The heart of the matter: The challenge of installing a metro line control center

Bnamericas Published: Friday, February 03, 2023

Line No. 7 of the metro in Chilean capital Santiago has been under construction for almost a year, but it was only in January that the contract was awarded for a key component of the US$2.5 billion project: the operations control center, or the heart of the system.

The firm chosen was Thales, which, in addition to installing the operations center, will also be responsible for maintenance for a period of 10 years once the new line starts operating, which is expected to happen in 2027.

BNamericas speaks with Susana Gonçalves, general manager of Thales International Chile, to find out more about the importance of the operations center to the entire project and what installing it will involve.

BNamericas: What particular challenges are there for a project like line No. 7 regarding the installation of an operations control center?

Gonçalves: A great challenge will be to deploy the new generation of the Supervision, Control and Data Acquisition System [SCADA], currently under development in France. The architecture of this new generation will be hosted in the cloud, which entails complying with international cybersecurity standards and thus protecting the service and passengers. 

The SCADA will have a better graphical representation, which will improve the decision-making of the operators and expedite the implementation, deploying this new version in the operations control center in a simpler and more agile way.

Another major challenge we are seeing is the depth of the stations – up to 45 meters underground. In simple terms, that means running lots of cables from the technical room, which is usually at platform level, to the access.

We are currently working on the plans with BIM [Building Information Modeling] technology, which allows us to 3D model the equipment that we are going to install in the stations. 

The great benefit of this technology is being able to anticipate any integration defect between the different systems and ensuring that, in civil works terms, we have the appropriate pipes. On the other hand, given the magnitude of the project, there will be a greater number of auxiliary services to supervise, such as elevators, escalators, energy, smoke sensors, etc.

BNamericas: Have you considered participating in future metro projects in Santiago such as lines No. 8 and No. 9?

Gonçalves: Yes, we definitely hope to participate in the tenders. Having a consolidated team for all the lines leads us to look for other opportunities for collaboration with [system operator] Metro de Santiago, who have trusted in the advance of our technologies, both for the Operations Control Center [OCC] and the Communications-Based Train Control system [CBTC].

BNamericas: Regarding operations control centers for metro stations, what functions are becoming most important? Energy efficiency, internet access for users, safety or others?

Gonçalves: In general terms, the control centers are geared towards greater energy efficiency and security. For Thales, for example, this implies having an appropriate strategy in traction and braking dynamics, and calculating the optimal driving speed, among other functions.

Going to the particular case of the new line No. 7, the SCADA, based on the cloud, will have a better graphic representation that will improve the decision-making of the operators and provide greater agility in the implementation, complying with international standards in cybersecurity.

BNamericas: How important is the operations control center to the success of the line No. 7 project?

Gonçalves: If we made an analogy, the OCC would be the same as the heart of a human or any vital organ, since it is necessary for the provision of the service. It is in charge of the control and supervision of various auxiliary services such as elevators, escalators, lighting, ventilation and energy, among other equipment.

In addition, it is composed of a Traction Logic System that allows us to guarantee that the energization and de-energization of the line can be done safely.

The SCADA also has an access and intrusion control subsystem that monitors the flow of authorized personnel in the stations and workshops for the line, providing greater security for the operation.

Finally, in case of major emergencies, through its backup system, the OCC allows us to ensure supervision of the line. It should be noted that the latest generation of the OCC will be installed for the future line No. 7, technology that will also be present in three other cities around the world.

BNamericas: What other mobility projects in Chile is Thales involved in?

Gonçalves: In addition to being focused on designing, building and installing the Operations Control Center for line No. 7 and maintaining the supply operational on all the lines of the state network – lines No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 4A, No. 5, No. 6 – we are also working on the extension of line No. 3, where we are extending the supervision and control of the three new stations that go to Quilicura.

Another project in progress is the extension of line No. 2, where we renovated the control center including the optical control board, the traction logic cutout plate, the traction traffic SCADA and the traffic management program (PGT). This last project began at the end of 2019 and the launch date is estimated for July this year.

On the other hand, there is also the project to improve safety in stations on lines No. 3 and No. 6, with the supervision and command of new access controls and intrusion systems.

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