Brazilian railway company Valec taps into the power of satellite communications while connecting Brazil from north to south.
Building a railway is never easy. Operatives need to stay in communication as they move up and down the track to perform construction and maintenance tasks and, on a very long line that runs through vast areas of poor connectivity, it’s even harder.
This is why Valec turned to Globalsat Group and Inmarsat to provide satellite communications in its work on the extensive North-South Railway in Brazil.
This line will run from Belém in the far northern state of Pará to the southernmost city in Brazil, Río Grande. Some 1,575 kilometres (979 miles) is already completed, with a further 700 kilometres (435 miles) of track yet to be built.
It is a difficult task, even for a well-established railway company like Valec, which also manages two other Brazilian railways, the West-East Integration Railway and the Centre-West Integration Railway.
Difficulties come with the sheer scale of the project, not least because the railway itself is used in its own construction. Trains run on the track to transport goods, and at the same time, workers like mechanics, engineers and builders work along the track both for construction and maintenance duties. These are supplemented by maintenance vehicles that drive up and down the line.
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With so much traffic up and down the railway, and so many different tasks and workflows to coordinate, excellent communications are vital. Yet in this case, it was made difficult by poor terrestrial cellular coverage and the use of unsophisticated, paper-based systems.
Before Valec reviewed its systems, for example, drivers would be given paperwork from the control centre in Palmas that detailed the origin and destination of any particular trip. But poor communications made it difficult to keep in touch with drivers during a trip. This meant it was hard to exchange instructions when a driver was en route, and difficult to react to changing circumstances.
This impacted efficiency, and was expensive. Trains are up to one kilometre long, and stopping and starting them again uses up a lot of fuel. Not being sure of the actual location of drivers at any one time also has health and safety implications.
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Connection to the Inmarsat L-band satellite network has provided a solution to these challenges. Valec opened a procurement process, in line with Brazilian federal government regulation. Globalsat Group, a provider of satellite communications and
equipment, submitted a proposal combining its technical deployment and management expertise with the reach and reliability of Inmarsat’s satellite network.
The connection was tested at 100-kilometre intervals, and Inmarsat was successful at providing a service at each point. Moreover, it tested at more than 99 percent availability, even on a moving vehicle.
Satellite communications were augmented by GPS tracking on rail vehicles that transmit locations constantly and in real time, back to the control centre, and by satellite-enabled push-to-talk (PTT) handsets in vehicles so that trains can communicate with the control centre. PTT services are handled by a Globalsat Group PTT communications server located in a secure facility directly connected to the Inmarsat ground network.
These features, along with the ability to integrate the satellite communications solution with existing systems, gave Valec a real advantage, as there was no need to change any of their control panel systems or the general operation of their control centre facility. The new solution fitted well into existing workstreams and workflows.
The system has been so successfully implemented that Bruno Fontoura of Valec Operations calls it the ‘bedrock’ of the North-South Railway project.
The North-South Railway is a huge infrastructure project which will help drive the Brazilian national economy, he says. “As a public company that acts for the wider social and economic good of Brazil, the railway must be completed on time and at the right cost, so we must use the right suppliers.”
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