With all these highly volatile oil tankers whizzing by, we need secure rail communication networks. But what did we just learn? CapX 2020 transmission is affecting rail communication, along Hwy. 35 in Wisconsin, and that’s not OK. “…the combination of those lines with another nearby 69-kilovolt line likely triggered the interference.” Really? Combination? Not addition of a big honkin’ 345 kV line?
CapX 2020 transmission owners are now fixing it, which involves what? And why was that info so long in coming, where BNSF has already spent over $1 million to fix CapX 2020’s interference problem? Shouldn’t that be on CapX owners?
Owners of the recently completed CapX2020 transmission line are making modifications to a nine-mile stretch in Buffalo County where a combination of high-voltage power lines is interfering with signals on nearby railroad tracks.
The problem is expected to generate several million dollars in additional expenses for the transmission line and BNSF Railway.
BNSF crews discovered the problem in May, shortly after the completion of a second transmission line that’s part of the $500 million project to link the Twin Cities, Rochester and La Crosse. CapX reported it this week to Wisconsin utility regulators.
“We knew this was a risk,” said project manager Grant Stevenson. “It’s not that the line is not operating as expected.”
The 345-kilovolt line runs from Alma to Holmen, hugging the railroad corridor for about nine miles, where a 161-kilovolt Dairyland Power line shares the same towers. Stevenson said the combination of those lines with another nearby 69-kilovolt line likely triggered the interference.
The systems are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration and are set up to go into safe mode if a problem arises — for example, closing gates even if no train is approaching.
“That’s by design,” said David Peterson, who teaches railroad engineering and operation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Everything is on stop or red.”
BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the fail-safe design worked as intended.
The railroad initially deployed flaggers in the field and installed insulated joints and another signal to mitigate the intermittent interference. McBeth said BNSF has spent about $1 million on those short-term solutions.
Xcel Energy, the lead partner of the 11 utilities that built the transmission line, is expected to begin work this month on a more permanent solution that is expected to cost roughly $2 million.
Over the winter, crews will install an aluminum wire below the conductor that is intended to reduce interference. A second copper wire will be buried in the railroad right-of-way next spring.
Stevenson said there are 27 landowners near Cochrane, Wis., who will be affected by the construction, though he said it will be on a much smaller scale than during construction of the 345-kilovolt line.
Even with the additional costs, Xcel says the 48.6-mile Wisconsin segment of the project is below the $183.3 million price tag approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The costs are shared by electricity customers in 15 Midwestern states and one Canadian province.
The entire 156-mile Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project was energized in September. It was the fourth line in what is now a $1.85 billion project to connect wind-rich areas of western Minnesota and the Dakotas to population centers where that electricity is needed.