West Rail – Part 8 Railway Systems

Tymon Mellor: For many people, construction of a railway is all about digging holes and pouring concrete as their focus is on the infrastructure and they forget about the railway elements of the project. Much of West Rail’s success was recognizing the need to develop the railway systems proposals in conjunction with the civil works, and then providing a coordinated and structured access for the installation of the systems.

Procurement and Programme

The development of West Rail was driven by the operational requirements of the line which in turn dictated the infrastructure response. As the scheme morphed from a multimodal cross boundary railway to a domestic metro service, so the civil works design and railway systems also had to be tuned to support the changing nature of the operations proposal. The requirements of the railway systems seep down into many aspects of the infrastructure design, requiring the discipline parties to talk together and accommodate each other’s needs. This necessitated the award of key railway systems packages concurrently with the civil works to ensure that the parties could identify and resolve interfaces within compatible timeframes. There was concern that this approach would add extra cost to the project, with the systems teams having to mobilise a team well in advance of typical design or production requirements. However, it was considered good value for money if mobilising a small team for say 24 months could achieve the building of relationships and understanding while addressing the interface issues.

The award of the civil works packages was staggered to avoid overwhelming the local construction market and to reflect the different construction durations required for each element. The civil works contractors were made responsible for their respective geographical sections of work from contract award until the opening of the railway. This was an unusual arrangement as on many other projects, the civil works contractor would hand-over the completed infrastructure to the follow-on contractor, but this approach is problematic in a multi-contract environment where many parties are required to work in the same area. With the West Rail approach, the civil works contractor was responsible for providing supporting services to other parties working within it’s section including security, temporary services (such as power supply, general lighting, and water), cranage, access, cleaning etc. until handing over the completed works to the railway operator.

To provide a practical installation window for the systems contractors, access to the alignment was staged, allowing a sequential installation sequence from construction works areas in the north and south and from the depot.

Trackwork Time Chainage Programme (2000)

With the completion of the trackwork, works trains were able to operate on the line to support installation works within the track corridor. This required new safety measures to be introduced in the form of Defined Areas and the adoption of Works Trains for the delivery of materials and equipment along the line. The works trains were purchased by the KCRC to be used during the construction phase and then as part of the maintenance equipment during the operational phase. The West Rail operations team were mobilised early to operate the trains and run a weekly meeting with the contractors for them to book slots for trackside working and for the use of the works trains.

Interface Management

Implementation of West Rail required the coordination of some 53 different parties, some 20 of which were major civil works contracts, over 20 of which were railway systems contracts, and six were large detailed design consultancies. Each party had a clearly defined scope of works but interface issues needed to be addressed as the works progressed.

With around 20 major E&M and electronic systems on West Rail, each one needed to operate individually and then must be able to communicate seamlessly with one another. The systems contractors also had to liaise and co-ordinate with civil works contractors to achieve the common objective of delivering the works on time. As Leo Mak, KCRC’s general manager for railway systems noted “the train needs to draw power from the overhead traction power system and the train must talk to the signalling system so that it can obtain information on the route without running into the train preceding it. Also, the train doors have an interface with the platform screen doors”. The train wheels need to have a compatible profile with the rail and all the depot equipment must work with the train components.

With more than 180 contractual interfaces and around 22,000 construction interface requirements, a database was used to capture the requirements and confirm that they were addressed in a timely manner. The system, Dynamic Object-Oriented Requirement System (DOORS), had been built up during the development of the project and the details of the interfaces were developed into sets of interface specifications, one set for each pair of interfacing contractors. These details were issued with the tenders so that all contractors understood what their future obligations would be in terms of coordination with other parties, compatible requirements including enabling works, and access provisions.

The contractors were required to develop an interface management plan confirming what each pair of interfacing contractors needed to further develop in terms of programme, technical issues related to management of the interface, and scope responsibilities. From the interface management plan, a Detailed Interface Document was developed describing how the interfacing contractors would resolve these requirements, taking on board what has been developed through their own design processes and discussions. A dedicated team managed the process to ensure that issues were addressed and where problems were identified, they were raised to management so they could receive the necessary direction to move forward.

