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Case study: Valec

Enterprise

Railway company taps into the power of satellite communications provided by Globalsat Group and Inmarsat to connect Brazil from North to South.

About Valec

Valec is an organisation which builds, maintains and operates Brazilian railways. The public company manages three railways: the North-South Railway, the West-East Integration Railway and the Centre-West Integration Railway. The organisation plays a major role in developing infrastructure across a very large territory in order to support the Brazilian economy.

The challenge

Valec is currently in the process of building the North-South Railway, which when completed will run from Belém in the North to the southernmost city in Brazil, Río Grande, enabling the movement of valuable commodities, such as ethanol, soya and metals. 1575km of this railway are already in operation, but Valec is still building approximately 700km of the track. A control centre facility, based in Palmas, coordinates operations from Porto Nacional to Estrela d’Oeste, controlling the movement of maintenance vehicles and ensuring that all building and engineering tasks run according to plan.

Trains are using sections of the track to transport goods, while mechanics, engineers, builders and other workers are all posted at different points down the length of the track to undertake construction work and maintenance on specific sections of the railway. Numerous maintenance vehicles drive up and down the line, managing the railway, delivering vital raw materials and moving workers.

Considering the sheer distances involved and the scale of the work at hand, communication between their vehicles, trains and control centre is key. Despite this, Valec’s communications were previously hampered by intermittent terrestrial connectivity, older radio technology and a paper system, whereby drivers would be given a ‘license’ from the control centre, which would specify a beginning and end point for their journey and cargo.

This system was problematic on several levels – for one thing, it did not allow the control centre facility to have any real feedback on what its vehicles were doing. It also restricted the agility of Valec – rather than being able to react flexibly to changing events happening along the line and being able to adjust resource allocation accordingly by communicating with drivers, it instead left the team with only the paper-based system as a guarantee of their whereabouts. Moreover, not being able to see where drivers were in real time represented a safety and health issue, as these drivers were travelling very long distances to remote locations on a daily basis. For the operators of trains using these stretches of lines, there was also an economic cost involved, as trains – which can be up to 1km long – were using a lot of diesel stopping and starting again.

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The solution

Seeking a better way of working, Valec opened a procurement process, in line with Brazilian federal government regulations. Globalsat Group, a provider of satellite communications and equipment, submitted a proposal combining its technical deployment and management knowhow with the reach and reliability of Inmarsat’s satellite network.

Inmarsat’s fleet of geostationary satellites delivers seamless global coverage, and the solution provided to Valec leverages this industry-leading network in two key ways. Firstly, GPS tracking constantly transmits the rail vehicles locations back to the control centre, and secondly, vehicles are equipped with satellite enabled push-to-talk (PTT) handsets, allowing them to communicate with the control centre.

Both of these functions are enabled by BGAN terminals integrated into the vehicles by Globalsat Group and connected to the highly reliable Inmarsat L-band network, which during initial testing proved to have more than 99% availability even on a moving vehicle.

The results

Valec now operates a sophisticated traffic control system, based on the known position of maintenance vehicles and commercial trains. The capacity to see exactly where the vehicles are at any given time and to communicate reliably with drivers throughout the length of the track has not only helped Valec to work more efficiently, but also much more safely. From an economic standpoint, train companies have reduced the amount of money being spent on diesel due to unplanned events on the track.

Bruno Fontoura, from Valec Operations, commented: “We tested the solution by checking the connectivity at 100km intervals – only with Inmarsat’s connectivity did we get service at each point. Importantly, the hybrid solution was skilfully integrated into our existing systems, meaning that we didn’t have to make any major adjustments to control panels or the way our control centre facility operates to ensure the whole thing functioned. And finally, all this was delivered on time and at the right price. The system works reliably, saving us money and improving safety standards, and has become the bedrock of our North-South Railway project. We couldn’t do this without Inmarsat’s satellite connectivity.”

Key benefits of Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN)

  • Performance: standard IP at a rate of up to 492kbps with a low latency from 800 milliseconds
  • Reliability: operates over the Inmarsat L-band global satellite and ground network, with 99.9% availability
  • Easy to integrate: simple for field teams to set up, integrate and maintain without technical expertise or training
  • Cost-effective: low-cost terminal, low data rate plans with no reconnection fees
  • Enhanced support: free, overthe-air, firmware upgrade
  • Easy-to-manage solution: remote terminal management, debugging and configuration options

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