Australia’s largest rail infrastructure project, the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail freight line, has switched to solar energy to power its signaling systems. The move is expected to bring an estimated A$25 million ($16.93 million) in cost savings.
Australian Federal Government-owned Australian Rail Track Corp. (ARTC) has confirmed it will use ground-mounted solar panels combined with battery energy storage systems to supply more than 80 signaling points along the country’s track corridor when the inland rail line becomes operational.
Following a successful trial of the solar-powered signaling system at Coolleearlee in northern New South Wales, the ARTC has approved its use at the remaining 82 signaling sites operating along the rail corridor from Albury in the state’s south to Gowrie in Queensland.
Albury-Gowrie is part of the ambitious Inland Rail project, a rail line linking the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane along a new route to the west of the Great Dividing Range. The line bypassing the Sydney metropolitan area will also be connected to the Sydney-Perth rail corridor.
Construction on the project began in 2018 and was originally supposed to be completed in 2025, but the project has been plagued by budget constraints and construction delays. Although there is no final end date for the project, ARTC has switched to a solar-powered signaling system, which will help achieve savings.
ARTC Inland Rail Acting managing director Rebecca Pickering said using solar and battery energy storage systems instead of grid power for the signaling system offers significant savings to the project, as the move eliminates the need to use local electricity infrastructure or acquire easements for supply. mains power services for signaling points.
“The use of solar power also saved ARTC approximately A$300,000 in costs, mainly savings from not building a new transmission line on the power grid and reduced trackside infrastructure associated with network equipment, plus annual savings of over $10,000 in utility costs,” he said. “We also use remote monitoring technology in these solar-powered signaling equipment, which increases savings by reducing the need for maintenance visits.”
If these savings are replicated at the additional 82 signaling sites, the switch to solar energy supporting battery energy storage will provide an estimated A$25 million in cost savings to the project.
ARTC said individual solar generation and storage systems vary in capacity, but Matt Brown, Inland Rail’s communications and wayside monitoring project manager, said all are designed to meet the company’s solar energy standard of 10 days of autonomy.
“The solar system is designed with battery backup that provides 10 days of back-up operation and provides a system that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said. “Supplying power to rural signaling systems can be a real challenge, so the successful completion of a solar powered system in Coolleearlee is a great result.”