Frequently asked questions - Electrification of Auckland's network

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ELECTRIFICATION AND SAFETY

ABOUT ELECTRIFICATION

VISUAL IMPACT

HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS AT LEVEL CROSSINGS


ELECTRIFICATION AND SAFETY

What should I do in case of an emergency

In the event of an emergency at a level crossing or anywhere else on the rail network call the KiwiRail emergency number 0800 808 400

Can people get electrocuted by the wires

As with all power lines, the system is designed so people doing ordinary things won’t get hurt. And as with all power lines, you must treat the overhead wires and the fittings that carry them as live and dangerous at all times.

The electric wires carry 25,000 volts, which is 100 times more powerful than that used in homes. This makes the wires extremely dangerous and potentially deadly to anyone who contacts them or comes too close to them, as electricity can arc (jump) across gaps and can also travel through water or other liquids.

It is important to keep right away from these wires and to make sure anything you may be carrying is also well clear.

The masts carrying the electrified overhead wires will be 6-7m tall and the wires will be directly over the rail tracks. Screening will be in place to prevent any accidental contact at bridges or alongside walkways.

Why don’t you just fence off the whole rail network

It is not practical or cost-effective to fence off the whole rail corridor. Given the number of level crossings it would also be prohibitively expensive for the Auckland Council to grade separate all existing level crossings.

What happens at level crossings

The overhead wires mean height restrictions are now in place at all level crossings in Auckland. The safe height restriction is clearly signposted at each level crossing. It is set at 5 metres at most level crossings with a few at 4.25metres.

This restriction will not affect ordinary motorists or pedestrians – always check the height of what you are carrying/ towing (e.g. fishing rods on boats/ ladders).

Motorists in vehicles or towing loads that exceed these restrictions should choose an alternative route or will need to gain prior permission to use the level crossing. Ring KiwiRail on 04 474 2323 for more information and to make the arrangements.

I use trains all the time - will I need to do anything different at stations

Generally no, but the new electric trains will look and sound different to current trains so you will need to familiarise yourself with how the new trains operate. For example, door operations may be slightly different, there will be a different layout inside the trains compared to what you get today (including steps), and because they are longer than today's trains they will stop at different points on the platform.

If you follow the usual safety precautions needed at a train station you will be safe.
It is even more important to stand behind the yellow tactiles because the new trains will be quieter and faster and may not stop at all stations
Always use dedicated pedestrian footpaths to access railway stations
If you have children make sure they are aware of the dangers of the electrical wires. Make sure they know not to play or walk near the train tracks
Keep clear of the tracks, only cross at level crossings
Don’t take shortcuts along or across the railway tracks

ABOUT ELECTRIFICATION

Will electric trains be quieter than diesel trains

Electric trains are quieter than diesel trains. This means there is even more reason for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to take care when using level crossings and to ‘Stop, look and listen for trains.

A safety awareness programme will be launched prior to the introduction of electrified services to educate the community on the dangers of electrification, quieter trains and general rail safety.

Will diesel trains still be able to operate on the electrified lines

Diesel trains will be able to operate on the electrified network; however only a small number of diesel trains will including existing freight services.

Will the electric network be tested before taking passengers

The electric network and trains will undertake extensive testing and commissioning prior to commencing regular passenger services.

How will the wires work

A structure on the top of the new trains called a pantograph maintains contact with these wires at all times so the electricity can power the train’s engine.

How does the power supply compare to the power lines outside my house

The power lines supplying your house are at a much lower voltage 400 V and 230 V and insulated between the pole and the house. The power lines along the road are insulated and either low voltage (400 V) or high voltage (11,000 V and 33,000 V). The traction wires are bare conductors and operate at 25,000 V. This power supply configuration is very different as the systems conform to different electrical regulations and legislation.

What if Auckland has a power cut

The traction network is supplied from two separate Transpower substations which feed to separate but interlinked rail substations. The traction system supplying the trains is fed from substations that have a redundancy built in to reduce the likelihood of a ‘blackout’ occurring. The rail network’s substations are fed from two dedicated cables from the Transpower substations which further reduces the risk of any local blackout impacting the network.

Why do you have to do the electrification work at night

There is a lot of work on and immediately next to the tracks which can’t be done safely or effectively while trains are running. More frequent train services are great for commuters, but they also mean we have less opportunity during daylight hours to get all our work done. It is often safer, quicker and easier for us to do the work at night when there are few or no trains, and on some weekends and public holidays when the tracks are closed. This also means we can get the work done a lot more quickly, instead of dragging the disruption out over weeks or months.

We know our work can be disruptive at times and we do our best to provide plenty of advance warning about our night and weekend activities. We also work with our contractors to minimise disruption and noise wherever possible.

Will the power required by the electrified network increase the chance of ‘blackouts’

Auckland’s electrified rail network will be powered through direct connection to the national high voltage 220 kV power transmission network. It will add about 1 per cent to the demand of the Auckland power supply system. There is therefore no increased risk of blackouts from the installation of this system.


