Revolutionizing European rail freight traffic– Voith Cargoflex meets the digital era

Climate change, traffic gridlock, CO2 emissions– these issues are more topical than ever and call for quick solutions. Politicians have responded by creating the European Green Deal, supporting a sustainable economy. One major opportunity for reaching this goal would be an increased modal shift of freight transport to rail. With the legacy technologies still in use today, however, this project would be unthinkable. All over Europe and the UK, most freight wagons still need to be coupled and uncoupled manually. This is not only time-consuming and hard work but also puts the life of the coupling personnel at risk every time they must step between the wagons. An EU-wide program called DAC4EU was launched in 2020 by the BMVI (German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure) to establish a trial and verification process of three different automatic coupler systems for freight application. The Voith Cargoflex coupler, based on the Scharfenberg principle, successfully passed all tests, including arduous winter tests, coupling on straight and curves track etc. Today, new initiatives within the Shift2Rail consortium are paving the way for a successful introduction of the DAC. The Voith Cargoflex coupler has been developed and tested in close cooperation with train operating companies.

Now, the approved system is available as an enabler for the “digital revolution” of freight train traffic. The Voith Cargoflex system consists of two different automatic coupler designs, one for wagons and one for locomotives. Both are based on the proven Scharfenberg coupler and have been adapted to the requirements of freight applications. . The Voith Cargoflex offers huge industry-wide benefits. Operational costs can be reduced through high asset availability and reduced labour during marshalling operations and train configuration. The use of a digital coupler is an enabler to many safety and operational benefits, such as RCM, head and end of train consist verification etc, all improving operational reliability and availability. Further use cases include the train integrity check, increased system speed and different telematics applications. At SBB Cargo, Switzerland, the system has been successful in commercial operation since May 2019.

From the time of introduction, the new technology was widely accepted by drivers and marshalling personnel who appreciate its reliable operation and the considerable reduction of workload combined with a massive increase of safety to protect their lives. Meanwhile, both variations of the Voith Cargoflex couplers are available in their second generation, fulfilling all current standards as well as weight and crash requirements. At Innotrans 2022, the DAC4EU demonstrator train, fitted with latest generation of Voith Cargoflex couplers, raised great interest. Prior to the event, the DAC4EU train toured around railway companies all over Europe to allow operators to see the technology themselves and get acquainted with the operational benefits it enables. The possibilities for ushering in a new era of rail freight traffic have never been better. The migration to use DAC requires all parties involved to act in unison. The migration itself will be challenging for the whole rail freight sector and will require extensive planning. One thing is for sure: The digital automatic coupler by Voith is the enabler for further rail traffic automation and digitalization functions.

By Steve Oldroyd, Voith Turbo.

Contact: Steve Oldroyd Business Development Manager Voith Turbo Ltd.