INTRO: The largest expansion programme ever undertaken by Kowloon - Canton Railway Corp is well under way, with West Rail Phase 1 now 40% complete. Construction of two extensions to the East Rail route from Kowloon to Lo Wu began in February

BYLINE: James Blake

Senior Director, Capital ProjectsKowloon - Canton Railway Corp

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE facing the builders of a new railway in one of the world’s most densely-populated cities is the need to minimise impact during both construction and operation. Construction is now at its peak on West Rail Phase 1, which covers 30·5 km of new railway linking Kowloon and Tuen Mun in the northwest New Territories. Around 11000 people are hard at work across the various railway and civil engineering disciplines.

West Rail is the largest single civil engineering project to be undertaken in Hong Kong since the completion of the Airport Core Programme, which entailed building both Chek Lap Kok Airport and its associated transport infrastructure.

Throughout both the planning and construction phases, much consideration has been given to social and environmental constraints. This included the need to minimise land take, road diversions, noise and visual impact, as well as protecting the environment and ensuring that drainage is not impaired in flood-prone areas. Mitigation measures were developed with the relevant government departments before construction began in October 1998. Implementation is being closely monitored by all parties concerned, including contractors and our own project management team.

With land in Hong Kong always in demand, 48% of the alignment is in tunnel, with 44% on viaduct and only 8% at grade. From its southern terminus in West Kowloon, the railway runs largely in tunnel to the rolling stock maintenance depot in the Kam Tin valley. Passing alongside the depot at grade, West Rail continues through the new towns of Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai, and Tuen Mun in the northwest New Territories.

Tunnels and viaducts

The underground sections comprise the Kwai Tsing tunnels passing under heavily built-up areas in the south, and the Tai Lam tunnel beneath the Tai Lam Country Park. To cope with mixed ground conditions and to avoid disruption to busy road traffic, a mixed-face earth pressure balance TBM has been used for the first time in Hong Kong to excavate a key section of the Kwai Tsing tunnels. With an 8·7m diameter cutting head, the TBM is capable of digging through soft and waterlogged ground as well as hard rock.

Work on the southern section of tunnels is about 70% complete.

At 5·5 km in length, the Tai Lam tunnel is the longest rail or road tunnel in Hong Kong. Excavated using traditional drill-and-blast methods, it was due to hole through last month. Application of the tunnel lining and construction of the central wall is proceeding alongside the excavation.

As well as minimising land take, the elevated alignment through the northwest New Territories avoids cutting across roads and disrupting the flow of water down drainage channels in flood-prone areas. To ensure that these channels perform their vital function unobstructed, construction activity has been confined to the dry season. Special arrangements are in place for contractors to remove plant and materials from the worksites whenever there is a risk of flooding.

Despite these constraints, substantial progress has been made in the construction of the 35 km of viaduct, which will be the longest bridge structure in Hong Kong. The viaduct decks are constructed using pre-cast methods and assembled on piers at a rate of 14 spans or 500m per week.

Deck assembly was 70% complete by mid-March, and we currently expect the last part of the deck structure to be erected during July.

A 1·3m high parapet functioning as a noise barrier is being installed on both sides of the deck. This forms part of an innovative multi-plenum system that should make West Rail one of the quietest railways in the world. Other measures include train skirts and floating slab track mounted on rubber pads and resilient baseplates. Together these will trap train noise at source and reduce vibrations substantially.

Station design

To encourage passengers to use the fast and efficient commuter link, West Rail will be fully integrated with other public transport. The southern terminus at Nam Cheong will be served by MTR’s Tung Chung line, giving easy transfer to destinations on Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island, including Chek Lap Kok Airport. A single underground concourse will serve both railways, with passengers passing through a common barrier line equipped to accept contactless smart cards. At Mei Foo, a pedestrian subway will provide interchange with MTR’s Tsuen Wan line.

