of initial investment.

Integrated approach for a competitive rail freight sector

Innovative freight wagons and the intelligent freight train are milestones on the way to a competitive rail freight transport sector. However, further improvements are needed to ensure that environmentally-friendly rail freight can compete with other modes of transport and expand its share of the market. The field ranges from the development of infrastructure to the introduction of ETCS signalling technology, and the creation of an even playing field between road and rail. The sector and political authorities throughout Europe must pull in the same direction. The measures agreed in the Rail Freight Master Plan will guide the sector over the coming months and years. Political authorities must now have the will to implement these measures promptly and provide the necessary financial re­sources. The companies involved in TIS will support them on this journey.