West Rail – Part 9 Testing and Commissioning

Tymon Mellor: During 2002, the civil works of West Rail was completed and the railway systems contractors had been provided with access to install their systems. Each system had to pass a series of tests before it could then be integrated with other systems and the wider control system. Once over that hurdle, the railway could commence trial operations and seek formal approval to commence revenue service. As the planned opening day approached, much to everyone’s surprise the Environmental Protection Department identified noise exceedances at a number of the elevated stations. Would this delay the opening?


The testing and commissioning process was set out in the West Rail Commissioning Plan[1], a detailed document divided into five major phases, these being:

  • Installation Tests, tests undertaken prior to handing over for commissioning to verify the system meets the specification;
  • Partial Acceptance Tests, first of the tests undertaken as part of commissioning, with the focus on individual sub-systems within geographical limits (eg. stations/trackside/rolling stock);
  • System Acceptance Tests, with a focus on individual systems/works in their entirety, i.e. incorporating interfaces with others, as well as statutory inspections;
  • Tests on Completion (TOC) demonstrating integration of all the primary systems, inclusive of central and backup controls, to ensure that the functions of each system were compatible with other systems. A total of 72 sets of TOCs were carried out to confirm the functional performance of the related systems; and
  • Pre-revenue Operations putting the whole railway in trial mode, without passengers, under normal and emergency scenarios and corresponding operational procedures. A dedicated Commissioning Manager and a series of technical panels coordinated all the stakeholders to resolve issues as quickly as possible.

Ventilation Building Emergency Generators (2003)

With the completion of the tests for the traction power and overhead line system, the system was energised in late April 2003, allowing the running of trains and to start the integration of the systems. The West Rail system integration and engineering team had developed a long list of interface tests that the contractors had to carry out, to demonstrate how their systems would work with each other. Regular meetings were held to keep track of the planning, organisation and completion of each series of interface tests.

The contract documents, notably the general specifications, required compliance with the European standards covering electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) for the railway applications. The contractors had to demonstrate the compliance of their equipment to these standards at the component level during the factory acceptance tests carried out overseas. They also had to demonstrate on site the emission and immunity levels of their respective individual systems when working alone as well as when working together with other systems.

Initial teething problems were discovered with the interface between the signalling system and the platform screen doors[2], which also involved the train control and trackside equipment. Unless the train doors and platform screen doors are lined up to within a 300mm tolerance, they cannot open. After a month of troubleshooting, the problems were resolved and the doors opened automatically once the train had stopped.

Another challenge was train deployment from the Pat Heung Maintenance Centre. West Rail was divided into four zones for train control purposes. Apart from the need to debug the depot communications system, the team had to address the interface issues arising from the interface between the depot zone and the main line zone. The depot is a complex area arising from the many turnouts and the need for interlocking between the points. These had to be tuned to work efficiently to allow the operator to launch up to 20 trains in 75 minutes to serve peak hour operations.

Approach to Pat Heung Maintenance Centre (2003)

Temporary exodus

A project the size and complexity of West Rail had to draw on international resources and specialists for the cutting edge and specialist technology. One unforeseen risk occurred in early 2003 with the outbreak of a disease that caused global panic – SARS[3]. As recalled by Ian Thoms, “During April and May all the foreign experts disappeared from Hong Kong so we had to troubleshoot with a restricted team and dispatch the results to those who weren’t on site”. This first experience of remote working took its toll, taking longer to sort out the glitches than when the specialists were present on the job.

