Three new connections in the Portuguese network

Posted: 10 December 2010 | | No comments yet

In 2010, REFER EPE – the Portuguese rail infrastructure manager – opens three new connections of great importance for the rail network in Portugal. Three investments in the Main Network, considered as priorities in the Strategic Guidelines for the Railway Sector established by the Portuguese Government in 2006, include the rail link to the Port of Aveiro, the Trofa Bypass and the Alcácer Bypass.

In 2010, REFER EPE – the Portuguese rail infrastructure manager – opens three new connections of great importance for the rail network in Portugal. Three investments in the Main Network, considered as priorities in the Strategic Guidelines for the Railway Sector established by the Portuguese Government in 2006, include the rail link to the Port of Aveiro, the Trofa Bypass and the Alcácer Bypass.

In 2010, REFER EPE – the Portuguese rail infrastructure manager – opens three new connections of great importance for the rail network in Portugal. Three investments in the Main Network, considered as priorities in the Strategic Guidelines for the Railway Sector established by the Portuguese Government in 2006, include the rail link to the Port of Aveiro, the Trofa Bypass and the Alcácer Bypass.

Aiming to have the highest standards of railway transport on offer, they directly answer to the following basic principles defined for network development and optimisation, for example: 

  • Improving the quality of service and customer satisfaction
  • Providing good operating conditions, taking into account the demand potential and the network typology
  • Evolving towards technical and operational interoperability of the network and of the systems that support transport and traffic, and which are decisive to the development of the railway transport in an open and competitive market
  • Basing public investment in criteria of effectiveness, efficiency and rationality.

Besides this, two of the investments, concerning freight transport, are fundamental to enhance the economic attractiveness of the railways.

Indeed, the rail link to the Port of Aveiro and the Alcácer Bypass ensure a new articulation with other transport modes, namely, to the ports and to the National Network of Logistic Platforms, as well as to the main Iberian poles/axis that are generators/consumers of goods and services, allowing the railway mode to assume a reinforced role in the logistic distribution chains.

The rail link to the Port of Aveiro

The rail link to the Port of Aveiro, which started operating in March 2010, includes the rail line between the Port and the North Line (the most important one in Portugal) and the Cacia Multimodal Platform (interface for the outflow of freight, with effective gains for the regulation of the railway traffic).

Conceived under a multimodal perspective, these infrastructures are strategic for the expansion and improvement of the competitiveness of the port activity and of the national and international freight transport and, consequently, for the regional and national economic development.

With this new connection, all of the five main ports in the country will be served by railways.

The line starts at the Cacia Platform, at 274,600km on the North Line, then continues in the existing corridor between the A25 route and the interceptor for the Aveiro Lagoon Municipal Sanitation System (SIMRIA), crosses the River Boco on special engineering constructions and then heads to the Port of Aveiro.

It consists of 9km of single, non-electrified track, and caters for the circulation of freight compositions with a maximum of 25 tonnes per axle load and at a speed no greater than 60km/h.

The distributor tracks, next to the Port of Aveiro, include five lines and the respective turnouts, with connections to the port terminals (the platform has been designed to receive up to nine lines in the future).

The works begun in 2007 – it was a highly complex project (geological constraints, selection of route, integration with other associated infrastructures) and involved a Safety Management System overseen by 14 technicians (from REFER and construction and inspection companies), and an Emergency Plan, which also involved port and local protection authorities, and safety organisations.

Eight-hundred-and-four training programmes were run specifically for safety and during construction only two accidents occurred.

The chosen corridor crosses, although only marginally, the Aveiro Lagoon Special Protection Area (SPA), in fens and salt flats – this is an estuary area which is recognised for its abundance of avifauna and the fact that it acts as a refuge for several species of migratory birds.

For this reason, the main concern behind the solution selected by REFER was to minimise the impact of the land use – the alternative of a channelled crossing was excluded, opting instead for a viaduct, not only to ensure the structural stability of the installation, but also to avoid the fragmentation and hydrodynamic isolation of the site.

Worthy of note among the measures to mitigate impact were the limitations imposed on the number of temporary roads created to access the work site in the area crossing the SPA, the development of a monitoring programme for avifauna and the planning of construction periods which would avoid the nesting times of the birds.

The project for the rail link to the Port of Aveiro can therefore be seen as an example of environmental practices which REFER has established, through the implementation of the best processes allowing the balance between the development of the infrastructure and nature.

The Cacia Multimodal Platform, which is part of the National Network of Logistics Platforms, intersects the North Line on the upward section, forming a terminal that will serve as a turntable between the Port of Aveiro and the national rail network.

The layout of the terminal consists of a set of tracks to receive/dispatch trains and a set of eight loading/unloading lines, three of which are electrified – the electrified lines provide road-rail intermodality and run parallel with the North Line, covering a length of approximately 1,600m.

The platform covers a total area of 9.8 ha, of which 6.3 ha are for establishing logistics activities and rail freight operations.