SP-1900 Rolling Stock

The supply of the West Rail trains was awarded in March 1999 to a Japanese joint venture of Itochu Kinki Kawasaki, known as IKK. The HK$3.2 billion (MOD) contract was for the design, supply, testing and commissioning of 250 train cars for the KCRC, the largest ever rolling stock contract awarded in Hong Kong. Of the 250 cars, 154 were configured into 22 seven-car trains for West Rail and the remaining 96 were for East Rail, both with a slightly different specification reflecting different signalling systems and operational requirements. The supply of the East Rail trains was to commence in April 2001 and the West Rail vehicles 12 months later.

The supply had a very tight programme for the development of the new cars with a number of technical challenges including[1]:

  • High reliability, the mean distance between failures, causing a delay over 2 minutes or more was set at 2*106 car-km;
  • Safety, no single point of failure that would lead to an unsafe situation;
  • Quietness, noise mitigation to meet EIA requirements;
  • Track form, vehicle suspension design to provide a smooth ride on varying stiffness of track forms;
  • Quality, design to reflect the KCRC image as a provider of quality transport services; and
  • Efficient operation, by minimising life cycle operation costs.

At the time of the order, the vehicle specification was considered state of the art with in-car CCTV and LCD displays providing passenger information and real time news. The additional noise mitigation requirements of under floor sound absorption and the need for body skirts made the order unique.

The West Rail team had a number of very experienced rolling stock engineers and regularly visited Japan to discuss and agree the design solution for the cars. Details such as integration of complex interfacing party systems, including signalling, telecommunications systems, and platform screen doors, had to be addressed along with more mundane issues such as hand rail locations and seating arrangements. The need for body skirts posed a new problem, as these were required to be hinged to allow maintenance access, but many were concerned that they may fly up at speed. Following much discussion, a simple latch mechanism was adopted to secure the skirts and they have operated without incident.

Rolling Stock Car Fabrication (2001)

Two early problems were quickly identified, one being the management of the train weight, and secondly the surface flatness of the car bodies. For the former, a “weight-saving steering group” was established to reduce the weight of the vehicle to meet the specification. With engineers from the IKK and KCRC, they managed to reduce the weight to an acceptable level. For the car body, the specification set a very high standard of only 1mm variation per metre of car body. The contractor struggled to meet the requirement. An experienced KCRC mechanical engineer reviewed the manufacturing process and identified a number of improvements to the jigs, tools and welding methodology. With the changes in place the fabricator was able to meet the flatness requirements.

The design of the vehicle was completed by August 2000, while the manufacture of the first three cars commenced in early 2000 ready for testing in the winter of 2000[2]. The first batch of new cars were completed in early 2001 and underwent extensive testing to confirm that they met the operational requirements before being shipped to Hong Kong as planned in March 2001. With the approval of the first vehicles, manufacturing moved into full production, turning out one new train every two days. Once delivered to Hong Kong, the trains were subjected to a detailed check to confirm that they met the specification. A total of 1,377 items were checked, and the majority of the verification was performed in conjunction with the new operations maintenance team in the final six months before commencing revenue services.

DB-1300 Train Control and Signalling System

The second major systems contract was awarded in March 1999 to Alcatel Canada Inc. for the train control and signalling system. Tenders for the package had been put through a funnel process, identifying the most suitable 3 designs to be reviewed in further detail. The West Rail team finally chose Alcatel’s SelTrac S40 signalling system, a fully automated train control system developed for the Toronto Scarborough Rapid Transit and the Vancouver SkyTrain using Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) technology. West Rail would be one of the early adopters of the CBTC technology and the SelTrac system.

SelTrac Architecture

On traditional railways, trackside signals and lights advise the driver and automated systems stop potential incidents, but the technology does little to increase line capacity and requires extensive trackside hardware. SelTrac puts intelligence on each train, allowing the train to know and to report where it is, and where other trains are around it. The system can then make adjustments to optimise line capacity while ensuring the train is always at a safe distance from adjacent vehicles.


