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Europe’s Rail FP5-TRANS4M-R brings you the next generation rail freight

To benefit the rail sector and its final users, our new Flagship Project 5 (FP5) TRANS4M-R, worth EUR 95.1 million with 71 partners, is ready to establish rail freight as a backbone of the lowest emission and most resilient logistics chain in Europe, fulfilling the end customer requirements to their full satisfaction. In this article FP5-TRANS4M-R Flagship Project Manager, Molley Williams from our Founding Member Deutsche Bahn explains what to expect from the project.

Tell us what is encompassed in ‘Transforming Europe‘s Rail Freight’ and how will the concept change the transport landscape in Europe?

FP5-TRANS4M-R’s overall goal is to establish rail freight as a backbone of the lowest emission and most resilient logistics chain in Europe, fulfilling the end customer requirements to their full satisfaction. Therefore, the project builds upon the goals and vision of the European Union addressing the needs to significantly boost the rail freight transport through increased capacity, strengthened cross-border coordination and cooperation between rail infrastructure managers, better overall management of the rail network, and the deployment of new technologies, such as digital coupling and automation. These goals set the foundation, frame, and ambition for the project.

How will FP5-TRANS4M-R ensure rail freight becomes the backbone of a low-emission, resilient European logistics chain?

FP5-TRANS4M-R project brings together 71 European partners from end-users, large industry, railway undertakings, operators and wagon keepers, SMEs, academia and research centres and bodies, thus, covering the entire value chain. The project will deliver fully digital freight train operations by means of developing an interoperable DAC-enabled technologies and applications, not yet available, ensuring a seamless operation across actors, transport modes and countries. Moreover, FP5-TRANS4M-R partners aim to experimentally assess the developed interoperable DAC equipment and thereby enabled software functionalities. It will demonstrate the digital interoperability capability of the software defined systems and the new digitalised operational procedures, both in a closed environment – Train Test Lab – and under real-world conditions in a large-scale demonstration campaign.

What are some of the main objectives of the FP5 TRANS4M-R project and how will they facilitate improved freight services?

Following the path paved by the Shift2Rail R&I programme, using the strength and platform of Europe’s Rail, the project will consequently boost innovation for the European rail freight sector by setting the projects high-level objectives linked to technical objectives:

Higher throughput and shorter transportation duration

This includes a scalable, upgradable DAC systems with functionality level up to 5 and with non-arguable interoperability across suppliers and across technologies by an integrated systemic approach in the European sector. Additionally, the project will also work on Digital Yard Automation and Management Solutions by means of strong-interacting wayside and DAC-enabled systems for fully automated yard operation and single staffed last mile operation. This will also be accompanied by new digitally enabled operational procedures embedding meaningful information from different sources. For example, operational and organisational procedures going from a non or semi-automated environment towards a digitalised and fully automated operations.

Maximise flexibility and reliability of rail freight services

The objective of maximising flexibility and reliability of rail freights includes a series of aspects. For instance, provision of effective intermodal prediction algorithms based on AI models to boost decision making performance and quality in traffic, yard, and timetable operations management, as well as planning and operation will be investigated. Customers will receive early information and communication on deviations and delays, as well as their impact.

The project will also look at developing functions and tools that will bring forward a much more seamless planning, covering the complete end-to-end rail service. This work will also, for example, include the enhancement of yard and terminal planning systems for an agile interaction with network planning systems and processes.

At the heart of the project is also harmonised real-time interface between railway traffic management system and the yard and terminal management systems to dynamically adapt planning and tasks in yards and terminals according to real-time evolution of traffic and availability of assets

Flexibility and reliability of rail freight will be enhanced by enabling improved cross-border operations through the use of standardised European railway checkpoints, including the deployment of innovative technologies, such as intelligent video gates, which also contribute to improved maintenance processes and safety performance.

Not only that, but also combination and integration of multimodal services for harmonised transport planners with booking support functions will allow a demand-responsive network planning, optimised loading and capacity algorithms.

Mitigating demographic change

Mitigating demographic change is one of the key objectives of the project. For instance, we will look at ‘Full Digital Freight Train Operation’ (FDFTO) procedures minimising physical health exhaustion underlying the increased occupational safety for shunting staff, as well as increasing the safety and reducing physical health exhaustion for personnel in the field, such as the wagon master.

What are some the main challenges the project will have to overcome?

There are several challenges that the dedicated project team will have to overcome in the next years. I can mention a few, such as functional requirements that change during the project, or incomplete hazard and risk analysis. For example, hazards identified after starting the engineering and testing will restart the project.

Also, various definitions and interpretations of the same standards, functionalities, requirements, specifications in different subtasks leading to lack of interoperability of the later developments and redundant work effort needs to be taken into consideration and monitored. Similarly, uncertainties in authorisation processes can both delay the project demonstration activities and has impact on planning and resources.

When can we expect to see the first results coming from the project and what will these results cover? 

I am glad to say that the project is well advancing, and we have already achieved several key results in 2023. For example, we have set out the preliminary operational procedures which describe critical first input for the technical specification. Not only that, but we have also produced Freight System Requirement Specifications, as well as an Authorisation Strategy and overall Safety Plan.

Another achievement was the development of a clear System Integration Plan and Test concept for DAC components, as well as System Specifications for Combined Containers.

