How the Metro Tunnel Project to Increase Capacity for Commuters

Through the use of high capacity signalling, the Metro Tunnel Project will improve the reliability of Melbourne’s train network.


Melbourne is the fastest-growing capital city in Australia, with over 100,000 new residents flocking to the city every year. To keep pace with
this growing population, the Victorian Government is implementing a sizeable rail transformation program that includes new high capacity trains and high
capacity signalling (also known as communications-based signalling).

Melbourne’s current railway system

Melbourne’s railway was established in 1854 and was progressively electrified from 1919, but the railway itself has remained principally above ground with a legacy fixed-block signalling system.

In this traditional type of signalling system, train movements are managed through a series of trackside lamps showing green-yellow-red signal aspects, where trains are not permitted to occupy the same section of track at the same time.

How will the Metro Tunnel Project help?

The Metro Tunnel Project will see the construction of twin 9-kilometre rail tunnels through the CBD including five new underground stations.

The tunnel will reduce bottlenecks in the City Loop by connecting the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines with the Sunbury line, allowing these lines to bypass the centrally located Flinders Street station while still stopping in the Melbourne Central Business District. The project includes the deployment of high capacity signalling, which is being delivered by the

Rail Systems Alliance comprising CPB Contractors, Bombardier, Metro Trains Melbourne and Rail Projects Victoria.

Better travel options with high capacity signalling

High capacity signalling will replace conventional fixed-block signalling with communications-based train control technology. Specialised equipment housed in the driver’s cabin and along the track will transmit speed and location data to two new signalling control centres located at Sunshine and Dandenong.

This real-time data will dynamically adjust train speeds and braking to maintain safe stopping distances between trains for drivers.

This moving-block type of signalling system works in a similar way to adaptive cruise control in cars, where the vehicle speed is adjusted in relation to the distance to the car ahead. As the leading train moves forward, the preceding train follows while maintaining a safe distance.

New technology means that the safe distance is no longer a static entity enforced by fixed blocks, but an adjustable distance based on a real-time calculation of the train speed. Since the separation between trains is kept to a minimum, there is no wasted space on the network and headways are kept as short as possible.

The future of Melbourne’s rail network

High capacity signalling will create vital capacity for increasing train frequencies in the future, enabling the city’s train control centre to run passenger services closer together in a safe and reliable way. This means that passengers on the Cranbourne, Pakenham and Sunbury lines will have more travel options and service reliability.

The Metro Tunnel Project will see 55 kilometres of next-generation, high capacity signalling installed on the city’s rail network. This technology is an important step in Melbourne’s progression to a reliable ‘turn-up-and-go’ network similar to other cities such as London, Singapore and Hong Kong.

To stay on top of the progress of the Metro Tunnel Project, subscribe to RIW’s blog for the latest information.

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