SelTrac Communication Wire

A wire was secured to the trackform, crossing every 25m allowing the train to locate its position and to transmit data back and forth to the control centre. This approach provided a high level of security and minimised the need for trackside infrastructure. At stations, to achieve the necessary stopping accuracy required for the platform screen doors, a secondary detection system was employed. This provided an accurate position allowing the train to stop within the +/- 300mm of the desired location.

In addition to the track level signal wire, axle counters were installed at key locations, notably at crossovers to provide a physical confirmation of vehicle clearance.

SelTrac was designed for fully automated operation, having been installed on several automated people mover systems in the late 1980s. For the West Rail application, a driver would still be present in the car, but the role would be to manage the train and initiate station departure before the system would take over the driving of the train. This would require customisation of the SelTrac software, and testing, validation and integration with the new trains ready for overall testing in early 2001.

Through the coordination process, suitable inserts were cast into the pre-cast floating slab track units by the trackwork contractor to minimise on-site drilling and to simplify signalling installation.

DB-1400 Traction Power and Overhead Line

The line was designed to operate a 25kV AC traction power provided through an overhead line supported on masts, with two feeder stations provided with one at Kwai Fong and the other at Tin Shui Wai. This was nothing unusual until the architects decided that with such extensive lengths of viaduct, it would be good if the masts were curved. A curved mast as a continuation of the viaduct parapet’s curved profile would improve the look of the line and provide a more comprehensive arrangement. The proposal was agreed, much to the displeasure of the traction power design team who preferred run-of-the-mill straight masts.

Installation of the overhead line systems commenced in late 2001 with four maintenance tracks within the depot being energised on the 2 May 2002, allowing the new trains to undergo dynamic testing. Energisation of the main line commenced in stages from the 3 June 2002, with the full line commissioned in February 2003.

Curved Overhead Line Masts (2002)

With the energisation of parts of the line additional safety measures were introduced to ensure the safety of the workers and protect the installed equipment. The site was turning from a construction site to a railway.

CC-1810 & CC-1820 Trackwork

The contract for the trackwork, CC-1800 was tendered in the summer of 1999 for award in the autumn. However, following the tender assessment, it was clear that there may be a potential benefit by dividing the trackwork package into two parts allowing the viaduct section to be implemented by one of the same parties that was about to be awarded the viaduct construction contracts. The southern package CC-1810 would be responsible for all the trackwork in the tunnels and depot and the northern package, CC-1820 for the trackwork on the viaduct and elevated stations. To ensure consistency in materials, CC-1810 would procure and provide free issue the rail, bonded baseplates, turnouts, FST bearings and buffer stops to CC-1820.

Despite the perceived complexity of the supply arrangement, the process worked well in practice and both contractors were able to complete the trackwork on programme.

Completed Track Walkway

Completed Viaduct Track and Walkways (2002)

Track installation commenced in the depot, with CC-1810 laying ballasted track in December 2000 ready to receive the new trains in March 2001. Track installation then commenced in the north section from a works area at Yick Yuen where a lifting gantry allowed materials to be lifted onto the completed viaduct, and then for track installation to progress in two directions.

Yick Yuen Works Area and Lifting Gantry (2002)

In the south, track installation commenced from a temporary access adit using the alignment of the proposed freight connection. A works area was established close to the Kwai Chung container terminals and materials were fed into the tunnel using a temporary construction railway. Installation initially progressed south, then north into the completed mined tunnels.

The trackform in the tunnels was predominantly a Low Vibration Track (LVT) with sections of Floating Slab Track (FST) at vibration sensitive receivers such as where there was to be property development above the stations or passing the Kwai Tsing Theatre. The WR programme had assumed installation rates of 200m/wk for the simpler LVT and 100m/wk for the FST. Both of these production rates were shown to be conservative and significantly higher rates were achieved.

