Digital freight wagon sets out on UK trial
Leasing company VTG Rail UK and Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems have introduced Britain to what they call a digital freight wagon. The partners have unveiled an example of rolling stock that’s connected to more than just the locomotive on the head of the train. The VTG iWagon is fitted out with a catalogue of freight technology, with a focus on enhancing safety, operational efficiency, and availability.
Britain’s rail freight family has had a first look at the iWagon, a piece of rolling stock laden with an array of digital technology, wired into the VTG Connect system, which the company says will serve as a gateway to future technologies. In the initial version, launched onto the British scene, VTG say the wagon design incorporates twelve digital innovations. The project’s first phase centres on a trial rake of nine wagons, put into service with the aggregates specialist Tarmac.
Monitors wheel slip and brake condition
VTG hope they may have to do little more than test the validity of the key safety features. Up for proving in this real-world trail are axle lock detection systems and wheel flat prevention technology. Both are common issues and sometimes can have serious consequences, such as the disastrous Llangennech derailment. The patented wheel flat prevention system monitors wheel slip and brake conditions, while new wheelsets equipped with axle generators provide power for the wheel flat prevention system and future digital innovations such as real-time maintenance tracking and temperature monitoring.
The wagons have been in service since the beginning of October. The four-month testing period on Tarmac’s daily return service between Dunbar in the south east Scotland and Seaham in County Durham in north east England will expose the rolling stock to a variety of conditions, including high speed running on the East Coast Main Line. Initial trial data is expected to be available in January 2024, ahead of plans to introduce the first 50 production-ready wagons in the second quarter of the same year.
Combine mechatronic expertise with digital monitoring
The iWagons derive power through axle generators and have the ability to manage wheelset slides in low-adhesion conditions – which sounds rather like the anti-lock brakes fitted to modern cars. The iWagon’s WFP system, while preventing a raft of safety and maintenance issues, also provides real time communication with the driver, and back to base. There’s also a Bluetooth capability for improved wagon condition assessment while still on the tracks. “Tarmac is one of the biggest users of rail freight in the country”, said Chris Swan, Head of Rail at Tarmac, who are among the leading advocates of rail freight operations. “The digitisation of the rail fleet sector will bring important performance and safety benefits, and so trials like this one with our partners in VTG and Knorr-Bremse are vital for the continued growth of rail freight.”
The collaboration between VTG Rail UK and Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems UK could open up the rail freight industry in Britain to a new level of technological intervention. “Working in collaboration with VTG Rail UK is very exciting for us at Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems UK”, said Sanjay Albert, Director of Engineering and Innovation at Knorr-Bremse. “[It is] part of our mission to combine mechatronic expertise with our digital monitoring capability. Our patented Wheel Flat Prevention technology increases wheel life and reduces potential deep wheel flats which may result in track damage, or in worst cases, derailment. Our digital monitoring capability will enable valuable insight generation to support our customers achieve efficient operations and maintenance as well as extent to wider industry benefits.”