Metro Americas and Metrô Rio engineer Cristiano Mendonça, Head of Planning and Development, explore the process of rolling stock replacement; outlining the costs, benefits and challenges of such a difficult, disruptive and ultimately worthwhile project.
Metrô Rio currently operates 35 stations, across 2 lines with a total of 40.9 km of track. The system has 49 trains and 296 carriages. In addition, the metro lines are integrated with a bus system and combined this currently represents 8% of the cities urban transport. With the forthcoming World Cup and Olympic Games, extensive plans are underway and the metro system will be substantially expanded and ridership increased extensively.
The vast majority of the current fleet of rolling stock was purchased prior to the inauguration of the first line in 1975 (80%), while the remaining 20% was purchased in 1998. The rolling stock installed in 1998 was fitted with the same technology as the rest of the fleet, which means that the current deployments all operate with technology from the 1970’s. At present 180 cars are operable, which equates to 98.9% of the total fleet.
Engineer Cristiano Mendonça explained that the lifecycle of steel in operation at the intensity necessary for a metro system as busy as Metrô Rio is 30 years. This can be extended by a further 10 years through careful maintenance, renovation and modernization. Metrô Rio have undertaken this process, but the oldest rolling stock is now 38 years old and will all need to be replaced within the next few years. Metrô Rio have also renovated and modernized the stainless steel components, but these will also have to be replaced within the next few decades.
It became clear that Metrô Rio had to either upgrade and replace its aging rolling stock, or face substantially higher maintenance costs and a reduction of service quality. If not, the costs resulting from reduced service, capacity and increased maintenance would begin to outweigh the substantial expenditure needed for rolling stock replacement.
The Interfleet Technology consultancy came to the following conclusion, on page 28 of a train life assessment summary report commissioned by Metrô Rio:
“The majority of trains are over 30 years of age, therefore the number of faults with the equipment will increase over the coming years. In addition, it will become increasingly difficult to acquire spare equipment as a result of obsolescence”.
Metrô Rio found it increasingly difficult to acquire compatible thyristors, microprocessor components, DC motors and air conditioner components. The Interfleet report identified air conditioning, propulsion, compressed air, and door mechanism technology as the key areas of future obsolescence at Metrô Rio.
A further study entitled ‘New Build or Refurbish Existing Train Fleet’ by Bechtel, arrived at the same conclusions. On page 4, the report noted “the conclusion of studies previously undertaken is that there is good evidence to suggest that extending the life of the existing fleet is impossible. Due to the extent of improvements to extend the life of trains for a further 30 years, a major refurbishment is the only option”.
The increasing maintenance costs, reduced availability of parts, critical systems coming to the end of their lifecycle, forthcoming obsolescence of technology and 98.9% usage of existing rolling stock, it became clear that new rolling was required. In addition, this would allow for the installation of improved air conditioning system to improve the passenger experience.
Cristiano Mendonça explained that there were three possible approaches to the problem, modernization, replacement or a combination of the two. Modernization would involve a complete retrofit of all on-board systems and this could take place in Brazil. Replacement would involve the initial acquisition of 30 new units of rolling stock to replace those facing obsolescence.
The decision to go ahead with the upgrades has and will increasingly reduce operational risks, increase reliability and passenger trust in the service, improve the company image, reduce operational costs, reduce energy consumption and improve security.
If renovation and maintenance had been adopted as the sole response to the problem, it is predicted that the system would have 28 million fewer users over a 20 month period between January 2014 and October 2015, as the renovation project is undertaken. This would have resulted in a substantial loss of revenue, undermining some of the financial benefits of solely renovating the existing system.
The approach deployed involved the acquisition of additional rolling stock, alongside thorough maintenance and system renovation. This approach will result in a 20% reduction in energy consumption and by 2022 a 20% drop in energy costs.
The reduction in maintenance costs is also hugely significant. The current rolling stock maintenance cost is around 1.25 Brazilian reais per until of rolling stock, per km. Following the upgrade, this figure will be reduced to around 0.4 reais per km. This figure will increase to around 0.69 in around 12 years time for a short period, to cover the costs of technology upgrades, before returning once more to 0.41. There will be an overall 56% reduction in costs over the next 5 years and a 55% over the following five. Finally, the existing rolling stock requires 100 members of staff for effective maintenance, while, following the upgrades, only 100 specialists will be needed for maintenance.
This means that even over the short term, the additional maintenance, staff and energy costs incurred as a result of not upgrading rolling stock will mean there is almost no additional expenditure required in investing in new technology. Short term there is almost an equality in expenditure, while through investing there is substantial savings, sustainability and an improved customer experience, which will also result in additional ridership.