Project presentation

Back­ground to the BMDV’s contract research

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) wishes to boost climate-friendly rail transport and promote innovation and research in the rail sector. Digital automatic coupling (DAC) is a key innovation contributing to the digitalisation and automation of rail freight transport (RFT). It can increase the efficiency, reliability and competitiveness of RFT in Europe. The BMDV is therefore promoting the Europe-wide introduction of DAC.

To this end, the BMDV commissioned a research project in 2016 entitled ‘Construction and Testing of Innovative Freight Wagons’. The year-long in-service testing also involved automatic coupling systems being tested, resulting in important findings regarding the use of automatic coupling in rail freight transport. Link: Innovative freight wagons.

In 2019, the BMDV commissioned a study on the ‘Development of a concept for the EU-wide migration to a digital automatic coupling system (DAC) for rail freight transportation’ for the purposes of identifying principles.

The migration study showed that many European railway undertakings and wagon keepers supported the introduction of DAC Type 4. This is also illustrated by the establishment of an EU-wide DAC migration programme, the European DAC Delivery Programme (EDDP).

A BMDV pilot project to accelerate the DAC migration process for the demonstration, testing and approval of DAC was awarded to the DAC4EU consortium (= Digital Automatic Coupling for Europe) on 22 June 2020.

This project involves various manufacturers’ coupling prototypes being tested in order to determine the basic principles for the selection of a standard DAC for the EU. Once the test series have been concluded, a demonstrator train is to be constructed with the DAC design selected by the EDDP. The BMDV is providing funding for the project of approximately 13 million euros up to the end of 2022.

The EU transport ministers have likewise made a commitment to this technology and established DAC as a key European project in the area of rail freight transport in the Berlin Declaration.

Introduction of the partners


Deutsche Bahn (DB AG) based in Berlin is a leading supplier of mobility and logistical services with a focus on rail transport in Germany. About 340,000 employees are employed by DB Group, including over 200,000 in the integrated rail system. The integrated operation of transport and rail infrastructure and the economic and environmental linking of all modes of transport move both people and goods.

In passenger transport, DB AG transports more than seven million people each day on trains and buses in the integrated rail system. In rail freight transport, the DB AG network carries more than 230 million tonnes of freight each year. At about 33,000 km, the DB AG rail network in Germany is Europe’s longest and DB AG is also one of Germany’s largest energy suppliers.
In Europe, DB Group is the market leader in regional rail passenger transport and second in long-distance rail passenger transport.

DB Group is also the market leader in track infrastructure and in operating stations in Europe, as well as in European rail freight transport and in European land transport.

With the new Strong Rail strategy, DB Group is focusing on the business operations of the integrated rail system. As such, Europe will continue to be DB Group’s field of activity. In 2019, it generated a turnover of approximately 44.4 billion euros.

DB Cargo AG

Nowhere around the world is the rail network as dense as in central Europe. DB Cargo, Europe’s largest and most efficient rail freight company, operates at the heart of this network. It serves its customers from all industries as a one-stop shop for fast, efficient and reliable Europe-wide rail transport services.

With approximately 4,200 railway sidings throughout Europe and activities in 17 European countries as well as in China, DB Cargo affords its customers access to one of the largest rail networks in the world. DB Cargo is therefore the number one company for rail freight transport in Europe. With more than 82,000 freight wagons and approximately 2,700 locomotives, it boasts Europe’s largest rail fleet. DB Cargo is promoting the digitalisation and automation of locomotives and freight wagons as well as the processes at marshalling yards and workshops.

Ermewa SA

Founded in 1956, Ermewa SA is a European market leader in freight wagon rental. The company has a fleet of 42,000 freight wagons for freight forwarding companies, railway undertakings and industrial companies in all sectors: steel, oil, gas, chemicals, palletised goods, aggregates, containers, timber, foodstuff, etc. Ermewa can supply both standard freight wagons and tailored solutions for specific requirements.

Over the past 60 years, the company has expanded its activities in the vast majority of European countries and now has a workforce of more than 200 employees at 17 sites around Europe. Ermewa SA is a subsidiary of the Ermewa Group, the European market leader in asset management.

As a rail freight transport market player, the company expedites innovations and contributes to the development of the next generation of freight wagons and materials.

GATX Rail Europe

GATX Rail Europe (GRE) based in Vienna, Austria, is a leading, full-service tank and freight wagon lessor that supplies its high-quality, diverse fleet in more than 20 countries in Europe. Its experienced, service-oriented team makes tank and freight wagon rental and rail transport simple, efficient and seamless. As a wagon owner and keeper charged with ECM functions 1 to 3, GRE uses a customer-oriented model offering swift solutions so that the customers can focus on their core business.

Upward of 220 customers across various industries utilise GRE’s more than 25,500 tank and freight wagons as an efficient, environmentally friendly, safe and competitive solution relative to other transport modes.

