Home Electrification Electrifying Innovation: The need for electrification

Electrifying Innovation: The need for electrification

Guest writer: Steve Cox

The UK has a clear target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Rail is already a naturally low-carbon means of transport, responsible for less than 2.5 per cent of total transport emissions and about 0.6 per cent of the UK’s total emissions. But in a world where electric cars are becoming quickly commonplace, to remain competitive, rail’s emissions can and must be reduced even further.

Industry must play its part, not least by meeting the Government’s challenge to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040. As the Committee on Climate Change’s report in June outlined, decarbonisation by 2050 is achievable and affordable but it means every sector, not just some, need to act.

At Alstom, we believe a two-pronged approach is essential here. Electrification is the only viable technology that can be deployed for high-speed and very long-distance passenger parts of the network, and it will have a crucial role in the coming years as the network winds down its usage of diesel trains.

For other parts of the network, where electrification is not feasible due to costs or practicalities, hydrogen is the most viable answer. It is proven to work by Alstom in Germany, and ready to enter the UK network soon through Alstom and Eversholt Rail’s ‘Breeze’ project to convert Class 321s to hydrogen-powered at Alstom’s train modernisation centre in Widnes.

As a global leader in electrification, Alstom also has the proven and innovative solutions to ensure electrification of the network can play its part in taking polluting diesel trains off the rails. This innovation brings a wider range of benefits too, from a reduction in construction risk, improved health and safety during the works, and the need for less kit that, in turn, improves the public realm.


Alstom’s electrification pedigree

Nestled in the foothills of the Italian Alps lies the beautiful Italian city of Lecco, situated on the edge of Lake Como and the home to Alstom’s in-house centre for excellence for electrification components. It is here that Alstom’s high-speed electrification systems, which are installed throughout Europe, are manufactured and supplied.

In the UK, this has meant that the Lecco factory has also supplied much of the electrification equipment for the railway systems being installed by Alstom’s joint venture with TSO and Costain in the Crossrail tunnels. This electrification system is based on Alstom’s OCS3 range of equipment, with Alstom S&I Lecco rigid overhead conductor beams being used throughout the tunnels.

Having complete ranges of electrification equipment suitable for mainline, high-speed and urban schemes has been a critical factor in Alstom achieving its global leading position in electrification. As part of this, Lecco has produced the Clever Cantilever, or CLever, developed specifically for use in the UK and now fully part of the Network Rail Master Series range of equipment. This innovative electrification support system has now been in operation on the UK network since 2016.

High-output delivery in the construction phase is something that Alstom has developed over a number of years in specialist wiring techniques. In October 2015, Alstom introduced its wiring train in the UK. Modified specifically for use on the British network, this was successfully deployed on the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme then subsequently on Stirling, Dunblane, Alloa and Shotts. The train consists of seven vehicles, each of which has a specific purpose – a traction crane and MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) unit, drum carrier, wire tensioner, manipulator and MEWP, two independent MEWPs and a traction unit with MEWP and pantograph.

Wiring train.

The wiring train has the advantage of being classed as an OTM (on-track machine) and, as such, can travel loco-hauled. Once the train gets to the work site and into the possession, it can run out catenary and contact wire together at full line tension. The individual units that comprise the train can split, allowing registration activities to be undertaken and the fitment of any in-line items such as section insulators and the like. The wiring train can also be used to run ancillary wires such as earth wires and feeder wires, providing a complete electrification delivery solution.

The advantage of the Alstom electrification installation system is that three wire runs can be completed in one shift, compared with four shifts conventionally for one typical wire run. A higher quality installed tension length is achieved due to the mechanisation and, as with all Alstom innovations, the focus is on safety as the number of trackside workers is reduced. This innovative and unique electrification delivery system was highly commended in the 2019 Rail Partnership Awards for driving efficiency.

