Digital Automated Coupling – will it transform wagons?

Event Review – 8 December 2020

The development of DAC (Digital Automated Coupling) in Europe is raising many questions, so RFG joined in a webinar with RWA (Rail Wagon Association) to discuss the opportunities and the challenges.

Steve Taylor, General Manager, RWA, said the rail freight industry in the UK needs to recognise the urgency of issue as the EU is racing ahead on DAC and is looking to select a preferred solution within the next six months. It is described as a prerequisite for a modern digital railway.

DAC couples the train together, including airline and power, and creates a digital connection along the length of the train couples wagons together, also connecting power-, data- and main airlines down the length of the train.

Andreas Lipka of DB Cargo emphasised that “it is about the D (digital) not the C (coupling). It is about much more than replacing the old screw.” He said benefits included the formation of longer, heavier trains, increased safety of railway personnel and the formation of a data line running down the train – which means a lot of the monitoring equipment on the tracks could become redundant.  Such systems could also play a role in remote monitoring, replacing brake tests and providing information on the train automatically into other systems.

John Brown of Greenbrier explained that there are 600,000 waggons in Europe of which 400-450,000 would need to be retrofitted, with the rest deemed to have come to the end of their life – a huge programme, whatever the number.  Some wagon types will be easier than others, and there are some particular challenges for intermodal wagons.

There are four manufacturers currently developing DAC systems, with three different coupling heads. The aim is to come to a single type which will become the European standard.

It will cost an additional 20,000 Euros per wagon to include DAC though the aim is to reduce this to about 10,000 Euros extra through mass production. Obviously, a retrofit would be more expensive and there are significant technical issues.

Stewart Kenworthy of Ricardo said that fitting DAC might add other modifications including: a new electrical line, a new data line, significant structural modifications to headstock and the lengthening of the wagon.

Mitch Town of Ricardo explained that DAC needs more space than current coupling systems so retrofitting container carrying wagons would basically need the end to be cut off and a new one fitted.

In discussion, it was clear that there are many technical challenges, but that the prize is large.  Further work will be needed to assess the UK case and work out next steps.

A recording of the webinar is available on the RFG YouTube Channel here and copies of slides are available from Yvonne Mulder