Its strategically located offices across Europe allow for localised customer support. In addition to its state-of-the-art full-service and repair workshop in Poland (WSO Ostróda – ECM function 4), GRE has long-standing relations with numerous repair workshops and producers of tank and freight wagons throughout the continent. GRE is part of GATX Corporation, a lessor of tank and freight wagons which has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange for more than 120 years (NYSE ticker: GATX).

Rail Cargo Austria AG

The Rail Cargo Group is ÖBB’s freight traffic service provider. With 9,340 employees, subsidiaries throughout Europe and an annual turnover of 2.3 billion euros, the Rail Cargo Group ranks among Europe’s leading rail logistics companies. Its comprehensive production network with end-to-end logistics solutions covering the entire Eurasian continent brings together people, businesses and markets – from the first to the last mile. As the industry’s sustainable backbone, its rail transport services throughout Austria reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 million tonnes. The Rail Cargo Group sets innovation and digitalisation standards and significantly contributes to shaping the industry.

With their expertise and passion, the company’s employees deliver future-oriented, punctual logistics solutions from a single source for block train and single wagon traffic as well as intermodal transport. The Rail Cargo Group transports approximately 105 million tonnes of goods to their destination every year – by environmentally friendly means, reliably, flexibly and quickly.

SBB Cargo AG

SBB Cargo AG: the beating heart of the Swiss economy

SBB based in Olten, Switzerland, is Switzerland’s leading freight transport company, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s freight traffic. Just under 16 per cent of this is attributable to SBB Cargo AG, which connects the major economic areas as the beating heart of the Swiss economy. In 2019, SBB Cargo AG transported 29.8 million tonnes net of freight within Switzerland in wagonload, block train and combined transport.


Headquartered in Hamburg, VTG Aktiengesellschaft is a leading wagon hire and rail logistics company in Europe. Its fleet comprises approximately 95,000 rail freight wagons, with a focus on tank, intermodal, standard freight and sliding wall wagons. In addition to the leasing of rail freight wagons, the Group offers comprehensive multimodal logistics services, mainly for rail transport modes, and global tank container transport.

With the combination of its three divisions wagon hire, rail logistics and tank container logistics, VTG offers its customers a high-performance platform for international freight transport. The Group has many years of experience and specific expertise, in particular in the transport of liquid and sensitive goods. Its customers include numerous well-known companies from almost every industrial sector, for example the chemical, petroleum, automotive, agricultural and paper industries.

In the 2019 financial year, VTG generated a revenue of 1,221 million euros and an operating profit (EBITDA) of 512 million euros. The company is primarily represented in Europe, North America, Russia and Asia via its subsidiaries and affiliates. As of 31 December 2019, VTG has a global workforce of approximately 1,750 employees.


To support and accelerate the DAC migration process, the BMDV awarded a contract to the DAC4EU consortium for a broad-based pilot project for the demonstration, testing and approval of DAC.

Building on the practical experience gathered in the IFW project (Construction and Testing of Innovative Freight Wagons) and the results of the migration study conducted for the BMDV, in the first phase of the DAC research project, various DAC Type 4 systems are to be tested in practice. The functionality of all the features of a Type 4 coupling (automatic mechanical coupling and the coupling of air, power and data lines) and their reliability are to be tested. The concrete elaboration and execution of the practical tests is based on the functional demands made of couplings as determined within an open, international platform which involved coupling manufacturers.

Serving as a sound basis for making decisions, the results of the practical tests will be given to the European DAC Delivery Programme (EDDP) enabled by Shift2Rail for the purposes of a sector-wide process of agreeing on a single DAC standard. The EDDP selects a coupling type on the basis of these test results and the results of initiatives in other European countries for the testing of DAC.

In the second phase of the research project, the coupling selected for Europe-wide application is to be tested in terms of its suitability for use. This involves a demonstrator train with 24 freight wagons being equipped with the DAC Type 4 coupling chosen. The demonstrator train is to be tested under real operating conditions within various infrastructures including in marshalling yards, on railway sidings and on journeys. In addition to a functionality check, the coupling’s suitability for day-to-day use and its impact on operating processes will be tested.

During this in-service testing, the demonstrator train is equipped with selected automation components in order to check how they work with the DAC’s power and data lines.

The process of approving the chosen DAC for use in Europe is to be expedited on the basis of an approval concept which is yet to be devised.

Project management

Overall project management

Dr. Fabian Wartzek

Project co-management

Anja-Maria Sonntag
SBB Cargo AG

Scientific supervision

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Hecht
Rail vehicles specialist
Institute of Land and Sea Transport Systems (ILS)
TU Berlin

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gangolf Hirtz
Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology
Professorship of Digital Signal Processing and Circuit Technology
TU Chemnitz