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EU action plan to secure safe transport semitrailer on pocketwagon

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An EU-wide action plan has been launched to avoid accidents involving semi-trailers transported on pocket wagons by rail. These semi-trailers may not be sufficiently secured against movement, the National Investigation Body (NIB) of Denmark concluded. The action plan follows a deadly accident on the Great Belt Bridge in Denmark on 2 January this year. Parts of a semi-trailer train came off and hit a bypassing passenger train, resulting in eight fatalities.

The NIB concluded that in particular, the mechanism that ensures the locking of the kingpin in the hitch (type FW6170) of the pocket wagons was found to be unlocked on several occasions. On 13 March, a task force was formed by the national safety authorities of Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, the NIB and other representative bodies, in order to define the measures required.


On 26 April, the task force agreed on an action plan which contains short-term risk mitigation measures addressed to railway undertakings, wagonkeepers, ECM’s and terminals. Most importantly, the placing of a semitrailer onto a pocketwagon must be supervised by a dedicated staff member. This person assures that the kingpin is placed into the guiding ring of the hitch and that there are no gaps between the hitch top plate and the semi-trailer plate.

After the placing of the semitrailer, procedures must be followed to check if this is done correctly, which is also done before the departure of the train. Also before the placement there are several actions that must be followed, in addition to maintenance of of the hitch and in particular of the mechanism to lock the kingpin. The action plan dictates which parties are responsible for the these procedures. It also states that the measures must be integrated in the safety management systems, contracts and instructions of these parties.

EU action

The action plan was formed in the framework of the Joint Network Secretariat (JNS), an EU body which aims at EU-wide harmonisations of any action taken after any issue, e.g. accidents or incidents in railways in the EU. Any railway stakeholder can submit a request for a JNS procedure to the JNS panel.

In this case, the National Safety Authority (NSA) of Denmark notified a request to launch a Joint Network Secretariat (JNS) Urgent Procedure. The JNS Panel, representing the entire railway sector, agreed and established a task force which was organised and chaired by the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA).

Safe transport

Although the conclusions of the NIB are uncompromising, transport of semitrailers on pocketwagons has been considered to be safe over the years. There have only been two accidents with pocketwagons during the last 13 years, ERA commented earlier. “Statistics show that transporting goods by rail is 19 times safer than transporting those same goods by road. When broken down by individual country the transport mode is safer than road in a range from twice as safe, up to 70 times safer”, ERA stated.

“In Denmark the figure is 18 times safer. This type of rail transport has an exemplary safety record. The accident on 2 January was the first ever reported accident in the country that involved a pocketwagon, while according to Danish statistics, just under 463 thousand of these trailers had been transported by rail in the period 2010-2018. Had these trailers been transported by road, we might speculate that there would have been one accident per 25 thousand trips, compared to one accident per 463 thousand trips by rail.”

Ban pocketwagons

Right after the accident took place, the Danish Transport Ministry (DtM) banned the circulation of pocket wagons on the Danish railway network.The ban was temporary and according to reports applicable for a two-week period. Moreover, the ban could be lifted if the single railway undertaking submitted documentation that proves the correct fixing of the kingpin of the semi-trailers into the supporting bock of the pocket wagon. This was accomplished by Hector Rail, CFL Cargo, TX Logistik, Hupac and also DB Cargo, the operator which was involved in the accident.

According to ERA, the temporary ban caused considerable costs to railway operations and logistics chains in Europe. “ERA understands why the Danish safety authorities have issued the ban. Our concern is, however, that this will lead to an increase of costs and freight transport by road”, it commented in February.

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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