The triumph of the railway begins in England in 1825 and in Central Europe in 1835. After more than 190 years, the analogue rail freight transport is being transformed into the digital age. We make freight cars 'smart'.
In the second half of the 2010s, the first freight wagon fleets began to be equipped with 'telematics boxes', for example to transmit the current geographical position to a central platform. In this way, logistics and customer information (where is my delivery/when will it arrive) have been greatly improved and efficiency increased. Finally, the person responsible for service knows how many kilometers the freight wagon has actually covered and can therefore plan the workshop intervals better.
Sensors provide information about various components - e.g. wear on the brakes, load status/weight, door open/closed and much more. A lot of data is already being collected and attempts are usually being made to integrate it into existing (unfortunately rarely compatible) systems.
Thinking about a comprehensive 'asset management platform' in digitization optimizes these data analyses. This platform not only connects the information of the freight wagons with each other. Networked with all other data from infrastructure, workshops, scheduling and logistics, energy supply, etc. and with evaluation using intelligent analytical methods, everyone can benefit from each other and significantly increase the efficiency of the 'big picture'.
With the telematics boxes mentioned, the first and most expensive step of the IoT 'Internet of Things' journey has actually already been taken. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), the data can be used for many other useful applications. A good example of this is the SmartCargo project of Rail Cargo Austria, where A1 Digital equipped the wagons and implemented in-depth data evaluations and additional, efficiency-enhancing solutions with AI.
Pan-European initiatives, such as the renewal of the (very) old screw couplings on freight wagons, will make a significant contribution to speeding up the handling of freight trains and raising safety standards - e.g. in shunting. With the IoT journey that has already started, we not only want to make rail freight transport safer overall (e.g. with the direct control of electro-pneumatic brakes to significantly reduce the braking distance of the train), but also make it more competitive compared to other modes of transport.
After all, freight transport by rail is the most CO²-friendly cargo option. It will not be possible to achieve the climate goals without a major shift in traffic from road to rail, which is also shown by a large number of initiatives (such as: Shift2Rail, Rail Freight Forward, Noah's Train, ...). Digitalization is on track – the right course still needs to be set to optimize data use and networking.
"The telematics solution by A1 Digital enables our customers to track freight wagons in real time and find out their current position and estimated time of arrival."
Jürgen Rudolf has been working in traffic telematics for more than 20 years. He was on the board of ATTC (Austrian Traffic Telematic Cluster) for almost 10 years and on the board of ITS-Austria for more than 4 years. His most important positions were at Kapsch TrafficCom, the Council for Research and Technology Development, the Rail Cargo Group as Head of Innovation and now at A1 Digital as the person responsible for portfolio management and innovation.