Rail System Development

IMG_1031I’ve recently got into contact with a very interesting person by the name of Martyn Gomersall. We were discussing a certain safety issue and then the thought struck me that I should ask ‘what goes into planning, developing and constructing a modern railway’? Martyn kindly obliged and has offered me the summary below. I hope to elaborate – with the help of Martyn – over the next few months on some of the points.



Note that while these are put down in a linear phase format, in practice a few things often run concurrently.


At this stage an idea for a railway is considered and debated, usually within national or local government. There may be some debate on what type of system is the best i.e. Light Rail, Tram, Guided Bus Route, Metro Railway, Heavy Rail, etc. The final transport type decision may be taken later after the Feasibility Study and depending on many factors (expected passenger volume, speed required, total journey length and many other factors).

Feasibility Study

Usually completed by a consultancy that specialise in this field. They will consider the expected passenger volume based on current alternative forms of transport, the effects on reducing congestion on the roads, and may also consider how the system could grow in the future.

Route Study

The route study will take into account the best route for planning stations at strategic points (though not necessarily the best route from a construction point of view).

Conceptual Design Study

Once again a specialist consultant (often a group of architects and construction engineers) will start to prepare a Concept Design looking at architectural features. Others may look at the signalling or make decisions about the type of signalling system to be used, electrical power (voltage and current collection type – Overhead or Third Rail), whether the train will be driverless or otherwise.

Land Acquisition

Often the factor which can delay a project. If owners of land refuse to sell portions required for construction then it inevitably will go to courts for them to decide. In some countries there are laws which give “Compulsory Purchase Orders” but these may also be tested in the courts. (In India we had some land purchase issues in court for over three years).

Tender Stage

Based on the conceptual designs, there is a call for bids to construct the system. Often this is done in phases, so first a Project Management Consultant (PMC) is appointed who will assist the client from the Tendering Stage right through to the Commissioning and Handover of the railway to the Client.
Usually the first task of the PMC is to evaluate tenders from construction companies and systems providers (signalling, traction current and rolling stock).

Final Design

The conceptual design will be used by the successful bidders to produce their design work (though some of this will be done to some degree during the preparation for their tender so that they have some idea of cost). Once the tender is awarded the successful companies will begin their design in more detail and prepare the construction drawings (which usually will require an independent authority to review them). In practice the design drawings will be produced throughout the project life cycle and sometimes fall behind the actual construction (a very risky situation, but it happens). The PMC will ensure that the designs and construction is in line with the conceptual design or that any deviations are approved before being implemented.


Perhaps the longest part of building a railway and involves anything from civil and tunnelling contractors, all of the possible trades that you can think of and a whole host of other experts and engineers (Geo-Tech, Surveyors etc.) Also people like project managers, safety experts (like me), accountants, planners, legal teams… ad infinitum.

Rolling Stock

Rolling Stock for Metro Operations is usually and initially from one supplier (though in later phases other suppliers may be chosen (though this can complicate matters such as engineering and train driver “type” training.

It is quite usual for Rolling Stock manufacturers to use the same or variations of the same tried and trusted units used on other metro systems so that all safety validations through RAMS and other methods remain valid for the new stock. However it would be usual for the supplier to “revisit” the RAMS Study to ensure that any conditions on the new system meet with those already considered. (For instance where steeper or longer inclines are a feature of the new system, there may be additional factors taken of the braking system – this would also be true of the signalling system to ensure stopping distances were not compromised).
RAMS take into account each part of a systems and how it affects the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety of each System, Sub-System and Individual components to ensure there are no latent problems.

Apart from inspection of the Rolling Stock during different phases of construction (Named “Hold Points”) when the new Rolling stock arrives at the new Depot it will undergo “Static Tests” to ensure all is in good condition after transporting from the manufacturers facility. After this the units will undergo “Dynamic Tests” usually on a Test Track within the Depot. Once this is finished the units will go for “Running Tests” or “Oscillation Trails” where the units are run, usually with a simulated load (sand bags) for a certain distance on the main line. In India we had a 1500Km minimum for these trials.

Once the trials are completed the units may be accepted by the client and placed into service (usually only after a Government Body has issued a “Certificate of Fitness”).

In addition to the Passenger Stock there is often a need for specialised rail mounted equipment and, possibly, a shunting locomotive. This specialised equipment ranges from “Unimog” Road-Railer vehicles for maintenance, a battery shunter for moving rolling stock through a Wheel Lathe or Wash Bay, Tampers as well as different wagons etc.

Testing & Commissioning

Testing and commissioning is a time for testing electrical systems and signalling (particularly “interlocking” under any possible circumstances. But other systems need testing as well such as Escalators (Emergency Stops, Braking, and Anti-Run Back Devices) Ventilation and cooling equipment and a host of other station, Operational Control Centre (OCC) and Depot equipment.
This is a very stressful time and managing the Interfacing of so many contractors is crucial to the successful completion of this. (Currently we are undergoing similar trials in MTR Hong Kong for a new line to open next month and I know the manager very well… he aged 20 years in the past 4 months).

Running Trials

Once all systems and rolling stock is ready the client may wish to give practical training to staff and also to check the timetable (Station Dwell Times, Segregation Times etc.). This can take place over several weeks with other staff acting as passengers. It may also simulate emergencies in this time to test evacuation procedures.

Permit to Operate

In most countries I know there is a Government Body who will issue a permit to operate the railway. In making an application for this certificate the client (usually with the help of the PMC) will submit an enormous amount of paperwork… every radius of the track and its location, the elevation of the track, inclination of the track… Signalling systems certificates, electrical systems (which must also comply with certain electrical standards i.e. elimination of touch potential) Of course all the RAMS information must be submitted as well.

Often the documentation is presented in a phased manner as and when the information becomes available but the process to issue the Permit to Operate can take months rather than weeks. (In South Africa, this is the Railway Safety Regulator – Jade)

Full Revenue Operation

Once all of the above information, trials and testing is completed then the railway may begin revenue operation.


Martyn Gomersall is a Senior Manager in Systems and Safety Intelligence for MTR, Hong Kong. Currently, he looks after the Operational Division and Corporate Safety. Sometime next year, he will be posted in India on the New Delhi Metro Project.

MTR was originally known as Metro Transport Railway but these days operate busses, cable cars, light rail and intercity services to Mainland China. It is now simply known as MTR.


2 thoughts on “Rail System Development

  1. Pingback: Construction Phase | Jade's Railway Dream

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