April 13, 2009
2009 APTA - TRB Light Rail Conference Issue
|APTA-TRB LIGHT RAIL CONFERENCE
Kawasaki Introduces Innovative Self-Contained Light Rail Vehicle
Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. made its first mark in the U.S. light rail vehicle (LRV) market in the early 1980s, when it supplied 141 LRVs to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia. Since then, Kawasaki has provided thousands of high tech rail vehicles to major U.S. transportation systems from its factories in Yonkers, NY, and Lincoln, NE.
Now, Kawasaki is moving beyond the traditional overhead catenary operation for light rail. The company has developed the on-board GIGACELL nickel metal-hydride battery for its “SWIMO” vehicle; the battery, when charged, provides power to the LRV, allowing it to operate for more than six miles without an external power supply.
“SWIMO is absolutely an innovative new LRV in many ways, and it’s easy to get excited about it, but it’s the GIGACELL batteries at the heart of the SWIMO and the power stations that really enable the tremendous forward strides in lowering energy consumption, operating costs, and emissions,” said Omar Messado, manager, contract administration and marketing, with Kawasaki Rail Car Inc.
A Kawasaki spokesperson explained the derivation of the name: “SWIMO derives from Smooth WIn MOver.The smooth getting on and off of passengers and Smooth operation of the unelectrified section WIn out using Kawasaki's innovative rail MOver.”
The GIGACELL project began about 10 years ago under Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. (KHI)’s Research and Development program; more recently, the KHI Rolling Stock Company, which manufactures rail cars, took over the sponsorship, seeing the batteries’ high capacity charging and discharging features as a benefit for rail cars since trains in general draw and discharge large electrical loads repeatedly to make service. Kawasaki understood that providing on-board power could potentially limit the use of catenary for light rail.
After further development of the GIGACELL battery to a more capable and acceptable level of power storage and generation, Kawasaki applied the technology to an old vintage streetcar.
While catenary operation is traditional for trolley operations in the U.S. and around the world, many communities now looking for a modern light rail system desire a more aesthetically appealing alternative. Another concern is that using overhead catenary may mean high infrastructure costs.
The GIGACELL battery allows the rail car to run completely self-contained while also enabling an overall year-to-year savings in overhead catenary operation and maintenance costs. The battery operates the traction power system of the SWIMO light rail vehicle at the same time as it runs all auxiliary power systems without interruption.
Another benefit, according to Kawasaki, is that the SWIMO GIGACELL battery-driven LRV can operate in locations where catenary use is not feasible: for example, near airports, low-level bridges, and around parks. The new vehicle will allow planners to be more innovative in planning a system profile unique to a city’s needs and wants with minimal disruption to the overall landscape.