METRONET’s High Capacity Signalling (HCS) project will safely increase the volume of rail traffic in the Perth suburban train network. It will allow the delivery of more passengers, more efficiently.

The METRONET project will upgrade existing signalling and control systems on the rail network with new technology that will allow trains to safely run closer together on a more frequent timetable to meet future growth.

Funded by both the State and Commonwealth, HCS is a modern integrated communications-based train control system that uses an LTE (long-term evolution) digital radio system.

The train continuously sends real-time data on the train’s speed and location to central signalling interlocking the system’s ‘brain’ at the PTA control centre. The train also interacts with passive information plates on the track to confirm its location and speed with the onboard systems.

This enables the control centre to monitor the speed and location of every train on the system, giving much clearer and more accurate positioning of each train relative to the ground and to each other.

The trains can move on to the next location and change speed only after automated permission is given from the control centre. At any time if the network loses contact with trains, automatic safety controls will halt the train until contact is re-established.

The control centre also maintains a range of data applications such as train scheduling, statistical reports and passenger information. The system uses what is known as a ‘moving block’ system.

The network creates and continuously monitors an exclusive space or ‘block’ around the train, automatically preventing other trains and their blocks from overlapping.

This means trains can safely run closer together – using 30 or 40 per cent less space than the existing system – with an assurance that there is sufficient space and time to adjust speed or safely stop in any circumstance.

It also allows faster recovery from disruption and a reduction of required trackside maintenance. Most of the trackside  signals and track circuits will be removed; improving reliability and worker safety.

Exact details of the benefits and operation of the system may depend on the supplier that wins the tender, and the technologies they intend to use to meet the tender conditions.

Replacing current aging systems

The system will be monitored and controlled from a state-of-the-art Public Transport Operations Control Centre (PTOCC) to be built next to the Public Transport Centre in East Perth.

The construction contract to design and build the centre was awarded to ADCO Construction in October 2021. It is expected to be completed in 2023.

The PTOCC will house the centralised signalling interlocking and the train control system. The building is also designed to cater for the central monitoring room, video evidence room, and train planning and scheduling group.

There is also space to allow for any future light rail control room and two floors of general office space. HCS will replace the rail network’s aging signalling and control systems, introduced in 1990.

At the time, the Automatic Train Protection system that was installed on the network was an Australian first, preventing trains from over-
running red signals or travelling at excessive speeds.

These systems are now nearing the end of their asset lives. The Automatic Train Protection system relies on using ‘fixed block’ intervals along the track created by track circuits and ontrolled by a conventional colour-light signalling system.

Only one train can be in each block at any one time. Once a train is in a fixed block, the signal light at the start of the block turns red, preventing any other trains from entering that block. Fixed blocks are longer and keep trains further apart.

They are not as responsive and accurate as the new HCS moving block’ system. A fixed block signalling system using the current maximum line speeds on the PTA rail network can reliably operate approximately 15 trains per hour per line. The HCS system is estimated to support more than 30 trains per hour.

Next steps: further planning and procurement

An Expression of Interest (EOI) was released in September 2021. A complex procurement process will follow that identifies preferred suppliers to ensure government procurement standards are met by suppliers with the expertise, capacity and risk profile to deliver the project.

The contract to design, supply, build and maintain the HCS project across the entire network and train fleet is expected to be awarded mid-2023.

Introducing the HCS will be a complex operation that will be delivered in stages over ten years, and is probably the most operationally challenging project for the organisation since electrification of the rail network in 1990.

The most important part of the project is the change management required, including training for drivers, technicians and train controllers. It will also involve changes in safe working rules, the way train work crews operate and the way new works are planned.

These changes will also be part of the development and extension of Perth’s rail network serving more lines for an increased population.

Planning for the introduction of the HCS system has been underway for an extended period but detailed work will not begin until the preferred supplier has been selected.

Much will depend on their technical background, the type of system they propose, its existing use elsewhere, and their recommendation for the most efficient development of the system in Perth.

When announcing the EOI, WA Transport Minister, Rita Saffioti, said, “Perth’s rail signalling system is nearing the end of its asset life and, with the network experiencing a major expansion thanks to a number of METRONET projects currently underway, this important system needs replacing.

“METRONET’s High Capacity Signalling project will not only allow for future demand, it will also support more trains running more often, which is a big win for regular public transport commuters.”

Over the next 30 years, Perth’s population is expected to increase to 3.5 million people, predicted to make over 1.4 million public transport trips every day.

The HCS system aligns with urban development and transport plans and policies for the future. The project will be delivered alongside the Radio Systems Replacement (RSR) project.

This project will replace Transperth’s analogue rail radio with the high-tech private 4G-type digital communications needed to operate the HCS.

The upgraded radio system will allow encrypted conversations, data transmission capability and additional capacity. To handle the population growth and expansion of the Perth urban area, the WA Government has introduced the METRONET rail expansion program, increasing the length of the Perth rail network by 40 per cent.

This includes 72km of new track and 18 new stations. To gain maximum efficiency from the expanded network, several new technology projects will be introduced, including the HCS project.

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