Thursday 6th Aug, 2020

How a metro system can change a city

Photo: Keolis

With major metro rail projects underway in both Melbourne and Sydney, Rail Express spoke with operator Keolis Downer about how high frequency metro services can transform a city.

 


Australia’s largest public transport project, Sydney Metro, is well underway and achieving significant milestones towards its 2024 completion. Once completed, Sydney Metro will extend from the north west, starting at Rouse Hill, through the underground city stations travelling under Sydney Harbour, and beyond to the south west, ending in Bankstown. The West Sydney Metro will also link up the Greater Western Sydney area and the new Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport, connecting it to the Sydney CBD. Ultimately, Sydney will have a 66km standalone metro railway system with fully-automated driverless and fast, just turn up and go, service.

Though some of it is complete, most of the work towards Sydney Metro project is still in early construction stages, with tunnels construction, station excavation and structural works currently taking place, and station construction to commence next year.

In Melbourne, work is underway towards building 9km twin rail tunnels and underground stations from the west of the city to the south-east as part of a new Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham line, which will be upgraded with next-generation highcapacity signalling. The tunnel is expected to free up space in the city loop to enable more trains to run and maximise capacity.

To gain an understanding of the new metro landscape, Rail Express spoke to Keolis Downer’s chair, Australia, Leila Frances, about the company’s significant experience across the metro project lifecycle.

Internationally, Keolis Downer operates metros in France and the UK and is building others in India, the Middle East and China. It launched the first automated metro in the world in Lille, France in 1983, and has significant experience across the project lifecycle, from early operator involvement, including the design and build of the metro infrastructure, to operations and maintenance. The company has experience with both brownfield, 40-year-old legacy assets, as well as greenfield, absolutely new metro systems.

“The thing about metro is that it’s a high-volume mover. Metro has been shown in research to provide the highest capacity transport solution for greater population densities.” While this has a lot to do with the infrastructure, as Frances explained, a lot of it is due to the speed of the service.

“The journey time is very rapid. There is a shorter headway than traditional rail services, and as metros operate at a very high frequency the wait time is short and so is the journey time. It’s a turn up and go service. From the passenger’s point of view, their journey starts when they step out their door and this is when they measure how long it takes to get from point A to point B. With metro, especially in these congested cities in peak times, the journey time is much quicker than a car.”

With NSW’s population expected to grow to around 9 million over the next 20 years –bringing with it an increase in congestion with more passengers on trains and buses and more traffic on roads – the high capacity solution that metro bring is important. According to the NSW government, once the metro is functioning, capacity will rise from 120 an hour today to up to 200 services beyond 2024, a 60 per cent capacity increase across the network to meet demand. This, the government says, is “a level of service never before seen in Sydney”.

The target capacity of Sydney’s metro is about 40,000 customers per hour, similar to other metro systems worldwide, whereas Sydney’s current suburban system has a capacity of 24,000 people an hour per line. The infrastructure needed for metro also favours comparably to the infrastructure for more traditional modes of transport.

“Metros travel along a dedicated purposebuilt corridor, and the advantages of it being purpose built are significant. It’s modern and it can be designed and built with safety and security in mind as well as speed. The alignment for metro tunnels can be precisely refined to reflect both the current and future of the city.

“Another key thing is that metro stations accommodate large volumes of people passing through at any one time.”

The lifts, escalators, passenger information screens and ticketing systems with the automated gates are all designed with this in mind and, according to Frances, “they’re very much built for future proofing into the next 50, 70 years.”

Indeed, she explains, these elements are all key concerns for the design process prior to the construction of stations stage.

“In terms of the design, we really appreciate early operator involvement because decisions made at the design stage will be lived with for a very long time.”

During the design process it is essential to think from the passenger’s point of view, according to Frances — “What does the passenger need to make their journey simplest and safest as possible?”

“You want ease of movement through the actual station, and for that to be as seamless as possible. So, for example, the positions of escalators is important. During high flow onto an escalator you just need one or two people to not be able to get off easily for that to make it an unsafe situation quickly, so we want to make sure there is good flow off and onto escalators.

“Platform width, as another example, is extremely important. We also look at what we can have suspended to ensure as much space is clear as possible, because you will have equipment on platforms, its necessary. We suspend as much as we can off either a gantry or a canopy, so to have free access onto platforms.”

Another essential consideration during the design stage, says Frances, is both the location and the layout of the depot.

“Location is obvious because of course you want to be able to minimise your running time when you’re starting up service. The actual depot design itself also facilitates the work flow. Getting the right buildings into the right place is important and within the main depot, the layout is key to both safety, which is at the forefront and then of course efficiency behind that. Location of the stores is really key because if the stores are not located in a quickly accessible place than naturally, it is going to be inefficient with maintainers going to and from to be able to collect the materials that they need to be able to maintain.”

With the trend towards metro taking off, these are considerations more and more cities across the world are taking.

“We’re seeing a lot of development in metro, with cities responding to the growth of population and demand for mobility. It’s still very much a trend within mega cities and large cities, where metros are becoming the solution that fits in with the rest of transport to make sure that you’ve got the mass transit to complement the other services.

