The European cargo railways are facing more and more productivity problems with the single wagonload regime. One reason is the poor visibility of their wagons, their main asset. In so far, a highly efficient asset management is scarcely feasible with the classical tools. The project F-MAN, started in October 2001 and completed in September 2004, is providing a solution to that problem: a telematic system provides wagons position and status information to an application software, which is giving the future fleet manager enough information to secure an economic selection of 'his' wagons and an updating of that decision if the wagon is in delay. The project developed the F-MAN System Prototype mainly composed of three modules (TSM, DPM, AMM) which include both hardware and software elements:
- Tracking System Module (TSM). This module is composed of On-Board-Terminals (OBTs) and the information management system, which is ground based. The OBT is mainly composed of a GNSS receiver combined with a GSM module, which is able to perform a sufficient European coverage, plus a set of sensors to collect information about wagon status (loaded, unloaded, running, stopped, …). Each rail car Owner and F-MAN User is given the possibility of using a Graphical User Interface (GUI) in order to visualise his wagons on a map in real time, and also to show on the screen relevant information regarding each wagon (i.e. loaded, unloaded, stopping, running, wagon history, etc). The OBT information management ensures an Event Messaging, which is the basis for the Data processing.
- Data Processing Module (DPM). This module concentrates all information coming from the OBTs, it performs some operations, it distributes information to the different actors of the system and it stores data for offline analysis. It is an articulated communication system based on Internet technologies. To forecast Expected Time of Arrival (ETA), OBT data (line tracking) have to be processed by means of proper algorithms. Depending on the specific wagon task of the Customer (wagon type, destination, time frame), the new function of a Fleet Manager needs a quick response time from the F-MAN Pool per wagon type. Thanks to this prompt information coming from the F-MAN system, the Fleet Manager is continuously able to reduce his empties by offering them to other Rail Cargo Operators (RCOs) via Internet. Some information concerning railcar maintenance is also collected with the final aim of improving the wagons availabilit
This project aimed at improving the sustainability of rail freight transport and the competitiveness of Railway Cargo Operators (RCOs), including the new Rail Undertakings. The original main objective of F-MAN was to provide the RCOs with innovative tools to control their international wagon fleet, and to enhance the productivity of wagons. To reach that goal, the Consortium had to design and develop the following items:
- The On-Board Terminal to collect wagon position and status information and send it to the Operation Centre, according to pre-defined events criteria (Event Messaging);
- The Operation Centre to forecast the Expected Time of Arrival using suitable models;
- The Internet-based bid and offer module (F-MAN pool) to reduce the empty returns;
- The status-oriented maintenance module to improve the availability of wagons;
- A Decision support system based on financial and commercial criteria to assist the control of wagons fleet.
To reach all the ambitious objectives of the F-MAN project, the Consortium proposed to adopt a modular architecture that, on the one hand would have provided suitable flexibility in respect to the hardware choices, and on the other hand would have granted the maximum scalability of the system itself. As the following Chapters will describe, such early proposal became the Consortium choice and its validity was confirmed during the technical development phase of the project and the prototype verification phase.
In the following, a short description of each Work Package is provided to give evidence of the approach followed to achieve the project objectives.
Work Package no. 1 - Users' Needs
As a basis for the functional requirements, the Users needs, whose definition was the objective of this WP1, were identified according to the following procedure:
- Analysis of the future accessible strategies for rail cargo companies. This activity was done through interactions and direct interviews and questionnaires to the railway operators involved in the partnership (CP, PI-SZ and SIGMA-SNCF) and their partners.
- Wider consultation on organisational conditions and their possible evolutions through interviews with a broader set of rail cargo operators. Collected feedback was presented to the Railway Operators Group during a dedicated Workshop in order to fine tune the Users needs.
Work Package no. 2 – Functional Requirements and architecture
The objectives of this WP2 were to specify the functional requirements of a Fleet Management for rail cargo companies, and to design a proper architecture for the F-MAN system. To reach those goals, the following process was run:
- Taking into specific account the investigation performed in WP1, the overall requirements, as well as the functional specification of the system were drawn out. In order to ensure the complete definition of the system, the AFNOR standard was adopted;
- Based on the 'main function identification' of the overall system, the F-MAN system architecture was defined, as well as the one of each single module.
