“ We need to integrate the existing knowledge within the university, and feed R&D findings in the area of light-rail components to empower private organizations with existing production capability in each industry, to give Thailand the potential to create our own rail technology, and reduce the reliance upon only imported technology from abroad.
The new generation of transportation has increasingly turned to electric power, using electric motors as a power source instead of the traditional combustion engine that produces greenhouse gas emissions. This is an emerging trend in the transportation industry, including in Thailand, where we see more and more electric vehicles. The ‘Light Rail Transit; LRT)’ is another mode of transportation that will be part of the journey, especially in the city, to reduce the use of private cars.
“Research and Development Project for Light Rail Prototypes Using Parts Made in Thailand : To Extend to Industrial Production”, which received research funding from the Program Management Unit for Competitiveness (PMUC) Science, Research and Innovation Promotion Fund, is the first prototype train construction in Thailand by educational institutions. Therefore, it is a project that is of great importance for the development of the country’s rail system in the new era, and is also part of the development of the Khon Kaen province to become a Smart City.
Dr. Paiwan Kerdtok, Head of Department of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Rajamangala University of Technology, North Eastern Region, Khon Kaen Campus, and head of the research project, said that “Currently, there are two groups of electric train systems in Thailand, the first group being the heavy rail, which is a major urban transit system with high population density, and which services highly frequent trips, such as the BTS, MRT, Airport Rail Link and the Red Line, as well as electric train projects currently under construction, such as high-speed trains connecting 3 airports, and the Thai-Chinese high-speed train project, Bangkok – Nong Khai route, which are inter-city public transport systems. The construction of heavy rail will require very high capital investment in building infrastructure to support the system, and will take a long time to build. The second group is the light rail, such as the light rail project for Khon Kaen, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima provinces, which are suitable for public transport in secondary suburban areas with not very high population density, ‘Light Rail (LRT)’ is therefore a new rail transportation system in Thailand, which will have the first route in service in Khon Kaen Province, similar to systems being used in many European countries and Japan to transport or service passengers in the city. To reduce traffic problems in urban areas, light rail cars will be able to run on the same traffic surface as cars, for which the rails are embedded onto the existing roads surface. As a result, the construction cost of the infrastructure is less than 50% when compared to heavy rail systems, such as the BTS and MRT.”
The prototype light-rail train that the research team has designed and constructed will consist of two connected carriages, approximately 22 meters long, 3.5 meters high from the floor to the roof, and will be powered by electric power. It will be able to reach a speed of up to 80 kilometers per hour, and will have a capacity of about 80 passengers, which all the components will be based on international standards. However, the highlight of the light rail from this research project will be in the traction motor drive system based on new motor technology using Permanent Magnet Synchronous Traction Motor (PMSM Traction Motor), which is the most advanced technology at the moment and much different from the technology used today. The advantages of this electric motor are not only high efficiency, low noise, but also energy regeneration (Re-Generative Energy) to the power supply when the train is braking, resulting in an energy saving system, translating to a lower electricity cost. Or so to speak: low noise, low emission, energy saving.
Currently, light rail components, such as Bogie, Car Body, Traction Motor, Traction Inverter or Pantograph have been produced and tested for quality. And will be fully assembled by the middle of 2022 and ready for a running test in order for the development to proceed in parallel with the construction of the infrastructure in the next phase.
Dr. Paiwan said that “The personnel of Rajamangala, North Eastern Region, have had the opportunity to go for practical workshop, being embedded with the agencies of countries with the world’s leading rail technologies such as Germany, Japan and China. It shows that Thai engineers have a lot of practical knowledge but don’t have the opportunity to use it. Therefore, we need to integrate the existing knowledge within the university, and feed R&D findings in the area of light-rail components to empower private organizations with existing production capability in each industry, to give Thailand the potential to create our own rail technology components, including the bogies, car bodies, traction motors, traction inverters, and Pantograph, helping to reduce the reliance upon only imported technologies from abroad.”
The developed light rail system is not only useful for the end users, but also benefit the industrial sector with a supply chain and many other industries that will follow, including manufacturers of car bodies, electrical systems, signaling systems, train station control systems, or ticketing devices. This will be a network for the rail transportation industry in the future.
“If we buy an assembled car from a foreign country (finished goods), the car alone is 90 million baht (1 train = 2 cars). If it is made in Thailand, it will have a selling price of about 70 million baht. One obvious benefit is reduced price, while another, more significant benefit is the emergence of a supply chain that generates distribution of income within the country. If purchasing from abroad, we just spend money to obtain the cars, but will not give rise to a new industry. On the other hand, a domestic production process will entail the need to buy spare parts locally, directly creating a cycle of revenue sharing within the internal supply chain system for railway production. That is the goal and will be the ultimate result of this research project.” Dr. Paiwan concluded.
The prototype of the light rail that will emerge from this research, in addition to being the beginning of the Khon Kaen Smart City, it will also be a building block that can be developed further towards commercial production in the country in the future.