Digital automatic coupling (DAC), source: Kai Michael Neuhold via Deutsche Bahn (DB)

European rail freight companies test automatic coupling

Digital automatic coupling (DAC), source: Kai Michael Neuhold via Deutsche Bahn (DB)

Six European rail freight companies led by DB Cargo have started the trials of digital automatic coupling (DAC) on wagons. The pilot project is dedicated to demonstrating, testing and obtaining regulatory approval for this technology. The tests will run from July 2020 to December 2022.

The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) has awarded the contract for this pilot project to the consortium led by DB Cargo. It consists of six companies from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France: three rail freight carriers DB Cargo, Rail Cargo Austria, SBB Cargo and three wagon keepers Ermewa, GATX Rail Europe, VTG. The German government allocated around 13 million euros for this project.

Two phases

The tests will be carried out in two phases. In the beginning, 12 freight and tank wagons of DB Cargo, VTG and GATX will be equipped with prototype couplers from four different manufacturers. Afterwards, the initial technical tests will start. The results of these tests will determine which type of coupler is ultimately selected.

Within the second stage of the trials, a demonstrator train consisting of 24 freight wagons equipped with the selected coupler type will perform the test runs in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other European countries. This will allow DAC to be tested in daily operations in a variety of areas, including at marshalling yards. After that, the results of these trials will be used for introducing innovation throughout Europe.


Currently, most freight trains are still coupled by hand using buffer-and-chain couplers. The DAC technology automatically connects freight wagons, as well as their lines for power, data and compressed air, without any need for strenuous physical work. Therefore, DAC will be significant progress in this area as it will make this process much more efficient and relieves strain on rail workers.

“We are delighted that we can implement this project together with our strong partners in the consortium. When the digital automatic coupling is introduced throughout Europe, it will be a revolution for freight transport by rail – and an enormous relief for employees,” said Sabina Jeschke, DB Board Member for Digitalisation and Technology.

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Author: Mykola Zasiadko

Mykola Zasiadko is editor of online trade magazines and

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