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Rail electrification vital for positive transport future


Federal and State governments are beginning to take up the challenge of rail electrification. benchmark.

Depending on the power source, rail electrification can be a significant part of a government’s carbon strategy as an electric train is typically estimated to emit between 20 per cent and 35 per cent less carbon per passenger mile than a diesel locomotive.

With a carbon price mechanism draft paper just released by the Australian Federal Government, this is going to become a critical issue in the delivery of local transport networks in the future.

And as the grid-connected electricity generation industry reduces its emissions by developing large scale renewable energy power sources, such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal, the advantage of electric trains over diesel trains will increase.

Electric trains have zero emissions in their own right, at point of operation, which is significant when you consider urban air quality and pollution levels. Additionally, electric lines have significantly lower running costs due to the trains being lighter and faster.

In both Australia and New Zealand, major electrification projects are underway, concentrating on urban passenger networks and freight lines.

These include the Victorian Government’s $270 million Sunbury Electrification Project, with works started last year, and the just announced $400 million electrification program fork Adelaide’s Rail Network.

Details announced in February by South Australian transport minister Patrick Conlon pinpoint the scope and benefits of the rail electrification works: installation of the poles, wires and signalling & communication systems that are required to run a modern electric rail system with brand new trains. The electrified rail lines will provide faster, quieter, safer, and more frequent services.

Under the SA project, some 100 km of track will be electrified across the metropolitan area from Gawler to Seaford and from Adelaide to Outer Harbour. The first electrified services are expected to run on the new Seaford rail line in 2013.

In Victoria, the Sunbury project will see the electrification of 12 kilometres of line from Watergardens to Sunbury. As a member of the Sunbury Electrification Project alliance, O’Donnell Griffin is on track to deliver the new electrified line to the Department of Transport for commencement of services in December this year.

Sydney’s $1 billion Novo Rail urban renewal works includes electrification upgrades of RailCorp NSW passenger network. Several new substations have been built, including West Ryde and the Art Gallery, and a series of upgrades to the overhead wiring (OHW) on the Parramatta to Penrith, Bankstown, Strathfield, Hornsby to Woy Woy, and North Shore lines are completed, or in progress. O’Donnell Griffin carried out the majority of these works on behalf of the Novo Rail alliance.

KiwiRail is committed to electrification of its networks in Auckland and Wellington, NZ. The first passengers on KiwiRail’s electrified rail service, running from Paraparaumu to Waikanae in Wellington, travelled on the line on 20 February 2011. This project was completed two months ahead of schedule, with O’Donnell Griffin installing the 1500V DC overhead electric rail lines.

Queensland Rail has led the way in electrification and already has approximately 1,000 kilometres of electrified rail, including mine to port lines.

The social costs associated with air and noise pollution from diesel locomotives, and the quantifiable long-term lower operating costs need to be analysed when making investment decisions regarding the electrification of a rail line. Though the initial capital cost for overhead electrification has fallen by over 30% since 2004, it is still necessary for the industry to innovate in order to further reduce the cost per track kilometre.
One of the advantages of new electrification projects in Australia is the industry’s ability to do just this, making it a commercial, social and environmental scenario which should simply get more attractive.

This article is by Peter Winder, Executive General Manager for O'Donnell Griffin-Rail which is involved in major rail  infrastructure projects, including electrification.

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