Replacing the train detection in the port of Rotterdam

In the coming years, the current train detection system of track circuits in the Dutch port of Rotterdam on the port railway is being replaced by axle counters. The project is the first large-scale application of a new type of Thales axle counters in the Netherlands. During RailTech Europe, client ProRail and engineering firm Sweco gave an insight in the project.

The Rotterdam port railway line, part of the Betuweroute, is a more than 50 kilometre long freight railway line. The current train detection system will be obsolete in 2024. Replacing the train detection system on the railway is by no means an easy job, primarily due to the scale of the project. More than 1,500 axle counters with 100 associated computer system cabinets must be installed on more than 1,000 sections of the 50-kilometre-long tracks.

This requires more than 150 kilometres of excavation work for cables and pipes, says Ben van Hooijdonk, project manager at infrastructure manager ProRail. In addition, the project team is faced with challenging environmental factors at the coast, such as strong winds and a combination of sand and salt.

Problems with rust

The current train detection system of track circuits is due for replacement. Not only is the system approaching the end of its life, but there have also been problems with train detection for years, says Van Hooijdonk.

“Environmental factors such as salt and sand resulted in rust. Because of this, there should actually have be a lot of driving on the track. However, but a lot of equipment is stalled in the port. This prevents from driving back and forth with trains. And if the detection does not function properly, you will not have optimal insight into the availability of the track.”

A new type of axle counter from system supplier Thales will be installed for the project. These GAST-NL axle counters have already been used in the Netherlands in projects in Groningen and Zwolle. They have however never been installed on a large scale, as is the case in the port of Rotterdam.

All data in a digital environment

The tender for the project was done on the basis of a ‘change of function’-project instead of a replacement project, because ProRail cannot replace the components one by one. Moreover, the design choices that will be made will soon apply to the entire port railway line.

The contract was won by engineering firm Sweco. According to Erik ter Brake, project manager Rail at Sweco Netherlands, the plan of action was the deciding factor. “For example, we have identified and analysed all operational processes in a so-called ‘operational concept description’. Subsequently, these matters have been elaborated into technical solutions in our “system architecture document”. In this way we can choose a uniform approach for the entire railway line.”

The attention for innovative forms of cooperation was also appealing. “We dealt with the size of the area in a risk-driven manner. In addition, collected data is recorded in an easily usable digital environment, which is accessible to everyone within the project team”, says Ter Brake.

Technical challenges

The project is divided into four lots. The concept for lot 1 has now been completed, says Ter Brake. This concerns all tracks on the Maasvlakte. “We are now going to work on the rail traffic design, followed by the detailed and implementation design, after which the realisation of lot 1 will take place.”

In addition to the work on lot 1, there are a number of technical challenges that need to be solved, he says. These challenges are related to fault repair, maintenance work and the long-term standing of equipment on the sidings. “We will have to solve that for lots two, three and four.”

The goal is to have the new train detection system installed in lot 1 by the end of 2022.

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Author: Nick Augusteijn

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