Operational Readiness

The Commissioning Plan set out the approach to commission the railway whereas the Operational Readiness Plan[4] set out how the railway would operate within the wider community. Steering groups were responsible for different aspects of preparation for the opening. This included coordination with:

  • Government bodies responsible for issuing permits and approvals for the railway to operate, a key one being the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) who was responsible for checking the railway had met the environmental performance requirements, notably for noise as set out in the Environmental Permit;
  • Hong Kong Railway Inspectorate, responsible for issuing a Consent to operate;
  • Hong Kong Police Force, to take over the Police Room in each station, confirm the coverage of the police radio and take part in training and crowd control processes;
  • Lands Department, resolving the land vesting and private treaty grants for the West Rail land;
  • Highways Department to coordinate the modification to roads, footbridges etc. undertaken as Essential Public Infrastructure Works (EPIW) and Remedial, Re-provisioning and Improvement Works (RRIW).
  • Transport Department to coordinate the feeder services and rationalisation of bus routes and new street signage.
  • Other Government Bodies
  • External Parties

Community Awareness

The commissioning of the new line not only provided a new transport route but it impacted existing services with new bus interchange facilities, re-routing of bus services, re-scheduling Light Rail services and staged opening of the new Light Rail platforms for passenger use. The traveling public at large was informed by way of various Government departments and KCRC of the arrangements to be in place for the opening of West Rail by way of a fully co-ordinated media campaign involving:

  • Publicity;
  • Public Education; and
  • Marketing Promotion.

An extensive public consultation exercise was conducted at different community levels including Legislative Council, Transport Advisory Committee, District Councils, influential groups, political groups and potential passengers within the West Rail catchment areas so as to provide opportunities for the concerned groups to comment on various aspects of the proposed West Rail services, including: fare structure, fare level and the reorganisation of Light Rail / Bus services.

Getting the community to accept and use the new line was key to achieving the forecasted passenger numbers. A programme of public education commenced in December 2002 with a “coming soon” ceremony to acquaint and familiarise people with the features, facilities, and benefits of the new line. But as it would later become apparent, this required a lot more work than had been anticipated.

Coming Soon Ceremony (4 Dec 2002)

A public education programme, in the form of exhibitions, community briefings, station open days, was organised to familiarise potential passengers with the system and facilities.

West Rail Staff Briefing Residents Along the Line (2003)

In the buildup to opening, a series of open days were held at each of the nine stations during the weekends between the 29 November and 7 December, and the events attracted over 100,000 visitors[5].

One of the final community events was a charity trial ride from the 16-18 December, the week before opening. This event allowed passengers the chance to ride along the line while raising money for charity. A flat rate of $15 for adults and $7.5 for children was charged with the money being donated to good causes. Over the course of the tree days, 115,000 people took part, raising $1.5 million dollars.

West Rail Charity Ride (December 2003)

Hong Kong Inspector of Railways (HKIR)

Government’s Electrical and Mechanical Services Department was responsible for ensuring the safety of the railway, through its Inspector of Railways. This statutory process required the West Rail team to prepare drawings and presentations to the Safety & Security Coordinating Committee (SSCC) and Trackside Safety & Security Committee (TSSC). These two bodies were responsible for station and trackside safety respectively. The West Rail Chief Architect, Keith Fielder and Chief E&M Engineer, Steward Chan and their respective teams devoted much of their time preparing, reviewing the submission materials developed by the design consultants.

A three-stage submission process was adopted for the stations:

  • General plans illustrating the fire-resistant compartmentation, means of escape, signage etc.
  • Fire services installations: another separate set of plans; and
  • Smoke extraction calculations.

Both committees had their own particular formats for the submissions, utilising a consistent palette of colours, hard copy drawings folded and not rolled and the adoption of common styles and terms. With eight different designers producing the submissions, there was a long learning curve to get the drawings up to standard.

With the construction, commissioning and testing complete, representatives of the HKIR visited every building i.e. every one of the nine stations, the Pat Heung Maintenance Centre and all of the ancillary buildings (sub-stations, tunnel ventilation buildings etc.). They checked the drawings reflected what they found on site, and undertook a number of trials, including smoke management in stations and train evacuation in the tunnels.

The submissions were eventually signed off as “endorsed” by the HKIR and the entire collection was passed to the operations team as part of the line completion documentation.

Station Smoke Trials (2003)

On the 22 October, 2003 a full-scale emergency exercise was undertaken in the Tai Lam tunnel. A train full of 300 volunteers was taken into the tunnel when smoke was released to simulate an internal car fire. The operator initiated the emergency procedures with FSD, the Police and members of the Transport Department, bus operators and Tuen Mun Hospital participating.

