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30% increase in capacity for upgraded Port Authority Light Rail vehicles

Saft has supplied onboard battery systems based on its specialised MATRICS MRX railway batteries for 55 light rail vehicles currently being upgraded for the Port Authority of Allegheny County light rail system in Pennsylvania, US. The Port Authority, owner and operator of the light rail system (commonly known as the ‘T’), is the first US transit authority to specify Saft MRX rechargeable nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries for a battery replacement programme.

Battery systems offer 30% increase in capacity for upgraded Port Authority Light Rail vehicles

The reasons for the switch are to achieve a major increase in battery capacity, without needing to modify the existing battery box, as well as higher performance, longer life and reduced maintenance.

Port Authority’s light rail system currently comprises 83 vehicles (LRVs) that usually run in a two-car configuration. The stock comprises 28 LRVs manufactured by CAF and introduced in 2003/4 – these were fitted with Saft batteries as original equipment – and 55 older Siemens Duewag SD-400 LRVs, dating back to 1993, that are now being refurbished. CAF is responsible for the general overhaul programme, but the Port Authority of Allegheny County regards the batteries as a critical element and elected to take direct responsibility for their replacement.

The onboard battery systems, with a nominal voltage of 24 V, supply backup power for low voltage DC loads such as lights, doors, alarms and instruments. The conventional Ni-Cd batteries fitted originally to the SD-400s had provided excellent service. However, the operator now needed a battery capable of providing increased capacity and higher performance. This was to bring the battery capability in line with the CAF LRVs, in anticipation of the installation of additional equipment that will increase the burden on the onboard electrical system.

"The primary reason for selecting Saft MRX batteries was to achieve a significant increase in battery capacity within the limited installation space available, while the centralized filling system to reduce maintenance time was also an important factor", says Dave Kramer, Manager Railcar Maintenance for the Port Authority of Allegheny County. "So far the new batteries have met our expectations and the interconnected fill system has simplified maintenance. We have also been impressed by the level of support, information and assistance provide by Saft’s knowledgeable team throughout this project."

Saft MATRICS MRX batteries offered the ideal solution since they show a major size and volume advantage compared with conventional batteries. Saft developed a kit comprising 20 MRX260 cells that could be installed, without modification, in the existing battery box that slides out from beneath the LRV car. This has enabled a 200 Ah battery to be replaced by a 260 Ah nominal capacity battery – an increase of 30 percent in the same footprint.

A further advantage of the MRX design for the Port Authority of Allegheny County is that it is purpose-designed to deliver maximum performance, reliability and low TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). Another important factor is the integrated water filling system. This simple to use feature fills all the cells from one central point – without any moving parts - and substantially reduces the battery maintenance requirements by enabling cells to be topped-up quickly, safely and accurately, maximising the battery’s useful life.

Saft supplied the MRX260 cell blocks in steel flanges as part of a complete kit including watering accessories, shims, levellers and terminal batteries. A total of 57 kits were supplied – one for each vehicle and two spares.

"This project for the Port Authority shows how Saft’s innovative approach to rail projects enables us to deliver the ideal solution for even the most demanding application," said Karl Firsching, Rail Sales Manager for Saft America. "It is also an important breakthrough for MRX in the US replacement market and we anticipate that it will lead to many other opportunities."

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