TRAIN passengers will travel safer and quicker within three years, the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) said last night as it unveiled a billion-dollar plan to take commuters into the 21st century. A new control system, to be in place by 1996, will bring trains to a standstill if the driver breaks the speed limit. New signalling means the KCR will be able to run 25 per cent more rush-hour trains. New tracks at Pak Shek Kok near Sha Tin will knock 11/2 minutes off the journey to Lowu. But the cost of the scheme has raised concern that fares will be increased. ''How are they going to find the money?'' said New Territories legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing. ''That, of course, will be something people will want to know.'' The scheme, expected to be officially announced today, will involve technology that is among the most advanced in the world, according to project engineer Victor Law Cheuk-ling. Train drivers would increasingly become ''train watchdogs'', said Mr Law. ''It will not be an automatic system like the MTR,'' he said. ''The driver will still be driving the train. But the driver will not have to look at the signals to see if they change colour, and the track speed will be preset.'' The hub of the system will be the KCRC's new control centre at its future headquarters in Fo Tan. A new fibre-optic cable network will link it with more than 300 ''location cases'', large grey boxes at the side of the railway line. The cases are connected by cable to beacons in the middle of the track. Whenever a train passes over it, the beacon will send out an electromagnetic message which will be picked up by an antenna underneath the train. This message will then appear on a speedometer fitted to every train. This will show the train's actual speed, compared with the maximum speed for that stretch of track set by the central computers. ''If the maximum speed is 100 km/h and the driver is going at 95 km/h then there will be a warning,'' said Mr Law. ''This will be both audible - a piercing electronic noise - and visual. ''If the driver ignores this and continues to increase speed then he will enter the tripping zone. ''The system will slam on the breaks and bring the train to a complete standstill. The train can only be restarted when it has come to a halt.'' Under the new signalling system the safe ''headway'' between trains on the same track would fall by 40 seconds from three minutes 10 seconds to 21/2 minutes. An extra five trains an hour capable of carrying 20,000 people could be run on the same track. Miss Lau said this was long overdue, but welcome. ''It is better late than never,'' she said. ''I have had many complaints about overcrowding. It is okay if you get on at the terminal, but in the middle you have to struggle to get on because it is so full.'' KCR project manager Rob Brighouse said the signalling scheme was vital if the railway was to handle a huge rise in the number of passengers. ''The driving force is that a big increase in demand is already taking place,'' he said. The new systems meant the railway could cope with the expected rise in passengers for another 15 years, he said. Similar technology was being used in Singapore, Holland, Belgium and the United Kingdom, and he was confident it was safe. The changes would also mean trains could run on either track. Mr Brighouse said this was something that had been planned anyway and had not been sparked by two fires on the KCR earlier this year which closed the railway for hours.