Being prepared: JOHN ANDERSON, discusses eight key points in developing a contingency plan for power back up

Failing to prepare properly for power losses could turn a drama into a potential disaster due to wasted hours in restoring the local electricity supply. Safety risks, accidents, service delays and cancellations, reputational damage, financial penalties and economic loss can all be minimised by developing a robust contingency plan.

While disaster recovery planning is common practice in the rail industry to ensure business continuity, the provision of power is sometimes overlooked, despite being a main requirement to aid recovery.

Effective contingency planning that includes switching to emergency mobile power is vital to ensuring speedy business recovery in the event of fire, flood, weather disruption, explosion, national grid failure, or any other emergency.

It is arguably more critical for the rail industry to ensure power resilience than most other sectors, due to the potential to put lives at risk and cause widespread transport disruption to both passengers and freight.

Contingency planning for power is, therefore, a business imperative. But what should a robust strategy contain?

Below are eight key areas to consider when preparing a contingency plan for back-up power.

1. Critically examine your existing emergency planning procedures
Go back to basics and look at the disaster recovery plan you have in place for your power provision. Have you got every emergency scenario covered to minimise the time between the electricity cutting out and the generators powering up?

Ensure your contingency plan covers every part of your site or rail network, ensuring you have backup power for each critical asset, including train stations, signalling, telecoms and operational centres. It is doubtful that your own back-up generator provision will cover all these sites, so you may want to consider having a priority generator hire agreement in place to fill in the gaps.

Your plan would benefit from operational detail, for example, does it specify exactly what emergency power equipment you need, which supplier to order it from, where to install it and how to deliver it to difficult to access locations around the network? All this information needs to be regularly updated to take into account any recent changes to your sites, equipment upgrades and construction projects etc.

In addition, it is important to have negotiated contractual prices for emergency equipment and understand your power generation supplier’s response times to each site, to prevent surprises.

If your current plan lacks the answers to any of the above, now is the time to assess the shortfalls and draw up a more robust strategy.

2. Survey your temporary power equipment requirements
Conduct site surveys across your estate to assess your back-up power requirements, then formulate a detailed equipment list. Your survey needs to cover multiple locations or entire regions, including train stations, regional operating centres, signalling sites and telecommunications infrastructure.

At the same time, it makes sense to survey heating and temperature control needs, such as cooling requirements for data centres and telecommunications sites. Some power generator suppliers will conduct free site surveys and work with you to produce a list of critical equipment for both your power and cooling needs.

Make sure the survey takes account of any special requirements, such as high voltage power or specialist signalling voltage requirements, space and access restrictions, or any locations where low emissions and noise reduction are key.

3. Plan the logistics, including site access
It’s helpful to have a plan that ensures the speedy deployment of all contingency equipment onto site and how to then service and fuel it on an on-going basis.

Consider any difficulties you may have with equipment delivery. which will differ depending on whether the site is in a remote location or congested city centre. Deliveries might be difficult at the best of times, but if there’s a blackout, storm or widespread road closures, then they could be even more challenging. You could look at putting a traffic management system in place, or for crisis situations, plan for police clearance and escorts to site. Think about the difficulties you may face and plan the best routes into site.

It is easy to overlook the access route to site, for example soft ground, locked gates, low bridges or weight restrictions could all cause delivery delays. Remote sites or sites with access width restrictions might need specific delivery vehicles to ensure equipment can be delivered and unloaded in the specified position. In addition, on-going fuel deliveries will also face the same issues.

Don’t forget to consider unloading and fuelling restrictions: Will the delivery or fuel vehicles need to reverse to enter or leave the site and, if so, do you require a banksman? If delivering on or from the public highway, are emergency services able to pass? Is the delivery location free from any rail power lines, overhead power lines or communications lines? Could the delivery loader arm come into contact with nearby buildings, trees, bridges or other obstructions? It is important to ensure all your workforce understand and adhere to Adjacent Line Open practices, where required.

4. Installation – prepare a connection plan
Your contingency plan needs to map out how you ensure the fastest deployment and installation of your contingency equipment so it’s up and running as quickly as possible. Your plan must, therefore, consider space constraints and proximity to the mains supply for easy site connectivity.

The size, shape and footprint of generators and temperature control equipment can vary widely and emergency space needs to be mapped out in advance. Consider whether there are any underground services, tunnels, unstable or backfilled ground in the set up area. In this set up area you may need to level and stabilise the ground to ensure it is free from slips, trips and fall hazards.

If you’re embarking on station redevelopment projects or infrastructure upgrades, don’t forget to think about including emergency generator accommodation sites into your plans. This will ensure there is always an ideal footprint to install power rental equipment with easy connection points.

When your mobile generators are delivered to site you want to be able to ‘plug and play’, so your contingency plan must include working out your cabling plan in advance.

