High fuel prices and general road congestion have made necessary the search for alternatives to long-distance road haulage. One of the solutions is the “rail highway” concept and the so-called Modalohr technique, which uses low articulated wagons for carrying standard road tractor-trailers. The freight journey is divided between rail transport and off/on loading. In this respect, the service quality and productivity of the offloading/on-loading phases are crucial determinant in the efficient transfer of road flows towards the rail highway.
In this setting, automation is a source of operation enhancement. However, not all operations are can be automated and human presence is necessary for several tasks: interface management between human and automated tasks can be problematic, reducing initial expected productivity gains. Therefore remote-operation could avoid this caveat by implementing man-machine cooperation, dividing tasks between the human operator and machines when necessary. The STAF project's ambition was to conceive, develop test and deploy a pilot remote-operated system for conveying tractor-trailers on Rail Highway terminals.
STAF’s general objectives were to develop and test:
- Tractor trailers specifically designed for rail/road terminals, simplified (no cabin), green (electrically powered), and remotely-operable.
- An automatic de-coupling system for tractor-trailers.
- The requisite infrastructure on ground (sensor network) and in air (data transmission).
- The global command-control system and the associated HMI.
Within this general framework, STAF’s objectives address several stakeholder categories:
- For rail/road terminal operators: improving the terminal’s handling capacity without reducing quality of service, as well as enhancing productivity of the Rail Highway without degrading operators’ working conditions and safety.
- For rail infrastructure managers: improve the rail networks utilisation rate.
- For logistics players: share real-time information, and dispose of an information database on legal aspects.
- For road-haulage operators: improved market efficiency (e.g. delays), and improved driver safety.
- For the Community: contribute to modal transfer, road de-congestion and reduced pollution.
For STAF Lot 1, the object was to devise the functional specifications of remote-controlled operations, the object of STAF Lot 2 being the prototyping and field test.
The methodology for STAF Lot 1 was structured around the so-called "TST Approach" (Technologies – Societies – Territories). This approach considers that the success of an innovation not only depends on technical considerations, but also a wider range of social, economic, environmental, and regulatory factors. Therefore, STAF Lot 1 was divided into:
- Supply analysis,
- Demand analysis,
- Functional specifications’ development.
In this setting, different actions were carried out:
- Back-office data collection: bibliographical and Internet research on existing related studies, technical and economic documentation on the Modalohr technique.
- Field data collection: interviews with stakeholders (operators, industrialists...).
- Functional analysis: programme outline, studies on effort and movement and user sequences, legislation and norms’ referencing.
- Detailed conception, using 2D and 3D tools,
- Model and simulation of the system’s inter-relations and the associated physical and economic throughputs.
The main result of STAF Lot 1 is that there is a wide interest for a solution based on an automated and remotely-operable electric vehicle, with driver-assistance features allowing the operator to better envision the work sequences and optimise her work, thus doubling the workflows and shuttle pace, and increase productivity gains.
Moreover, such a system can allow for increased service capacity, while introducing scale economies on manpower costs and reducing maintenance costs on easier-to-use and simplified vehicles. Last, such a system can reduce the environmental impact of handling operations.
This result of STAF Lot 1 calls for developing a prototype and its implementation for field tests, in order to test and measure its concrete operational effectiveness.
STAF Lot 1 was not technically oriented, as the prototyping and testing is to be carried out in the follow-up project STAF Lot 2.