Innovation is a shade of purple

August 14, 2017

SNC-Lavalin has been breaking new ground with rolling-stock projects on opposite sides of the world, both of which have new railway systems called the Purple Line. We reports on the innovative schemes in the United States and Thailand offering greener transport alternatives to the car. 

The Purple Line Project, a 16.2-mile (26km) light railway line establishing a fresh east-west connection through the Maryland suburbs of the US capital city, scores a number of ‘firsts’.

SNC-Lavalin is working as rolling-stock adviser within the project consortium – focused on delivering a new rail system by around 2022 – to encourage commuters and other travellers to adopt a greener, easy alternative to their cars.

In the United States, the family car is the largest source of household emissions, with passenger vehicles accounting for 18% of the country’s greenhouse gas releases.

A ‘P3’ project worth approximately US$2bn, the Purple Line will have 21 stations and, on completion, will connect four Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metro stations, Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) and Amtrak train services, and local bus services.

The rolling stock – made by CAF, a rail-car manufacturer based in Spain – will be in passenger service as five module sets, each around 140ft long, making this America’s longest light rail train unit.

Our team feels this is a great, highly visible project, and it will have a lot of impact

Murphy Madison

Programme Manager, Rolling Stock

Breaking the mould

The consortium partners also broke the mould when they successfully bid for the project. While competitors offered a two-car unit, the winners proposed longer individual train units, but with fewer trains overall.

This means a 50% reduction on the rolling stock required and construction savings, too – station platforms will be shorter, and the savings keep adding up over the 30-year operating term. 

Murphy Madison, Programme Manager for the Rolling Stock Advisor contract within the project, says: ‘Our team feels this is a great, highly visible project, and it will have a lot of impact. 

‘SNC-Lavalin has a key role. Although the vehicles are only 10% of the cost, they are incredibly important, so we have a great role in making the project happen.’

The Maryland Transit Administration requires the new rail line to connect suburbs – including Bethesda and Silver Spring – and provide the University of Maryland with a new public transport link, offering connections to the Washington Metro system, the MARC train service, and Amtrak, the national rail network.

‘The biggest challenge is all the project interfaces,’ says Murphy. ‘Normally, many of the factors would be fixed; for instance, the track and stations would have been built already.

‘But, in this case, everything is being built at once and everything is moving; the track and catenary are being designed, and we need to interface with several groups all at once. Things are always changing – and the vehicle isn’t designed yet.’

Keeping the balls in the air

viewpoint-purple-line-inside-1.jpgDesigning the rail vehicle and signing off its specification will take more than a year, and will lead to the manufacturing phase. Everyone on the project currently has ‘a lot of balls in the air’, according to Murphy.

SNC-Lavalin’s work will include advising on safety aspects, brakes, air conditioning and propulsion of the new vehicle, electrical and communications systems, as well as ensuring various systems within the train ‘talk’ to one another and to the railway’s control centre. The company will also visit the factory during the train’s construction, for quality inspections and testing. After the vehicles are delivered to the site in Maryland, SNC-Lavalin will oversee the commissioning of the vehicles, in preparation for opening day.

Bangkok, Thailand, with its congested roads, is a city facing significant pollution problems. 

Since August 2016, however, commuters have been offered a greener alternative to their cars in the form of the 23km-long Purple Line rapid transit service. This takes passengers from the city’s north-eastern suburbs to close to the existing Blue Line on the city’s mass rapid transit rail system.

Around 22,000 passengers a day already use this new transport link, with ridership expected to grow in coming years.

Getting the new trains ready to run in passenger service, against a demanding schedule – just 30 months from the contract signature to the trains starting operations – was among the hurdles to be overcome.

Working together

viewpoint-purple-line-inside-2.jpgExperts from SNC-Lavalin were contracted to support rolling-stock manufacturer Japan Transport Engineering Company (J-Trec) in designing, manufacturing and commissioning the new three-car train sets for the Purple Line – SNC-Lavalin’s first rail project in Thailand.

Strategically, this scheme was important to showcase SNC-Lavalin’s capabilities, as Thailand is planning to make further significant investment in rail over the next decade and beyond.

At the peak of the project, 15 full-time SNC-Lavalin staff – managed by the Sydney, Australia office – were involved. As well as working closely with J-Trec, the project team partnered with: Toshiba, which supplied the traction systems; Singaporean communications system firm STE; Bombardier, which supplied the signalling and automatic train operation (ATO) systems; power supply company Meidensha; and civil engineering contractors ITD.

Dave Bracken, Senior Consultant for SNC-Lavalin’s Projects team, worked in Bangkok and with the train manufacturer in Yokohama during the project. ‘For all of the teams, working with the Japanese client was a unique experience,’ he says.

‘Although Japan has a very developed railway industry, it is something a lot of westerners don’t get to participate in. Being embedded with Japanese engineers was an extremely enjoyable process, and it was satisfying working with the Thai clients to develop a shared understanding of how the system worked.’

With some sophisticated systems required to enable the rolling stock to operate on this new railway, a highly disciplined approach to design and manufacturing was essential.

J-Trec’s last international project had been more than 10 years previously and Dave says: ‘Our assistance was greatly appreciated by J-Trec in managing and negotiating during an international engineering project.’

Our assistance was greatly appreciated during an international engineering project

Dave Bracken

Senior Consultant

Cultural melting pot

The project teams were a melting pot in terms of cultures, and communication was another challenge, with people from Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK and South Africa working together.

SNC-Lavalin employed its human factors expertise, which involved conducting an independent review of the vehicle’s interior ergonomics.

The driver‘s cab area was made more ‘user friendly’, and human factors also reviewed the vestibules, passenger areas and gangways. Although the Purple Line trains are fully automated, they have drivers on board and stakeholders wanted to see improvements to their working environment compared with that of existing rolling stock.

SNC-Lavalin’s project specialists came from the Rail & Transit team; vehicle dynamics; human factors; earthing and bonding (part of electrical engineering); and electric, mechanical and communications systems. There was also a noise and vibration expert from the Environment and Geoscience team.

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