With any infrastructure project, successful delivery and commissioning frequently requires long, costly possessions. When combined with the safety risk element of having multiple workforces on track, any innovative development that improves safety while reducing the commissioning period, saving time and money, is valuable. In this regard, Alstom’s industry-leading signalling business has developed its SMARTCert tool suite to eliminate the need to use spreadsheet trackers and paper-based reporting – this tool can also be applied to electrification projects to provide efficiency benefits.

The SMARTCert system allows all stakeholders within the commissioning process to interact and obtain all the information they require from one single source of truth. SMARTCert allows for multi-user access, a single source of information and process improvements to the paper and spreadsheet-based process whilst still complying with the Network Rail test and commissioning standards.

The electrification process

Overhead conductor in Crossrail tunnels – Monica Wells.

Alstom, as a global leader in electrification, has developed a complete, efficient delivery process built on four pillars: BIM (Building Information Modelling), automation, complete capability and experienced people. Alstom is one of the few businesses that has a complete electrification offering covering design, manufacture, installation and maintenance.

The Alstom electrification process is centred around BIM, using automatic design tools to develop the model out of which schematics, bills of material and cross sections can all be developed. These tools provide the maximum advantage when deployed early in the scheme development, at GRIP 3 or 4 (option selection and single option development).

At this stage of the design process, accurate scheme layouts and BOMs can be developed that help with both costing and planning for later GRIP stages of detailed design and delivery. The Alstom BIM process allows for asset information to be collected throughout delivery, providing the maintainer with a high level of information on the delivered electrified asset.

Technical excellence and competence are key pillars in Alstom’s delivery process, in this regard a World Class Engineering (WCE) structure has been developed. WCE is Alstom’s way of identifying technical expertise within the business globally and providing a platform to sustain and develop the technical expert community. It means Alstom can measure experts and competence in a consistent way across the business and ensure the best people are selected to deliver the clients project.

Innovative systems

Not only is Alstom a leader in overhead electrification, its innovative reversible power-supply substation (issue 140, June 2016) optimises the power required for light rail and metro traction systems and can capture up to 99 per cent of recoverable energy from regenerative braking. Hesop, of which there are units on London’s Victoria line, the Paris T1 tramway and Riyadh Metro, increases the energy efficiency of the electrical system, resulting in a decrease in carbon emissions. This is achieved by converting the energy emitted by trains during braking into usable electrical power that can be used by station services such as lighting and elevators.

As the energy is reused, it removes a source of heat. This, when deployed in tunnels, will have the effect of reducing temperature – important in hot summer months or for railway systems installed in the UK and even hotter climates.

The additional benefit gained from Hesop is that, by optimising the electrical power system, the distance between traction substations can be increased and, potentially, their number reduced by 20 per cent. This reduces the amount of infrastructure and hence construction required, providing a capital and lifecycle cost advantage as well as a safety benefit as less construction eliminates the associated health and safety risks.

For the urban environment another form of innovative electrification is the SRS system. Building on 15 years of expertise acquired developing APS ‘third rail style’ technology, Alstom extends its feeding systems portfolio with SRS, a conductive ground-based static charging system for trams or electric buses equipped with on-board energy storage.

SRS is a technological breakthrough in electric public transport, enabling city authorities to operate clean, quiet electric fleets eliminating the need for catenary masts and overhead lines. This is an added advantage for cities with exceptional architectural heritage or constraints such as narrow streets or bridges, where overhead infrastructure is unsuitable or unfeasible. The charging system can be used at stops while passengers board and leave the train and also at line terminuses, in particular for electric buses which can fully recharge in the space of a few minutes.

Alstom is a company that truly delivers ‘mobility by nature’, a leading global player in sustainable and smart mobility. Alstom is investing in the UK, and through its electrification products and new traction systems like hydrogen, it stands ready to play its part in decarbonising Britain.

Steve Cox is Engineering & Technical Director SS&I at Alstom.

This article first appeared in Issue 177 of Rail Engineer, Aug/Sep 2019.

Rail Engineer is the leading independent quality monthly magazine for engineers, project managers, directors and leading rail executive decision makers. Head to www.railsubs.com to make a free subscription to RailEngineer magazine or one of its sister publications.
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