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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.

Railway connectivity is the key to boosting the Spanish port system

During the month of April the Spanish Ministry of Development (Fomento) requested the EU for funding to help support the transfer of goods from the road to the railway. The Port of Valencia will allocate this investment to the rail connection between Zaragoza and Sagunto, the new line between the ports of Seville and Sines, and the restructuring of SNCF in France.

Statistics published in the fourth month of the year showed that rail freight traffic in Spain has grown 6% in 2017, good news for the sector, although the figures of Renfe Mercancías for February 2018 are not as positive. In this regard, the operator has registered a 17% drop, to which all its traffic except intermodal have contributed.

This fact contrasts with the conclusions reached by the Corell Foundation, which argues that the differences in regulation and costs between the different modes of transport currently prevent a truly competitive and efficient intermodal transport system from being implemented in Spain.

In this regard, the Ministry of Development still awaits the approval of the European Commission to be able to include annual funding worth 25 million euros to facilitate the modal transfer of goods from the road to the railway in the budgets for 2018. Brussels has already given its approval to the subsidies proposed by Sweden, having considered them in accordance with the EU rules on state financing.

On the other hand, CETM Multimodal, Railgrup and Feteia-Oltra have signed an agreement in April to promote innovative projects in the field of multimodal transport.

Port and Railway Connections

Also in Spain, Adif will increase the carrying capacity on the line between Zaragoza, Teruel and Sagunto, a line in which the Port Authority of Valencia plans to invest around 100 million euros, of which one part will be allocated to rail access to Port of Sagunto.

Its objective is to attract more traffic from Aragon, which only uses its facilities to channel 16% of its maritime exports. Currently, the region finds its main outlet in the shores in Catalonia, and it is in the Port of Barcelona where 61% of the rail traffic has Aragón as its origin or destination.

In the south, MSC has already started the service between the ports of Seville and Sines, with a frequency of two round trips per week and a capacity of about 100 TEUs for each one. Meanwhile, in Cádiz, the City Council and the Port Authority have signed an agreement to connect the new container terminal of the port using the railroad.

In addition, in Vigo, the Port Authority and Adif will work on the definition of the project connecting the vehicle terminal with the railway. As for the future line that will link the city with Portugal, it was announced that it will admit the passage of trains of 750 meters.

Changes at the European level

Another neighboring country, France, has been in the news due to the restructuring of the SNCF public railway company, which has caused a wave of mobilizations among the unions for what they consider a privatization of the operator.

The plan involves the recapitalization of the 4,300 million euros debt accumulated by the merchandise subsidiary, to form an independent company, wholly owned by SNCF, but segregated from SNCF Logistics. To finance this whole process, the Gallic government plans to tax heavy vehicles, a measure that has been rejected by transport associations.

Both Spain and France continue to make progress in the implementation of railway motorways along the Atlantic and Mediterranean axes. In fact, the call for expressions of interest addressed to those interested in the exploitation of this type of service has already been officially published.

At the European level, it is worth mentioning the initiative of the Ferrmed Association, which has set up three multisectoral work groups to improve the infrastructure, operation and mobile material in the Trans-European Rail Network to reduce transport costs by more than 25% .

Source: Cadena de Suministro.

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