GERMAN Rail (DB) reports that a test train equipped with prototypes of the Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) from different suppliers has successfully completed its first programme of field trials “with flying colours.”

The 18-wagon train fitted with 40 DAC prototypes has covered 10,000km in seven European countries over the last 18 months, visiting 25 marshalling yards and testing DAC operation in a wide range of climatic conditions and temperatures ranging from -25° C to 40° C.

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) is providing an additional €7m to fund a further phase of trials that will see the test train visit other countries and gather further data to feed into DAC development by suppliers.

The federal government is also making the case for more European funding for the DAC programme, and results of the testing programme so far were presented to members of the European Parliament on May 3.

DB says that the goal is to have the DAC ready for series production within the next few months.

The trials have been conducted by the DAC4EU consortium, which alongside DB and its freight operating subsidiary DB Cargo includes SBB Cargo and Rail Cargo Austria, as well as wagon leasing companies Streem (formerly Ermewa), GATX Rail Europe and VTG.

According to DB, DAC is a backbone for digitising rail freight, enabling wagons to be coupled and uncoupled in seconds and enabling continuous power and data lines to be provided throughout the train.

Automating and accelerating shunting operations is expected to provide considerable productivity and efficiency benefits, removing the need for manual coupling operations that can number up to 70,000 a day at DB Cargo alone.

“The sooner the DAC is ready for series production, the faster the revolution in freight transport can take place,” says DB board member for digitisation and technology, Dr Daniela Gerd tom Markotten.

“DB engineers accompany the tests together with the other partners and make the coupler fit for everyday use on the railway.”

DB board member for freight, Dr Sigrid Nikutta, says that automation and digitisation of rail freight is essential to achieve modal shift from road and achieve the climate change goals set by Germany and the European Union (EU).

“The DAC is an investment in the future of our planet,” she says. “The DAC has proven itself in tough day-to-day operations throughout Europe – technically we can start with conversion.”

“I am very pleased that the DAC has proven itself in everyday use and that we can help this pioneering technology to achieve a breakthrough by continuing European test operations,” says BMDV state secretary, Mr Michael Theurer.

“One thing is clear: how rail can react flexibly to the requirements of freight transport is directly related to how quickly we can get the digital freight train onto the rails.”