The Metro Tunnel Project is set to transform Melbourne’s public transport network with the construction of two 9km rail tunnels and five new underground stations. To ensure the infrastructure is used to its full capacity, the project will roll out high-capacity signalling (HCS) for the first time ever on an existing network in Australia. Here, Melbourne Metro Rail Authority CEO, Evan Tattersall, gives us the rundown of what we can expect from the technology.
The $11 billion Metro Tunnel Project will take three of Melbourne’s busiest train lines – Cranbourne, Pakenham and Sunbury – out of the City Loop and run them through the new tunnel.
Significant progress had been made to prepare sites for major construction since work started on the Metro Tunnel in 2016. More than 100 underground services have been relocated including telecommunications, gas, water and power.
Building demolition is nearing completion in Melbourne’s CBD and the first of three massive acoustic sheds in the city is also complete.
Work is also finished on a dividing wall that structurally separates City Square and the Westin Hotel, allowing the three-storey car park under City Square to be demolished ahead of construction of an 11-storey shaft.
St Kilda Road has been reduced to one traffic lane in each direction, and will remain so for up to four years, while Grattan Street will also be closed between Royal Parade and Leicester Street for up to five years.
A major part of the project involves 58km of next-generation high-capacity signalling to be installed, which aims to unlock Melbourne’s public transport gridlock by allowing more trains to run through the network more often.
Melbourne Metro Rail Authority CEO, Evan Tattersall, said the project could just be the start for HCS in Australia.
“There has not been a project like the Metro Tunnel built in Victoria since the City Loop almost 30 years ago.
“The Metro Tunnel is a game changing project that offers a unique opportunity to roll out HCS and may lead to the technology being installed on other parts of the network.”
Work has begun on planning, designing and developing the early implementation of high capacity signalling on a section of the South Morang line.
From next year, the new technology will be fitted onto two, three-car X’Trapolis trains that will run without passengers as tests. This early implementation will also allow train drivers, operators and maintenance staff to become familiar with the new system and be involved in providing feedback on its use.
New technology to increase network capacity
Mr Tattersall said Melbourne’s rail network, particularly the City Loop, is almost at full capacity, creating a “bottleneck” which restricts the ability to run more trains to where they are needed across the network. This is why high-capacity signalling technology was chosen for the project.
“HCS allows more trains to run more often and as Melbourne and Victoria’s population continues to grow there will be an increasing demand for more services to get people where they need to go,” Mr Tattersall said.
The signalling will be installed in 65 new high-capacity trains currently being built in Victoria, which will run on the Sunbury and Cranbourne-Pakenham lines via the Metro Tunnel.
The new HCS technology is expected to allow the new trains to run every two to three minutes and be able to carry around 20 per cent more passengers than existing trains.
“By enabling High-Capacity Metro Trains to run every two to three minutes along three of our busiest lines as a part of the Metro Tunnel Project, we can get people to and from some of the city’s fastest growing suburbs as quickly as possible,” Mr Tattersall said.
Mr Tattersall said high capacity signalling is based on a ‘moving block’ signalling system that builds more flexibility into the system and safely allows trains to operate closer together.
The HCS monitors the position and speed of each train operating on the line and sets limits over the performance of following trains, to ensure they can always stop a safe distance away from the train in front.
“Current signalling allows between 12 and 20 trains per hour. HCS allows 24 trains per hour to run safely and reliably, meaning they can run more often… creating a true ‘turn-up-and-go’ train network for Melbourne,” Mr Tattersall said.
Along the new Metro Tunnel lines, this will be achieved by using communication technologies in the driver cabin of each train to send the location and speed of the train directly to new high-tech control centres that will be located in Sunshine and Dandenong, where trains will be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to ensure seamless operation.
These two locations have been selected as they are connection points for metropolitan, regional and freight services, making them strategic points in the rail network.
The system allows the location and speed of trains to be monitored in real time, as well as the ability to oversee signalling maintenance.
Mr Tattersall said there will be a number of challenges to installing the HCS in the Metro Tunnel Project.
“The main challenges of installing HCS as part of the Metro Tunnel are rolling out the technology while keeping trains operating with minimum disruption to passengers, integrating the new system with Melbourne’s existing rail network and training operational staff, including drivers, in the new systems,” Mr Tattersall said.
To overcome these obstacles the works will be delivered through a Rail Systems Alliance (RSA) with CPB Contractors, Bombardier Transportation, Metro Trains and Melbourne Metro Rail Authority.
The Rail Systems Alliance will create more than 300 jobs, while the Metro Tunnel Project will create up to 7,000 jobs.
The HCS will be rolled out in two stages; an initial implementation of high capacity signalling will be trialled along a section of the rail network before being installed along 58km of track from just west of Watergardens to Dandenong via the new Metro Tunnel.
An initial implementation of HCS between Epping and South Morang will begin in 2020, then there will be the rollout in the west near Watergardens and then the east at Dandenong, beginning in 2022. Following this, HCS will be installed in the new Metro Tunnel.
Testing and commissioning will then be undertaken with the Metro Tunnel Project on track to be completed by 2025, a year ahead of schedule.