At its northern end West Rail will be fed by KCRC’s existing light rail network, which is currently carrying 320000 passengers a day. There will be interchanges at Tuen Mun, Siu Hong, Tin Shui Wai and Yuen Long. All West Rail stations will be provided with bus and taxi stands, except for Mei Foo which due to its setting within an open park area is to be landscaped above ground.

Civil engineering works on West Rail are over 70% complete, with the railway and electrical and mechanical systems contracts following closely behind. Kam Sheung Road was the first station to be topped out last December, and others will follow over the next few months. The rolling stock maintenance facility being built next to Kam Sheung Road will be Hong Kong’s largest depot at 32·5ha. It will incorporate facilities for staff training as well as train stabling and maintenance.

All West Rail stations are designed to be easy to use, with escalators between the concourse and platform levels. Extensive use of glass introduces plenty of natural light into both the elevated and underground stations, giving them a bright and spacious look. Passenger comfort will be further enhanced by air-conditioning and platform screen doors, which provide safety benefits as well as ensuring energy efficiency.

Attention has been paid to achieving a co-ordinated station design that blends in well with the surrounding environment. Each station will have its own signature colour to provide a clear identity and facilitate recognition by passengers. Clear, easy-to-read signage will be provided in Chinese and English. Building materials have been selected to combine ease of maintenance with an ability to resist vandalism and wear.

West Rail will be fully accessible to mobility-impaired passengers. Like East Rail, stations will be equipped with lifts and ramps for passengers in wheelchairs, with braille maps and tactile guide paths provided for the visually impaired. Induction loops and information cards will be made available for use by hearing-impaired passengers.

Trains and services

Valued at more than HK$3·1bn, the rolling stock order was the largest single contract placed in conjunction with the West Rail project. A fleet of 250 cars has been ordered from a consortium of Itochu, Kinki Sharyo and Kawasaki, for use on both West Rail and East Rail. Production is in full swing in Japan, and the first of 12 eight-car trains for East Rail arrived in Hong Kong in March. The last of the 154 West Rail vehicles should be delivered by mid-2002. Rolling stock testing on West Rail is due to begin around the same time, in conjunction with the commissioning of the signalling and communications.

The air-conditioned trains will feature colour LCD passenger information displays, in-car CCTV and an emergency two-way communications system enabling passengers to contact the control centre. The EMUs will also be equipped with regenerative braking, and this is expected to produce a 25% saving in energy consumption. Detailed design of the signalling equipment is still being finalised, and prototypes of the major system components should be shipped to Hong Kong in September for interface tests with the trains and the platform screen doors.

Initially, West Rail will be operated with a fleet of 22 seven-car sets. Services will run at 3min intervals, giving 20 trains/h and a theoretical capacity of 47000 passengers/h per direction. As demand grows, the trains will be lengthened from seven to nine cars and the frequency stepped up from 20 to 33 trains/h. This will provide a maximum line capacity of around 100000 passengers/h per direction.

When West Rail opens in 2003, it is forecast to carry around 340000 passengers a day, rising gradually to 500000 by 2011. With trains capable of operating at up to 130 km/h, the 30·5 km journey from Tuen Mun to Nam Cheong will take only 30min, halving the present journey time by road.

Building for the future

In spite of its huge scale and the tight deadline to bring the railway into operation by 2003, there has been no compromise on site safety during construction. West Rail was the safest major construction project in Hong Kong last year, and since construction began in October 1998 there have been no fatalities and only 33 accidents per 1000 workers.

This is well below the project target of 60 accidents per 1000 workers and compares favourably with 155 accidents per 1000 workers for the construction industry as a whole in Hong Kong. This achievement is attributable to a vigorous top-down approach to impress upon contractors and their site staff the importance of providing a safe working environment, coupled with effective policing by our own safety team.

Overall, West Rail is now expected to be completed at a cost substantially lower than the original estimate. At the end of 1999, the project cost was revised downward from HK$64bn to HK$51·7bn and in February this year KCRC Chairman K Y Yeung announced a further reduction to HK$46·4bn, representing a saving of almost 30% on the original estimate. This is attributable to several factors, including lower tender prices arising from competitive bidding and slower inflation, value engineering, lower land resumption costs, and lower interest payments for commercial borrowing due to the continuing decline in interest rates.