Train Smoke Trials (2003)

All the passengers evacuated the train and walked out of the tunnel while some 20 mock ‘injured’ passengers were identified and assisted, with some being sent to hospital. Incident buses were deployed and the Transport Department activated their Emergency Transport Coordination Centre.

Simulated Train Incident in Tunnel (2003)

The exercise went smoothly achieving a high level of coordination and cooperation. This exercise was one of more than 1,800 emergency drills undertaken during the run-up to railway opening[6].

Environmental Protection Department

During August and September, 2003, EPD undertook a series of noise readings at sensitive receivers while trial train operations were being undertaken. On the new tower blocks adjacent to the stations they dangled arrays of microphones down the side of the buildings, close to West Rail, and demonstrated that in certain areas the railway would not meet the EIA requirements on noise attenuation.

One of the issues identified by EPD was the walkway provided on the viaduct for passenger evacuation and which was utilised as part of the noise mitigation, but which did not extend through the stations. Thus, there was no attenuation on the wheel generated noise radiating out to flats higher than the platform level at Yuen Long, Long Ping, Tin Shui Wai and Tuen Mun stations. Unless the problem could be overcomed, EPD would not consent to the December opening of the line. Under the direction of Ian Thoms, the Director of West Rail, the team had to move fast and carry out quite a bit of extra engineering work in the form of noise panels, acoustic louvres and partial enclosures of the line. With the corporation of the contractors, installation of noise panels commenced immediately while the remaining materials were procured to ensure the majority of the works could be completed for the planned December opening.

Noise Modifications at Yuen Long Station

With an agreement on the proposed solutions, timeframe and visible progress on site, EPD agreed the requirements of the Environmental Permit would be met and opening of the line could commence three months later in December, 2003.

Light Rail Transit System

The Light Rail Transit System (LRT) was constructed by the KCRC in the mid 1980s opening on the 18 September, 1988, thirty-five years ago this year. The project was both controversial and problematic at the time, but that’s another story. With the commissioning of West Rail, the LRT would change its role, becoming a feeder service to the new line and forming part of a comprehensive transportation network serving the north-west New Territories. To facilitate this transformation, a $2,300 million[7] extension and upgrade was required to the LRT. The works included:

  • Construction of 4.4km of extensions to the newly developed Tin Shui Wai town;
  • Upgrade and modification of three light rail stops at Tuen Mun, Siu Hong and Yuen Long stations;
  • Construction of a new interchange at Tin Shui Wai station;
  • At grade separation at Pui To Road and Tsing Lun Road; and
  • Installation of a new network wide signalling system.

In April 2003, KCRC created a new division, West Rail Division (Operations) to manage the West Rail, Light Rail and the Corporation’s feeder bus services. It was believed that this arrangement would ensure better integration of the West Rail and Light Rail services as well as maximise benefits for the passengers.

Opening of Light Rail Tin Shui Wai Extension (7 December 2003)

The new Division had about 2,000 staff, representing a synergy saving of about 600 staff as compared with the original projection of operating West Rail as an independent division. Of the 2,000 staff, 1,100 of them were operations staff and 900 were engineering staff. 1,200 staff was redeployed from the existing Light Rail Division while the remaining 800 staff were newly recruited.

To ensure the success of the West Rail opening, the new Light Rail infrastructure and signalling system, needed to be commissioned ahead of West Rail. The focus had been on the LRT civil works and development and installation of the new Siemens supplied systems had slipped. Additional resources were transferred from West Rail to bring the signalling and communications up to speed and ready for the opening on the 7 December 2003, ahead of the West Rail opening.

Trial Operations

Upon the completion of final testing of the West Rail system, a three-month period had been set aside for trial operations. The whole railway system was operated as if in service but with no passengers. This was required to:

  • Enable the staff to gain hands-on experience in operating the railway during normal operation and in handling mishaps and equipment failures through simulated events;
  • Validate the effectiveness of various rules and procedures;
  • Spot and resolve teething problems before opening to the public; and
  • Confirm that consistent punctuality of train service achieves the desired target prior to public service.

