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Metrocargo Intermodal Transport

Final Report Summary - MIT (Metrocargo Intermodal Transport)

Today railroad shipment of containers is limited to point-to-point trains, without the possibility of loading and unloading at intermediate stops. The reason is that wagons are loaded and unloaded vertically with gantry cranes or similar equipment, which obviously cannot operate under the overhead electric feeding line. Trains need to be shunted to marshalling yards and back to the regular railway tracks using a diesel locos, which is costly and time consuming, therefore only point to point trains are operated, excluding transfer and collection of load units along the territory they cross.

The Metrocargo system is aimed at increasing intermodal shipment exploiting on an innovative horizontal loading technology capable of loading containers and swap bodies on trains working under the catenary.

The system being fully automated and very efficient, is time and cost effective for the distributed intermodal transport over a territory and for processing full trains in port to dry-port shuttling.

The promoters constructed a full scale prototype unit and the EC-funded research project VIT - Vision for Innovative Transport successfully researched the remaining technical issues.

The MIT project, funded by the EU and managed by REA, was targeted to bringing Metrocargo from research to market stage and to promoting its dissemination among logistic decision-makers throughout Europe.

Technically, MIT implemented specific engineering improvements and the scaling up from single prototypal unit to full industrial installation, developing typical plant design and software applications to automate and optimize the work flow and managing the relevant interfaces.

Market-wise, in-depth studies were contracted for Germany, France, United Kingdom and Spain to complement the knowledge of the partners. A general market plan was developed with local applications, based on the economic advantages for the concerned operators and stakeholders in specific situations.

The partners illustrated MIT and the system in main logistic shows in Europe and Asia and organised presentations in several countries, using promotional material and videos.

At the end of the project Metrocargo technology has become a fully developed market-ready system and its knowledge is widespread among European logistic decision makers.

Project context and objectives:

Today, railroad shipment of containers is limited to point-to-point trains, without the possibility of loading and unloading at intermediate stops. The reason is that wagons are loaded and unloaded vertically with gantry cranes or similar equipment, which obviously cannot operate under the overhead electric feeding line. Trains need to be shunted to marshalling yards and back to the regular railway tracks using a diesel locos, which is costly and time consuming, therefore only point to point trains are operated, excluding transfer and collection of load units along the territory they cross.

Since 2004 the Metrocargo initiative is under development, aimed at enhancing intermodal shipment based on an innovative horizontal loading technology capable of working under the catenary.

A prototype of the Metrocargo equipment was installed in the railway area of the port of Vado Ligure at the request of the Port Authority of Savona and independently tested with excellent results.

The Metrocargo technology has been chosen for the railway terminal serving the new sea platform that is being constructed in Vado Ligure and will be operated by APM Terminals of the Maersk Group.

The Vision for innovative transport (VIT), partly funded by the EU, developed specific components of the Metrocargo technology.

The MIT project, partly funded by the EU and managed by REA, was designed to support the proposing SMEs in their effort to bring Metrocargo from the prototyping stage to a market-ready application, and it comprises four aspects: technical improvements, scale up from a single prototype to an industrial system, marketing activities and dissemination.

The main aspects of the MIT project are the following:

- Design industrialisation and technical reliability: Tests showed that specific parts needed to be improved to minimize cycle time and increase reliability. An overall design review has been done to assure reliability, availability and maintainability under winter conditions.
- Scaling up: To make available a full set of specifications, typical installation engineering was developed to pass from a single prototypal unit to a full industrial installation.
- Dissemination: Following specific marketing studies and a general market plan, dissemination actions have been effected comprising demonstration events at the Vado Ligure installation and the participation to main trade fairs in Europe and China.

The project comprises four aspects, that were developed in specific work packages:

1. Technical improvements to the existing Metrocargo design, mainly addressing issues found in the test campaign. Some functionalities were added to increase efficiency, such as a software for the automatic determination of the position of the train at rest and a mechanical device for automatic switching the wagon pins to receive different size containers.
2. Scaling up from a single Metrocargo prototype to an industrial system including several units. The partners addressed the installation engineering, the design and development of a three level software to control the plant (comprising plant automation software, flow optimization software and plant supervision software). Also an image management software was developed to acquire and store image sets of each load unit for future reference in case of damages and for the remote verification of the load.
3. A market plan for the commercial promotion of Metrocargo has been carried out, based on the knowledge of the partners and a detailed market study for UK, Germany, France and Spain contracted to specialists.
4. Dissemination actions have been carried on through participation to important trade shows and illustration of the technology to logistic operators and public administrators. Demonstration tools and promotional material were made available.

