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Driverless wagon ready to hit the track in the Netherlands

Autonomous single wagons that access whatever train path is accessible: that is the future of rail freight. These wagons will make rail as flexible as road, believes Paul van Bers, Innovation Project Manager at Container shift2rail. The wagons are already there, but some challenges remain. Van Bers will present this innovation at the Freight and Terminal Forum, taking place from 26-28 March in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

It was in 2012 when van Bers stood at an airport, looking at the luggage belt. Thousands of luggage pieces are thrown on this belt every day, and find their way to the right destination. The sorting is done behind the scenes. “I suddenly realised that this is the future of rail, this is how individual containers should be arranged and distributed to end up on the right track. It is a first-mile rather than a last-mile service.”

Autonomous wagon

Van Bers gathered a group of people equally enthousiastic about the idea and applied for a subsidy in the Netherlands, where he lives. “I received 100 thousand Euro to realise the concept.” Two years later, the wagon was there, ready to hit the tracks. RWTH Aachen University had built an automated unit. The software was provided by Container shift2rail.

“The software makes this wagon autonomous. It is a smart wagon, it can improvise and react. It can operate alongside the traffic management system of a network, as it is able to observe when a train path is available. As such, it does not need to request a train path in advance.”

Flexible modality

It is this last asset that makes the wagon an ideal unit to compete with the road, explained van Bers. “Rail is a non-flexible modality; when an operator wants to carry out a train journey, it must first check train path availability and then request access many days in advance. A truck on the other hand can depart when required. This autonomous wagon can do the same.

“Currently, the sector is focussing on longer trains, to be able to carry more cargo in one journey. That is a good solution for the transport of bulk, which usually requires several wagons for the same cargo. But containers are like people; they all have a different origin and various destinations. If these can be moved individually and immediately when required, rail truly becomes a more flexible modality.”

Hurdles

Nevertheless, there are still a lot of hurdles on the way, van Bers admits. Today, seven years later, the wagon is still not on track. To begin with, the software system that allows the wagon to spot available train paths – the Supervisory Route Control System (SRCS) must be marketed. Moreover, the concept should be embraced by the industry. “We need to gain trust from train operators, so they are interested in using this rolling stock”, the innovator noted.

The introduction of the wagon could be phased out in three stages, he explains. For this, the company has considered specific locations in the Netherlands, such as the Maasvlate II at the Port of Rotterdam. Here, the wagon could be used for inter-terminal transport. In the same premise, the wagon could serve as feeder to the Rail Service Center (RSC).

“Eventually, we should create extended gate terminals to access the hinterland rail network. For example, the Betuweroute in the Netherlands could have a dedicated entry point for the autonomous wagons, in so it does not clash with the regular traffic. In this way, large terminals will experience a smoother flow of goods to the hinterland, or the other way around.”

Freight and Terminal Conference

Paul van Bers will provide a workshop about the innovative concept at the Freight and Terminal Forum, which takes place from 26-28 March 2019 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Registration for this large-scale event is already open.

Source: Railfreight.com

The Escola Europea kicks off the year with a course in railway intermodality

During the third week of January the first course for professionals of 2019 was organised by the Escola Europea – SURCO Operations II. This course offered advanced training in intermodal logistics and international freight transport.

The training is directed at professionals linked to companies involved with freight transport, shippers and/or port authorities.

The course analyses the different elements required for the provision of rail services, and give the necessary training and information to those who manage logistics chains in which the railroad is seen as a cost-effective alternative for services, cost or time. It also promotes the use of rail transport by exploring its characteristics.

The group of more than 20 participants came from companies such as SEAT, DB Shenker, NAFOSA, Campofrío. PortIC, Logiral, Aralogic, and from port authorities and dry ports (Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Castellón, Avilés, Santander, Vilagarcía de Arousa, Cartagena, and Azuqueca. They had the opportunity to gain specialist knowledge in international rail transport. Alongside the theoretical classes, two out of the five days of the course were dedicated to practical workshops: one in Zaragoza to see the operations of the traffic control centre of ADIF and from the Maritime Terminal of Zaragoza (tmZ), and the other to discover the various railway infrastructures on the border between Spain and France (Port Bou terminal, LFP (transborder tunnel of Pertús) and the LorryRail terminal). The format of the training impressed all of the participants, as stressed by one of the participants “The visits were very useful, and combining theory and practical workshops is very good. The global experience is very good and extremely satisfying.”

From the 10th to the 12th of June 2019, a new edition of SURCO Operations I will take place in Barcelona. This introductory course will offer training in logistics and railway operators, infrastructures and equipment, legislation and documentation, freight railway services and railway terminals in ports. For more information you can consult: https://www.escolaeuropea.eu/calendar/surco-operations-i-2019/ . In the first half of 2019 the Escola will hold four other courses dedicated to professionals which will focus on technical aspects of transport (including temperature controlled freight, consolidated shipments and port operations). You can find information of these courses on the Escola’s website.

The Escola Europea trains professionals in intermodal railway logistics

After the stellar successes obtained during the past editions of the SURCO series, the Escola has completed this summer’s SURCO Operations I course for Spanish professionals, which offered introductory training on intermodal railway logistics.

The course took place between the 2nd and the 4th of July 2018 in Barcelona. Designed for professionals of freight transport companies in the maritime and railway sectors and students of logistics and transport, it introduced an analysis of the different elements needed in order to offer efficient services in intermodal railway-maritime transport.

SURCO (Simple Use of Railway COnnections) courses aim to promote the use of railway transport by providing training and necessary information to those professionals who will decide on and manage logistics chains in the future in which the railway could be used as a viable alternative in terms of services, costs and time. They also work towards the promotion of co-modality as a viable and sustainable alternative to transport that relies primarily on the road.

During the 3 days the course participants had the opportunity to discover infrastructures and equipment involved in port-railway transport and learned about the regulations and documents necessary to manage rail freight transport services in intermodal interactions. The theoretical lectures covered maritime-rail transport and logistics, rail services required for freight transport, and rail terminals in ports. The July edition also offered a detailed analysis of the current situation in Spanish ports in terms of infrastructures, railway network characteristics, and the service zones, among other things. The theory was accompanied by practical visits to the Port of Barcelona (including trips to Hutchison BEST semi-automatic container terminal, AUTOTERMINAL car terminal and the solid bulk terminal Tramer, operated by ICL; a visit to a marshalling yard and to Logistainer, a logistic operator at CAN TUNIS complex; and a visit to ADIF’s integrated management centre.

SURCO Operations was carried out in collaboration with the Port of Barcelona, Adif, Autoterminal, FGC Ferrocarrils, ICL, Hutchison’s BEST Terminal, Transportes Portuarios and Transportes Tomás.

The educational focus of the Escola is based on research: students attend lectures and practical workshops that encourage collaborative work and group cohesion as a means to optimize the development of logistics chains.

For more information check out the SURCO section of our website.

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