For the viaduct section, FST was required to mitigate noise transmission. With a nominal 0.77m deep track form, each floating slab unit weighed around 3t and required a specialist lifting gantry to place each unit. The FST units sat between concrete derailment kerbs, 0.77m high and 0.4m thick running the full length of the viaduct. Initially these were constructed using traditional steel shutters, but the contractor looking to improve production, adopted an approach using a slipform paver. With this methodology a slow-moving machine extrudes the concrete kerb, without the need for a static shutter. After many trials to develop a suitable concrete mix, the system was utilised, but there were some quality issues and by the time they had been resolved, the benefit of the approach had been lost. It is interesting to note that the same contractor later installed the track on the Ma On Shan line where the slip form paver was not adopted.

CC-1820 Slip Form Paver

With the completion of the southern trackwork, the contractor commemorated the event with a special train journey for all those involved, along with an on-board jazz band.

Jaz Band In Tunnel

CC-1810 Inaugural Train Journey

DB-1500 Telecommunications Systems

The telecommunications systems contract, DB-1500 comprised of seven different sub-packages, providing the control and feedback for the railway operations. These packages included:

  • Fibre optic transmission system (FOTS);
  • Telephone system;
  • Radio system;
  • Public address system (PAS);
  • Passenger information display system (PIDS;
  • Close circuit TV (CCTV); and
  • Metropolitan area network (MAN).

These seven systems extended the full length of the line, depot and HQ building, and they would also feed into the main control system provided by DB-1510.

Both DB-1510 and DB-1500 were awarded to Siemens Ltd in July and November 1999 respectively, with the latter at HK$287 million, 37% lower than the second lowest conforming tender[3]. During 2000, work progressed well with the Fibre Optic transmission System, the Metropolitan Area Network and Telephone System. However, the remaining four systems Radio, Public Address System, Passenger Information System and CCTV experienced difficulties.

Tuen Mun Station Control Room

Late in 2000, the Hong Kong Police elected to change their radio system from an analogue to a digital system. This change necessitated a variation to the contact and this was issued in early 2001. The implication of this change included immediate delays of up to two months to the design of the radio system, which at that time was, overall, behind schedule by four weeks. Through management action and rescheduling, the delay resulting from redesign was minimized. Siemens, however, took the issue of the variation as an opportunity to submit claims totalling approximately $158 million (including $40 million in respect of the Radio System) and for 160 days extension of time.

During 2001 work on the three systems continued to slip and despite the employment of a specialist subcontractor, the development was some 13 weeks behind schedule by November and putting the timely completion of the project at risk. There were limited contractual options available and with the approval of the Managing Board, a negotiating team was sent to Germany to resolve the situation. Following three days of negotiations in late November, an agreement was reached. Siemens proposed replacing the under-performing specialist sub-contractor with three new specialist sub-contractors, all with recent KCRC or Hong Kong experience. These new resources would address and recover the programme delay to ensure that the line commissioning would not be impacted. The Corporation agreed to pay the sum of $100 million for variations, settlement of claims and the recovery of the lost time. The approach was subsequently approved by the Managing Board in December 2001. Problem solved, a success for proactive management and the philosophy of; ‘the contractor’s problem is also ours’, or possibly not.

Troubled Times

In the early months of the new century, following the boom of the new airport works, there was a slowdown in construction while the industry gained a poor reputation for delays, poor safety and substandard works. The problems were typified by piling scandals on 11 Housing Department projects[4] resulting in the need to demolish two tower blocks at a Shatin development. The problems were sufficiently bad for the Chief Executive in April 2000 to order an enquiry into the state of the industry and how it could be improved. Headed by Henry Tang and supported by a number of experts, the committee reported in January 2001. They made 109 recommendations covering quality, achieving value, nurturing a professional workforce, developing an efficient industry, improving safety, environmental responsibility and institutional framework. I wonder how many of the recommendations have been implemented?

While the report was under preparation, the KCRC was developing three new extensions to East Rail with mixed success. The environmental impact assessment for the Lok Ma Chau Spur line was rejected in October 2002 and an appeal was subsequently rejected in July 2001. KCRC was not the public’s favourite corporation.

