[EU] Digital Automatic Coupling; winning design announced

Freight rail in Europe is facing unprecedented change. The Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) program is about to be implemented; equipping half a million freight wagons in Europe with automatic couplings by 2030. Now we know which type of coupling will be implemented: the latch head type design (Voith > Scharfenberg).

None of us has seen such a big change in rail freight in our lives yet: All wagons in Europe will be equipped with a “DAC” and there is less than a decade of time to do so. With the implementation of silent wagon brakes, ETCS, and ATO, this will be another solution to make rail freight more modern, efficient and most of all more cost-competitive.

freight wagons with DACs – Deutsche Bahn

In the digital age we are living in, it is quite an obsolete thing to see how wagons in Europe are coupled. Unlike in, for example, in the US, there is no automatic coupling in rail freight in Europe. (Manually) Connecting wagons by screw coupling is still very labor-intensive, time-consuming, and dangerous work. The project enabled by the Shift2Rail initiative (a body of the European Union), named the European DAC Delivery Programme (EDDP), is about to change it all. A digital automatic coupling is to be implemented, preceded by a complicated procedure of enabling this to happen across Europe.

Now, we are one step closer to this plan becoming reality. In a process that started in early 2021, a European DAC coupler head type was selected. Four different prototype designs were competing and subjected to a test program. Dellner Couplers, Voith, and Wabtec Corporation developed one Schwab and two Scharfenberg type design. Earlier in the process, a SA-3 based design was withdrawn from the competition. On 14.09.2021, the EDDP board made a decision on the winner – the latch type Scharfenberg design.

The selected DAC – Scharfenberg design © Deutsche Bahn / oliver Lang

All three program-participating manufacturers (Dellner, Voith, and Wabtec) are competent in latch type couplers and will continue with the development and extensive testing. More manufacturers are expected to join the process now. Interesting is that in the next months, a demo-train will be developed. It will make test runs in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

And how will this change the rail from the visual point of view? We might see the gradual extinction of wagon and locomotive buffers, once DAC is installed, which will definitely change the way locomotives look like these days. Stay tuned as we will keep on following the topic of DAC implementation in Europe.