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The collaboration between FFS Cargo, ÖBB Rail Cargo Group, PJM and Mercitalia Rail continues

At the 2019 “transport logistic” exhibition in Munich, the four partners confirmed their collaboration for the development and introduction of the “semi-automatic preparation” of trains. With this joint project, the partners intend to lay the foundations for an In-Train communication standard.


Two years after the commencement of the cooperation between FFS Cargo and ÖBB Rail Cargo Group, to which Mercitalia Rail (Polo Mercitalia — FS Italiane Group) subsequently joined, the balance proves to be largely positive. The rail transport companies collaborated with PJM in the implementation of a brake test and the integration of the system. After several trips completed with a test train in 2017, FFS Cargo has now equipped around 100 national combined traffic wagons with the automatic brake test system. The functional trials of the automatic brake test will commence in the summer of 2019 and are part of the national approval and admission process. With the work carried out, the participants in the project have laid the foundations for the architecture (hardware, electronics, software) of the safety-relevant applications on convoys and individual vehicles.

SBB Cargo foresees that approval of the system will be achieved in mid-2020. In combination with the automatic coupling and the anti-collision warning system on the locomotive switching fleet, the automatic brake test is the third prerequisite for operation with a single operator pursued by FFS Cargo. “The single-operator operation significantly increases our efficiency. This benefits the customers and increases the competitiveness of rail freight in respect of road carriage. We also avail of the automation to compensate for the surge of retirement expected in the coming years and the lack of new call-ups,” adds Nicolas Perrin, CEO of FFS Cargo.

The automatic brake test, which is part of the train preparation process, was designed and created by PJM. The digital system detects the status of the freight wagon brakes in a convoy and shows the outcome on a mobile device (such as a tablet). Operators can thus check the condition of the brakes directly from the electronic device.

The project focused not only on the timesaving but also on the safety aspect: with the automation of the system, the aim is to further increase the already high level of safety in the preparation of the trains.

Integration of monitoring and automation

The digital world offers many opportunities but it especially creates enormous benefits for transporters. PJM had long identified the need to apply digital solutions to rail freight transport and, with the patented WaggonTracker monitoring system, stood out as a pioneer in the digitalisation of rail freight traffic. WaggonTracker combines monitoring and automation whilst providing the fleet manager with a robust global solution that drastically reduces costs whilst greatly increasing efficiency. The system provides important real-time information about the fleet and automates onerous procedures. “The WaggonTracker system has been combined with an electronic safety system that reliably detects the condition of the brakes. The driver sees the outcome on their tablet,” explained the two CEOs, Martin Joch and Günter Petschnig, briefly illustrating how the system works. With respect to the operation and vehicles, the automatic brake test satisfies all the directives pertaining to safety.

Varying technical skills for a global concept

To date, the key success factor has been the close collaboration between the manufacturer and the railway transport companies, each of which has contributed its own added value, which has in turn multiplied the synergies that can be enabled: the manufacturer has provided technical expertise in electronics and software, whilst railway transport companies have contributed their know-how regarding the creation of value on the operational processes and the global railway system. As regards safety standards, all partners have adhered to the same reference: the European standard EN 50126, which applies to the development of systems throughout all rail environments. This defines a system of reference that is compatible with other rail transport undertakings.

Not being able to utilise an existing system, the partners faced considerable difficulties throughout the development.

Given that the automatic brake test requires a safety certificate in accordance with the Common Safety Methods (CSM), PJM and FFS Cargo must draft safety reports for all systemic components. With this system, FFS Cargo transfers part of the responsibility for human safety to technology, which must therefore meet operational safety standards.

Investment in the intelligent freight train

At present, the brake test is carried out manually for freight traffic, meaning that every time a train is composed, an operator must manually check the proper operation of the brakes on each wagon. This operation will automatically occur in the future. By doing so, the railway transport company becomes more reliable, whilst increasing the safety of its employees involved in manoeuvring and preparing the trains.

With the international development of rail freight products, the system solutions developed can be tested beyond national borders - in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. This speeds up the homologation procedures at a European level. This project represents an important milestone for technological development in rail freight traffic. Not only will interoperability be ensured but open standards for European freight traffic will also be tested.

Rail Freight Forward: freight transport to reach 30 percent by 2030

International collaboration for a European rail freight system is promoted by the Rail Freight Forward (RFF) initiative. RFF is a coalition of European freight railways that are committed to drastically reducing the negative impact of freight transport on the environment. To this end, they focus on a change of mobility, on innovation and an intelligent mix of transport means. For their activities with a much broader scope, the participating railway companies have identified the transport undertakings, their offering and the infrastructure as starting points, whilst for the framework conditions, focus is on the political sphere. RFF is currently comprised of 18 members.