Sector statement: ‘EU investments priority for DAC implementation’
The rail freight sector reaches out to Brussels to address the pressing matter of Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) implementation on a European level. Major associations and their members send a clear message: the EU should streamline public sector investments for the transition, DAC should be clearly defined, harmonised, and intensively tested before implementation, and a centralised European deployment management entity should monitor the whole process.
The much-contested DAC implementation on a European level by 2030 is broadly welcomed by the rail freight sector. However, recently, the discussion has also raised some points of concern, with industry voices stressing that the sector is not ready for the transition by 2030.
That is because the DAC technology has not been tested enough to ensure smooth and safe operations. At the same time, the transition costs are still covered by a layer of fog, with operators, for instance, questioning whether they can afford the costly transition of their fleets from manual coupling to the DAC.
As a response to the ambiguity, the sector produced a joint statement led by associations such as CER, UNIFE, UIRR and FEDECRAIL and supported by key industry players like ÖBB Rail Cargo Group, DB Cargo, Lineas, Knorr-Bremse, Alstom, SBB Cargo and Siemens among others. The backing partners also sent letters to Commissioner Adina Valean to express their support for the sector statement and the proposals it includes.
The sector unanimously recognised the need for funding coordination on a European level if DAC is to be successfully launched and implemented. “The market alone cannot bear such a transformation, and no single company will be able to gather alone the necessary capital investments for such an endeavour because it is first and foremost a European scale type of investment”, reads the statement.
As a result, the demand is clear and unanimous: transitioning to DAC cannot take place only via private funding because, first, it is costly, and second, the project is part of a broader EU attempt to make its transport sector greener. Brussels should thus come up with a sufficient funding plan. “A single, non-discriminatory, European funding and financing scheme, set up jointly by the EC as well as EU and non-EU countries, has to be guaranteed for the whole DAC migration period to cover the upgrading of existing wagons and locomotives and other asset-related and operational expenditure related to the DAC introduction”, stressed the joint statement.
A safe and realistic plan
Many industry players have openly expressed their scepticism about whether or not DAC is safe to use only with the tests carried out so far. Consequently, the only way to move forward is by eliminating such concerns by deploying extensive tests and validating the results of real operating conditions. The migration should only occur if the testing results prove that the final DAC product delivers the expected benefits. Before proceeding to the testing, however, defining what DAC, its technologies and operational procedures are, is crucial.
Following the testing period, there are additional steps to be taken: for instance, the sector asks that the European Agency for Railways is involved in the process by providing the relevant authorisation certificates for rolling stock while also taking into account the fleet availability during this process.
Given that everything rolls out properly, then comes the migration to the new coupling system. Sector representatives underlined that the only way to a successful migration is “a realistic and sound plan agreed by all actors and in close cooperation with EU and non-EU countries. Moreover, the migration should also include a buffer period in which screw coupling and DAC will coexist, making the transition more gradual and manageable for operators to keep up with.
Ensuring proper coordination
The sector statement also defines three steps the EU should follow for a successful DAC transition. According to the signatories, the period between 2023-2028 should be used to create an adequate legal and budgetary framework. The 2025-2028 period is defined as the DAC Pre-Deployment period. These three years will serve as DAC’s intensive testing period across Europe, “with around 100 pre-deployment trains to prepare a successful migration and to start DAC industrialisation”. The total costs for the testing are estimated at 210 million euros.
From there, and from 2028 onwards, the sector will enter the DAC Deployment period, in which DAC will start being implemented at a full scale given the needed funding, which is estimated at around 13 billion euros. In this case, one of the most important aspects is the management of the whole process. The signatories insist on creating a centralised European Deployment Management Entity to oversee the transition while ensuring proper communication with the EU and member states.