Modern local traffic in large cities is inconceivable without electricity. Janne Saarinen and his team of developers make sure that the trains never run out of electric power. 

Janne Saarinen and his team move millions of people every day. But, only very few commuters, tourists and cities loafers notice anything. Behind the scenes, the REHAU developers make sure that underground and suburban trains in megacities, such as Cairo, Berlin, Helsinki and Munich, do not stand still due to a lack of electricity, but travel through narrow shafts and on the high stilts of urban transport systems and can transport people. Trains satisfy their hunger for electricity by means of the conductor rails of the polymer specialist REHAU. 

Since 2011, Janne Saarinen born in Finland has been the REHAU Manager of the "Third Rail" project. But, the history of the product goes way back into the last century. In 1965 already, the company put on the market the covers of the conductor rails, which were to ensure the necessary safety during the operation of the trains. Current passes through the rails at up to 4,500 amps. If a person would touch them, he or she would probably be dead instantly. Only a few years later, the experts in REHAU developed the suspension for the rails - made of synthetic material as well, which was reinforced by glass fibre later. But, so far the company had not really focussed on metal, after all the advertising slogan promises its customers "Unlimited Polymer Solutions". "Only, if you take a calculated risk, you can achieve something," says Janne Saarinen, alluding also the new materials. "It was a big challenge," adds the engineer who originally came from the metal-processing branch. "For me, it was rather new to work with plastics," explains Janne Saarinen.

It was not easy to combine the different materials. According to its statement, the company took a risk as well, after all REHAU was established on the market already with covers and the conductor rail carriers, and had a solid client base. 

"The decision was taken in 2011 to become a complete supplier," says Janne Saarinen. Instead of supplying individual parts only, the Rehau company now started to produce entire railway lines. "We bought the required know-how and patents for the conductor rails." The REHAU developers part was then to improve the system, explains Yvonne Schaller. For the company, they looks after the marketing of everything relating to the "Third Rail". Among other things, the engineers had a precise concept of the material properties of their components.

The construction of the system is relatively simple, actually. Whilst the main part of the rail consists of aluminium, the part, from which the underground or suburban train draws the electricity by collector, is made of stainless steel. It was challenging to combine both materials. But, the resourceful engineers managed: they combined proven concepts with new ideas. They could fall back on existing knowledge for covers and rail carriers.

"All-in-all the system comprises about twenty components," says Yvonne Schaller. "Fifteen parts thereof were developed anew." Apparently it was no problem to upgrade the system to the latest - and in particular - to the most energy-efficient level. It was more difficult, however, to sell the third rail to the customers. "It was very difficult to convince old railroaders," Saarinen knows and smirks. 

But, only one year after the project had been brought into being, the REHAU company secured the first call for tender, which comprised a complete system for fifteen kilometres of the rail network of the Cairo underground.  

"Things vary considerably," says the developer. "Sometimes it takes weeks only from the first talks to the realisation of a project, but sometimes years."

During the development of their system, REHAU company had to make their product completely compatible to other already existing rails. "If I were free to reign, I would have thousands of other ideas what could be done with such conductor rails," says Janne Saarinen. 

Currently five persons alone are responsible for the third-rail project in REHAU. World-wide there are fifteen persons, who are active primarily in sales and customer service. With large indoor cranes, the installers heave the railway tracks of 12 to 18 metres in length between the machines in a factory hall of the company which combine all components of the system, the aluminium part as well as that made of stainless steel. 

Subsequently the conductor rails go all over the world from REHAU. "In Europe underground and suburban railways are modernised," says Janne Saarinen. "Main focus, however, is clearly in foreign countries" - and primarily in the new construction of public transport lines. Currently he sees the largest development potential in South East Asia, India and South America. Russia is a large market as well. "But, the situation is extremely difficult at present," says the project manager. 

The figures speak for themselves even without the Russian market. According to company details, the turnover has tripled since 2011. "Currently we are growing even faster than in the past," adds Janne Saarinen. His commitment is required: "We have to be present all over the world," knows the engineer. This is reflected also in the hours he spends in an airplane. At least once every quarter he is out and about in South East Asia - and several weeks at a time. Large projects are coming up in Malaysia and Indonesia, among others. "Most certainly a lot of building will go on there in the next few years," says Janne Saarinen. "And we are on site there today already."

Christopher Michael



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