- Thanks to the AFNOR application, it was then possible to check, through a methodical bottom-up procedure, the thoroughness and consistency of the designed architecture.
Work Package no. 3 – Development
This WP3 aimed at developing the F-MAN tools (namely, hardware and software), in compliance with the specification and the definition set in WP2. The following F-MAN modules were developed:
- Tracking System Module (TSM) - The Tracking System Module is composed of On-Board Terminal (OBT) and the ground information management system. The OBT is composed of a GNSS receiver combined with a GSM module. Such module also provides the Users with visualisation of wagons on custo
The exploitable results
The project produced a relevant number of countable results which are worth being briefly reported in the following paragraph. Then, the list of accompanying project documentation is provided both for the sake of thoroughness of the presentation of all the outputs that the F-MAN Consortium produced, and the sake of project reference for further investigation of results.
The objective of F-MAN prototype is to provide the fleet manager of Railway Cargo Operators (RCOs) with innovative tools to control his wagon fleet, and to enhance the productivity of wagons. The F-MAN prototype consists of:
- Tracking System Module (TSM) to locate wagons wherever they are in Europe, and to retrieve wagon status information (loaded, unloaded, moving, ...);
- Data Processing Module (DPM) to progressively estimate the Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) for each wagon, and to make available all information regarding wagon history;
- Asset Management Module (AMM) to propose a proper choice of wagons to comply with clients' orders, according to customisable productivity indicators;
- Graphical User Interface (GUI) to present the fleet manager, in an intuitive and user friendly way, wagons position and operating data on geographical maps.
In particular, the aim of the Tracking System Module is to retrieve information on the position and status of wagons, which is the basic input to efficiently manage the railcar fleet. TSM is based on GPS technology used in combination with a GSM communication system to transfer information from each wagon to the centralised F-MAN system. The core of the Module is the On Board Terminal (OBT), a stand-alone device provided with an autonomous long-life energy supply, which is installed on each freight railcar belonging to the fleet. Apart from positioning information, there is the capability of detecting the status of the wagon. All information coming from the OBTs is collected by the SMS Hub which, after a proper validation process, translates it in XML language and dispatches it through the Internet to the DPM and the AMM. The SMS Hub performs also the reverse translation whenever data, coming from the other F-MAN modules, need to be transmitted to the OBT (translation XML/SMS format).
The Data Processing Module concentrates all information coming from the On Board Terminals the
F-MAN deals with Transport Telematics, that is to say it addresses the application of telematics to transport systems. It fits and contributes to the achievement of several FP5 IST programme objectives, as they are described in the relevant Work program. More particularly, F-MAN is addressed to FP5 IST Action Line 1.6.2 – Systems for intelligent vehicles. It is worth noting that these contents deal with all the possible contributions of the F-MAN project at the European Community level, stated that the proposed application should be seen as just one of the bricks needed to build a complex building.
F-MAN impacts positively on the implementation of the Information Society and Telecommunication policy. F-MAN encourages the application of information tools in a field (i.e., the rail freight transport one) known to be reluctant to the introduction of IT solutions. The project matches the need for universal services ensured with interoperability of services and network interconnection throughout the European Union. In fact, F-MAN aims at providing tools that make the management of railcar fleet possible under a European coverage, what is impossible for the moment being. The project developed state-of-the-art equipment that ensures the effectiveness of such requirement.
F-MAN is also an important key to the completion of a freight-related information society. For instance, it would be possible to make available the state of the shipment, or the additional costs due to over routing to the customer requiring the shipment (or to the consignee). This will be easily achieved by integrating F-MAN with already existing or brand-new software for shipment tracing, or to common EDI systems, with the development of proper interfaces and the definition of the needed data format to be exchanged.
F-MAN has positive impact on the implementation of the EU Transport policy. It contributes to the improvement of freight transport efficiency, reducing the operational costs of rail links in the Integrated transport chain. Moreover, it makes it fruitful and profitable to route goods through railway links, thus increasing the overall capacity and productivity of the European freight transport network. That is to say, F-MAN contributes to improving the circulation of goods throughout Europe.
As a consequence of the contribution to the transport policy, F-MAN may also play its relevant part in the implementation of the Transport component