Meet the automatic coupler that will revolutionise European rail freight

Digital Automatic Coupling

The future Europe-wide Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) design has been selected. The standard coupler head design that has prevailed over other prototypes is the Scharfenberg type. This decision is a milestone in the process that, during the next phases, will lead to transformation of coupling processes in European rail freight.

The decision for this particular prototype was taken by the Supervisory Board of the European DAC Delivery Programme on 21 September, after months of testing of various coupling versions. The industry had to agree on a coupling design that meets everyone’s requirements. The testing campaigns concerned the prototypes for two Scharfenberg type designs and one Schwab type design presented by the participating manufacturers Dellner Couplers AB, J.M.

Next phase

In the next phase, specific solutions will be presented by the manufacturers to cover the remaining other DAC requirements. Also, DAC Life Cycle costs will be determined.

All three manufacturers participating in the current test programme are competent in latch type couplers and can boost further development. More manufacturers will join the process in the upcoming stages, all aiming at establishing the Europe-wide DAC standard and enabling the introduction of DAC in Europe.

Revolution of rail

As coupling/decoupling is one of the two main procedures in train operations (train assembly and train driving), its automation is of utmost importance. Europe is trailing the world in this respect, as it is the last continent to use standard manual couplers. The sector proposes to fully deploy the DAC technology latest until 2030.

This will significantly improve competitiveness of the rail sector’s operations. It will provide electricity and pave the way for automated brake testing and electro-pneumatic brakes. Moreover, it will enable train consistency checks, which is an infrastructural prerequisite required for the introduction of ERTMS level 3.

Also read:

Digital Automatic Coupling high on European agenda

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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