Auckland’s rail network is undergoing massive development, including twin 3.45km rail tunnels under the central business district and electrification of the line from Papakura to Pukekohe in the far south of the city. To cope with the increase in traffic expected from 2025, the network will need additional power.  

Our client, KiwiRail, explored how to boost the traction power supply Auckland’s Western Line, and identified as essential the relatively new technology of static frequency converters (SFC), in use in Australia and Europe. Eche, in the picture, was seconded to KiwiRail to help the company procure the converters, a technology that he describes as a “game-changer” for rail electrification. This will be the first time SFCs have been used in a rail project in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

The train power system used in Auckland utilises alternating current (AC) and operates at 25,000 volts. This type of system traditionally requires an expensive transmission grid connection that can take some years to procure.  The SFC technology allows additional power to be provided by lower-voltage connections that are cheaper and quicker to obtain. Also, the SFC technology allows for a network design that can better utilise the regenerated energy obtained when trains brake. This means a more efficient, greener outcome for rail transport in Auckland. 

Eche worked alongside other stakeholders to procure the static frequency converters as well as the construction package and the high-voltage ancillary infrastructure such as a portable switching building and controls. 

For Eche, the value of project-management secondments to client companies is that the incoming manager understands the challenges involved in the planning, execution and integration of new power generators into a grid, and can facilitate the necessary collaboration:  “Secondments are a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder arrangement.”    

Eche says the level of collaboration during this secondment to KiwiRail was excellent. “We were a multiskilled group of small and medium enterprises in Europe, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand working seamlessly together to deliver the project.” Construction is due to begin in mid-2023.