Innovative tank container BASF. Photo: BASF

These innovations hit the tracks in 2018

Innovative tank container BASF. Photo: BASF

This year, several key players in the rail freight industry have launched innovative concepts; from bogies to wheelsets, from brakes to tank containers. While SBB Cargo is launching operations of its 5L Demonstrator, DB Cargo and VTG are running trials of another innovative freight car and BASF is increasing its collection of innovative tank containers.

Innovation is the only way to move forward and make rail a competitive mode of transport, is the consensus. At the same time, the European market for new rail freight cars is small and volatile. Around 10 thousand wagons are built per year. These wagons usually have a life cycle of 20-30 years, which limits the possibilities of introducing new technologies. The following projects can be seen as pioneers of innovation in the rail freight sector.

5L demonstrator

The 5L Demonstrator is a project supported by numerous actors of the sector in order to test and implement available innovative technologies. 5L stands for Low-noise, Lightweight, Long-running, Logistics-enabled and Life cycle cost-oriented. The project is led by SBB Cargo, while industry partners supply various components that makes up a sustainable rail car. SBB assembles the equipment and operates the wagon. The 5L demonstrator had to travel at least 400,000 kilometre in its test phase. This month the innovative train should become operative in Switzerland.

A total of six different systems have been tested for their functions and properties during operation. These systems include bogies, brakes, wheelsets, measures for noise reduction, telematic applications and automatic coupling. The wagon should produce less wear and tear and result in a reduction of noise emissions by 5 dB to 10 dB in comparison to conventional trains. In addition, sensors transmit precise values displaying the performance of the individual components in use. The first results of the operational phase should become evident by the end of the year, says SBB Cargo.

Innovative Freight Wagon

Another innovation to be seen on track this year is the Innovative Rail Freight Wagon of DB Cargo and VTG. Twelve innovative freight wagon prototypes are tested this year on various routes in Germany and if approved, also in neighbouring countries. A total distance of at least 150,000 km should be covered for this particular test, in order to draw conclusions relating to wear and tear and economic efficiency, pointed out VTG.

Various wagon types are considered within the scope of this project. VTG is testing an 80′ container car and a tank car, while DB Cargo is assessing a six-axle flat wagon for transporting steel products, such as slabs or coils, and a car-transporter wagon. “The wagons are all fitted with innovative components which have generally not yet achieved a high level of market penetration. They should make a positive contribution towards noise mitigation and reducing energy consumption levels. In some instances, these components are being tested on all four vehicle types. This includes an electro-pneumatic brake, a digital brake indicator, power and data bus wiring or quiet wheelsets with wheel noise absorbers. Other features, such as targeted weight-saving designs, are specific to particular wagons”, explained VTG.

Innovative tank container

Already in use are the innovative tank containers developed by BASF and manufactured by the Belgian van Hool. These new 45 and 52-foot tank containers can be transported with container railway wagons, so they offer greater flexibility than traditional railway tank cars. Meanwhile, they have a maximum volume of 73,000 litres and a payload of 66 metric tonnes, meaning its load capacity is double that of today’s typical tank containers and similar to that of a chemical rail tank car, BASF pointed out.

The new tank container can be transported on any kind of railway track and can be stored efficiently, as up to six can be stacked on top of each other. Ninety containers are currently in use in Ludwigshafen, where BASF holds its headquarters. Another 550 will be delivered this year.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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