Trade unionists test digital automatic coupling to ensure safety of future work environments

15 Jun 2021

Boosting rail freight transport will be a key factor in the modal shift and achieving the climate goals set out in the European Green Deal.

The ETF recognises that the introduction of a Europe-wide coupling system (DAC) to strengthen the efficiency of rail freight transport will be part of these initiatives. However, this must be done in a way that is fair to workers – just transition must be embedded in a comprehensive rail freight strategy with the involvement of workers and their unions.

That’s why the ETF sent a delegation of practitioners – shunters, train drivers and wagon masters – to a test site in Görlitz, Germany. Here, 4 prototypes of Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) for rail freight are currently being tested. One of these prototypes will be selected for the widespread introduction of DAC in Europe.

The aim of the ETF delegation: to test the prototypes and obtain workers’ experiences and assessments for further work and to ensure a safe work environment.

Colleagues from the trade unions vida (Austria), EVG (Germany) and SEV (Switzerland) participated in the manipulation of the couplings.

European plans to introduce DAC

The modification of around 400,000-450,000 wagons is to be carried out across Europe by 2030, for which the European Commission awarded the research contract and funding to the Shift2Rail programme. The European DAC Delivery Programme (EDDP) facilitated by Shift2Rail provides a European platform for collaboration and cooperation.

A decision on the technical issues is to be taken before the end of this year. However, whether the ambitious goal of introduction in 2030 will be achieved still depends on the clarification and feasibility and financing.

Trade union demands

Trade unions support the introduction of the Europe-wide DAC to strengthen rail freight transport, but have two central demands:

  • Ensuring a just transition for railway workers affected by the changeover

Workers have the right to maintain an adequate job in their company. Investments in upskilling, new qualifications and training for workers who want to be retrained for another sector must be guaranteed.

  • Ensuring health and safety of workers in all instances

Manual operations and interventions will no longer take place in DAC operations, but nevertheless, workers’ protection must be ensured. There is still a high-risk factor; making impact assessments during development and implementation mandatory. The manipulation by practitioners at the test site in Görlitz is part of the implementation of this demand which was taken up by Shift2Rail through the support of the EDDP programme management

So far, ETF is satisfied to see the high level of functionality that has already been achieved in the technical development of DAC. However, there still remains work to be done and trade union demands must be taken into account to ensure a future safe work environment.