Rail transport for freight has shown a decrease in market share compared
to road transport. This trend is in contrast with the role rail transport
should play as main-haul mode in a door-to-door intermodal service view.
To play this role, suitable performances have to be provided by rail
services in order to fulfil the stringent requirements originating from
just-in-time and lean production concepts. One of the reasons for the
competitive advantage of road transport is today the provision of easy
access of transport and logistic service providers to commercial and
task-related information. There is a clear need for making more accessible
the information on rail operators’ tariffs, services offers and procedures
as well as those on current location and conditions of the cargoes being
transported by rail.
The main project objective was to build a prototype of an information service concerning rail-based international freight transport. The prototype was intended to make information available to the Rail Cargo Companies (RCC) and, from these, to Transport Service Providers (TSP) and Logistic Service Providers (LSP). Retrievable information shall include commercial data on the RCC offer, such as services and tariffs, and progress of on-going, cross-border transport tasks, both on wagon and train basis, such as positioning and delays. Specific objectives of the project were:
- to define a general architecture and function set for the prototype, and to
- to set up an on-field test of the prototype based on a subset of these functions.
The general architecture is based on a FIRE Service Provider which acquires and concentrates on the Information Gateway data about freight wagons from different sources. These include manual data entry at RCC, and automated data entry from new GPS/GSM On-Board Terminals, from AVI systems and from links to UIC HERMES applications. The information is made available to the Commercial Information Servers, one for each RCC, which may in turn be accessed by authorised TSP/LSP through FIRE Access Points and the Internet.
The FIRE Service provides information on: (i) train schedules and wagon plans, (ii) wagon and train monitoring including positioning, delays, arrival forecasts, wagon and goods status, (iii) commercial offers including available services and tariffs.
In the Pilot Service a slightly different architecture has been used with the Information Gateway and the Commercial Information Servers hosted on a FIRE Application Server. The FIRE Pilot Service has been tested for a selection of wagons, international routes, adequately covered by GPS and GSM, and consignments, including a wide range of commodities (cars, steel, tiles, tobaccos, shoes, chemicals).
The project has successfully demonstrated that an information system for rail with the following characteristics is feasible: consignment-orientation (instead of the present wagon-orientation), modular software architecture, delay indication on the basis of the timetable of the wagon, integration of UIC-data framework such as HERMES, data security.
The FIRE project has provided an information platform for the future European One Stop Shop showing that opposition of railway companies to outsource information services, like the FIRE Service Provider, and to pass on information to external parties can be overcome. Although the technology for the FIRE Service Provider is available on the market, the commercial breakthrough of the system is still less certain and calls for further analysis of the suitable commercial conditions. The pilot has suggested that improvements on the map display could be introduced in the future. Specifications of the On-Board Terminal and the Information Gateway, and definition of the interfaces provide a basis for future standardisation. In particular, the FIRE Consortium believes possible that FIRE specifications are taken as a basis for UIC-standardisation of GPS data transfer and has initiated discussions with UIC on this. The project results suggest also that AVI systems should be given less preference as main localisation systems compared to GPS/GSM based systems.