Work starts on signals

2014-05-09 00:00

STAFFING has begun on a three-year project to modernise signalling along over 200 km of track in eThekwini to speed up the commute of some 70 000 passengers.

The Witness met up with Bombardier Transportation (BT) at its new regional office in Seaview, from where the consortium of companies forming the Bombardier Africa Alliance will work to replace the 40-year-old signalling technology on Durban’s main rail corridors with new systems that will allow trains to run 150 seconds apart.

The alliance comprises seven members, which Peter Cedervall, president of Rail Control Solutions, said is the biggest yet in BT’s history.

The alliance includes ERB Technologies, Basil Read, Bakara Engineering, R&H Railway Consultants, SIMS and Tractionel, which is now setting up to put the Bombardier Interflo 200 rail control system in place for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

The alliance’s total contract is valued at approximately R1,1 billion, with Bombardier’s share valued at approximately R318 million.

Cedervall said 300 jobs will be created in Durban during the project, and part of his visit to South Africa was to check where to base a BT Engineering Centre — or perhaps several campuses — in Africa to train 100 engineers. BT systems currently control rail systems in five African states.

Cedervall said the BT business model typically expanded quickly in each country it operates in because the company culture was not mono-cultural and its philosophy was to empower.

He said nine different nationalities were directing BT while 38% of its engineers were based outside head office in any of the more than 60 countries the company operated in.

Valentine Paramasivam, BT’s global head of industrial and mining and head of sub-Saharan Africa rail control solutions, told The Witness two desktop computers will replace all the equipment housed in Durban’s large central signalling complex.

Asked how the Interflo system would cope with South Africa’s typical problems of heat, humidity, copper cable theft and even termites, Paramasivam said these problems were also found to much greater extremes in several of the countries in which BT systems operated, including the extreme dust of Kazakhstan, the humidity of Malaysia and extreme cold of Russia.

He said the system coming to Durban also incorporated lessons from Zambia, where BT is operating trains on more than 1 000 km of track.

Paramasivam said the BT system in Zambia was “really a game changer”, coming in at half the cost of Chinese systems.

“The system we have there [Zambia] will be ideal for South Africa’s coal lines to Richards Bay,” Paramasivam said.

He added copper theft was endemic all over the world, but this was not a risk for BT’s systems. “The brains are on the train”, Paramasivam said, explaining that communications were typically over radio waves and by using tags buried in the sleepers. “There is no copper to steal,” he said.

Durban’s signalling system is scheduled to be commissioned in 2017. The Interflo technology will modernise signalling at 42 stations and along 120 km of double-track.

It will enable a 2,5 minute headway between commuter trains, eliminate bottlenecks and increase safety and availability.

Associated telecommunications equipment (fibre-optic backbone and voice radio) is being provided while the civil works include modifications to existing platforms, track and overhead equipment and new pedestrian bridges.

BT has been established in South Africa since 1995, supporting local industry in locomotive and commuter train refurbishment programmes, including the Gautrain, where BT is responsible for the core electrical and mechanical design and equipment of the line between Johannesburg and Tshwane as well as airport-link trains from Sandton.

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