Project results:

The MIT project has achieved all its objectives.

The objective of work package 2 was to define the user requirements to increase reliability and efficiency and write the relevant technical specifications.

The result was to provide the essential guidelines and requirements for the design improvement process.

With regards to the S&T results of the project, in line with the target objectives, the main results are indicated in the following for each work packages.

The objective of WP3 was to design the electro-mechanical improvements of the Metrocargo equipment. The activities done in WP3 brought to these main results indicated in the following.

Pin switcher

State before MIT
Flatbed wagons have movable retaining pins that can be set to accommodate 20 or 40 containers. While traditionally the reconfiguration of the pins (lifting is done manually), using an automated system it’s necessary to automate this operation.

The lose time for the manual reconfiguration penalizes the entire time of the stop of the train in the terminal, because the stop breaks the load / unload container operations. In the Metrocargo prototype, this requirements didn't still evaluated.

It was designed, manufactured and tested a device which is able to automatically switch wagon pins in order to avoid a manual operation in a fully automated system.

The device is rather simple and a lab sample was already developed independently; the device deals with engineering and design of Metrocargo lifting towers so that the device can be housed on the side of them, avoiding collisions with the shuttle.

The slot of the pin is not circular but elliptical; different heights of the railway wagons have to manage. For these reasons the device has a lifting / lowering and rotation movements. The tested mission cycle time has been less of 30 sec as stated in MIT deliverable 2.1.

New tower arm

State before MIT
The arm of the towers of Metrocargo prototype didn't able to move some type containers and some swap body have the fitting corner not on the edge of the vertical side of the box and some fitting corner have one side inclined.

The tower arm has now a different shape that been designed after FEM calculation and guarantees compliance with all type of loading units with ISO fitting corners. Furthermore, to reduce the pressure in the edge of the arm support, two new semi-circle supports have been added.


State before MIT
During the test of the Metrocargo prototype, there was some situation where communication broke down. The communication is guaranteed by Wi-Fi (from antenna to antenna). This is a problem especially for the semi-shuttles, that are not physically linked but they have to be synchronised. It was necessary to improve the communication system.

A new Wi-Fi communication of the devices is analyzed and tested. It has been chosen to guarantee communication through a leaky feeder technology. The leaky feeder technology substitutes the system used in the prototype (standard Wi-Fi technology from antenna to antenna) increasing the reliability of the communication.

Workability in curve

State before MIT
In the Metrocargo prototype the plant is straight. The objective is to guarantee the functionality of the system also in curve. The curve radius used to study the problem is 1000 meters, in according to the D2.1 technical specifications.

Towers were not be subject to relevant modify to work in curve, except a stroke of arm longer than currently arm. The problem is for the shuttle: the bridges of the two semi-shuttles when they are in curve, are not parallel.

Depth analysis has been done to determine the difference between the bridges position when the shuttle is in a straight part of the track or in a curve part of the track. A lot of cases of working on curve have been analysed.

The worst misalignment happens when the 20 feet container is in the first or last slot of the 80 feet long train wagon (the longer intermodal train wagon available, equipped with two bogies).

On the market existing some intermodal train wagons longer than 80 feet, but they have three or four bogies and are articulated, that means the chord of the arc that they created respect the rail track is less respect the chord of the arc that the 80 feet wagon create with the train track.

A new system was designed that allow provides to the rotation of the bridges on curve. On the semi-shuttles one side of the bridges will be pivoted, the other side will be commanded by a hydraulic cylinder. The two bridges will be able to rotate od 1,55 degree.

Interference between tower and shuttle

State before MIT
In the Metrocargo prototype, the shuttle cannot pass behind the towers when they have the arm in down position. This problem of moving is an interference that sometimes force the shuttle to wait the towers, that means lose time.

The solution re-designed is to move and modify shuttles (and also platforms) in way to avoid interference and to maintain current arm movement. The design implies to shift the shuttle, far from the rail track, obtaining free space between shuttle and the rear part of the towers arm when it is pulled back.

