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The self-powering unit improving safety in some of the world’s most remote locations.

Posted by Dave Songer on May 17, 2018

Track graphic - Mota-Engil and Ambisig“The P4SERT products are made specifically to augment the safety features and efficiency indexes for remote railways, allowing equipment to be installed that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without a reliable energy source.”

The non-electrified railway infrastructures that make up a majority of the world’s networks do an exemplary job of linking cities, towns, villages and conurbations but, despite this extensive connectivity, they also pose serious safety challenges concerning train operation management. In the USA last year, for example, a person or vehicle was hit on average every four hours at rail crossings. That’s the situation in a developed nation, but sadly the picture in developing countries – where policing the tracks poses a significant challenge – is often worse, with large railway infrastructures crossing challenging territories and presenting high risks of collisions.

To help reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the tracks, particularly in those areas where infrequent maintenance is a fact of life, it is clear there is a need for a solution that not only prevent incidents but which also has the ability to function without continuous checks. Offering that solution is P4SERT, a project that has been set-up to develop and demonstrate four autonomous solutions that offer uninterrupted support in even the most remote locations:

  • P4SERT - PN (signalling for rail crossings);
  • P4SERT - AMV (signalling for railroad switches);
  • P4SERT - CCO (signalling and train monitoring using satellite or GSM networks);
  • P4SERT - CC (load cells for weighing trains).

Providing the reliability for the four systems is a patented power generation unit, PowerRail, which uses the train itself to produce the required electricity to support signalling and safety features in territories where electrical power simply isn’t available or can’t be relied upon – namely Africa, South America and Asia. It also enables key information to be transmitted back to the control centre so any problems can be acted upon.

Collaborative power

Developing the P4SERT programme is a two-strong partnership comprising Mota-Engil and Ambisig, Portuguese companies with reputations for developing products and services that provide viable and cost-efficient solutions to technological problems, or as they like to call it: “a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in a constant search for new horizons”.

Hydraulic block - Mota-Engil Ambisig

The bilateral collaboration between Mota-Engil and Ambisig is a long-term arrangement in which resources and knowledge are shared to solve core issues associated with data acquisition, processing and publishing to support strategic decisions or work out specific, technical civil engineering problems. The project is supported by Portugal’s Agência Nacional de Inovação (National Innovation Agency) through the Incentive System for Business R&D – Demonstration Projects, in co-operation and co-financed by COMPETE – Operational Thematic Program for Competitiveness and Internationalisation, and the Lisbon Regional Operational Programme 2020, PORTUGAL2020. Made possible by the European Regional Development Fund, the total eligible investment of the 18-month project is €369,819 and was officially launched in November 2016.

The first half of the partnership from Mota-Engil provides international experience amassed from more than 70 years of working across 28 countries in Europe, Africa and South America, that since 1946 has focused on construction and infrastructure management in the segments of engineering and construction, environment and services, transport concessions, energy and mining. The Mota-Engil Group has a business record marked by a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in a constant search for new horizons.

Meanwhile, adding the technological acumen, Ambisig develops information technologies, geographic information systems and customised software development. The company is a pioneer in its native Portugal for infrastructure monitoring and management and has worked on a range of projects including automotive lighting (RoadVision), obstacle detection systems (RailVision) and laser scanning devices (Kit MobileMapping).

What makes it different?

Hudraulic block imageBuilt with the markets they’re designed for in mind, the units have undergone a number of years of development and testing to make them capable of withstanding extreme environmental and working conditions. Robustly built and easy to install, the devices are also cost-effective meaning they can easily be adopted by markets that can’t rely on the sort of funding that is the norm in more developed nations. Applying P4SERT to energy harvesting, it’s now possible to bypass the problem of electrical power availability from the grid in remote locations. P4SERT equips any location with autonomous solutions for signalling rail crossings and railroad switches, load cells for weighing trains and system status monitoring messages delivery to rail operators control centres using satellite or Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) communication channels.

The P4SERT products are made specifically to augment the safety features and efficiency indexes for remote railways, allowing equipment to be installed that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without a reliable energy source. Not even photovoltaic solar panels or wind generators would be able to overcome this problem because of their vulnerability to theft or vandalism. In comparison, P4SERT products can be buried under the railway and dissimulated to reduce the threat of these risks.

SMW Download - Understanding the Key Threats and Trends in Transport Safety and Security The units can stay dormant and hold its charge for several months – thanks to a wake up/sleep function ­– and can also notify control centres of each components’ status, including if battery levels are low. Reassuringly, battery levels are topped up every time a train passes over the unit, transforming the kinetic energy of the train into hydraulic energy capable of producing 1.2 KW of instantaneous power. That in turn powers a generator that charges a set of batteries capable of delivering 24V of energy to the P4SERT products mentioned above. Fully customisable, the units can be integrated into existing infrastructure without the need for overhauling systems already in place, a situation that, again, lends P4SERT well to resource-poor networks and allows the production and distribution of electrical energy as scalable stand-alone solutions.

To learn more about the project, or to speak to someone about how P4SERT solutions can be implemented in a specific scenario, contact: Mota-Engil ( and Ambisig (

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Topics: IT and WiFi, Signalling, transport security

Dave Songer

Written by Dave Songer

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