  • Properly think through access and distribution sockets
  • Install a connection panel to speed cable connections
  • Consider correct circuit protection devices, earth testing and certification
  • Don’t forget about the disconnection process
  • Include cable protection from mechanical damage to outer sheath.

5. Continuity of supply
Ensuring a continuous fuel supply to every site is an important consideration for continuity of power. Factor this into your plan, along with where you will site fuel tanks. Better still, select generator sets with integrated tanks, which will save space.

Don’t neglect proper coordination of fuel management and agree whether this will be managed by the equipment supplier or your own team.

Check that your provider offers 24/7 remote asset monitoring to keep watch on the technology and relay critical information – from fuel levels and diagnostic checks – to load monitoring, to ensure continuous power.

For sites where main supply is unreliable, generators can be set up with an Automatic Mains Failure panel (AMF). This monitors incoming power supply from the mains grid and in the event of a dip in power supply, the generator automatically takes over the load until the original supply is re-instated. This ensures continuity of supply and eliminates disruption caused by power failures.

6. Consider the most suitable equipment for each application
While speed is often of the essence in emergency situations, with careful pre-planning you can also ensure the most suitable products and power solutions are utilised for the job. This includes consideration of environmental factors, security and noise restrictions.

  • Specialist high voltage solutions are often required trackside for signalling work, for example when switchgear or transformers fail. High voltage applications require additional planning due to the complexity of the set-up required; make sure this time is factored in to your recovery plan.
  • If a site requires power generation for a period of more than six months and response times are more relaxed, gas fuelled generators might be worth considering. Gas fuelled generators can cut emissions by 30 to 40 per cent compared to diesel and this can also be a cheaper option, depending on market rates. If mains gas is available, this is an excellent option and has the added benefit of better fuel efficiency for certain sizes of generators.
  • For remote locations, unmanned areas, or sites in crime hotspots, security of generator equipment might be an issue. Secure containerised generators are available that are disguised to resemble generic construction containers – offering protection from theft and vandalism for the generator, fuel tank and distribution equipment.
  • Where there are variable power requirements, consider using two smaller generators, rather than a single large unit. By using load-on-demand with one generator switching off when demand falls, you can reduce emissions and save fuel – shrinking both your carbon footprint and budget.
  • A hybrid power solution which utilises generators during peak demand and large batteries for lower demand periods will produce lower emissions and is also suitable when load demand fluctuates.
  • Particulate filtration units reduce emissions from diesel generators. Aggreko, in partnership with the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, designed a system that achieved a reduction in particulate matter when retrofitted to 320 and 500 kVA diesel generators. After the Olympics in 2012 Aggreko units have been used for tunnelling applications in the rail industry and across London to enable reductions in particulate matter.
  • To overcome noise sensitivity concerns in built-up or residential areas, the use of silenced canopied machinery is a good solution. Alternatively hybrid power solutions are a low noise alternative where power demands are low.

Make sure the power generation supplier(s) you hire from has a local depot holding your specified equipment and that you have priority rights to that equipment to minimise delays.

7. Check your emergency power supplier’s certification and safety record
Check that any supplier is fully approved to work in the rail industry and meet its stringent quality, safety and environmental standards.

  • Emergency power supplies pose the same dangers as permanent connections, so robust safety practices are a must. Seek guarantees from any contingency suppliers that equipment has been fully tested prior to delivery to site. This may seem like a given, but isn’t always the case.
  • Ensure that your contingency plans include risk assessments.
  • Make sure they meet NCCA (National Competency Control Agency) standards, normally via Achilles RISQS certification, which will also eliminate the need to go through vendor pre-screening procedures.
  • Check that they have a national team of personal track safety certificate (PTS) qualified service engineers and examine carefully their trackside safety record.
  • Check that their fuel management and servicing system is fully ADR compliant.

8. Ensure proper coordination
A contingency plan will only be effective if it is properly communicated and coordinated across the organisation – with roles and responsibilities assigned and understood.

  • Make sure that key staff are aware of the plan, eg estates management, mechanical and electrical engineers, caretakers etc. Stakeholder involvement also includes third party suppliers, eg facilities management companies or electrical contractors.
  • Ensure that you have a 24/7 hotline through to your emergency power supplier and that they provide proper coordination both via the phone and on the ground at the local point of need.
  • Make sure that your engineers are on stand-by to oversee the set up of equipment.

Aggreko is the world leader in the rental of modular, mobile power and temperature control solutions.
Its UK rail division is RISQS accredited and provides 24/7 nationwide service and innovative technologies to supply the rail sector with reliable, fuel efficient power with exceptional noise and emissions reduction performance. It operates from 18 locations throughout the UK and Ireland and has the largest fleet of generators – delivering fast service to minimise disruption.

John Anderson is national accounts manager for rail, Aggreko