RAIL freight associations from Germany and eastern Europe say that deployment of the Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) should be optional. They have presented a memorandum setting out their concerns to Ms Magda Kopczynska, director-general of European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG Move).

The memorandum has been signed by the:

  • German Rail Freight Association (Die Güterbahnen)
  • Polish Federation of Independent Rail Operators (ZNPK)
  • Czech Association of Rail Freight Operators (Žesnad.cz)
  • Slovak Association of Rail Freight Operators (Aros)
  • Hungarian Railway Association (Hungrail)
  • Czech Association of Owners and Operators of Railway Vehicles (SPV), and
  • Slovak Association of Owners and Operators of Railway Vehicles (ZVKV).

The document sets out doubts over the business case for DAC deployment across the European Union (EU). It also highlights those areas of the DAC deployment strategy where more work needs to be done before any binding decisions are made.

Implementing DAC requires significant upfront investment in infrastructure, equipment and technology, the associations say. As freight operators face decreasing market share and declining profitability, the initial cost poses a barrier to adoption and will only be accepted if it is fairly distributed and clear economic benefits are demonstrated.

As DAC will undoubtedly increase rolling stock costs, without significant funding at both the EU and particularly the member state level, “EU-wide DAC uptake remains highly questionable,” the associations say. “Lessons learnt from other projects such as ERTMS must be reflected in DAC.”

Considering the competitiveness of the rail freight sector, the associations say that DAC is unlikely to be a game-changer for single wagonload traffic, or for block trains which shuttle back and forth for months without the need to couple or uncouple wagons.

As well as the high capital expenditure required to fit locomotives and wagons with the new coupler, which some DAC proponents would like to see funded by the taxpayer, ZNPK director general, Mr Michal Litwin, says that the operating costs of DAC will by its more complex nature be substantially higher than those for screw couplers.

“Our clients don`t want to bear these costs because they don’t mind which type of coupler we use, and the EU budget for transport is limited,” Litwin says.

“At some point in time a new type of coupler like DAC could become an option, but there is no reason to force users of conventional rolling stock to double the cost of their older wagons.”