From passenger to freight trains: RCG retrains drivers

Der Bedarf an Automatisierungslösungen im Bahnsystem wächst. Die Chance für die Bahn ist groß, das effiziente Verkehrsmittel der Zukunft zu sein. Dies ist jedoch nur möglich, wenn die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit gegenüber anderen Verkehrsträgern steigt. Das wird erreicht, wenn die Züge pünktlich und in kürzerer Zugfolge verkehren. Daher entwickeln Siemens-Experten seit Jahren an der Autonomie des Verkehrs. Auf der Schiene ist die Autonomisierung schon weit vorangeschritten. The demand for automated solutions for rail systems is increasing. Rail has a great chance of becoming the most efficient means of transport in the future. However, this is only possible if it increases its competitiveness in comparison with other means of transport. This is achieved when trains arrive punctually and in quick succession. Siemens experts have therefore been working on autonomous operation of rail transport for several years. Significant progress has already been made with this automation of rail transport.

Rail Cargo Group retrained its first four passenger train drivers to qualify them for driving freight trains. What are the key skills that an experienced train driver needs to develop to operate a freight train?

As RCG says, “not all train drivers are the same”. The ‘Traction Driver Licence Ordinance’ introduced in Germany in 2017 dictates that training institutes can choose whether to educate drivers on passenger or freight train driving. Due to lower costs, transport companies choose only the passenger train driving most of the time.

Understandably, if drivers want to make a career change to the transportation of goods, there is a gap that they need to fill. In fact, there is an entirely different programme they need to follow and acquire a new range of skills.

Train length and weight critical

“A switch in training to freight transport entails several challenges”, explains RCG. For instance, the trainees need to learn how to drive and brake differently according to the length and weight of trains. Freight trains are traditionally heavier than passenger trains. The length differences can also be substantial, but drivers need to learn how to handle a completely different type of vehicle when it comes to weight.

Driving might not be so challenging since the speed limits in freight transport are lower; however, stopping the train can prove more complicated. On top of that, since freight trains do not carry the same type and amount of cargo every time, drivers need to learn how to adapt to different situations and different landscapes (flat or steep routes).

Four drivers pass the test

“Identifying knowledge gaps and adapting the training accordingly is the first step to take when retraining drivers”, explains RCG. The Austria based company successfully trained four drivers this year for the first time. The drivers underwent theoretical and practical training and participated in a qualifying examination before officially turning to rail freight.

The four successful trainees. Source: Rail Cargo Group

The whole process lasted several weeks and included different locations for the different types of training. Nevertheless, this seems to be only the beginning in providing freight train driving courses for RCG since the company has already scheduled the next round of training in the spring of 2022.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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