The CEOs of the largest European rail freight operators came together on 4 May 2017 in Brussels to their yearly “High-Level Freight Meeting”. The meeting was presided by Mr Ferdinand Schmidt, Member of the Board of Rail Cargo Austria AG. Focus was put on digitalisation – on the “digital freight train”. Current challenges and the number of activities and projects in progress in this context prove that digitalisation is not only a buzzword for railways but will considerably change their business.
A first demonstrator of what is technically possible has already been realised by the French SNCF Logistics and was presented at the meeting by their CEO, Ms Sylvie Charles. A train composed of wagons with brake sensors interconnected by a protected wireless network allowed the locomotive driver to carry out the brake test from his cabin, without the need to walk along the train and visually check the status of each brake. Of course, this system must be reliable and fail-safe in order not to compromise the traditionally high safety standard of railways, and thus the next steps will be to make it ready for homologation.
Other digitalisation challenges stem from the need of digitisation in the proper sense of the word, namely replacing the exchange of data on paper documents by electronic transmission. Here, the change is not only driven by business needs but also by regulation such as customs rules and transport law. The UIC project “e-Rail Freight” addresses this challenge.
Tracking and tracing, Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) and competitive lead times are current requests from the market. So, it was a logical conclusion that an item of the agenda was dedicated to these topics and a delegation from the European Shippers’ Council (ESC) was invited to attend.
“Many shippers really believe in rail transport and even want more. But they have needs to which railway companies, for a number of reasons, often do not have the right solutions”, said ESC Chairman Jean-Christophe Hermand in his opening statement. Each ESC delegate, usually representing a large company with rather high transport volumes, added a short statement on their individual problems with railways and made known their expectations. After this round, the rail freight CEOs were given the opportunity to respond.
This format stimulated fair and constructive discussions, allowed a common understanding of the problems on both sides and paved the way for a joint approach to lobbying the European Commission regarding railway regulation.
Another item of the agenda was dedicated to ERTMS. The ERTMS Coordinator for the Trans-European Networks of Transport (TEN-T), Mr Karel Vinck, was invited as special guest to present the status of his activities.
The meeting concluded with the announcement from the Chairman, Mr Ferdinand Schmidt, that he will retire by end of May and so will cease presiding the High-Level Freight Meetings. All those present thanked him for his engagement and the valuable work over the years. Mr Loubinoux was then pleased to announce that a successful call for candidates came to the result to hand this task over to Mr Clemens Först, Rail Cargo Austria AG.
The next meeting is scheduled for 16/17 May 2018 in Vienna.