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Intermodality is a key strategy for an integrated and sustainable development of freight mobility and territory in Europe. The objective of intermodal balance is among the priorities pointed out by the EU White Paper (European Commission. White Paper “European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide” 2001).

Today, railroad shipment of containers is limited to point-to-point trains, without the possibility of loading and unloading at intermediate stops. Unlike passenger traffic, containers are not easily transferred from one train to another therefore cannot use the railway as a “network” but only as a rigid connection between point A and point B. 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 loading yards and back to the regular railway tracks using a diesel locomotives. The loading/unloading operations require 8 to 12 hours and cost
between 700 and 1,000 euro per train. It is therefore not surprising that only point to point trains are operated, excluding all transfer and collection of load units along the territory they cross. This is clearly not adequate for the objective of intermodal balance, especially considering the continuously increasing amount of circulating goods.

Since 2004 the Metrocargo project is under study and development as an innovative and effective solution to such problems. Metrocargo aims at creating an efficient network for the intermodal transport of containers and swap bodies based on flexible automated terminals. Containers are loaded/unloaded on wagons using innovative loading equipment
working horizontally under the overhead electric feeding line, capable of processing a train in one hour time. Actually containers are lifted for a small height (approximately 50 cm) acting on the lateral slots of the standardized corner fittings that every container and swap body is equipped with, then moved laterally to sorting bays for further loading on other trains or door shipment by lorry.


The aim of the VIT project is the development of specific portions of innovative technologies for automatic and secure handling of containers and swap bodies for intermodal shipment, primarily functional to the Metrocargo technology though retaining an intrinsic technical value that will make them attractive for the general market. In particular
the VIT project addresses the two critical problems that are still open in the Metrocargo project:
  • to identify visually the containers corner fittings where the loading equipment needs to operate;
  • to assure the general safety and security of the operations of an intermodal terminal.

The leitmotivs of the VIT project are:

Automation: to contribute to the realisation of an ambitious intermodal system aimed at increasing the number of containers shipped by railroad by devising visual equipment and SW tools necessary to complete the automatic loading/unloading process. The system should be fully automatic without direct human intervention,
resorting to remote monitoring when automation is not possible. A high degree of automation guarantees the processing speed required to make the loading system practically viable and economically sound.

Safety and security:

  • to ensure human safety substituting passive warning sound alarms with active solutions triggering the proper actions when human presence is detected in dangerous areas.
  • to enforce security in complex infrastructures that handle valuable goods belonging to third parties.

Vision is the keystone for both themes: it provides non invasive 3D reconstruction techniques at the basis of automatic control functionalities and video-surveillance methods at the basis of human safety.


The research and technology contributions of the VIT project are:

  • study, design, and development of a robust and redundant vision system for precise relative positioning of loading equipment and containers/wagons in order to load and unload the train with a significant decrease of human intervention. Study, design, and development of vision functionalities to check the correct loading of the train before
  • departure according to safety regulations.
  • study and prototyping of an innovative visual 2D scan of the train composition, in terms of the containers on board, after arrival and before departure.
  • study, design, and development of a state-of-the-art video-surveillance system appropriately designed to monitor sensible areas and off-limits zones for humans.
  • design and engineering of a system security infrastructure to detect and solve possible system failures.

European Community

FP7 - capacities program