INNOVATION

Next stop: Intelligent freight wagons

Digitalisation is also finding its way into freight transport. The aim is for modern telematics and sensors to improve the operation and maintenance of freight wagons and to make rail freight traffic even safer, more efficient and more reliable overall.

In this article, we explain why GPS (Global Positioning System) not only plays a major role in car navigation systems and in our smartphones. Because freight wagons can also be tracked and traced with pinpoint precision. GPS – installed in the wagon – makes it possible. Digitalisation does not stop at freight wagons. While they were previously more likely to be known for heavy steel parts and massive components, they are now entering the digital age. That’s why the Rail Cargo Group, SBB Cargo and PJ-Messtechnik are currently collaborating on a semi-automated train preparation system. Freight wagons on a test train have already been equipped with sensors and electronic components that enable automated – and consequently simpler, quicker and safer – brake testing. Traction unit drivers can now check the brakes directly by tablet from the driver’s cab. Both the function and the effectiveness of the brakes are discernible at a glance.

However, the automatic brake test is only one part of automated – and consequently competitive for the long term – rail freight traffic.

The waggon is getting equipped with sensors and electronic parts. © ÖBB_Roland Steinberger

The waggon is getting equipped with sensors and electronic parts. © ÖBB_Roland Steinberger

The waggon is getting equipped with sensors and electronic parts. © ÖBB_Roland Steinberger

State-of-the-art technology supplies important information

These electronic components fitted to the wagon allow even more essential information to be retrieved. The location of the wagon and its mileage and speed can be determined precisely at any time by means of a GPS signal. Furthermore, special sensors such as pressure sensors can display the load status. And special accelerometers register all shunting impacts. Last but not least, the condition of critical components such as the wheel set can be monitored continuously, and more reliable transport operations can be achieved thanks to fewer rolling stock failures.

The freight wagon as our messenger

Telematics and sensors make the freight wagon a digital and intelligent piece of rolling stock, a virtual communicator and a messenger. Because the data is transmitted over a mobile network to the server, where it is then evaluated and analysed.

Not least due to the current high costs of sensors, the focus in the first stage will lie in equipping some 13,700 wagons with GPS by the end of 2020; wagons where the economic benefit will quickly make a difference. Because, particularly in the field of wagon management, costs can be reduced significantly with this technology. In addition, the provisioning quality will be increased and the number of empty wagon runs reduced. Factors that will raise the service quality and hence customer satisfaction to a new level. The foundations for digital, automated rail freight traffic have now been laid. After all, automation and GPS data have long ceased to be alien concepts in the road haulage world.

Data relating to the position, mileage and speed of the freight wagon is transmitted over a mobile network to the server, where it is then evaluated and analysed. © ÖBB_Michael Ambrosch