Industrial Electrics

Electricians on the rails at Plasser



An electrical contractor from NSW has played an important role in securing the future of the local rail network. Paul Skelton reports.

Aside from being the subject of Blackfoot’s 1979 rock anthem Train, Train, trains have long played a pivotal role in the transport sector. The first railway in Australia was commissioned by the Australian Agricultural Company in Newcastle in 1831; now, the Australian rail network consists of a total of 41,461km.

And it keeps growing.

In November, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced plans to connect Sydney CBD with Parramatta in the city’s west. And plans to connect Melbourne to the Tullamarine airport have been nothing if not persistent.

Understandably then, construction and maintenance of the rail network is big business.

Plasser Australia is a member of the Plasser & Theurer group of companies, which is the world’s leading supplier of track maintenance and construction equipment.

Recently, Plasser was looking to extend its existing production facilities in Australia and, as a result, contracted electrical contractor Kerfoot to undertake the complete electrical services installation for the new workshop site.

Located in St Marys in Sydney’s West, the project would see the construction of a new factory next to Plasser’s existing workshop. It would include a production area with a service trench well over 80m long, for working under the trains; office facilities for production management; a wash down bay so workers could get under the trains for cleaning; overhead cranes; welding stations; new car parking facilities; and, a huge undercover storage area for all of Plasser’s trains with a direct link to Sydney’s railway network.

For Kerfoot, the project included the detailed design, manufacture and installation of a new power supply connection from the new pad-mounted substation. These works included the staged disconnection of existing services including a temporary connection for the duration of construction to maintain the existing workshop’s 1,500A supply; the replacement of a 35-year-old main switch board with a new 2,000A main switch board; as well as the installation of a power distribution system to feed four new power busbar distribution rails, two 50T cranes, a 10T crane and 20 new welding stations; along with all general electrics for the workshops new facilities.

A new lighting control system was installed that incorporated day light harvesting technology, to control the lighting throughout the factory, service trenches and carpark.

A new fibre link from the Telstra network was installed to service the expanding IT needs of Plasser. The fibre link installation was staged as the existing production facility needed to maintain its services while construction was under way.

Kerfoot also worked with the client to design a new CCTV system to help the client maintain a safe workplace – vandalism and theft in the area is quite high. A fibre link was installed between buildings to maintain the CCTV link, which was networked so it could be monitored remotely.

A wireless fire smoke and EWIS system was also installed, to cover the new factory floor, integrated with the existing factory’s system.

“Our goal was to complete the project with no downtime. The careful planning and dedication of the project team helped us achieve this goal,” project manager Josh Kerfoot says.

“As the support and cooperation of the electrical and network authorities were required to help with the staged disconnection and installation of new services, Kerfoot worked very closely with them to design a connection method that would comply with all of their requirements and also meet the critical milestone dates.

“Suppliers also had to be engaged very early as many of the components that were required had lead times well over three months. Much of the equipment was not your everyday components and any late deliveries would result in delays to the project.”

The Kerfoot team also worked with the client to alter the sub-main requirements.

“There were several large sub-mains that had to be installed in multiple locations around the workshop. We used flexible cabling, which is commonly seen as being a more expensive product. While this is correct, with the right design input we were able to reduce the size of the sub-mains as the flexible cabling had a larger current-carrying capacity,” Josh says.

“It also allowed us to cut installation time in half as flexible cabling is a lot easier to install and terminate. The cost benefit of this exercise was not only for Kerfoot – it helped shorten the installation time too which benefitted the client and head contractor.”

Several of the electrical services needed to be installed in the ground at least two months before the building was erected, Josh says.

“This posed a challenge as it was not a simple trenching exercise,” he says.

“Internally and externally the building contained hundreds of metres of rail lines that required footings deep in the ground. Further, the service trench and wash down pit took up a lot of space, which made it more challenging to find appropriate places to run the cable.

“Kerfoot’s team worked with all of the other trades involved in the project to ensure all services were installed in the exact location they needed to be in, without affecting the building’s structural elements.”

Once the building had been erected, the installation of high-level services would need to be carefully coordinated as the use of lifting and access equipment around the services trench, wash down pit and rail track installation crews was considered high risk.

“One of the most difficult aspects of the project would be the installation of a new substation and the decommissioning of the old substation while keeping the client operational.

“The existing substation was located right in the middle of the new building’s footprint and the construction schedule did not allow time to have the factory built and water tight before the old substation could be removed.

“Kerfoot worked with the substation installation team, the supply authorities and the client to design a temporary connection that would allow the removal to the existing substation while ensuring the facility would remain powered.

“This involved expediting the installation of the new substation and the extension of the client’s existing consumer mains so the facilities could remain powered while we waited for the new main switch room to be constructed.

Kerfoot designed a pit and conduit network that would service both the new main switch board and the temporary connection so when it came time to feed the new main switch board there was minimal down time.

“The temporary connection was simply disconnected and the new main switch board connected. There was no waiting for sub-mains to be installed and redirected as this had already been done.”

Energy efficiency on this project was a priority as the client’s running costs were already very high. A lighting control system was installed that used day light harvesting, to allow the client to only use lights within the factory and in the undercover storage area when required.

“PE cells were installed within the factory using the clear sections of roofing that had been installed to let natural lighting in, this saved a lot on money on installation cost as the PE cells did not have to be installed on the external facade of the bulling.

“The lighting control has been broken up into groups so if one area is darker than another it will turn on only the lighting in this first area, stopping the use of lighting when not required.

“Originally, the brief called for LED high-bay lighting for the entire factory. But the recommended brand’s fitting was not only extremely expensive it was not very serviceable either. It would accumulate a lot of dust quite quickly.”

Kerfoot worked with a local supplier to propose a fitting that would give the same light output but half the cost, particularly when it came to maintenance as the new fitting was designed to collect minimal amounts of dust.

A regular clean to help with the lights’ performance would not be required.

Most recently, Kerfoot’s work on the Plasser facility won the NECA NSW Excellence Award in the Industrial – Small Project category.

“It just goes to show how well our team has adapted to innovation, safety and code requirement changes and been able to help the company grow constantly over the last 40 years,” Josh says.

About Paul Skelton

Paul Skelton

Multiple award seeking journalist and magazine editor Paul Skelton has been involved with the electrical industry for the best part of a decade. Email him at

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