Regional News

Saudi railway uses high-tech cables

September 2011

FIBRE-OPTIC cabling from a European manufacturer is being used to build a state-of-the-art control system for Saudi Arabia’s ambitious North-South Railway, which is being built at a cost of $2.8 billion and will be more than 2,000 km long when complete.

Scheduled for full operation in 2013, NSR will provide the first-ever passenger and freight connection between Riyadh and the Jordanian border in the north.

The Saudi Railway Company (SAR) is overseeing the scheme and the project includes the largest single implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS) anywhere in the world.

Thales and Saudi Binladin Group are working together to deliver a comprehensive technology and integration package, which includes telecommunications, security and advanced signalling. In order to ensure effective communication for sites along the route, Thales is installing a backbone infrastructure consisting of multi-loose tube fibre optic cabling from Scotland-headquartered Brand-Rex, which is installed using high-pressure compressed air blowing technology to ensure the seamless integration of all systems and services.

Paulo Silva, Thales Portugal’s programme manager for this project, comments: “We chose Brand-Rex after a thorough assessment and valuation of the fibre-optic cable currently available on the market. As Brand-Rex is a specialist in blown-fibre technology, Thales decided that this would offer the maximum installation efficiency required.”

In total, almost 2,500 km of 18, 24 and 36-fibre single-mode cables will be installed along the railway track itself. The cables are constructed using loose-tube technology that gives the cables a high tensile strength and the ability to protect the fibre as it is installed in the extreme desert environment.

The centre of the cable contains a non-metallic strength member, around which are stranded a number of fibre-filled tubes, over which there is a layer of water-blocking tape and then a layer of glass yarn. This provides additional tensile strength and non-metallic rodent protection, while being particularly suitable for the blowing process. Finally, there is an overall polyethylene sheath that provides further protection from the environment.

The cable is blown into a 30-mm bore sub-duct using compressed air, a method that is flexible and cost-effective. Silva explains: “The distance from manhole to manhole is 2 km and these lengths have been installed in one go. This is a challenge in itself, however, Brand-Rex has provided us with all the guidance we need to ensure successful implementation.”

The project is almost halfway to being completed with just over 1,400 km of fibre cable having been installed so far.
Meanwhile, Britain’s largest infrastructure contractor Balfour Beatty has joined Abdullah A M Al Khodari Sons and Saudi Kier Construction to jointly bid for a part of the railway project.

SAR plans to link the industrial city of Jubail and Dammam port to a network that connects to mining centres through Ras Azzour and the new consortium will be bidding to pre-qualify for the Ras Azzour-Jubail link.

In May, SAR started initial operations on a 1,392-km mineral line, linking phosphate mines at Al Jalamid and a bauxite mine at Az-Zabirah to processing facilities at the industrial hub of Ras Azzour on the Gulf coast.

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