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GS1 RFID/EPC Standards for Railways

Background        Aim        Pioneers         Heading for the future     Contact 


In Europe, there have been quite a number of RFID projects in rail. Some of the projects have been running for a number of years and when they were started, the GS1 standards were either not developed or well known which means that all the older projects have chosen proprietary solutions. Also, there has been a myth that passive solutions could not handle the speed and environments that trains operate in meaning that in most cases GS1 standards were not even considered.


In Sweden, The Swedish rail infrastructure manager, Trafikverket (Swedish Transport Administration), has identified the need to track goods wagons both on its own network and those of other European networks. Underlying this requirement is a demand from their customers (the train operators) and their customers’ customers (wagon owners and freight shippers) for accurate and timely information about wagon movements but also, their need to link information from their detector systems to the right wagon.

Specifically, the widespread use of RFID will enable wagons (and implicitly their loads) to be tracked across Europe (over 60% of wagons on Swedish tracks come from another European country) leading to better resource utilisation, lower freight costs, and reduced environmental impact. For the train operators there are gains to be made in more efficient shunting and correct train assembly. Improved data collection will allow wagon owners to plan proactive maintenance and give infrastructure managers a basis for non-disruptive track maintenance.


The end goal of these activities is for all goods wagons in Europe to be tagged and for all railway tracks to have compatible reading equipment.  To enable the different national transport and railway administrations solution to have a European standard, where GS1 RFID/EPC code is being used.

The solution will enable users to have an accurate picture of the train composition, the RFID/EPC reader is connected to two axel sensors mounted on the tracks. Pressure from the wheel flange of a passing train makes it possible to determine how many axels and therefore wagons have passed and where on the train the wagons with RFID tags are.


The future system will be able to enable Just-in-Time production and supply of products. Customers can reduce their stock resulting in cost savings.  Since transportation can be made more efficient, the costs for suppliers and transport companies will also reduce. This means less environmental impact by the transport companies. 


The rail part of the Swedish Transport Administration is driving a number of pilot projects with RFID/EPC tags on goods wagons. Developing the solution further gives complete visibility of goods and lead to big cost savings. The end goal is to develop a standard for the identification of wagons therefore enabling traceability / visibility of goods wagons across Europe.

The organization started engaging in RFID  technology around 2007 as part of the EU-funded research project Freightwise with representation from 14 countries. The project’s main objective is to support the use of intermodal transport i.e. the transportation of goods using different transport modes.  Consequently a number of RFID projects have been initiated.

We see huge opportunities with RFID/EPC technology. The customers of train operators have also shown a lot of interest in our projects. The technology makes it possible for them to follow their goods in real time in a way that cannot be done today. As stock-in-transit becomes increasingly common, it becomes even more important for the customer to know the whereabouts of goods in the transport chain especially during disruptions, says Tord Nilsson, Head of surveillance.

In one pilot project, RFID/EPC is being used on post wagons travelling between Stockholm and Gothenburg. An RFID/EPC tag has been attached on each side of the wagon. The distance to the readers is approximately 4 meters.

The first thing we did was to verify if it was even possible to read RFID-tags on a train travelling at 160 kilometers / hour. It worked perfectly says the project manager at the SwedishTransport Administration.

Another project with semi active RFID is taking place with SCA who want control over paper bales from their factory in Munksund outside Piteå to Husum near Umeå. A third project, with active systems is being done together with SSAB (Swedish Steel) on its railcars used to transport steel slabs from Luleå to Borlänge.  In both cases, The Swedish Transport Administration has built an infrastructure of readers on the track sides. Scanning and information gathering has worked well in these cases too.

Yet another project is underway working with the inland terminal at Falköping and the Port of Gothenburg.
Containers are loaded on RFID-tagged wagons in Falköping says Lennart Andersson. The wagons are then first read south of Falköping, then outside Alingsås and finally in the port. The information will be used to make loading and unloading at the port more efficient.

The Swedish Transport Administration plans to build an infrastructure of RFID/EPC readers in the whole country. They estimates that they will need approximately 700 readers to cover all tracks at stations hubs and marshalling yards. Technical specifications for the procurement of RFID equipment will be produced in 2010. According to the plans, the solution will be rolled-out and reach full operation in 2011.

A presentation showing some of the background can be accessed here!

Heading for the future

Like in the rest of Europe, several closed pilots using alternative RFID technologies have been successfully carried out and the Swedish Transport Administration has approached GS1 Sweden to ensure that further development takes place within the framework of open standards. They also see GS1 in Europe as a valuable partner in rolling out the concept across the entire region.

Our current RFID/EPC projects are the first in rail within Europe that have the development of a European standard as an objective. When we can show the benefits in Sweden, other countries will become interested.
When the final infrastructure has been fully developed, it is going to become possible to follow wagons and goods over the whole of Europe.



Alice Mukaru
Senior Project Manager

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