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Union Official | “Communications-Based Train (Out of) Control”


Source: Viomundo

Luiz Carlos Azenha has the same instinct I do: when in doubt about a highly technical issue, don’t just fake it.

Go interview an engineer about it. LCA:

The placard distributed by the Railways Workers Union [– above –] inviting citizens to protest on  Wednesday captured my attention.

How could this be?

So I went and had a talk with someone in the business: Paulo Pasin, secretary-general of the Metro Workers Union, part of Fenametro, the national federal of metro workers.

According to Pasin, the accusations that have reached CADE through the German giant Siemens — which formed a cartel of companies in the sector, with a consequent elevation of prices paid by the São Paulo government — touch only indirectly on the central problem, which involves erroneous, and perhaps even reckless, decisions made on behalf of passengers.

Pasin is referring to the attempt to modernize the control system of the São Paulo subway, which will replace an older technology — ATC — for the CBTC — “communications-based train control” …

The final result of this process, in theory, is that it will permit 20% more trains to circulate on existing lines, reducing the overcrowding daily suffered by riders.

In systems with CBTC built in from the beginning, trains can safely operate with shorter intervals between them. The engineering challenge, however, is to take an outated system and update it.

FB_vs_MB (1)

This task demands a variety of reforms and adjustments to the trains, platforms, and the system of control.

The contract for this conversion was signed with Alstom, in 2008, for R$ 780 million.

The deadline for deliivery was 36 months. But while the French firm engages in positive propaganda as though the project went well, Pasin says that all of the tests run so far on Line 2 during system downtime have failed.  Among other things, it resulted in the detection of “ghost trains” that appear to disappear into the system — an obvious safety risk.

This failure calls attention to another contract, worth R$ 1.8 billion, for the refurbishing of trains. Paulo admits that the update was necessary, given that these trains have been in service for 35 year. But inasmuch as the trains would now have to be made compatible with the CBTC, costs have risen to the point at which the purchase of new trains would have been more economical.


The contract called for R$ 1.8 billion for the renovation of 98 rail cars and involved  Siemens, Iesa, Bombardier, MPE, Tejofran, Temoinsa, Alstom and  Siemens [sic].  Pasin says that on the date the contract was signed, this signified about  R$ 18 million per unit, which is close to the price of a brand new rail car  (about R$ 21 million). It is important to note that a new train carries with it a 10-year warranty. The warranty on a renovated car is only two years.

An important detail, according to Pasin: nowhere in the  world, to date, has there been a successful transition from the outdated ATC to the CBTC.

Pasin believes the São Paulo Metrô has suffered from this decision, which he considers incorrect.  Metrô suppliers, on the other hand, have lost nothing, given that a renovated train guarantees demand for a substantial market in replacement parts.

Paulo Pasin says the CBTC also requires the installation of platform doors. The original contract, worth R$ 72 million, called for the installation of 48 doors in 18 stations. The contract was then cut to  24 doors in 10 stations. Even so, the amount payable of the contract was reduced by only one percent!

The fact is is that the modernization of the Sao Paulo Metrô should have concluded in 2011. The money was spent, and here we are in 2013 and the 20% increase in the circulation of trains has not come about. Siemens and Alstom did well in this deal. The passenger, who pays the bills, did not.