In January 2001 the Hong Kong Government invited both the MTRCL and the KCRC to submit competitive proposals to undertake the Shatin to Central Link (SCL) project based on a defined project brief. A commercial proposal for the SCL was submitted by the KCRC on the 20th July 2001 based on the extension of Ma On Shan Line through East Kowloon and across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. A new three-way interchange station would be established at Hung Hom between East Rail, West Rail and the SCL. MTRCL submitted their own and different scheme proposal.

During the autumn of 2001 the press was full of negative stories about KCRC, including one criticising the corporation for excessive pay[5] and another for providing management perks in the form of drivers and pleasure boats[6]. The Government needed to respond, thus in December 2001 it was announced that Michael Tien Puk-sun would take over the role of KCRC chairman and KY Yeung would remain in place for two more years as the chief executive[7].

In early January 2002, news broke about the Siemens agreement and 27 other supplemental agreements worth $1.63 billion with 19 other contactors[8]. With legislators up in arms, and the press having a field day on KCRC stories, there was only one thing to do, order an enquiry. KCRC appointed KPMG to carry out a review of the supplemental agreements, but KPMG dropped out after five weeks due to failure to agree the terms of engagement, or as noted in the SCMP, KPMG was both KCRC’s and Siemens’ accounting firm and there may be a conflict of interest[9]. KPMG was then replaced by Ernst & Young.

The Ernst & Young report was published in April 2002[10]. It noted that KCRC was expressly obliged to conduct its business “according to prudent commercial principles”. The report noted that West Rail contract philosophy reflected international best practice in contract management and dispute avoidance. Furthermore, the approach to risk sharing and dispute management was consistent with the recommendation of the Government Tang Report for “Employers, consultants and contractors to adopt a proactive approach in resolving claims and disputes as they arise.”.

The report also recognised that within a multi-contract environment, delay on one contract could impact others and be detrimental to the wider project. Thus, it noted, “In our view, had KCRC failed to take into account the consequences for the project as a whole, this would have been a failure to act according to prudent commercial principles”. They believed that the commercial approach taken by the management team was the correct decision. The only criticism was that the Managing Board was not initially made aware of the problems and proposed that it be approached sufficiently early.

The Siemens commercial approach was seen by many as a failure of the West Rail management, whereas it was a feature of the management system that reflected best practice, commercial principles and the Hong Kong Government’s own recommendations. Unfortunately, this was lost in the noise of politics and the wider problems of the construction industry at the time.

DB-1700 Platform Screen Doors

The West Rail station design provided for fully airconditioned platforms, requiring full height platform screen doors (PSD) to minimise the loss of chilled air. The doors also provided platform security preventing people falling onto the track, injuring themselves and disrupting train operations.

The PSD needs to be set clear of the dynamic train gauge to avoid impacting a moving train, but sufficiently close to avoid gaps that could pose a hazard. Two early risks were identified, one being a passenger falling between the platform / train floor gap, and secondly the chance of a passenger being trapped between the train and the platform screen door. A compromise solution was adopted with the door frame set clear of the vehicle gauge while a frangible rubber gap sealer was introduced to minimise the gap. A new detail was developed for the base of the doors to prevent the door closing with someone still on the tread, avoiding the entrapment risk.

PSD Tread Sensor

To improve train boarding and alighting, a common queuing arrangement was proposed using the platform tiles to identify waiting areas. Light coloured tiles were used for movement areas and darker tiles forming a chevron for waiting zones, but it became clear that passengers tended to avoid the darker tiles, preferring to stand on the light colour tiles thereby blocking the doors. Eventually, some of the darker tiles were replaced with light colour tiles along with the familiar queuing lines to mitigate the problem.

