Digital rail freight solution to gain efficiency, cost savings and more safety

European rail freight has to cope with great challenge. Due to demographic change, the already existing shortage of manpower will become even more acute. This means that in the future, more transport volume will have to be managed with fewer human resources. This can be realised through a digital transformation of European rail transport, which has already found its way into innovative railway companies such as SBB Cargo or Mercitalia. An essential technology for this comes from PJM. The WaggonTracker, a unique digital overall system, monitors important functions of goods trains and automates time-consuming, manual processes (such as the brake test). As a best practice example, the pilot train of Mercitalia Intermodal is described here, which has already been in operation for 18 months and has proven itself very well.


Italy’s largest intermodal operator, Mercitalia Intermodal S.p.A Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, is one of the most innovative and leading railway companies. In order to increase the transport quality and performance of intermodal transport, Mercitalia Intermodal 2021 decided to invest in further technological innovations. Specifically, the project called for the digital upgrade of a pilot intermodal train to meet the numerous requirements, such as increasing terminal capacities and shorten turnaround times, optimizing train preparation, minimizing manual activities on the track etc.


The solution

The solution concept of PJ Monitoring GmbH was convincing, as it was able to fulfil all the above-mentioned requirements with only one system. Through numerous and specifically defined monitoring functions and the use of automated processes, which were able to replace the previously tedious and manual activities, the result demanded by the customer, “increased efficiency”, was achieved in all required aspects.
Some of the functionalities are unique and were used for the first time in this project. The project included conception and development of the technical functionalities, implementation of the digital system on a pilot train and then data evaluation and analysis during the approximately 18-month operating phase of the test train.
The technical centrepiece was the overall digital system “WaggonTracker”. This platform is equipped with a wheel hub generator that supplies freight wagons with sufficient and autonomous power. The monitoring data is collected by means of sensors (e.g. brake cylinder pressure, measurement of forces in the brake linkage, etc.). A local radio system ensures secure long-distance communication with all wagons, via an encrypted, secure connection. Due to the powerful power supply and the technical design, the platform is freely scalable and thus expandable for customer-specific requirements. The WaggonTracker system is the only system worldwide that combines comprehensive monitoring functions and automated processes such as automatic brake testing or load weight monitoring.


The features

– Real-time trestle monitoring for reliable and safe detection of the correct setting for trailer transports in the intermodal sector incl. driver warning if the status of the trestle changes during the journey
– Brake monitoring: Real-time brake analysis and brake system monitoring with regard to the correct functionality of the brake, monitoring of the correct cylinder pressures depending on the cradle valve status at standstill and during travel, brake energy calculation per brake cylinder to determine the overall system wear and to detect the overload of the brake system
– Determination of driving comfort, driving stability and driving safety
– Monitoring of longitudinal, transverse and vertical impacts and their coordinates if limit values are exceeded
– Load weight monitoring to ensure that the vehicle is correctly and properly loaded
– General monitoring functions such as mileage, direction of travel, position data, historical data, last message, last movement, geofencing (monitoring of vehicle fleets within a predefined area)
– Automated brake test: As part of the brake test developed with SBB Cargo and RCG, the brake condition is checked automatically with the brake test system. Relevant data from the goods train is collected via a functionally safe measuring technique and displayed in real time in a clear and user-friendly manner on the train driver’s or brake tester’s mobile operating device. Thus, the operational brake test can be carried out remotely by one person in a short time. Multiple rounds around the train are no longer necessary. The automated brake test fulfils all safety-relevant requirements in terms of operation and vehicle and is the reference system for automated brake tests on freight wagons in Europe.


The advantages

Cost savings
– The load weight monitoring ensures that the goods train is loaded in the best possible way and that the loading capacity is used to the maximum. At the same time, overloading is ruled out, and with it the possibility of a line-out at infrastructure measuring points.
– The comprehensive, condition-based monitoring prevents any future damage to the vehicle and thus saves cost-intensive repairs. Using predictive measurement data analyses, maintenance and workshop visits can be effectively planned in terms of timing and location, which is also a significant cost benefit.
– Typical cost-intensive problems can be avoided by integrating the system into the operation, e.g. flat spots caused by applied hand brakes, brakes that are not fully released when starting and dragging brakes while driving.
– Costs are also saved by automating previously laborious, manual processes. An essential aspect here is that the cost savings have an immediate effect, but there are also cost benefits in the medium and long term.

Increasing safety
The automated check of the brakes or the load weight as well as the monitoring functionalities bring more safety in rail freight transport. Overloaded or asymmetrically loaded freight wagons mean a higher risk during the journey, but are a thing of the past with automatic load weight monitoring. Derailment diagnosis, king-pin monitoring and axle bearing temperature monitoring are also essential safety-relevant data that are recorded in real time and warn the train driver via In-Train communication in the event of critical deviations during the journey, e.g. if the brake system of individual wagons is overloaded, the axle bearing temperature is outside the normal range, the interlocks of a trestle change their status (i.e. open) or wagons threaten to derail or have derailed.

Time saving
Automated brake testing and load weight monitoring provide rail operators with effective and immediate time savings. Automated brake testing of a 500 m goods train typically takes 5 minutes instead of up to 40 minutes with less manpower. This reduces turnaround times and optimises and increases terminal and driver capacities. Thanks to the comprehensive monitoring functionalities, short-term and thus time-consuming repairs can be avoided. The reliability of the fleet is increased and fewer replacement vehicles are needed. Workshop times are reduced so that the vehicles are actually “vehicles” (and not “standing vehicles”). The automatic load weight control avoids time-consuming check-out at checkpoints. The resulting time reserves counteract operational delays or infrastructure failures and still help to arrive on time. This means that time-critical goods can also be transported by rail, which is essential for increasing the modal split.

Preventive avoidance of damage and repairs
– Since the introduction of the trestle monitoring, Mercitalia Intermodal has recorded a striking reduction in damage. Incorrect handling by third parties can now be objectively determined and proven (previously data-based proof was not possible). Subsequently, damage is prevented through targeted staff training. Damage that nevertheless occurs can be charged to the person who caused it.
– The overall performance of the pilot train has increased significantly because the train is less likely to record unscheduled stoppages or even failures, which can be detected and prevented in time through the targeted monitoring. If only one component is not working (e.g. trestle / kingpin or brake), the entire train comes to a standstill.
Realisation of one-person operation
The digital “all-round equipment” enables the so-called one-person operation. This means that freight train movements can be carried out and organised by the locomotive driver alone, without the need for the shunting staff that has been common up to now. Due to the increasing shortage of skilled workers, the automation of manual, strenuous and completely unattractive work steps is crucial in order to be able to guarantee efficient operations.


PJM at a glance

PJM is an internationally renowned system specialist for rail transport and has successfully implemented projects in 30 countries on 6 continents.
PJ Monitoring GmbH is a technology leader in the digitalisation of rail transport. The digital overall system WaggonTracker provides comprehensive monitoring functions in real time via the freight train and automates complex processes (automatic brake test and load weight monitoring). WaggonTracker has already won several international and national innovation awards.
The second part of the PJM company is PJ Messtechnik GmbH. As an accredited test centre according to ISO/IEC 17025, PJ Messtechnik GmbH carries out tests for the approval of rail vehicles worldwide. Projects include the Chicago suburban railway, London underground, Barcelona metro, Glasgow metro, Sofia metro, Berlin suburban railway and the Riyadh suburban railway. The highly specialised engineering expertise includes, among others, multi-body simulations, design and strength calculations.

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