Digital automatic coupler (Photo: DB Cargo)

EUROPE: ‘Serious concerns’ about the competitive, economic, technical and operational impact of deploying digital automatic couplers have been set out by associations representing private freight operators in central and eastern Europe. They say DAC offers numerous benefits, but ‘hasty and arbitrary solutions could further hamper the competitiveness of the rail freight sector and slow down modal shift.’

The associations have jointly signed a memorandum presented to the European Commission’s Department for Mobility & Transport. They say DAC implementation should be voluntarily rather than obligatory, and lessons need to be learned from other projects such as ERTMS.

They say the significant upfront investment which DAC requires is a barrier to adoption for private operators, and DAC will ‘undoubtedly increase’ rolling stock costs while not being a ‘gamechanger’. As such, they believe uptake will remain ‘highly questionable’ without significant funding from the EU and member states. They say ‘the investment must pay off from the perspective of each individual company, otherwise competitiveness will be reduced’.

They believe other legislative and technical obstacles should be dealt with first, and recommend looking at ‘simpler and cost-effective’ measures such as automating brake tests and wagon inspections.

Digital automatic coupler (Photo: DB)

‘The problem is that 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’, said Michal Litwin, Director General of Federation of Independent Rail Operators.

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

‘It also cannot become any kind of barrier limiting competition within the industry, by limiting access for screw couplers on parts of the network.’

The associations say upcoming tests of DAC under different operating conditions are vital for identify segments where DAC can bring benefits before any decisions are taken, but they are ‘quite confident’ that for typical market segments DAC would increase cost and complexity instead of competitiveness.

The memorandum has been signed by
German rail freight association Die Güterbahnen
ZNPK, the Polish Federation of Independent Rail Operators
ŽESNAD.CZ, the Czech Association of Rail Freight Operators
AROS, the Slovak Association of Rail Freight Operators
Hungarian railway association Hungrail
SPV, the Czech Association of Owners & Operators of Railway Vehicles
ZVKV, the Slovak Association of Owners & Operators of Railway Vehicles