The trial operations starting on 17 June, 2003[8] with the prospect of a possible early opening of the line[9], but it soon became clear that there were difficulties with the reliability of the signalling and train-borne control systems. The problems were caused by electromagnetic interference (EMI) and ground current effects[10] as a result of the different earthing systems adopted and the approach to earth bonding. Once a solution was identified, over a period of six weeks, the West Rail contractors and KCRC staff retrofitted the necessary bonding to resolve the problems.

West Rail Control Room (2003)

To ensure the railway was ready for opening, punctuality and delivery targets were set at 95% and 97%. Unless they were achieved consistently, the railway would not be permitted to open for revenue services. With resolution of the EMI problems, the targets were met and following opening, the percentages climbed to over 99.5%.

Trial operation began with the running of four trains per day in June, building up to an off-peak service of 12 trains per direction per hour at the beginning of July. By late July the trains ran according to a full-day timetable with up to 20 trains per hour per direction.

Newly recruited staff as well as staff transferred from East Rail and Light Rail were trained to handle the operations for West Rail. The railway operation was substantially different from East Rail and everyone required extensive training. More than 1,700 drills and exercises were undertaken for the staff. Some were localised while others were systemwide. Many of the staff had been part of the project team, so they were familiar with the systems, though not in terms of operation and maintenance. The suppliers and contractors provided training materials to be used in the on-site classroom and a sophisticated size cab simulator was procured for driver training.

West Rail Cab Simulator (2003)

With updates to the signalling software to address the identified problems, regression testing was undertaken on the signalling software to make sure the amendments made did not cause problems somewhere else. It was a time-consuming process and the team decided to spend more time on testing all the systems before opening West Rail to the public.


With the signalling system EMI problems resolved and EPD satisfied that the line would achieve the EIA noise requirements, the line was ready for opening. On a cold Saturday morning on 20nd December 2003, an inaugural ceremony was held at Kam Sheung Road station officiated by the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee Hwa with 1500 guests[11]. The railway had been completed on time and below budget against targets set four years earlier, a great success for the project team.

The CE noted that, “The new means of transport offered by West Rail will facilitate the development of the North West New Territories.” Whereas the KCRC Chairman Mr Michael Tien said, “It takes only 30 minutes to travel from Nam Cheong to Tuen Mun on West Rail, thereby significantly reducing the journey time between the North West New Territories and urban Kowloon.”

Official Opening (2003)

Other than the railway enthusiasts that patiently queued for the public opening at 2pm on the same day, did anyone want to travel from the New Territories to Nam Cheong and was urban Kowloon a desirable destination? Would the presence of the new line facilitate new development in the north-west New Territories?

Officiating Guests Welcomed at Kam Sheung Road Station (2003)


  1. The Strategic Plan for Commissioning West Rail, Paul Anderson, Chris Boyce, Eddie Kwok, International Seminars on Commissioning New Railways and New Railway Systems, May 2000
  2. West Rail: Ironing out the Wrinkles before Grand Opening, Angela Tam, Hong Kong Engineer Sep 2003
  3. West Rail: Ironing out the Wrinkles before Grand Opening, Angela Tam, Hong Kong Engineer Sep 2003
  4. West Rail Operational Readiness Plan, KCRC, 27 May 2002
  5. KCRC Projects Update, January 2004
  6. KCRC Projects Update, November 2003
  7. Project Update of the West Rail. Legco Panel on Transport, Subcommittee on matters relating to railways, CB(1)1237/02-03(02), April 2003
  8. KCRC Annual Report, 2003
  9. West Rail Opens Next Month, IRJ, August 2003
  10. Major Railway Works In Hong Kong – On Time & Within Budget To Operating Success, James Blake, Mar 2019
  11. KCRC Projects Update, January 2004 (Issue no 36)

This article was first posted on 11th January 2024.

Related Indhhk Articles: Our Index contains all of Tymon Mellor’s other 8 West Rail articles

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