The new position of the shuttle from the railway track, guarantees also the compliance of railway rules and homologation. In order to maintain the same plant section, it has been designed a cantilever platform and a new shape of the shuttle.

Respect the railway rules (safety distance)

State before MIT
In order to guarantee the compliance with railway rules and homologation it was necessary respecting the shape of Gabarit and the safety distance of 2 meters from train track if the technology is installed on a circulation railway track where, for safety reason, it is suggested no obstacles are far at less than 2 meters from the railway track.

The Metrocargo prototype respect the shape of Gabarit but towers and shuttle don’t respect the distance of 2 meters.

In order to respect the suggested distance of 2 meters from the internal side of the railway track, it has designed a new parking area 2 meters away from the train track where recovering the towers when train arrives / leaves the Metrocargo terminal.

For the same reason also the shuttle will be moved at 2 meters from train track; bridges will be design consequently (see Interference between tower and shuttle).

System detecting side slot of the corner fittings

State before MIT
In the prototype the detection of the hole of the corner fitting is provided through a camera that send the image caught to a compact computer that process the characteristic, find the centre of the hole and send the coordinate of the hole centre to the tower PLC.

The vision system works by a camera and a spot light installed on each tower. The spot light is fixed in high position in way to illuminate the external part of the fitting corner and not the inside.

The camera takes some pictures with different exposure through a different diaphragm opening, until it gets a picture depicts black hole inside a clear edge, then the SW searches a dark ellipse in the picture.

Other three new different type of industrialized sensors (launched on the market during MIT project) were analysed and tested in order to improve the detection of the side slot of corner fitting.

The reliability of these sensors is good and it has been chosen to use two different sensors for redundancy.

Transport of towers in container

State before MIT
The tower in Metrocargo prototype could not be containerized because its length is 3190 millimetres, superior to the internal wide (2.310 mm) of the container.
Should be a great advantage could transport the entire tower without dismount part of its, in term of saving transport and assembling cost.

The re-design of the tower now allows to transport it in container: in fact the traction engine it was moved on the side of the tower reducing the total wide. The new tower is 2.155 millimetres of length, inferior to the internal wide (2.310 mm) of the container.


State before MIT
In the Metrocargo prototype, the base of railway track and towers and shuttles tracks are positioned at different levels: this doesn't guarantee the permeability on the plant. Plant floor area must be flat in order to guarantee to the maintenance vehicles (forklifts, small cranes) to circulate in the plant area and trough the buffer platforms (when they are empty).

To respect this requirement the following modification has been carried out:

- rail of towers are moved up until trains level and will be realised in flush way;
- the type of the towers track is changed;
- the type of the shuttles track is changed;
- anti-capsizing system is redesigned to work with the new tracks, leaving only a little hole smaller than a step (for operative personnel safety).

Now all the tracks of the plant are positioned at the same level.

New bridge lifting device

State before MIT
In the Metrocargo prototype, the transfer of container from shuttle to platform is made by a hydraulic system mounted on the platform that lifts and lowers the container. The main disadvantage of this system is that each platform must be equipped with a hydraulic system: in the future Vado Ligure layout 240 hydraulic systems would be necessary on the platform.

A new hydraulic system is designed directly on the mobile transfer device of the shuttle. For Vado Ligure layout, this solution implies to equip only 8/10 shuttles with the new lifting device instead of 240 on the platform, following the prototyped design.

New platform

State before MIT
The platforms installed on the Metrocargo prototype have the hydraulic systems to move container. With the new bridge lifting device the structure of the platform could be simplify. Moreover, in order to solve the problem of interference between tower and shuttle and the respect of the railway rules, the platforms have been totally redesign.

The new platforms are designed with a simply steel structure (without mechanism) with a cantilever structure that allows the overlapping with the shuttles bridge.

The activities of WP4 carries out the main results indicated in the following:

Position estimation of the train at rest system

State before MIT
The output of the train scanning must be used for pre-positioning the towers in proximity of containers or wagons because a precise determination of the position of each wagon decrease the search time; the reduction is the greater the better precision is obtained in determining the wagons position at rest.
The position of the single wagons of the train at rest are affected by the stop position of the locomotive and by the 'spring effect' of the bumpers being more or less compressed as the train is braked to a stop.

