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Integrated Standard Transport Unit for Self-guided Freight Container Transportation Systems on Rail

The ISTU STREP project investigates, develops and demonstrates a cost-effective integrated propulsion unit and individual self-driven, two-container, cost-improved rail platform wagons for freight container transport between ports and cargo distribution centres. The new motor concept, integrating all the major propulsion features, is a key technology suited for the designed harbour vehicle called ISTU.

Tags: Multimodal


There has been an increase in the transport of shipped containers from modern harbour infrastructures, which have eco-efficient, clean and fast logistic systems, to discharge ships that send the cargo urgently to interim logistic centres where it can than be selected for final destination. More and more automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are under consideration as an analysis in the last ten years has shown their effectiveness and cost advantages. Today only a few ports have been equipped with AGVs; most still work with a manual-driven operation.

Such systems are expensive and the pollution aspects with diesel-driven vehicles are high, increasing the energy cost further for operators. Since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, these diesel engines operating around the clock in harbours that are mostly located in the centre of cities are seen in a bad light due to their polluting features.

This project considers an alternative technology for such AGVs to overcome some of these major problems within a future generation. ISTU concentrates on the design and specification of a two-container wagon for terminal applications based on a speed of up to 50 km/h with a diesel-electric power supply unit to provide an autonomous integrated electrical propulsion system. The chosen technology can be extended to all major future eco-efficient systems.


The target is the design, marketing and validation of such container platforms, satisfying a practical driving cycle of two-container wagons within terminal applications including their requested security and application aspects. A major objective is to integrate all the main propulsion components such as motor, power converter, cooling and embedded controllers in one drive. With this propulsion rated at 30 kVA, we expect to create the basic drive component for the container platform with improved characteristics of a reduced cost (by 30%), an efficiency increase of 2% and a system availability of up to 98%, validated by a laboratory set-up.

As a technical goal, the ISTU vehicle is designed for terminal application based on a standard speed of 12 km/h and a maximum speed of up to 50 km/h. The ISTU project optimises and designs the complete vehicle system, i.e. all electro-mechanical components, including a diesel-electric power supply unit to provide an autonomous integrated electrical propulsion system.

The full vehicle integration is part of the project while the engineering work will concentrate on the documentation and the specification of all needed components, including the power supply in the form of a cost effective diesel/generation set. The product will be evaluated as per its cost targets where we have set strong objectives for market acceptance.

The market approach and the application is a final objective of the project, including security aspects for such systems in their environment and the dissemination in the market of the chosen technology.

Integrated Propuslion Motor Unit 'IPMOT'
Integrated Propuslion Motor Unit 'IPMOT'

Description of work

The project analysed the needs and application scenarios in harbours with related logistic centres. Using basic assumptions, the targets for the drive requirements were set and the according engineering process started. To avoid critical interference from the different involved partners and their tasks, we coupled the drive with the wheels of the platform via a cardan shaft although not a standard in today’s rail technology. Via this approach we could proceed to simultaneous engineering while the cost targets were reached. The design of the vehicle and the propulsion could be done individually.

A first prototype of the Integrated Propulsion Motor Unit called ‘IPMOT’ confirmed the technical features and revealed some improvement possibilities with regard to the overloading characteristics of such a motor. In a redesigned and completed product, we integrated these features by smaller changes in the winding layout. In parallel, the full vehicle was designed with a proper diesel-electric power supply unit and all components integrated in the vehicle structure.

As an extension from this technology, a road driven vehicle was additionally analysed.


To cope with the objectives, we have chosen a simple switched reluctance 30 kW motor as a base propulsion component. This motor has been dimensioned and the layout done for all the requested components of this integration process. Furthermore, a brake system has been added on the shaft of the motor.

Within a redesign we have considerably increased the overload capabilities so as to allow the integrated motor to be the main component within future hybrid drives. This drive has been analysed for road operation which is an alternative market request. The engineering for a rail vehicle is actually validated on a test belt although the simulated results are demonstrating the targeted values already.

Dissemination has been done at several conferences and will also be carried out in the World Cargo News. The technology has been presented to different ports and will be demonstrated next at a fair. A follow-up intends to intensify the work on a suitable logistical control to arrive at an unmanned automatic piloted transport system for eco-efficient electrical power supply system.

Extending this system to dense industrial areas where such systems are expected to reduce road traffic, pollution and noise is a possibility. ISTU is an official Trade Mark.

ISTU vehicle rail platform
ISTU vehicle rail platform