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South Wales ‘Site of the Future’ Is 97 Percent Diesel-Free

South Wales: Network Rail and Colas Rail have been working on a large-scale rail renewal project in South Wales where they have used solar lighting and power generation. The two companies wish to demonstrate the viability of a sustainable ‘Site of the Future’. In this case they managed to operate 97 percent diesel-free.

South Wales: 97 percent diesel-free 'site of the future'
South Wales: 97 percent diesel-free ‘site of the future’ © Network Rail

Network Rail and Colas Rail opted for solar and battery technologies from Prolectric Ltd in favour of diesel generators at the 21-acre worksite in South Wales. As a result, they have saved 6,000 litres of fuel and more than 15 tons of carbon dioxide during a two-week project that involved a 72-hour possession during the long weekend in early May. During that period more than 70 railway staff worked on the site.

These figures are a positive step towards achieving better environmental performance goals and carbon-free, off-grid working. Network Rail has a 2024 target to cut non-traction energy consumption by almost 20 percent and carbon emissions by 25 percent.

Nick Matthews, Network Rail Programme Engineering Manager, said:

“In business improvement, generally a one or two percent gain is considered significant, so to achieve 97% at the first attempt is simply staggering. Saving close to 6,000 litres of diesel is the same as driving a family car at 40 mpg twice around the circumference of the world.

“It’s also very clear where we have learnt the lessons from Llanwern so we can close that small gap. We really want to get to that 100% fuel free-figure by the time of our next challenge, planned for a rail renewal project later in the summer.”

Network Rail and Colas Rail installed the solar lighting and power generation technologies and used them along access roads, the welfare cabin area, the car parking area and the track worksite itself. This rail site is situated where the London to Cardiff main line meets the Llanwern steelworks spur.

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Solar Technology

Instead of using standard diesel generators, Network Rail and Colas Rail used three 25kW solar generators. These provided both light and heat for seven welfare cabins, a canteen, toilets and a drying room.

The solar generators powered 21 solar tower lights. These lit up the site. Trackside 200m of battery-powered link lighting was used, while column street lights lit up the access road.

Nick Matthews:

“It was just as important to explore and extend the range of renewable applications, including a new solar-powered camera security system. We were also able to demonstrate the versatility of using portable lithium battery packs, recharged as necessary from the solar generators to power dust suppression systems, water cooler stations and point motors.”

Solar generators don’t just reduce carbon emissions. They also cut noise emissions and smell and air pollution emitted from diesel exhausts. In addition to being generally beneficial to the climate, this is particularly relevant for worksites close to residential areas.

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Ryan Ballinger, Production Manager for Colas Rail, said:

“We have worked closely to drive the development of suitable on-site solar tower lights and walking lights.  Now at Llanwern we have been able to add solar generators for the first time and moving forward we want to add smaller plant and tools such as disk saws and band saws.

“There’s no doubt these technologies are going to be a complete gamechanger. Now, we need to push on and get to the point where they are just business as usual.”

In addition to being a success in its own right this project will provide feedback to improve and optimise the solar and battery technologies. However, it can give insights into energy-efficiency initiatives, which could then lead to 100 percent diesel-free operations.

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