The project was inaugurated in February 2009 and in April REFER signed a concession contract which allows the use, on a private basis, by the Port of Aveiro Management, of an area for the installation and operation of logistics activities which give priority to rail transport.

The work, concerning both line and platform, including projects, construction, materials and equipment supply, auditing and inspection, was undertaken by approximately 200 companies.

More than 1,500 workers were involved, with an average of 100 workers/month.

The total investment was approximately €72.7 million (€56.2 million for the line, €12.6 million for the Multimodal Platform and €3.9 million for the signalling and telecommunications systems for both infrastructures).

This investment was co-funded by the European Union cohesion funds and the European Investment Bank.

The Trofa Bypass

With a length of approximately 3,555m, the Trofa Bypass, which started operating in August 2010, is a new stretch of the Minho Line, which shortens the existing route by 508m and avoids the need to cross the Trofa city centre.

The bypass starts at 19,895km on the Minho Line, turns to the east, skirting the central area of Trofa and then re-joins the existing route at 23,957km.

The construction of this bypass, that begun in 2008, improves rail operating conditions on the Minho Line, doubling the entire track between Oporto and Braga while also allowing the target journey time of one hour to be achieved for the first stage of the future High-Speed Oporto–Vigo Line (construction of a new line between the Valença border point and Braga and use of the existing one between Braga and Oporto).

The bypass includes a tunnel 1,404m-long, a viaduct, 327m in length and the remaining 1,824m lie in both excavated channels and back filling.

The superstructure consists of dual UIC 60 track and polyvalent monoblock concrete sleepers, embedded in a layer of granite ballast.

This track allows speeds of 120km/h for conventional trains and 140km/h for tilting trains, as is the case on both the up and down line stretches.

The new Trofa station is integrated into the viaduct and takes advantage of the natural slope of the terrain – below the viaduct are the technical installations and passenger reception area, which include a small shopping precinct and the passenger platforms are located above the viaduct.

The outside interface ensures connection to other modes of public transport, more specifically, buses, taxis and the Oporto Metro, which will house the Trofa terminal, and also include a car park that can hold up to 167 cars.

This project also covered the reorganisation of the rail network – with a total of 4,562m of roadways and pedestrian accesses, including three special structures (two road overpasses and a pedestrian one) – and the reestablishing of water lines.

Five level crossings were eliminated on the deactivated stretch of the Minho Line.

Integrated in the installation work for the electronic signalling of the rail infrastructure, controlled from the Operational Command Centre (OCC) in Oporto, is a speed control system (CONVEL) and telecommunications systems, including information to the public and video surveillance both in the station and tunnel.

With regard to health and safety at work, the construction of the Trofa Bypass was an exceptionally complex project due to the length of the tunnel, the specific nature of the projected superstructures, the highly specialised and varied range of construction techniques required and the constraints relating to geological conditions and the implantation of the project in the urban fabric of Trofa city.

For these reasons, the development was broken down into autonomous areas and adjudicated to different companies which are highly specialised in the respective fields, and the management of health and safety at work was coordinated by REFER, with the support of 20 specialists.

The permanent accompaniment and monitoring of risks associated with the project and the undertaking of regular inspections allowed the achievement of very low accident rates – just one accident was reported.

Special care was provided for relating to the dense drainage network intersected, housing and agricultural small holdings, through a process of public discussion which took place in collaboration with local authorities – this allowed measures to be adopted which minimised impacts (noise, vibration and protection of the quality of underground and surface water, for example), within a new framework of urban planning.

The Trofa Bypass involved a wide range of activities, including design, construction, materials and equipment supply, inspection, providing work for more than 50 subcontracted companies and an average of 350 workers/month.

The total value of the investment was approximately €66.3 million, which benefited from financial support from European Union cohesion funds.

The Alcácer Bypass

This bypass was included in the framework of the Project for the Modernisation of the Lisbon–Algarve Link.

Since the end of the 1990s, several different solutions had been studied for the building of a bypass for the South Line which would enable more consistent and more competitive speeds to be reached, and this goal became even more important when a decision was taken to include this new link in the planned Freight Corridor Sines/Elvas/Madrid (Priority Project number 16 of the Trans-European Transport Network).

Given the limitations of the existing corridor, particularly with regard to geotechnical and environmental aspects, but also due to the limitations imposed by the old bridge over the Sado River in Alcácer do Sal, REFER decided on a new bypass between the Pinheiro Station and 94km, starting the construction in 2007, with the following technical specifications:

  • Speed of 220km/h for tilting trains
  • Construction of a new bridge over the Sado River
  • Prepared for a future direct link Sines–Grândola.

Opening the operations by the end of 2010, the main aims of the new Alcácer Bypass are:

  • To reinforce the competitiveness of the Port of Sines (articulation with the Poceirão and Elvas Logistics Platforms, with the ports of Setúbal and Lisbon, and with the planned High-Speed Lisbon–Madrid Line)
  • To promote the interoperability of the national rail network with the Trans- European Freight Transport Network (inclusion in the Sines/Elvas/Madrid Corridor)
  • To improve the travelling conditions of long-haul passengers on the Lisbon–Algarve link (reduction in journey time of approximately 10 minutes, thus providing an incentive to transfer from road to rail).

