Valec is currently in the process of building the North-South Railway, which when completed will run from Belém in the North to the southernmost city in Brazil, Río Grande, enabling the movement of valuable commodities, such as ethanol, soya and metals. 1575km of this railway are already in operation, but Valec is still building approximately 700km of the track. A control centre facility, based in Palmas, coordinates operations from Porto Nacional to Estrela d’Oeste, controlling the movement of maintenance vehicles and ensuring that all building and engineering tasks run according to plan.
Trains are using sections of the track to transport goods, while mechanics, engineers, builders and other workers are all posted at different points down the length of the track to undertake construction work and maintenance on specific sections of the railway. Numerous maintenance vehicles drive up and down the line, managing the railway, delivering vital raw materials and moving workers.
Considering the sheer distances involved and the scale of the work at hand, communication between their vehicles, trains and control centre is key. Despite this, Valec’s communications were previously hampered by intermittent terrestrial connectivity, older radio technology and a paper system, whereby drivers would be given a ‘license’ from the control centre, which would specify a beginning and end point for their journey and cargo.
This system was problematic on several levels – for one thing, it did not allow the control centre facility to have any real feedback on what its vehicles were doing. It also restricted the agility of Valec – rather than being able to react flexibly to changing events happening along the line and being able to adjust resource allocation accordingly by communicating with drivers, it instead left the team with only the paper-based system as a guarantee of their whereabouts. Moreover, not being able to see where drivers were in real time represented a safety and health issue, as these drivers were travelling very long distances to remote locations on a daily basis. For the operators of trains using these stretches of lines, there was also an economic cost involved, as trains – which can be up to 1km long – were using a lot of diesel stopping and starting again.