Expert Panel: Achieving Intelligent Rail Freight
As part of our Achieving Intelligent Rail Freight In-Depth Focus, Global Railway Review asked a panel of experts: Over the next five years, what do you think the rail freight industry must focus on to be seen as a technology leader, not just a transportation provider?
Dr. Gerhard Troche, Managing Director, EU Rail Freight Corridor ‘Amber’
“There must be a strong focus on digitalisation and automation. These will play a key role in maintaining and strengthening the competitiveness of rail freight and for delivering transport services of high quality, enabling rail to enter new market segments.
“Digitalisation and automation allow speeding up and enhancing information flows within and between actors in the rail freight sector, and with customers, and have a tremendous potential in rationalising and improving operational processes in terminals, yards, train operations and traffic and capacity management. Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) is only one of many important measures but certainly plays a key role as an enabler of a much broader automation in rail freight. Automatised performance monitoring in near real-time and on the basis of ‘big data’ can provide valuable decision-support for the management of rail freight.
“A second focus must be on enabling rail freight to better exploit economies of scale. This means, in short, more cargo per wagon, more wagons per train and more trains on the network. Measures to achieve this include longer trains and in some cases higher axle- and meter-loads and enlarged loading gauges. These measures may appear ‘simple’, but compared to other modes, not least road transport, far too little progress has been made in the past decades in rail. Implementation of the TEN-T minimum infrastructure parameters – especially along the EU Rail Freight Corridors – is important, and it might also be worth to investigate if and where there could be a business‑case for even higher standards.
“Digitalisation and automation – in combination with improved economies of scale – will make rail freight a transport system technology leader, and will pave the way to substantially increased market shares for rail freight.”
John Felty, Managing Director, Amsted Digital Solutions SAS
“Over the next five years, a strong focus on digitalisation and its enabling telematics platforms will provide unparalleled opportunities to transform the rail freight industry and solidify its position as a technology leader. There are several key developments that are coming together that will drive these changes.
With all leading wagon owners now committed to equipping their fleets with telematics, the availability of real-time, actionable data on freight wagons is expanding rapidly. As deployments reach critical mass, benefits in efficiency, visibility, and operational reliability will become widely achievable. But not all platforms will provide equal benefits: ECMs with real-time component health information, for example, will be able to identify potential problems before wagons are forced out of service, reducing disruptions and associated costs. For those who invest in the right technology, improved performance and visibility will help rail freight level the playing field with trucking.
“Optimising the benefits gained from new information flows will be critical to securing technical leadership. Implementing big-data analyses into daily operations can provide new insights into problems while reducing costs. Amsted Digital Solutions, for example, has a programme called WagonIQ that uses machine learning and big data analyses to provide existing customers with the load status of a wagon without needing a load status sensor. WagonIQ based load status provides benefits to both rail logistics and maintenance planning. We are now launching a programme to upgrade thousands of wagons with this application over-the-air, all at no cost to our customers and partners. Similar projects are providing new insights on wagon health, dynamic ETA, and logistics flows.
“Of course, in our era of rapid technical advancement and change, no one company can be an expert on everything. The most important decision in securing a technical leadership position is therefore selecting the right innovation partners.”