KNORR-Bremse has announced it is developing a prototype Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) for freight use, which it plans to begin series production of by the middle of the decade.

Knorr-Bremse says it is developing the DAC according to the timeline envisaged in the European DAC Delivery Program (EDDP), which foresees the full-scale upgrade of as many as 500,000 freight wagons and around 17,000 locomotives across Europe by 2030. The Scharfenberg coupling system was selected in September as the European-wide standard for DAC.

“Provided the relevant conditions continue to improve at the present rate, we believe there’s a realistic chance of completing this ambitious migration to DAC by 2030,” says Dr Nicolas Lange, chairman of the management board of Knorr-Bremse Rail Vehicle Systems.

Dr Jürgen Wilder, member of the executive board of Knorr-Bremse and responsible for the Rail Vehicle Systems division, says that while rail currently produces the lowest carbon emissions per tonne-km, it must continue to invest in new technologies.

“We regard the digital automatic coupler as a key lever for bringing rail freight into the digital age,” he says. “If the political will to support this huge project continues, and the process of upgrading freight wagons is kicked off in the second half of this decade, we believe we’ll be in a position to become a leading supplier of DACs and many other automation systems for the rail freight industry.”

Freight trains are currently still coupled manually, with a pipe carrying compressed air for the braking systems. The DAC will house an air line together with data and power lines supplying the entire freight train, which Knorr-Bremse says will allow it to offer a package of innovative automation options for digital freight trains.

This includes the option to equip an electropneumatic (EP) braking system, automatic brake testing, data and communication services, a smart energy management system, condition-based maintenance (CBM) and cybersecurity to future freight trains.

Knorr-Bremse says it believes it is in a perfect position to make a significant contribution to satisfying the high market demand for couplers, and the company is also collaborating with other members of the industry as a member of EDDP and Shift2Rail. European manufacturers and operators are agreeing joint specifications and migration strategies, and DAC prototypes from individual manufacturers have already been tested in the field as part of EDDP’s DAC4EU project.

The company says the universal rollout of DAC will also accelerate the campaign to equip freight train fleets with digital automation systems, further increasing capacity.