A trial has started of the UK's first digital freight wagon which has been constructed through a collaboration between Britain's largest private freight wagon leasing company, VTG Rail UK, and braking systems specialist Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems (UK).
The new VTG iWagon features new and significant safety capabilities and will create operational efficiencies and an increase in availability that will revolutionise freight performance. At its launch, the iWagon incorporates 12 digital innovations that are capable of powering future technologies using VTG Connect as the gateway,
Nine wagons are involved in the trial, with the first three being VTG Rail JPA tank wagons that have been modified at Tarmac's Maintenance Depot at Dunbar in Scotland. The remaining wagons in the trial will be deployed in the Hanson and Mendip Rail fleets.
Among the new features are axle lock detection and Wheel Flat Prevention (WFP) technology. To provide power for the WFP system each wagon has also been fitted with new wheelsets containing four axle-end generators. These will also be used to provide power for future iWagon trials such as digital real-time maintenance, temperature monitoring, and harmonics frequency monitoring.
Other benefits include brake condition monitoring which will allow the performance of a wagon's brake system to be analysed remotely, which could eventually remove the need for annual brake tests. It will also ensure that defects in brake systems are highlighted when they occur, and could potentially assist Network Rail in identifying low adhesion hot spots on the network.
A four-month trial started last Monday, 2 October on Tarmac's daily return service from its cement plant at Dunbar to its depot at Seaham in County Durham. Initial data from the trial will be available next January before the first 50 wagons go into production in Q2, 2024.
The iWagons were launched today, Thursday, 5 October, at the Rail Freight Group's annual conference in London, where VTG Rail UK Managing Director, Colin Denman, said: “The iWagon has been over a decade in development and we are delighted to be at the stage where we can commence countrywide trials of the UK's first digitalised freight wagon which will enable real-time data to ensure safer railways and better wagon utilisation.
“The launch of the iWagon is very exciting for VTG Rail UK, Knorr-Bremse and the wider industry. For the first time, we can see how axles perform on the network in real-time and see where adhesion issues are occurring. Locked axles, leading to wheel flats and derailment of freight wagons have caused high-profile incidents in recent years in the UK.
“Digitisation allows us to prevent wheelset damage and axle locks, in real-time ensuring multiple parties are given information quickly allowing appropriate corrective action.”
Sanjay Albert, Director of Engineering and Innovation at Knorr-Bremse, also spoke at today's launch. He said: “Working in collaboration with VTG Rail UK is very exciting for us at Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems UK, especially as part of our mission to combine mechatronic expertise with our digital monitoring capability.
“Our patented Wheel Flat Prevention technology increases wheel life and reduces potential deep wheel flats which may result in track damage, or in worst cases, derailment. Our digital monitoring capability will enable valuable insight generation to support our customers achieve efficient operations and maintenance as well as extend to wider industry benefits.”
VTG Rail UK's Business Improvement Director, Nigel Day, said: “Stopping wheelsets sliding has significant benefits to both VTG UK and the wider performance of UK rail. Adding brake condition and harmonics frequency monitoring will strengthen the case for change and revolutionise the way in which wagons are maintained.
“For instance, one benefit would be the removal of the annual brake test which will allow us to be more flexible around our maintenance regimes and moving towards i-Maintenance. These new regimes bring further benefits in cost reduction and customer service.
“Low-level disruption is predominantly caused by small micro slides, which can grow to create a major train performance issue. This can lead to a significant impact on the customer to remove the wagon from service and into a location for wheelset exchange.
“Better wagon reliability and availability, as well as not having to fund the removal and placement of a wagon from the train when a wheelset exchange is required, will be a significant cost saving to our customers and also reduces disruption on the network.”
Chris Swan, Head of Rail at Tarmac, said: “We're really proud to be part of the network trial of the first digital freight wagon in the UK. Tarmac is one of the biggest users of rail freight in the country and we are committed to using our extensive rail network to deliver essential materials to our customers in a sustainable way.
“The digitisation of the rail fleet sector will bring important performance and safety benefits, and so trials like this one with our partners in VTG and Knorr-Bremse are vital for the continued growth of rail freight.”