Feature: Heavy haul train control
Mine and freight operators around the world are increasingly using electronic train control technologies to meet their operational needs. Emily Holborow* provides a case study of the North South Rail (NSR) Link in Saudi Arabia and its use of European Train Control Systems (ETCS) – the largest implementation of this technology worldwide.
The heavy haul freight rail line is an integral part of the mining supply chain from mine to port.
Mine owners and operators expect their rail system to ensure:
- Efficiency and outstanding reliability
- Increased supply-chain capacity
- Safe operations
- Continuity in operations
- Reduced maintenance and equipment downtime (compared to conventional low cost control systems)
- Seamless transition of operations across the “mine to rail’ and ‘rail to port’ interfaces.
The train control solution used for the rail line must facilitate and ensure the maximum reliability and flexibility of train operations to meet customer commitments and avoid the costly delays and associated lost of revenue.
Ensuring a safe working train system is essential for any operation. The use of technologies to prevent accidents, the interruption of rail operations and the minimising of track maintenance work through remote condition monitoring and diagnostics, are all important aspects in ensuring a safe working environment for all workers.
To meet operational demands, the heavy haul freight train control solution must be integrated into the pit to port supply chain. It must be capable of delivering highly efficient train operations with outstanding reliability, within a safe environment.
To achieve this outcome from the train control solution, the technical design should be considered in the early stages of the project. This early commitment allows a solution to be better matched to the early project revenues, which is upgradeable and scalable to future operational needs.
Implementing a train control system which requires limited wayside infrastructure and no trackside signals through in cab-signaling is innovative with clear benefits to mine owners and operators: the use of less equipment with low maintenance requirements will contribute to the decrease of operational costs.
The goal of this approach is to ensure “seamless”, high efficient operations across the pit to port supply chain while providing the ability to sustain flexible high tempo operations to meet customer commitments.
North South Rail (NSR) Link, Saudi Arabia
The North South Rail (NSR) Link in Saudi Arabia is one of the first heavy haul freight lines in the world. It uses well proven and understood European Train Control Systems (ETCS) technologies and is the largest implementation of this technology worldwide.
Covering 2000km, the NSR Link operates in harsh and challenging environmental conditions of Saudi, similar to those found in remote Western Australia and Queensland.
Thales’s delivery of the NSR Link combined strong local partnerships, deep in-country support, and the right technical solution to meet Saudi Railway Company’s business and operational requirements.
Saudi Railway Company (SAR), representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is developing its non-oil mineral and resources capacities by establishing a new freight and passenger rail line, the North-South Rail (NSR) Link. NSR links the phosphate and bauxite production plants in the northern part of the Kingdom to the industrial complex along the Arabian Gulf, and provides passenger rail services from Riyadh to the north of Saudi Arabia.
The North South Railway project is planned to transport 5.2 million tonnes of phosphate and 4 million tonnes of bauxite per year to the fertilizer/refining complexes at RasAzZawr.
The Al Jalamid area contains 313 million tonnes of phosphate reserves and the Az Zabirah area contains 250 million tonnes of bauxite. The NSR direct link from Al Jalamid to Ras AzZawr via Az Zabirah, enables the mine operator to:
- Reduce cycle time for the mineral traffic
- Limit the size of the mineral rolling stock fleet
- Minimise operating costs for the system
- Keep mineral traffic away from the urban areas of Buraidah, Riyadh and Hofuf.
The project scope is to deliver a 2400km line for freight (and partially for passengers), key for the development of infrastructure in the Kingdom.
The constantly shifting sand from desert sand dunes presents a unique challenge to railway designers. Geographically NSR’s axis is located with in the Lava Deserts, Sand Deserts, and Coastal sand/gravel plains of Saudi Arabia.
Operating conditions are particularly onerous with exceptionally high ambient temperatures, large day to night ambient temperature differentials, high relative humidity and wind-borne sand and dust.
The elevation of the track varies between 100–200 metres along the coastal section, 500-800m in the interior, and in some areas in the section Buraidah- An Nabk-Al Jalamid.
Field and maintenance equipment must work in extreme weather conditions. For example, ballises need to work in higher temperature ranges, often covered by flowing sand. Special attention is also required for Sabkhas (saline, puffy, crust surfaced flat basins with the presence of water) in the Eastern province.
Poor access and limited communication facilities during construction also present challenges, as does the operational need to manage a train length of 2800 meters within these conditions.
Thales approach and turnkey solution
Thales is delivering a turnkey solution for signalling, supervision and communications, security, fare collection systems and associated services for NSR Link.
As a result of using ETCS technologies adapted for the Saudi environment, SAR will receive a state-of-the-art rail control system with products adapted to specific environmental conditions (temperature variations and sand, etc) with a customer specific integrated solution from a single source.
Thales’s solution combines:
- European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2
- Operations Control Centre (OCC)
- Asset management
- Axle counters
- Point machines
- SDH transmission network
- Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)
- Passenger information system
- Access control
- Uninterrupted power supply
- Diesel generators, etc.
Focused on meeting customer needs and leveraging experience in similar operational environments, Thales has developed a heavy haul freight train control solution. This solution ensures reliability, maximising operational efficiency without compromising safety of operations – even with higher train density.
Thales’s Communications-Based train control solution combines an optical fibre network with multiple radio technologies (GSM-R, TETRA…), virtual block or moving block, in-cab signalling and train detection.
In conclusion, the application of train control technologies offers mine owners and operators with the surety of having their heavy haul freight rail line as an integral part of the mining supply chain – from mine to port. Train control technologies ensure operational efficiency without compromising safety of operations – even with higher train density.
*Emily Holborow, is head of communications for Thales Australia & New Zealand’s transport systems business.
Heavy Haul Rail
28th-29th August 2012
Newcastle City Hall www.informa.com.au/heavyhaulrail
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