The September LMAG Meeting and Tour: (Photos of the tour are available on the links by Tom Kaminski and Charles Cowie.) The tour was hosted by Amanda Blank, Site Manager of Hydroelectric and Gas Generation for Wisconsin Power and Light Co, an Alliant Energy Corporation. She manages the 31 MW Prairie du Sac Dam as well as the 10 MW Kilbourn Dam in Wisconsin Dells and three simple-cycle combustion turbine sites. Amanda received her BS in Civil Engineering from Marquette University and is a registered Professional Civil Engineer in Maryland. Preceding the tour, Amanda gave a summary description of the Kilbourn plant follower by a detailed description of the Prairie du Sac plant. She also described the complement of dams and generating stations on the Wisconsin River and its tributaries.
The tour included the switchgear areas, the dam and the generator floor. The modern enclosed switchgear connects the generators to a common bus. Part of the original open-frame switchgear has been retained as a historical display. Power is conducted from the bus to the to the grid-tie transformer on top of the bluff through a cable duct. The eight Allis Chalmers synchronous generators are original to the 1909 construction. They are believed to have been rewound only once since the conversion from 25 Hz in the 1930’s. The open-frame generators are driven by Allis Chalmers Francis turbines. They are currently rated 5400 kVA each at 4160 volts. They operate at 120 RPM. The original rotating exciters are still in place, but excitation is now provided through the slip-rings by electronic excitation units. The equipment is horizontal-shaft with the turbines driven through shaft seals mounted in the walls of the turbine chambers. The dam includes a navigation lock, but the downstream side is dry due to a reduction in the river depth. The dam forms Lake Wisconsin, but the lake is not used for energy storage. The dam is required to operate run-of-river, passing all of the water and naturally flowing debris that would flow in the absence of a dam.
September Section Meeting: Mark Schulze’s talk, “Overview of USA Railway Electrification” was a well attended, broadly focused talk on the economically important railway freight industry. His talk was packed with economic and technical details on the industry in general, and BNSF in particular.
The Railway Industry has nearly 140,000 miles of track, employs 180,000 and hauls about 40% of all freight in the US with revenue of over $70 Billion. Sixty percent of all autos are hauled by rail as well as 30% of all grain. BSNF mostly covers the Western part of the USA and in addition to freight, has passenger operations in Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago of over 170 trains per day. In the first half of 2017, BNSF had over five million freight car trips with over 50% hauling Consumer items. He mentioned that Chicago is a huge rail hub and that freight from the West coast arrives in Chicago in two days, but takes two more days to get through Chicago because of congestion.
Train safety and accident prevention are an active area of research and development. Train derailment is due to human factors 28% of the time, track and signaling 30%, and equipment failure 26% of the time. A number of new technologies are being used to deal with the problems, including extensive track inspection (a fleet of ultrasonic, infrared, and ground penetrating rail and track geometry inspection equipment as well as bridge and tie inspection equipment). BNSF has installed over 2000 sensors to analyze equipment problems including vision systems, some of which are UAV (drone) borne. Mark also described BNSF’s Positive Train Control System that integrates a number of signaling and control sub-systems to automatically identify and brake trains that are not braking properly. Eventually, the system will allow trains to operate with closer spacing safely for congested routes, improving efficiency.
The final portion of the talk covered electrification. Europe is heavily electrified with catenary distribution. Unfortunately, because of the huge number of US miles of track, catenary electrification would incur a huge capital expenditure. It is not likely to occur any time in the near future. BNSF has built and tested alternate fuels, such as natural gas, with a gas “tender”, but it is not likely to displace the diesel fuel in the near future. BNSF is watching the electric automobile industry and feels that battery technology may attain the power storage density required for freight operation. Mark looked to the audience to help identify technology that BNSF can use for the conversion.