This bypass is also remarkable due to the construction of a wide range of infrastructures, more specifically:

  • Approximately 29km of electrified track, equipped with polyvalent concrete monoblock sleepers, connecting the south side of the Pinheiro Station (58,945km) to 94,700km on the South Line, and shortening the existing route by 6.7km, allowing loads of up to 250 tonnes per axis and speeds of 200 and 220km/h for conventional and tilting trains, respectively
  • New bridge over the Sado River and respective access viaducts, approximately 2,735m-long, being the largest engineering structure of its kind ever built in Portugal (it consists of a bowstring bridge with three 160m spans, built in a mixed structure of steel-concrete, and is 480m in total length)
  • Three viaducts, the largest one is 852m-long
  • Fifteen passage points (seven road overpasses, two road underpasses and six agricultural underpasses) plus respective restoration of accesses, and 36 water course and fauna passage ways
  • Parallel path adjacent to the track and fencing of the infrastructure along its entire length.

The rail infrastructure – single track but with all of the engineering structures already prepared for the installation of a second track – is equipped with electronic signalling and telecommunications systems and also fitted with the CONVEL system for the automatic speed control of trains, thus ensuring the highest standards of safety in rail traffic.

A video surveillance system, on the bridge over the River Sado and on the north and south viaducts, as well as at the Pinheiro and Grândola North technical stations, allows the real-time control and immediate intervention in any possible incidents, having in view the protection and security of the infrastructure.

The technical specificity and the complexity of the work, particularly, relating to the Sado River crossing, required a vast number of experts in different areas of specialisation and a team of inspection and safety supervisors, coming from all bodies and companies involved, which accompanied all stages of the work, thus guaranteeing efficiency, quality and security.

Since the implementation of a very strict Occupational Health and Safety Management System, combined with the previous definition of risk analysis and preventive measures, as well as the preparation of Emergency Plans for each contract, quite good safety results were obtained, thus, only one serious accident was registered at work.

Due to the fact that the bypass crossed areas of high environmental sensitivity and biodiversity, and having a part of the route lying within the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve, special care was required, as well as settling a new working programme in order to protect numerous different species of plants and animals which were monitored through the whole process.

In fact, within the construction site there exists one of the largest woodpigeon sleeping areas in the Iberian Peninsula (three million of this species migrate every year to the Pinheiro Estate) and there are also two important forests of cork oak, a species of tree protected by limited felling rules, as well as habitats consisting of groups of salt works.

In light of this abundance of natural wealth, the main concern of the projected solution was to minimise the construction footprint and the barrier effect of the rail infrastructure – for that reason, during construction, work was also limited over a number of months so as not to disturb the bird nesting period.

Also worthy of note was the care taken with waste and the licensing of areas for depositing soils and dredged material, with emphasis on their reuse, while managing the environmental chapter of the project.

Compensatory measures were also taken by REFER which included the acquisition of a salt works to develop an ecological rehabilitation project and the replanting of an area covering 49 hectares with cork oak.

The project involved more than 250 companies and 3,200 workers, with an average of more than 500 jobs per day and approximately four million man hours.

Total investment was €159 million, which included studies, projects, expropriation, construction, inspection and coordination of safety and acquisition of equipment and materials, and it was co-funded by the European Union cohesion funds.

About the Author

Romeu Costa Reis

After graduating in Economics from the Instituto Superior de Economia, Romeu Costa Reis joined the Central Planning Department as an economist. In 1987, he became Director of Services at the Regional Development Directorate, and in 1989 was appointed Deputy Director General of Regional Development, a post he held until 1995.

He was a member of the Management Committee and of the Community Support Framework Monitoring Committee, and Chairman of the Management Unit for the INTERREG I – Portugal/Spain and REGIS I Programmes. Between 1991 and 2003, he represented Portugal in several European Union committees and working groups (holding the chairmanship of the Spatial Development Committee during the first half of 2000) and on the High Level Group on Trans-European Transport Networks in 2003.

He also represented Portugal on various OECD committees and working groups between 1984 and 2002. He was a member of the Portuguese Delegation that negotiated the Luso-Spanish Convention on Cross-Border Co-operation between Jurisdictions and Territorial Entities (2001-2002) and was the Ministry of Planning’s representative on the RAVE/Rede Ferroviária de Alta Velocidade, SA Consultative Council (2001- 2002). He has been a member of the Portuguese delegations at several bilateral and multilateral Governmental Summits, in particular at European Union level, on structural, territorial planning, transport and telecommunications policies. Since 1997, he has been Director of GAERE – the European Affairs and External Relations Unit of the Ministry of Planning and Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communications. Since 2005, Mr. Romeu Reis has been Member of the Board of REFER and RAVE and of FERBRITAS since 2008, and since September 2010 he is also Vice-President of EIM – European Rail Infrastructure Managers association.

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