Why are you putting the wires overhead instead of electrifying the tracks as they do in London

There are many level crossings around Auckland’s rail network, and a number of points where the tracks are easily accessible, so there are important safety considerations. The traction system will also be compatible with the system used on the North Island Main Trunk. All new electrified networks throughout the world are installed using 25 kV AC systems.

Third rail systems are used with low voltage DC systems, These systems are only used in fully enclosed environments such as the London Underground and are generally where the original rail network was constructed at a time when only DC systems were available.

What about EMF

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are created by electricity. The EMF strength is directly related to the size of the voltage and current and the distance from the conductor. They are generated by any conductor (e.g. overhead wires) that has a current and is above the ground.

EMF is associated with power transmission (this refers to the bulk transfer of electrical power from one place to another, generally from power stations to substations) and a power distribution system (transferring power from the substation to users). Power transmission has higher EMF levels because of the greater magnitude of the voltages and currents.

Are the electro-magnetic fields from the traction system harmful to my health

The electrified system to be installed in Auckland is the same safe system as that constructed in Brisbane and Perth, and many other locations around the world. The system complies with all the requirements of the guidelines developed by the National Radiation Laboratory and therefore the levels of EMFs are no greater than those produced by the local power distribution network and generally much less than the Transpower transmission network.

KiwiRail engaged specialists consultants to review the levels of EMF to be expected on and adjacent to the rail corridor. They advised that electric and magnetic fields (EMF) levels will comply with the levels set by the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which are accepted for use in NZ by the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL).

Testing will be carried out once the system is energised and the new electric trains are running to determine actual levels of EMF against those predicted in the Consultant’s report.

Will the EMFs interfere with the electronics in my house or office

The electrification infrastructure and trains will be required to meet strict international standards regarding electromagnetic compatibility.
Given the significant variation in electronic devices available, it is not possible to say that no devices will be impacted, however it is very unlikely, based on experiences associated with the recent construction and electrification in Australia.
Safety is the paramount consideration both during construction of the electrified network and throughout its operation.

VISUAL IMPACT

Will there be the same type of masts across the network

No, there will be a few different styles of masts around the Auckland rail network.

Why will there be different types of masts What are the different options

Different masts are needed to maintain the wires in the right place to ensure power reaches the train.
The governing factors include geographical location and ground conditions, track alignment and clearance restrictions from the masts to the trains and adjacent properties. To allow for this three types of foundation and mast installations have been developed.
The first, and preferred, is the single track cantilever (STC) installed on each side of the double track network. The second is a twin track cantilever (TTC) which spans two tracks but installed on one side only. The third is a portal frame which spans multiple tracks used mainly in complex operational areas where the two previous methods can't be used.

Why are you putting up these wires instead of electrifying the tracks as they do in London

Auckland has many level crossings, and there are a number of points where railway tracks are easily accessible. As such, there are important safety considerations. The traction system will also be compatible with the system used on the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT). All new electrified networks throughout the world are installed using 25 kV AC systems.

Some rail systems use low voltage DC systems. These systems are only used in fully enclosed environments such as the London Underground, and are generally where the rail network was constructed at a time when only DC systems were available.

What have you done to consider the visual aspects of the masts and wires

KiwiRail engaged a landscape architect to conduct a visual sensitivity report prior to choosing the mast type for Auckland’s future electrified network.

The landscape architect considered many options keeping in mind three key parameters – 1. visual impact, 2. engineering limitations, and 3. cost.

Based on this, the report recommended steel single track cantilevers (STCs) as the “most cost-effective” and “the least visually intrusive” electrification structures, which could be installed in most parts of the network while still meeting engineering specifications.

What about impact in visually sensitive areas, such as the waterfront and residential areas

The majority of the line passes through a low quality of visual environment on either side of the line, such as industrial and commercial structures. The masts and overhead wires are unlikely to generate adverse visual effects in such areas.

In residential areas and publically visual areas such as Hobson Bay, the STCs are considered to have the least visual impact since these are the thinnest of the various options considered, and have the least profile. Wherever engineering constraints permit, the design provides for installation of these less intrusive structures in visually sensitive areas.

In most cases, the STC structures will gradually weather and blend into the environment, similar to street light and power poles in the road corridor.

What will be the visual impact on heritage stations

The overhead wires network has been designed to reduce the number of masts near heritage stations. However, some masts will be required and all masts within station precincts will be painted to match the existing station infrastructure.

I have heard that there are now new height restrictions at level crossings in Auckland. What heights are affected

The Auckland rail network is being electrified and overhead wires are being installed. This means there are height restrictions at level crossings in Auckland. Most are set at 5m but some are 4.25m.

All vehicles that are within the NZ Transport Agency’s dimension limits for height - 4.25 metres - can safely cross any level crossing within the Auckland electrified area. The table explains what you need to do to take a vehicle or load over 4.25m in height over a level crossing.

Height and Operating Conditions

Greater than 4.25 metres - up to and including 5 metres: Written approval from KiwiRail, if you want to take the vehicle over a level crossing, and any part fo the vehicle or load exceeds the height restriction shown on the safe height sign at the level crossing.