A visual system has been designed and developed following all the defined requirements and constraints. In particular the system is capable of determining the position at rest of each wagon with a precision of less than 20 cm.

Images management

State before MIT
The Metrocargo system has identified the need of image documentation which includes a 'visual' account of the state of the train and of the transported goods at arrival and before departure. In particular two sets of information are of interest: visible damages on the container and the correct position of the container after the load operation.

The guidelines for optimal position of the video cameras have been defined together with the type of the cameras appropriate for each picture to be taken. The procedures of getting the pictures at the right time have been settled in order to the get the pictures as soon as the container is entering and as late as the container is exiting from Metrocargo plant.

The storage database and the procedures of populating it with pictures has been defined.

The objective of WP5 was the re-design of the software layers governing Metrocargo plant, integrating new elements such a PLC coordinator and an operation optimisation software. The activities done in WP5 brought to these main results indicated in the following.

PLC coordinator

State before MIT
Metrocargo prototype plant was composed of a single module (a group of towers and a shuttle), working in a monolateral layout. From an automation SW point of view, each equipment was provided with a PLC having tower 1 as master controller while a SCADA system was devoted to the overall plant monitoring with the possibility also to assign load / unload operation to the module.

The plant layout selected for MIT project considers the management of five modules in a bilateral Metrocargo plant prototype plant: to realise this, a new PLC Coordinator has been designed with the objective to integrate all module controls and manage interface with upper level SW such as operation optimisation SW.

Pin switcher automation

State before MIT
The SW for Metrocargo prototype plant was not designed to foresee a complete automation for switching wagons pins.

The SW for Tower management has been redesigned so to include the option of pin switcher. Proper HW signal will identify presence of pin switcher device on a tower, enabling a new SW subroutine that manages link to the pin switcher controller newly developed for MIT.

Optimisation dispatching system (ODS)

State before MIT
The SW for Metrocargo prototype plant was not designed to foresee any integrated high level optimization SW of the overall terminal movements.

A new operation optimisation software has been designed and integrated with the new developed PLC coordinator: all transporters (towers / shuttles) activities are in fact obtained via a dispatching system that provides to PLCC the list of the so called missions (load / unload operations, in a scheduled way). ODS can re-schedule missions in case of unavailability / missoperation of some transporters. The integrated system can now operate in a fully automatic way, and it is also possible to do off line scheduling to evaluate possible different scenarios.

Terminal Simulation

State before MIT
The Metrocargo prototype plant had already been previously simulated by means of different SW simulation tools, so to evaluate for example expected performances in scenarios like shorter / longer trains: anyway, simulation was not integrated in overall Metrocargo automation SW.

A new Stochastic Simulator has been designed and integrated with the new developed ODS: optimized transporters orders / missions are now validated by a simulator that replicates exactly terminal layout and machine behaviours. By means of established performances indexes (KPI), simulation provides an estimate of the predicted terminal productivity.

Supervisory System

State before MIT
The Metrocargo prototype plant was provided with a SCADA system for the management of the module installed in Metrocargo prototype plant. This was the only available interface for a terminal operator.

A new Supervisory system has been designed and integrated with the new developed automation SWs, such as ODS, PLCC and Images detection (see WP4):

With the target to enable Metrocargo plant control from a manned control room, this supervisory system becomes the main terminal operator interface for the management of all Metrocargo operations, including the possibility to input data as generated from external sources and manage scenarios where manual actions are required such in case of undetected train composition.

With regards to the S&T objectives of WP6, the main results are indicated in the following.

Modification of power supply distribution

State before MIT
In the prototype the permeability was compromised by busbar and supports of barcode. Furthermore, both busbar and barcode sometimes have problem in winter and outdoor condition.

The re-design takes into account the high reliability under winter condition. The contact lines of the bus bar are winter proof only if they are completely covered. The supply is now designed by means of a cable protection systems which covers the cement channels like a cover and is only raised at the position of the sliding suspension bracket in order to protect the contact channels from snow and ice. At the right and left side of the track there are separated channels for the power supply to feed tower and shuttles.

Snow and ice can limit the function: therefore if it is installed at locations where cold winters are to be expected it will be necessary to heat the contact line channels.

