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A competitive boost for rail freight


Having lost ground to road transport in recent years, rail freight may be on the verge of making a comeback in Europe with the development of a wagon fleet management system that promises to increase efficiency, expand market potential and offer important benefits to society as a whole.

Due to begin trials this summer, the system developed by the IST project F-MAN offers fleet managers, railway companies and end customers with an integrated set of Web-based applications to trace wagons, manage their availability and make rail haulage more reliable. In doing so, it promises to help railways compete with road cargo transport, potentially reducing congestion on Europe’s highways and cutting pollution.

"Our aim is to create an efficient system at low cost that enhances the ability of railway operators to manage thousands of wagons," explains F-MAN coordinator Stefano Savio at the University of Genova in Italy. "By increasing the efficiency of the fleet, wagon operators can expand their market against road transport, for example, allowing them to satisfy a wider number of orders with the same number of wagons."

The F-MAN pilot system functions through low-cost onboard terminals that transmit information about a wagon’s location and speed as well as possible incidents to a base station and in turn to a data processing module (DPM) via GSM radio. The DPM transfers this raw data to an Internet-based asset management module, which allows fleet operators to know where their wagons and their customer’s cargos are at any given time, and estimate the time of arrival at any destination.

"The most important feature of F-MAN is that it allows freight managers to know in advance when and where wagons will be available, thereby increasing efficiency," Savio notes.

Until now, differences in management systems and ineffective communication methods have often caused freight operators to lose track of wagons once they cross national borders, a critical problem when managing thousands of wagons around Europe, and trying to meet customers’ demands for speedy and reliable deliveries.

The F-MAN trials will take into account the very different scenarios freight operators face by testing the system on approximately 50 wagons hauling cargos in three key rail corridors.

"All functionalities of the system will be tested in trials to be conducted in the Portuguese-Spain, France-Italy and Slovenia-Hungary-Bulgaria corridors," Savio explains. "All of them will entail different scenarios to test the system in different situations."

The F-MAN consortium is currently studying how to apply the system commercially, amid intense interest from major railway operators in several European countries.

Stefano Savio
University of Genova
Via all’ Opera Pia 11a
I-16145 Genoa
Tel: +39-010-3532182
Fax: +39-010-3532700

Tara Morris | IST Results
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