GERMAN Rail (DB) launched trial operation of a freight train fitted with digital automatic couplers (DAC) on January 19.

The train will initially travel from Germany to Austria and Switzerland, followed by other European Union (EU) countries until the end of 2022.

Testing of DAC will take place in different driving situations experienced in Germany including steep inclines, sharp curves and different climatic conditions. Practical tests completed at the end of 2021 included line trips in Germany and coupling tests in marshalling yards. DB hopes that completion of the trials should lead to DAC series production.

The test train is part of a research project funded by the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) which has contributed €13m. The project involves a consortium comprising DB, DB Cargo, SBB Cargo, Rail Cargo Austria, Ermewa, GATX Rail Europe and VTG.

During a ceremony held to mark the departure of the test train, Germany’s federal minister for digital and transport, Dr Volker Wissing, described the introduction of DAC as solving a problem that has existed in Europe for more than 70 years. “This is a much-needed transformation that cannot wait another day,” he said.

Germany’s federal minister for digital and transport, Dr Volker Wissing, spoke at an event held to launch the train. Photo: BMDV

DB board member for freight, Dr Sigrid Nikutta, says DAC will make a fundamental difference to everyday tasks for the railway. “Around 70,000 times a day, our employees in shunting operations have to balance the coupling brackets, which can weigh up to 20kg, to shoulder height in order to couple trains,” she says. “Digitisation and automation of train operations send a strong signal to our logistics customers: Goods belong on the rails. Each of our trains saves 80 to 100% of CO₂ compared with road transport. And with the DAC, we are making the rail system much simpler and faster.”