$700m control system for MTR

Keith Wallis

RUSH-HOUR travellers can expect more frequent services once the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) completes the installation of a $700 million state-of-the-art train control system.

Passengers using the Tsuen Wan line will be the first to benefit from the new anti-collision equipment when work on that stretch is completed in a year's time.

MTRC chief engineer (operations) Philip Gaffney said customers would have a more comfortable, less crowded journey.

The equipment will allow the MTR to run two extra trains an hour in each direction, each capable of carrying 2,500 passengers, by reducing the time between trains to 100 seconds.

Sophisticated monitors on each train will continuously 'talk' to a computer in a control box on every station platform.

This information will be used to limit the distance between each train and identify any faults. The data will also be fed back to the MTR's central control room to give an overview of the whole system.

'Regular users will realise trains are coming along at more frequent intervals, while drivers will be able to get closer to the train ahead and actually see it,' Mr Gaffney said.

The new equipment will also allow the MTR to respond quicker to faults.

'If there is a failure we have to send engineers back inside the tunnel. All the new equipment is located in the control box on the platform or inside the train,' he said.

Trains already use an automatic train control system, but the technology is between 25 and 30 years old, and rapidly becoming out of date.

'Four or five years ago we carried out an assessment which looked at the latest technology,' Mr Gaffney said. 'This allowed us to reduce the headways [the minimum time between trains] to 100 seconds.' Successful trials using a specially converted train and a test track have been carried out since last year.

Similar equipment, manufactured by GEC Alsthom of France, has been installed on the Paris metro and the mass transit system in Mexico City.

The Tsuen Wan line was chosen for installation first because it is longer and has more stations than the two other lines.

It will also act as a guinea pig for engineers carrying out the installation work because they will have to work around maintenance crews carrying out the normal track renewal and tunnel repairs.

'The determining factor [in choosing the Tsuen Wan line] was how many people we could get in the tunnel to carry out the work, bearing in mind all the other things we had to do,' Mr Gaffney said.

One indirect benefit once the work is complete is to help reduce overcrowding on the Nathan Road corridor.

Once improvements on the Tsuen Wan line are completed in mid-1996, similar equipment will be fitted on the Island and Kwun Tong lines.

Work on the Island line should be completed in mid-1997 and Kwun Tong by early 1998.

The MTR is unable to speed up the installation work without causing massive disruption to travellers.

'We can only work inside the tunnels for 41/2 hours a night during the non-operating hours,' Mr Gaffney said.

'London Underground can close down part of their system on a Sunday but when we carry 1.6 million people - 700,000 on the Tsuen Wan line - we cannot afford to.'