Heavylift / Breakbulk
A first for Europe
Energy for the future, says Inelfe’s slogan, projecting the ambitions of the Franco-Spanish electricity link. It is currently constructing two sub-stations, one in Spain and on in Baixas, near Perpignan (France). Geodis Projets, having thoroughly evaluated all the options on behalf of its customer Siemens, then settled on the solution of transporting Inelfe’s transformers by rail. The project is a first for Europe.
The EU recently made a rather special transportation task possible. The community of states contributed almost half of the estimated EUR 700 million costs of a project that is being carried out by Inelfe (Interconnexion électrique France-Espagne). Inelfe is a cooperative project between France’s Réseau de transport d’électricité (RTE) and the Red Eléctrica de España (REE).
The purpose of the agreement is to provide an underground high voltage direct-current link through the Pyrenees, connecting France (Baixas, near Perpignan) and Spain (Santa Llogaia d’Àlguema, near Figueres). The 63 km cable that links the sub-stations runs partly through tunnels beneath the Albera Massif. Construction of the sub-station in Baixas on the French side of the mountain range has been in progress since 2011.
Transformers – again
Transformers have become something of a classic in project cargo and heavylift logistics, with the dimensions of the transformers involved in this case unusually large. The design stipulated the deployment of seven 350 MVA HVDC transformers in Baixas. Each unit measured 10.9 by 4.2 and 4.5 m. One transformer alone weighs 244 t. Siemens, the manufacturer of the transformers, won the turn-key contract in part thanks to the fact that the company was able to provide a transport solution, which it presented to Inelfe as part of the overall package. For the transport Siemens depended on the cooperation with subsidiaries in Germany and France.
The first leg from the production site to the south of France was executed in classical manner. The transformers were loaded in two batches in Nuremberg in October 2012, and brought to Rotterdam by barge. There they were transferred to two heavylift vessels, which carried the precious cargo to Port-la-Nouvelle, near Narbonne (southern France). There the transformers were set to be kept in storage until February 2013, as they were going to be delivered just in time.
The last 70 km from the port to the destination posed a nigh-on insurmountable problem for the transport planners from the outset. Originally, Geodis Projets had expected the last leg of the transport to be undertaken by road. They had carried out a detailed study, together with their partner, the Swiss firm Friderici. The results were sobering. The estimated investment required to strengthen bridges and roads, or alternatively to overcome numerous wide dry ditches, would have amounted to more than EUR 1 million. As a result the partners decided to look into a railway solution as an alternative to road transport.
Wagons for heavy goods transport
The technical answer was provided by a Geodis subsidiary, the Société de Transports Spéciaux Industriels (STSI). Its railway wagons for heavy loads have a total of 28 axles (see photo), and these were adapted and prepared to be in a position to safely carry the transformers. Thus a decision was made in favour of transporting the load by rail – an innovative form of transport for a load like this, and an approach that had never been tried before in Europe.
In February 2013 the seven transformers were transported from Port-la-Nouvelle to the train station, using an 18-by-2 trailer. On 16 March the main leg of the transport by goods wagon began. One transformer a week for seven consecutive weeks was moved by special STSI wagon from Port-la-Nouvelle to Espira de l’Agly, the nearest train station to Baixas.
The transport was carried out on the SNCF mainline, and there was a time window for each trip every Sunday from midnight. «For the first convoy we took nearly seven hours to cover the 70 km stretch,» François Ruetsch of Geodis Projets said. «By the last trip we had gained the requisite experience and mastered the route, and so were able to cover the distance in less than half that time.» The last transformer left Port-la-Nouvelle on 28 April and headed for its destination on one of the special railway wagons.
The home stretch
The rail section was thus managed relatively uneventfully. The last 6 km from the railway station at Espira de l’Agly to the Inelfe site at Baixas represented the icing on the cake of this heavylift transport task.
French rules regarding the transport of oversized heavy cargo measuring more than 18.5 m in length, 2.55 m in width and weighing more than 50 t require the transporters to provide the authorities with a precise map of the route, and the transport has to have a security escort too. It was the constructive cooperation with officials, with the authorities in the mayor’s office in Baixas, with the general council of the department Pyrénées-Orientales, as well as with the prefect’s office in Perpignan that made the last leg possible.
The team had to ensure the reinforcement of certain roads in several places, as well as of other infrastructure, but finally it was possible to complete the transport on the tortuous roads through vineyards and villages, and unload the transformers at their destination.
In addition to successful coordination with the authorities it was the supportive collaboration of Réseau Ferré de France (RFF), the infrastructure department of the French railways, as well as the analogous department of the French state railway SNCF and the latter’s cargo unit Fret SNCF, that contributed in no small measure to the success of the project. «On 3 May the last transformer was unloaded in Baixas,» François Ruetsch said, with pleasure. «In the end the team that had planned and executed this project over several years delivered its promises with just one week’s delay. We should all be proud of this first in Europe.»
Geodis STSI had also secured the support of the Mâcon-based French transport and handling company Couturier for this task. The equipment it deployed over a two-month period was impressive. It included trailers with a total of 34 hydraulic axles, a railway wagon with 28 axles, five tractors, a mobile gantry crane with a 500 t lifting capacity, and teams for hydraulic lifting operations and the adaptation of roads. There was a total of 20 people, divided up into three teams, working locally on accompanying the transport.