JOHN ANDERSON identifies the top five challenges to providing power for the rail network
Last year, the UK Government committed to invest £70 billion in transport infrastructure by 2020, with rail featuring prominently. From Crossrail to HS2, upgrading stations and electrifying hundreds of miles of track around the UK, the next few years will see wholesale change in the industry.
These changes will bring geographical, financial, technological and safety challenges. Rental power and temperature control equipment has proved over a number of years how it can play a critical role in helping to resolve these challenges. Aggreko has been providing critical rental power and temperature control to the industry for more than 10 years, and has identified five key issues across the rail network, and the tactics that can be employed to overcome them.
The Global System for Mobile Communications- Railway (GSM-R) is critical infrastructure and the key to a more modern, digital rail system. It will require regular maintenance and upgrades, particularly if it is to handle increased data transfer across the network. However, the system relies partially on fixed infrastructure connecting more than 3,000 masts positioned at approximately six mile intervals along the track, many in awkward locations. This network of masts relies heavily on a reliable source of grid power but this can sometimes be compromised by power cuts, or when maintenance or repairs are needed. In such situations a temporary power supply is needed quickly to prevent downtime that can lead to schedule delays or compromise safety. But as the GSM-R is spread across very inaccessible locations, this creates challenges not only to how you site the generators, but also to get fuel to them on a regular basis. We sometimes run very long lengths of cables to ensure masts are connected safely, and have to use specialist transport vehicles to ensure our portable generators can access sites.
Modular power meets modular stations
The massive investment in fixed rail assets has sparked the construction of new modular stations as well as the renovation of existing ones. Such projects often require completely new utility connections, and these can take some time to be supplied by relevant Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). In these circumstances we turn to live, synchronised power strategies to ensure continuity of power supply. Rental generators are needed both to power the construction site and later to support the functioning station until grid connection can be secured. We’ll also replace the mains supply completely to allow critical work to be carried out on switchgear. These kinds of projects require round-theclock monitoring of the installed generators. We use Aggreko remote monitoring (ARM) technology, which is monitored by trained and experienced engineers 24/7 to identify potential issues and plan proactive maintenance to ensure continuity of supply.
Critical power for critical sites
A continuous, reliable source of electrical power is critical to keep all site offices, stations, signalling and welfare facilities operational. Indeed, in the UK there is a trend developing towards pan-regional operations centres with sizeable data suites all running large servers and controlling a lot of information. The integrity of those sites is vital, so having back-up power to prevent grid outages and back-up temperature control equipment to support HVAC and refrigeration plant breakdowns is crucial. This is where the importance of having a detailed contingency plan in place is of prime importance. A provision of rental solutions means temporary equipment can be installed rapidly to get sites back up and running with as little disruption as possible.
It is also important to support critical sites by strenuously testing and proving the reliability and robustness of their power, chiller and air conditioning systems. Loadbanks can simulate power loads and heat loads to ensure their on-site equipment can cope.
Specialist support for smaller fixed assets
Small, fixed assets are stationed throughout the network. From signalling to telecommunications, CCTV and switchgear, relocatable equipment buildings (REBs) and signal boxes all require power and are connected to the fixed telephone network (FTN). While they are all grid connected, the nature of REBs means they require regular maintenance. When we support planned maintenance programmes, we provide generators to supply a range of voltages, including 650V generators to comply with Network Rail signalling systems, which is a very rare voltage to find in temporary power generation.
Signal failure is one of the most disruptive issues on the rail network. Whether due to damaged cabling, technical faults or the failure of a power supply, just one failure can affect the safe and timely running of many trains. Having a large fleet of different equipment, available at a moment’s notice and from a variety of locations, is therefore particularly important.
Smaller signalling boxes and telecoms buildings can also require small, local cooling systems to prevent the equipment from overheating in high summer temperatures, or when fixed cooling assets require upgrading due to the expansion of the network and data equipment suite.
Thawing points in winter
You can guarantee sub-zero temperatures on almost every part of the British rail network at some point in a 12-month period. Reliability, service and speed are fundamental to ensuring the network remains operational. The network’s points heating system often requires generators to power them, should they lose grid connection, be under maintenance or undergoing upgrades. The generators auto start on demand from a thermostat and supply power to the points heating system control cabins trackside – ensuring heating on demand and ultimately preventing the freezing of the tracks’ points. The generator will stop when the temperature rises, which provides fuel efficiency and keeps running costs to a minimum.
John Anderson is network national account manager, Rail & Power Utility Sector at Aggreko