Original and Revised Queuing Arrangements

Other Packages

DB-1650 provided the automatic revenue collection system, consisting of the ticketing and ticket gates. Unlike earlier railway lines, the gates were of a retractable barrier design, rather than a rotating bar, utilised on the older systems.

img-Tuen-Ma-Line-Tuen-Mun Station

Gate Line

SI-1200 provided the tunnel ventilation equipment, consisting of the large ventilation up to 2.5m in diameter, noise attenuators, dampers and duct work to provide sufficient ventilation within the tunnels and stations. Every underground station had fan rooms at each end of the structure along with ventilation buildings at Prince Edward, Kwai Fong, Chai Wan Kok and Pat Heung portal with fan capacity of up to 120m3/s.

A Tunnel Ventilation Fan

The system was designed to provide the necessary ventilation for normal train operations, congested and incident modes. Each scenario had a different ventilation response to ensure the security and safety of passengers.

To ensure that the same supplier would be used for lifts and escalators, contracts were awarded for the supply and installation, contract SI-1120 for the escalators and SI-1121 for the lifts. The escalators were of a heavy-duty design reflecting the continual use and high loading. The lifts included those serving the public areas as well as back of house for fire services. The lifts serving the platform level were rotated so that the door opened along the platform rather than toward the platform. This avoided the risk of queues blocking the platform and for ease of access on island platforms.

Passenger Lift and Tactile Map

Barrier Free Access

KCRC was committed to providing improved disabled facilities for the passengers using West Rail, by ensuring persons with impairments and disabilities had the maximum of independence and integration with other passengers. The requirements impacted the design of the stations and the requirements for the railway systems. The facilities and installations that were provided within the stations were over and above those required by the statutory authorities and were designed in consultation with representatives of the various disabled and blind groups. The facilities included tactile maps at station entrances, tactile guide paths and braille plates on Add-Value machines. Within the trains, coloured contact grab poles were provided for the visually impaired along with public announcements for train door opening and closing.

Passengers with Special Needs

For wheelchair-bound passengers, dedicated drop-off and pick-up points were provided where passenger lifts or ramps were installed for connection to the designated station entrances. All station concourses were flat, so there are no stairs or ramps to be negotiated inside stations. Wheelchair users could easily access the ticket offices, where the counters were lowered. The ticket inserts/readers were lowered and wide gates were provided for wheelchair users, and there was a help phone beside each gate array. The passenger lifts were wheelchair accessible, with low level controls and an alarm inside every lift. At platform level, wheelchair users could board trains easily. Inside the trains there were designated parking spaces provided in dedicated car compartments for wheelchairs and grab rails for the ambulant disabled. Throughout the stations, signage includes the wheelchair logo where appropriate. A public toilet was dedicated to wheelchair users and the station staff were trained to assist when requested.

By the summer of 2003, the civil works was complete and the railway systems had been installed. It was time to integrate and commission the railway in preparation for opening.



  1. Managing KCRC’s Electric Multiple Units (EMU) Contract – the largest train car contract in Hong Kong, Ian Thoms, Leo Mak and Albert Chui, Traffic and Transportation Studies 2002
  2. KCRC Projects Update July 2000
  3. KCRC West Rail Contracts, LegCo Panel on Transport, CB(1)987/01-02(01), Feb 2002
  4. First-class failures, SCMP, 28 May 2000
  5. KCRC attached over $35m pay and perks, 15 Nov 2001
  6. ECLawmakers call for cut in fares, SCMP, 15 Nov 2001
  7. Fashion boss to chair KCRC, SCMP, 26 Dec 2001
  8. Probe into $1.6b KCRC payments, SCMP, 3 Jan 2002
  9. KCRC Name Monitors for audit of West Rail Payments, SCMP, 16 Feb 2002
  10. Review of Payments to Contractors for the West Rail Project, April 2002

This article was first posted on 24th October 2023.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. West Rail – Part 1 In the Beginning
  2. West Rail – Part 2 Detailed Feasibility Study
  3. West Rail – Part 3 Technical Studies
  4. West Rail – Part 4 Detailed Design
  5. West Rail – Part 5 Construction – Southern Section
  6. West Rail – Part 6 Project Management
  7. West Rail – Part 7 Construction North

One comment

  • Chris Boyce

    A great retelling of an enormous effort by a dedicated team of specialists managers and engineers! Well done to all.

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