SBB cargo trains. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SBB Cargo introduces automatic coupling in rail operation

SBB Cargo trains have started this month to operate with autocouplers. According to the freight operator this is the first step in automating the last mile of rail operations. In the past year SBB Cargo has converted around 100 freight wagons and 25 locomotives for combined domestic transport for automatic coupling.

The new autocouplers will make the shunting operation faster and safer. Wagons are joined to one other and to locomotives automatically – with no risk of injury for the shunting staff. Only one hand movement is needed to separate the wagons. Many operations are still performed manually today, which is expensive, time-consuming and labour-intensive.

Modernisation rail freight traffic

SBB Cargo said streamlining measures are urgently needed for railway freight traffic. The rail freight operator wants to play a pioneering role in “actively shaping the modernisation” in order to “increase its competitiveness against road traffic and to be a reliable partner for customers”.

The federal government is supporting the automation driven by SBB Cargo. On the basis of the Goods Carriage Act, it can financially support innovations in railway freight traffic to allow for efficient and sustainable development. The costs of converting the rolling stock amount to around CHF 15 million (13 million Euros) in total, with around CHF 9 million (8 million Euros) of this being contributed by the federal government.

Since the summer of 2018, SBB Cargo has fitted autocouplers to wagons and locomotives. From that point onwards, freight in combined traffic services, in other words container shipments, have been transported between the hub in Dottikon and the terminals in Dietikon, Oensingen, Renens, Cadenazzo and Lugano Vedeggio as well as to Biasca and Mendrisio.

“Around 200 employees received extensive training in advance for the project”, explains Jasmin Bigdon, Head of Asset Management at SBB Cargo, “Operations have been stable since the introduction of automatic coupling.”

Shortage of shunting staff

The automatic coupling is also a solution for the shortage of skilled shunting staff. SBB Cargo expects that it will be difficult to fill in vacancies that will arise with forthcoming retirements the coming two years. Other solutions for automatisation involve the automatic brake test and a collision warning system. These three technologies enable one-person operation, where in the past at least two employees were needed.

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor of RailFreight.com and chief editor of the ProMedia Group online magazines.

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