But in the market there aren't cable protection systems with measures adapt to the size of Metrocargo devices: for this reason, it has been designed a cable protection systems dedicated to Metrocargo devices (for shuttles and towers).

Furthermore, the cement channels below the plant level, host also the leaky cable that substitute the communication system used in the prototype and a new positioning system with code rail technology instead of by 2D barcode technology.

Maintenance strategy of power supply system and wiring installation

State before MIT
Within WP3 and 6 the power supply system and wiring installation was analysed and improved. In the prototype the power supply system consists of contact lines (bus bar), the degree of protection of the system is IP 23.

It was designed a dedicate cable protection system (like Panzerbelt) which are hidden under the surface of the MIT area level and are protected from snow and ice, however it was chosen a bus bas able to guarantee the degree of protection IP 44. Furthermore, the communication has changed from Wi-Fi to a leaky feeder communication.

The realisation of the dedicated cable protection reduced the risk for a total fall out in winder conditions considerably. Therefore, also the maintenance activities are reduced. The reliability of the communication could also considerably be improved.

Concerning the general layout of the power supply system, the preventive maintenance activities will be reduced if the lights and camera switches will be arranged and fed by a interleaving system in order reduce the dependency on single power supply systems.

Furthermore, the reliability will be increased by changing the light control configuration from 'normally open' to 'normally closed' because like this the system is not down due to a failure of the control system.

The main control / house B and the AC/DC converter to supply towers and shuttles will be realized as a redundant system in order to allow full operation to continue in case of a failure.

To further minimise system downtime during maintenance, the health status feedback from cameras, proximity sensors, ACDC converters, network switches, power supply for lights shall be monitored to allow a fast detection of failures of redundant systems hence reducing the possibility of a backup system failure.

Furthermore, the actual load on the AC/DC converters will be recorded and compared with recorded data to allow detecting component failures before they occur.

Safety system

State before MIT
In the VIT project, the output of the visual safety system was the recognition of the presence of human being and animals in the work area. This output needs to be integrated in the plant management system with the aim of shutting down the power of the system and giving real time alerts to the operator.

The software modules of a standalone safety system has been developed and the general guidelines for the installation of hardware components and sensors on a typical Metrocargo plant has been draw coping with defined constraints and requirements.

The software components includes a module for recognizing the presence of human beings and animals in the work area.

The procedures of shutting down the power of the system has been defined with the use of an I/O card which directly switches off the power of the system in case of alarms. Also the procedures of sending the alarm to the other part of the system has been defined.

Potential impact:

A little share of Inland freight in Europe is carried by transport (about 10 %). The disproportion between rail and road transport results in economic and social problems such as congested roads, high road maintenance costs, atmospheric pollution, noise and road accidents and casualties.

Addressing these problems has become a priority for many European countries: action for change is underway driven by EU targets set by Brussels toward 'green' intermodal transport solution.

Metrocargo addresses the problem of making intermodal shipment operationally and economically viable. Full trains are loaded to a single destination, no facilities exist enabling load units to be loaded or unloaded along the way, or transferred from one train line to another.
The factor prohibiting a large use of intermodality is the lengthy and costly process of transferring containers or swap bodies between trains, a problem that needs to be tackled in an entirely new way.

Currently rail cars are brought to a side-track, the electric locomotive is substituted with a diesel unit, cars are pulled to a marshalling yard, containers are loaded/unloaded using cranes of various description, the train is formed, a diesel locomotive pulls it to the delivery track where it is finally coupled to the electric locomotive. This process involves a variety of actors, usually requiring many hours and is definitely costly.

The rigidity of the existing rail transport system dictates that full trains be moved from point 'A' to point 'B' unable to make intermediate stops to load / unload units.

Metrocargo proposes to modify the situation allowing to make intermediate stops, using an innovative technological device enabling standard ISO containers and swap bodies to be loaded horizontally on any standard flatbed railcar in a sidetrack under the overhead electric feeding line, dramatically reducing loading time and associated cost. The new system requires no modification to existing means (rail cars, containers and swap bodies).

The Metrocargo concept is the same as passenger traffic: a network of scheduled trains on fixed itineraries, with cargo entering the system at any station and transferring from one train to an-other to the station nearest to arrival point, door delivery and pick up being done by lorries.