East Rail expansion too

Alongside West Rail Phase 1, KCRC is pushing ahead with three other expansion projects on the existing East Rail corridor. The extension from Hung Hom to Tsim Sha Tsui in Central Kowloon has also reached the construction stage, with a formal start of work in April. Ceremonies were held on February 12 to initiate construction of the light metro feeder connecting the Ma On Shan residential development to the East Rail station at Tai Wai. Both of these projects are due for completion by 2004.

The third leg of the East Rail expansion programme is to provide a second route for the growing passenger business between Hong Kong and mainland China. Traffic through the former border crossing at Lo Wu has been increasing at double-digit rates over the last few years, with 230000 passengers passing this way on a normal weekday. During long festival holidays, this figure exceeds 340000 a day, stretching the capacity of the existing facilities at Lo Wu and eroding standards of service.

Over the past four years, KCRC has assembled a highly professional, multi-disciplinary project team to ensure completion of new railway projects on time and within budget. Following the completion of these projects in 2003-04, KCRC will have the financial and manpower resources to undertake other railway development projects earmarked for completion in 2006-16.

KCRC has recently been invited by the Hong Kong government to submit proposals for construction of the Kowloon Southern Link, which would join East Rail and West Rail at their southern ends, and to bid for a Sha Tin - Central link via Hong Kong’s fourth cross-harbour railway.

These two future railways, together with four other new lines, have been identified as priority projects in the government’s Railway Development Strategy 2000 (RG 4.00 p247). The other projects include the Northern Link, which will join East Rail and West Rail in the north to complete the KCRC network. The Port Rail line will strengthen East Rail’s freight services to mainland China by providing a direct connection to the container terminal at Kwai Chung.

CAPTION: Construction work is in full swing at the new Tuen Mun terminus and light rail interchange

Top: Artist’s impression of Kam Sheung Road station, which was the first of the nine West Rail stations to be topped out at a ceremony in December

CAPTION: Below: A lengthy viaduct will carry West Rail across the flood drainage channels in the northwest New Territories

Below left:The Nam Cheong terminus will be the first fully-integrated KCRC/MTR station

CAPTION: The completed Tsing Tsuen section of the Kwai Tsing tunnel, excavated using an earth pressure balance tunnel boring machine

West Rail to come in under budget in 2003

Kowloon-Canton Railway is more than doubling its network with construction of three new lines. The biggest challenge is the 30·5 km West Rail scheme that will link the northwest New Territories with urban Kowloon from 2003, on which work is 40% complete. Minimising the impact of the new line in one of the world’s most densely-populated cities is of major importance, but thanks to competitive bidding and other cost savings, the final cost is likely to be HK$46·4bn rather than the HK$64bn originally forecast. Work started in February on the other two lines forming extensions to East Rail

West Rail, c’est pour 2003, mais moins cher que prévu

Le chemin de fer Kowloon-Canton va plus que doubler son réseau grâce à la construction de trois nouvelles lignes. Le plus important défi est le projet West Rail, dont 40% est achevé; long de 30·5 km, il reliera, dès 2003, la partie nord ouest des New Territories avec la ville de Kowloon. Il est très important de minimiser l’impact de cette nouvelle ligne située dans l’une des villes les plus densément peuplées du monde, mais grâce à des soumissions compétitives et autres mesures économiques, le coût final ne devrait pas dépasser 46·4 milliards de dollars de Hong-Kong, alors que le coût initialement annoncé était de 64 milliards de dollars de Hong-Kong. Sur les deux autres lignes, qui constituent un prolongement de l’East Rail, les travaux ont commencé en février

West Rail mit Kostenunterschreitung in 2003

Die Kowloon-Canton Railway verdoppelt ihr Netz mit dem Bau von drei neuen Strecken. Die gr