Canberra's Light Rail Gets Powered Up

Robert Lord arrived to work on Canberra Metro’s Stage One in June 2017.  The weekend he arrived the temperature was -8o Celsius; on the Monday there was some relief – it only got down to -5o.  The week prior he’d been on holidays in Las Vegas where the temperature had soared up to 46o!  It was some welcome.

But it didn’t really bother him.  He’d sought out his new job as High Voltage and Overhead Wires Manager to meet another career challenge that began 32 years ago as an apprentice linesman, and in recent years has included work on Melbourne’s level crossing removals program and Adelaide’s new light rail extension and rehabilitation of the original City to Glenelg line.

His job in Canberra sees him in charge of specialist crews with expertise in work like overhead wiring, made up of staff with diverse skills such as linesman, riggers, cable haulers, cable terminators and crane operators.

But while the overhead wiring team has come from direct experience on Sydney’s light rail project, much of the rest of his crew is drawn from the local workforce, particularly in putting up the poles that will run the cables. 

“Part of our plan is to upskill the local workforce so that they can go on and work on the operational side of the project, or on future stages of light rail,” he said, “That’s quite distinct from other recent jobs I’ve worked on – in Adelaide, for instance, and New Zealand – we brought the crews in. Here, we want to leave a legacy from our work on Canberra Metro.”

The essence of the overhead wiring plan is to establish a series of five substations that can receive the necessary power to run the system from supplier Evoenergy and then distribute it to the wires running between nearly 500 poles along the length of the route. Power will run underground on high voltage cables between the substations, three of which are being built between Gungahlin and Mitchell. Those three will deliver the necessary 750-volt DC power to the length of track initially needed for testing the vehicles as they arrive from Spain, and for driver training.

Like other aspects of work on the Canberra Metro Project, specifications on the overhead wiring are ambitious and innovative.  For example, the overhead wires will be strung in lengths about a kilometre long. “That length will allow us to manage the height of the overhead cable most efficiently,” Rob said, “We will have a system in place to cope with variations in temperature that can cause the cables to shrink or expand.  It will allow us to maintain a consistent height of the cable – around 6.1m – along the route and 6.65m at intersections: it won’t sag as might happen if the line was strung in a continuous fashion.”

That height is well above the Australian standard of 5.5m and well above what applies in other light rail systems around the country. 

Overhead wiring installation by Canberra Metro Construction


Building the overhead wiring network is perhaps one of the most obvious aspects of the Project. Already around 20 poles are up and work will soon start in ‘dressing’ them – adding the arms and fittings necessary to take the cables. But like other aspects of work on the Project, every consideration is being given to impact on the public. Learn about light rail safety.

“We might have to do some night work and we’re conscious of residences along the corridor,” Rob said, “But our work is relatively quiet and low-impact so we’re confident we can just get on and do the job,” he said.

Publish date:
10 January 2018