Metrocargo plants (terminals) will be installed in existing rail stations, intermodal centres, inland terminal, ports and dry ports.

Door pick up and delivery will be done by lorry, and the logistic chain will thus be rationalized: flexible short-range transport by road, long hauls by rail.

The Metrocargo technology proved so efficient that it can also be used to rapidly load / unload trains in ports or dry ports, using minimal ground surface, reducing handling costs and time. Thus ports can more easily transfer load units to dry ports for custom clearance, sorting and reshipping.

Another application is the unloading and reloading of full trains in the border station between countries with different rail gauge (Spain and Russia towards Europe and China).

Regarding the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications it is also important to underline that the intermodal transport based on Metrocargo concept does not lead to distortions of competition in the transport markets but it promotes a fruitful cooperation between truck companies, shippers, existing intermodal terminals, intermodal and railway operators.

Intermodal terminals and intermodal freight companies are heavily handicapped by the requirement of loading full trains for delivery to a single destination. Metrocargo terminals would offer a much broader range of destinations and therefore attract greater volumes of traffic. These companies would benefit from and are not threatened by the Metrocargo system - further they will be given the opportunity to become partners. It is the strategy of Metrocargo development to invite significant intermodal operators to enter partnership agreements to gain consent and business opportunities.

Road freight operators (trucking companies) are concerned regarding capacity to handle the continuously increasing volume of long-haul transport and do not consider Metrocargo as a threat. The opportunity for them would be to focus on the more profitable regular small radius transport market. Also truck driver could have an improvement in term of working and life conditions.

Also large shippers accessing the consumer market under their own name will benefit from a 'green' image by transferring to rail part of their distribution at the same or lower costs than the road. Freight forwarders are contracted by the shippers to transport their load units using whatever means (vessels, train, lorry) give the best combination of cost and delivery time. Intermodal service based on Metrocargo could be an additional mean they can use, with especially attractive green features.

Also rail companies are not competitors of Metrocargo intermodal service, on the contrary, they will increase their traffic thanks to the possibility to grab new distributed intermodal transport; Furthermore, speeding loading / unloading of the train allows to reduce the stop time of railway car and locomotors: this optimize the turnover of the rolling stock allowing a reduction of the costs in order to offer more competitive price to the market.

Also the owners of the railway networks will benefit from an increase of freight traffic by selling more traffic slots.

Therefore Metrocargo fills a need without impacting the interests of other logistic players.

The Metrocargo technology has been selected by the Port Authority of Savona (North-west of Italy) to equip the rail terminal serving the multimodal platform, now under construction, that will be operated by APM Terminals of the Maersk Group. The platform will be able to berth container ships of post-Panamax generation (up to 14 000 TEU). The rail terminal will have to move 40 % of the containers traffic.

Market research conducted confirms that there is a strong demand for applications similar to Vado Ligure as several European ports are planning significant expansion of their cargo handling facilities during the next years.

MIT partners have been fully committed to ensure the maximum possible exploitation of the project results. Vast dissemination activities were undergone to promote the results and visibility of the project and the Consortium demonstrating the opportunities of Metrocargo through different kind of commercial promotion.

The activities of this deliverable were pursued along these lines:

- setting up demonstration tools;
- organisation of events centred on the Vado Ligure prototype;
- exhibiting at major trade fairs.

The activities to set up demonstration tools included:

- preparing promotional material;
- setting up a video clip;
- setting up a Wikipedia entry;
- setting website dedicated to the promotion of Metrocargo;
- sending newsletters.

The activities in order to organize events, contacts and exhibiting at major trade fairs included:

- attending and exhibiting at trade fairs;
- public relations and presentations in seminars, etc.;
- identifying possible customers to visit directly;

MIT project identifiers
Project acronym: MIT
Project full title: Metrocargo intermodal transport
Project number: 286825
Funding scheme: EU VII Framework Programme - Research for the benefit of SMEs - SME-2011-3 - Demonstration Action - Collaborative Project
Project website:

MIT project coordinator
Renzo Ferraris
I.Log Iniziative Logistiche S.r.l.
Via Marino Boccanegra 15/2, 16126 Genova IT
Tel +39 010 6520502
Fax +39 02 42108502