Greater than 5 metres: Written approval from KiwiRail, if you want to take the vehicle over a level crossing.

If you are unsure of the height restrictions at the level crossings you wish to cross, you should call KiwiRail Operations support desk on 04 474 2323 or see the map showing the locations and height restrictions at each level crossing in Auckland

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I received a leaflet saying signs will be posted at level crossings showing what these new height restrictions are. At the level crossings I use there are no signs or evidence of overhead wires. Do I still need to apply for written permission from KiwiRail

You only need to apply for permission when signs and wires are erected or where signs are not erected if your height exceeds 5.2m. If you are unsure about which level crossings have wires and signs erected, and therefore height restrictions, call KiwiRail Operations support desk on 04 474 2323 or email crossingpermits@kiwirail.co.nz


How do I obtain a written permission from KiwiRail to cross a level crossing with an overheight load

To obtain permission contact the KiwiRail Operations Support desk on tel: 04 474 2323 or email: crossingpermits@kiwirail.co.nz

Why do we need a height clearance limit

Height clearance limits are set at level crossings in electrified areas of the rail network to ensure a minimum safe distance between the highest part of any vehicle (including any radio aerials) and the lowest part of the overhead wires is maintained at all times.

The requirements and procedures for taking an overheight load over a level crossing are in line with those laid down by the Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Dimension and Mass 2002 and its amendments.

What precautions do I need to take to safely cross a level crossing

To stay safe, you must always obey all warning signs and alarms at level crossings. You should not queue on a level crossing or begin to move across one unless you know your vehicle can completely clear it.

What should I do if my vehicle comes in contact with an overhead wire

In the event of an emergency on or near a level crossing, stay in the vehicle and call the Train Control Emergency line on 0800 808 400. This is the safest course of action. KiwiRail advise all operators of overdimension vehicles, who cross the railways, to have this number easily accessible in their cabs at all times. If you can see a train approaching, you should jump clear such that no part of the vehicle is touched and both feet land on the ground.

How do I report an accident on a level crossing

In the event of an emergency on or near a level crossing, call the Train Control Emergency line on 0800 808 400. KiwiRail advise all operators of overheight vehicles who cross the railways to have this number easily accessible in their cabs at all times.

What should I do if I reach a level crossing and then realise that my load is over the sign posted height restriction

If it is possible to do so safely, you should turn around or back out and find another route that your load can pass under safely. If this is not possible, you will need to call the KiwiRail Operations Support desk on 04 474 2323 to see if an urgent permit can be issued. There is no guarantee that this can be issued.

What is the maximum sized load allowed to cross tracks

For more information on maximum tolerances at level crossings call the KiwiRail Operations Support desk on 04 474 2323.

Who decides the clearance limits

These clearances are determined by Electrical Safety Regulations that specify the electrical safety clearances between the highest point of vehicle or load and wires.

How much does an oversized load permit cost

The permit fee varies depending on the amount of work required to enable the load to cross. We can give you an indicative cost when you apply but won’t know the final price until after we have completed the job.

How long does permission last

Usually permission is for a single journey. But if you have an oversized load that needs to cross the tracks regularly, we may grant a six month permit.

Why can’t I cross within 24 hours of applying for permission

Crossing the rail network with an oversized load can require a lot of preparation work and our staff need to be booked in advance.

What does KiwiRail do to help oversized loads cross the tracks

Long loads For vehicles over 20 metres long our train control centre checks that trains are not approaching when you want to cross. Barrier arms may need to be altered.
Wide loads For vehicles over 6 metres wide we can temporarily remove warning signs at level crossings.
High loads We may suggest an alternative safe route, over a bridge or private rail crossing. Or we may set up an alternative warning system and temporarily move signs and other obstacles.

What does an oversized load crossing permit specify

The permit specifies:

  • crossing procedures
  • crossing point
  • crossing time
  • safety measures

 Once the crossing is complete the permit holder must inform Train Control that the load is clear of the crossing. Until Train Control gets a clearance the load is deemed to still be on the crossing.

Why are these height restrictions different from those on the Palmerston North to Hamilton electrified section of railway, which are at 5.24m

The height restrictions on the NIMT Palmerston North to Hamilton section were set in the 1980s under the Electrical Regulations applicable at that time. The Auckland clearances comply with internationally accepted standards for railway traction systems which are now cited in the current Electrical (Safety) Regulations which specify an increased clearance to the overhead lines. Thus the Auckland electrification clearances are fully compliant with current statutory requirements specified in the Electrical (Safety) Regulations

Why is KiwiRail's over-dimension standard different from Land Transport New Zealand’s

We use ‘over 20 metres’ as ‘over-dimension’ because of the time it takes a vehicle of that length to cross the tracks can exceed our minimum train warning or viewing times.

Need more help

Contact our KiwiRail Network Operations Support team:
KiwiRail Operations Support Desk,
National Train Control Centre
Phone (04) 474 2323
Fax (04) 474 2324
Email: crossingpermits@kiwirail.co.nz