One way of alleviating pressure on Europe's clogged roads is to make better use of the continent's extensive rail freight transport fleet and networks. The EU project F-MAN sought ways of improving wagon fleet management systems to boost rail transport efficiency.
The problem in Europe is that rail cargo operators still tend to think nationally and focus attention on locomotives rather than wagons. Fleet managers struggle to keep track of their international wagon operations, making it inefficient and costly to run a rail transport business. F-MAN, an EU-funded project under the Fifth Framework Programme, development tools and web-based systems for managing several hundred thousand international cargo wagons across Europe.
|IT tracking systems pinpoint wagon locations and boost rail cargo performance|
Scheduled to begin trials this summer, the system developed by this IST project provides railway companies, fleet managers and end customers an integrated set of applications to trace wagons, check availability and manage rail haulage more reliably and cost-effectively. It should also help railways compete with road transport, easing congestion on Europe's roads and potentially cutting pollution in the process.
By increasing the fleet's efficiency – especially knowing in advance when and where wagons will be available – wagon operators can expand their market and better compete with road operators, explains Stefano Savio of the University of Genoa (IT), the project coordinator. His nine-partner consortium from Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Slovenia, Greece and Germany received €1.4 million from the European Commission. They set out to overcome the problem of disparate fleet management and communication systems operating throughout Europe.
Giving rail the competitive edge
F-MAN's pilot system uses low-cost on-board terminals which signal a wagon's location and speed, as well as possible incidents or hindrances, to a base station which transmits, via GSM-based radio, the data to a processing module (DPM). The DPM, in turn, transfers this information to a web-based asset management module, which can be accessed at any time, giving fleet operators more accurate arrival information on their wagons and providing customers with better service.
With the European Union's borders widening to include ten new countries, having a reliable and efficient rail system for transporting goods between countries is vital. F-MAN's system will be tested in trials to be conducted in the Portuguese-Spain, France-Italy and Slovenia-Hungary-Bulgaria corridors, Savio told IST Results, which should put the system through its paces in different locations and situations.
With considerable interest already expressed in the project by major railway companies in several European countries, the consortium is now investigating the best ways of rolling out its new system onto the competitive transport market. Success in this endeavour should give a valuable boost to European rail freight further down the track.