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Forty years after a ribbon was cut on Sydney's last major railway, thousands of passengers will flood through station gates today to ride on a new rail line set to change travel habits dramatically for people long starved of public transport options in the city's north-west.
While double-deck trains began running on the Eastern Suburbs line on June 23, 1979, single-deck trains controlled by a giant computer, instead of people, will speed at up to 100km/h along the Metro North West line from Rouse Hill to Chatswood.
Metro trains operations manager Cory Roeton at the nerve centre of the Metro North West line at Rouse Hill.CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS
The most striking feature of the trains is that they are driverless, allowing passengers to peer out of windows at the front and back onto the tracks. At stations, glass screen doors on platforms help prevent injury, while help points allow commuters to talk to staff via video screens.
In all, a journey from one end of the 36 kilometre line to the other takes about 37 minutes. Most of the stations are about two kilometres apart, except for the six kilometres between North Ryde and Chatswood.
The high-tech nature of the line represents a step change for the city's public transport.
As passengers pile aboard today, network manager Cory Roeton will keep close watch with controllers over the line from a nerve centre at an enormous stabling yard at Rouse Hill. An array of CCTV cameras cover the inside of trains and stations.
A single-deck metro train speeds along the line from Rouse Hill.CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS
"The heartbeat of the the railway is the [operations control centre]. Everything that goes on outside comes through this control centre," he said.
In a room next to the control centre sits a giant computer that controls the line and the trains which, for the first six weeks, will run every five minutes during peak periods. A back-up computer at a nearby site is ready to take over in the event of the main computer failing.
Mr Roeton said the computer system operates off-line, removing the chance of a cyber attack.
"It's not connected to anything else so you cannot penetrate the network. You cannot sit there and hack in and take control of the trains," he said.
Norwest Station on the 36-kilometre metro line is ready to open to passengers.CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS
"As the train runs, the [computer] is constantly working algorithms, calculations to define how the network is operating," he said. "It is just constant calculation."
The highly automated system contrasts with Sydney's existing suburban rail system, which requires drivers to carry out preparation work and checks before the trains begin services each day.
Transport Secretary Rodd Staples, the architect of Sydney's metro rail, said he understood some people's concerns about automation but cited the millions who travel on systems, such as the Metro North West, around the world "very, very safely today".
"It is absolutely safer than any railway we have ever had in Australia. There are so many fail-safe mechanisms within the computer system," he said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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