Like 100 years ago, freight trains are still coupled together by hand. That should change now. Freight should reach its destination faster by rail. But there are still hurdles to overcome.

The Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the French state railway SNCF want to advertise together today in Strasbourg, Alsace, for an investment worth billions in European freight transport.

An automatic coupling for freight trains should make it possible to make rail freight transport faster and cheaper and to meet the climate targets in the transport sector.

Only in Europe are freight cars still coupled together by hand, as they were more than 100 years ago. To do this, a steel bracket weighing 20 kilograms has to be balanced and tightened over the hook of the next wagon. Hours can pass before an entire train is ready to depart.

A DB test train with the so-called digital automatic coupling (DAK) has covered a total of over 6000 kilometers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Further trips are planned, also in France, according to Deutsche Bahn before the event.

A European solution is needed because freight trains often cross borders. Almost half a million freight wagons in Europe would therefore have to be converted. By the end of the decade, this will require investments in the order of six to eight billion euros.

According to earlier information from Deutsche Bahn, the prerequisite is that the EU creates the legal and financial framework. The argument went that companies could not bear the costs alone. The project is also to be presented to EU parliamentarians in Strasbourg.