We have also had a successful collaboration with the FP3-IAM4RAIL project where with their relevant input we managed to produce a report on the basic functional and technical specifications regarding condition monitoring systems (CMS).

Two other reports worth highlighting are the risk assessment and harmonised safety architecture report, as well as the basic functional and technical specifications for the realisation of the technical enablers of seamless freight.

We of course do not stop working and have a busy calendar ahead of us in 2024. We will be specifically looking at Subsystem Specifications for the DAC System, DAC Functional Requirements and the provision of DAC 5 ready couplers. Of course, an extremely exciting activity will be the start of the real demonstrations with the FP5 test train in Sweden, testing the coupler in various weather conditions.

What are the demonstrations expected to be carried out in the project and is there a calendar for those interested? 

Again, a busy schedule is ahead of us, and we have planned series of activities that will be well reported on the Europe’s Rail channels. I will give you a little sneak preview of what you can expect, such as the demonstration of proven functionality and interoperability compliance of the EU harmonised DAC with the required backbone system, energy and data, will be carried out in the ‘Train Test Lab’ as pre-requisite for the large-scale demonstrator mentioned above.

At least three train sets equipped with an upgradable DAC Type 4 running in carefully selected corridors in Austria, Italy, Sweden and Norway will take place. At least two locomotives with hybrid couplers will be retrofitted. The train sets will be equipped with a full stack of interoperable FDFTO technologies, whereas the demonstrator will be coordinated in order to leverage the gained insights and impact.

Important to also mention the real time demonstration of basic automated operational procedures by an automated flat yard/last mile will take pace.

The demonstration efforts will also showcase, in a pre-production environment, the short-term detailed freight-path request, preparation and negotiation process with the infrastructure managers. This includes last-mile and facility slots and cross-border cases, respecting track reservations, occupations and other kind of capacity restrictions.

We also plan to highlight the integration and harmonisation of multimodal services in transport planners with easy booking support and a live update of the ETA for predefined milestones. The showcase will take place on various systems.

Last but not least, we plan to showcase technologies for standardised European checkpoints at borders and terminals, including the use of the Intelligent Video Gate technology.

Can you explain how the project contributes to the European Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, and the recent Greening Freight Package of the European Commission?

FP5-TRANSF4M-R is focusing on the key innovation drivers for the rail freight system to shift transport volumes to rail, reducing substantially the related greenhouse gas emissions. To speed up the innovation availability, the project’s activities are split into two distinct clusters ‘Full Digital Freight Train Operation’ and ‘Seamless Freight Operation’. Both clusters are fundamental to achieve the EU Green Deal objectives of the European Union and will only collaboratively secure a significant improvement of rail freight. This project is crucial, as it will provide the required concepts, guidelines and technical solutions for pilots and demonstrators preparing suitable market-ready solutions.

How is the work done in the Shift2Rail projects dedicated to rail freight facilitating the work of FP5-TRANS4M-R and are there any concrete examples? 

There are numerous projects which directly relate to the FP5-TRANS4M-R goals and objectives. It is important to note that a large volume of consortium members were active participants in the Shift2Rail projects. This will ease the transfer of information and knowledge and will speed up the integration of the results in the project. Some of the relevant projects are, for example, FR8RAIL projects where first technical requirements and first DAC tests with one single manufacturer were performed.

Another important development in Shift2Rail was the development of a proof of concept and demonstration activities for Intelligent Video Gate, at the heart of FP5.

How is FP5-TRANS4M-R interacting with the other EU-Rail FPs and the System Pillar? 

The activities planned within the project aim at having a huge impact in the long-term scientific development. Within the technical work packages, the main objectives for the success of FP5-TRANS4M-R are addressed. These will be embedded in a common rail freight system architecture which will enable harmonised and standardised operation. One specific work package is aligned to collect the inputs from the other work packages and to liaise with the System Pillar. Thus, it is a key milestone of the technological impact that all technical contributions fit to the overall rail system architecture.

Also, FP5-TRANS4M-R will provide inputs to the European Regulations through the System Pillar, and standards reflected in the TSIs, as well as suggest new specifications and standards usable for the successful implementation in FDFTO in the European rail sector.

Why is the work done in this project important for the final users?

FP5-TRANS4M-R’s activities are set to deliver the rail freight sector’s commitment – increase the modal split share to 30% by 2030. Digitally operated freight has the potential to alter the face of road transport by leading to a safer, more sustainable, and more efficient traffic. Consequently, the causality between economic growth in Europe and pollution, as well as congestions will be revoked. This is a major impact on the everyday life of Europe’s citizens as it increases the quality of life. Shift2Rail has already shown that, with new rail freight technologies, punctuality and reliability can be increased by more than 70 % while life cycle costs can be reduced by more than 30%. Rail freight fulfilling the customer needs will play a significant role and impact the future energy supply concepts and strategies when it comes to energy share and energy allocations for mobility and transport in terms of future holistic energy management.

The introduction of DAC-enabled applications and intelligence functions are opening further scalable opportunities for market growth. Besides, the introduction of software enabled systems for the rail freight transport will impact the way how rail freight is being operated. Digitally enhanced operational procedures will lead to more productivity, cost-efficiency and will maximise safety of marshalling personnel while reducing physical health exhaustion. The entire rail freight sector in its full extent – as we know it today – will be positively impacted and will benefit from the results and R&I outcomes of the project.