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prorail test manager bob van den bergen: if this project were taking place somewhere in the middle of the netherlands, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting

As ProRail test manager, Bob van den Bergen is currently rounding off preparations for the tests that are due to be carried out on railway line between Landgraaf (Netherlands) and Herzogenrath (Germany). The new service commences on 9 December and will convey passengers along this stretch of track ‘electrically’ for the first time. Before that happens, however, various tests will be performed. Bob tells us what has been planned and when and which results are expected.

“ProRail has outsourced me to work on this project as a test manager. As is customary, the contractor, Strukton, is responsible for some of the tests and I’m responsible for the others. The contractor has to demonstrate that it has built everything to specifications. ProRail and transport company Arriva conduct tests on the track and overhead lines from the user’s point of view, and those are the tests for which I am responsible. We’re going to drive a train along the tracks to see whether everything works, as if it’s already after 8 December. But only the engineer and the testers will be on board. We’ll perform a switch test on the section of overhead line on either side of the border.”

Foto: Wouter Roosenboom

Rather come to a standstill at night

“We don’t anticipate any problems, but we still intend to do our best to ensure that the service will start up smoothly once it’s carrying real passengers. And if there should be a problem, then I’d rather have an empty test train come to a standstill out in the countryside late at night than a real train full of passengers during the daytime. We run these tests when most people are tucked up in bed. Because people who live along the track aren’t used to a lot of trains operating at that time of night, we’ll send them a letter explaining what we’re going to do and what to expect.”

Switch test

“The Netherlands uses the Operational Infrastructure Control Centre – the Dutch acronym is OBI. OBI regulates the voltage in the overhead lines and reports malfunctions. The Germans have a similar system. The switch test ensures that the systems are compatible. Do the operators in Germany see what happens when we push a button in the Netherlands, and vice versa? Are the systems properly connected in the technical sense? It may only be a few hundred metres of track but in the event of an emergency, both sides must be able depend completely on each other and trust that the other side knows what to do, for example if high winds cause a tree to fall on the overhead line.”

Foto: Wouter Roosenboom

Progress and challenges

“We’re more or less on schedule. The physical work is as good as finished and most of the rest is paperwork. We’ve also made good progress preparing for the tests. We have the plans with the test specifications. My work is always one of the final links in the chain. I have to get a lot of things ready in a short time, and in this particular case I also have to take German, Dutch and European legislation into account. In addition, in this project we are literally working on the border, at the interface between two different systems. That’s why the test specifications set out in the plans are so detailed.”

Plans with test specifications

“Those plans provide precise descriptions of all the details – who, what, where and when – including the start-up conditions, test protocols, an organisation chart and the communication procedure. The tests can only go ahead when all the ‘peripheral’ matters have been arranged and the test specifications are complete. We started drawing up the plans in March. We agreed on the scope with all the stakeholders, for example Arriva, Deutsche Bahn and Strukton. We then developed the safety guidelines for the switch and train test. It takes a lot of arranging, in other words, and we have to rely on the cooperation of many different parties.”

When will the tests take place?

“We’ve already had the first meeting to discuss the plans for the switch and train test. The track on the German side will be ready for the test on 30 November. We’ll perform the switch test that very night. Both the German and the Dutch control centres, in Cologne and Utrecht respectively, will have their staff throw the switches by turns. Each side will report to the other by phone whether the signals are coming through.”

Foto: Wouter Roosenboom

Mutual understanding

“If this project were taking place somewhere in the middle of the Netherlands, it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. From a technical perspective, it’s basically all fairly straightforward. The challenge is the setting, with the two nationalities. Each side communicates in its own language. In tests like the one we’re carrying out, it’s important not only to hear but also to understand one another. So it might be a bit awkward at first, when we start up the tests. We have to get used to each other and that’s why it’s a good idea to practise communicating this way. I expect that once we have the test results, we’ll be able to operate safely along the Landgraaf-Herzogenrath route.”

Test duration

“The switch test will take one night, the night of 30 November to 1 December. On the two nights following the switch test, Arriva will be running its test train. That will be one of the trains that they plan to deploy on the service starting on 9 December. So our test will take three nights in all. In consultation with Arriva, we may also run extra train tests from 4 to 8 December. We’ll be testing the trains at low and high speeds and what’s more, whether the train can resume operating after coming to a standstill near the voltage lock or at the border. Have we built everything properly? Can the train get going again without a hitch? That’s what we’ll find out.”

Risks

“Tests sometimes turn out differently than expected beforehand. We take logistics or operational problems into account in our schedule by leaving ourselves extra time, as a buffer. It may also be the case that we need to address technical issues during the tests. That’s why we perform the tests at the earliest possible stage, in other words right after we hear that the infrastructure is ready on 30 November. We schedule the most important tests first to give ourselves enough time to resolve any reported issues before 9 December.”

Are you ready for it?

“Absolutely! The tests are the conclusion of the entire construction process, allowing service to start on 9 December. The contractor has carried out many of the tests, and that eliminates much of the risk of problems arising when service commences. The switch and train tests are the final step in minimising that risk. In the night of 8 to 9 December, we will be turning the proverbial knob to allow regular trains to use the newly built and tested overhead line. I’ve been involved in other ProRail projects as a test manager. This project resembles the Zevenaar-Emmerich route. It may involve other people, but we’re running into the same questions. The most important thing is to have the will to cooperate, and that is certainly the case for all the parties involved on both the Dutch and German sides of the border.”

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