“It’s always exciting when you see this longterm planning from government, and I think Australia is extremely good in its long-term planning. The driverless metro will really ease some of the congestion in Sydney, where there is clearly a point of natural congestion with the harbour. The success of North West, with a daily ridership of 66,000 shows that the demand is there.

“The advantage of course of driverless metro is that you can operate with very short headways, for example in Lille we operate 52 trains an hour, that’s one every 50 seconds, on a GOA 4 system so it’s absolutely achievable. Driverless metro is developing in Sydney, and as the network grows it increases the opportunity to increase the capacity, make people’s journeys easier, not just in the peak but in the off peak, and that’s really going to change the mobility experience of people in Sydney.

“It also gives an opportunity to really bring to life the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for ‘A metropolis of three-cities’. When you’ve got that connectivity and the new airport that will come out in the West that’s really going to shape out how the whole area functions.”

Metro is central to the transport landscape, according to Frances, but it is all about creating a wide array of options for commuters.

“If you look at major cities with wellestablished metro systems, London or Paris, it is really key to those cities. Investment in metro demonstrates the long term thinking of governments, the investment and recognition of mobility being essential to create places where people want to live, work or study.

“In the context of growing cities, it is essential to create more public transport options for all and enable optimal accessibility to mass transit options. We need to encourage more people onto public transport by thinking about their door to door journey, and create enough convenience to encourage them out of their cars. Mass transit needs to be safe, efficient, reliable, sustainable and driverless metros tick all the boxes.

“At the same time, the general mobility as a service (MaaS) push that we’re seeing has an impact on mobility and behaviours, in terms of information and the route planning, in terms of expectations and integration with other modes to get a different journey.

“MaaS is giving people the ability to see all options that are offered to them, and the possibility to plan their journeys before leaving home. Depending on the day, where you need to go, the weather, having access to a single platform that offers more choice is a game-changer.”

When Keolis Downer talks about public transport, they’re talking about the passenger needs.

“This is because that’s what the centre of public transport is, it’s the passenger and it’s the community. It’s about providing that service and responding to the needs of the passenger. And so, it’s about choice and making sure that people have that choice in terms of the travel they need to do. This means giving access to the public of what they need and connecting the journeys that people can make with different forms of public transport,” Frances said.

The benefits of the metro system are not just confined to the passenger journey, however – there are supplementary benefits as well.

“An indirect benefit is the street scaping. Last mile connectivity is something the authorities we work with are astutely aware of, and we work with them to create the best solutions for that, and street scaping gives an opportunity to improve safety as well as the actual access around the station areas. It’s as simple as making sure there’s good pavements segregated from road traffic, and that’s been very important.

“A key benefit is the transit-oriented development that comes around metro. It’s typically now a very important part of projects, because in fact it helps the financial viability of the project. Consider Hyderabad where there’s been the development of already four shopping malls, which include cinemas, restaurants, and other facilities. These all connect into the new metro system, so, metro actually helps rejuvenate some areas in a city which will benefit from bringing other services to the community, and of course it helps the viability of a project as well.”

As well as being the chair of Keolis Downer, Australia, Frances is president of its operations in India and the Middle East. She spoke about the organisation’s international experience and what metro had done for the cities where Keolis introduced it.

“Doha is a key metro project for us. We operate a metro and a light rail, so it is a multi-modal rail system. Buses are a complement to the public transport offering as well. The metro in Doha is in a phased opening, so we’re already operating one stage of the metro, which has been very successful, the ridership has been above expectations, already around 30,000 a day. That is fantastic considering we’re only operating about a tenth of the metro’s final size.

“In Hyderabad in India, we operate the second largest automated metro in India, Delhi is the largest. In India, as of today there isn’t a GOA4 (completely autonomous) metro line, we operate automated metro as a GOA2. There’s a wish to move towards GOA4 in India, for examplein Mumbai there’s an underground line currently being constructed and the intention of the Government is that that will be a GOA4 metro, with operations and maintenance outsourced, so clearly automation is the absolute trend.

“In Hyderabad, the metro will be 67km in totality once its opened, and most of it is now up and operational, there’s just one last section, stage 6 to open. Ridership has grown substantially since its opening. Initial ridership was 39,000 a day, with only the first stage which was 30km. Now we’ve opened almost all of it, it’s grown to over 400,000 passengers a day.”

Keolis Downer sees part of its role as an operator is to help ridership grow.

“We want to bring the culture of multimodal public transport to people and to make it an easy choice to shift from car and from, in the case of Hyderabad, twowheelers and auto rick-shaws and onto public transport. Hyderabad’s metro is operating really well, and its very much a part of the culture of the city now. It is an above ground, elevated metro, which is very visible.”

When asked how best to finance metro projects Frances answers that there is not one way. “The best way is the best way locally, there’s not one best way. It’s a decision made by the Government, but from our point of view it does not impact the passenger experience, which we bring to the heart of what we’re doing.”


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