The Wykehamist No.1220 - 10 July 1973

Hong Kong is a small Crown Colony with a very high density of population. It consists of the island of Hong Kong together with the port of Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland of China. Its economy is thriving and the Government has a very real transport problem in the populous areas, particularly in carrying people between the mainland and the island. In 1967 the Hong Kong Government produced a Mass Transport Study Report which recommended building a mass transit railway to link the main centres of traffic. The railway is scheduled to extend to a total route length of 32·7 miles by 1986. The estimated cost of the complete system at mid-1970 prices was 4,400 million HK dollars. The system will be built in stages and it is hoped that the initial stage of 12·6 route miles will take 7½ years to build. In highly populated areas the railway will be mostly underground.

The project involves a large capital expenditure for the Colony and, if it is to pay its way, it must carry nearly twice the traffic density of the London Transport tube system. The tunnels for the trains will be 4 feet larger in diameter than those of London Transport, so that the trains can be longer and wider than the London tube trains. There will also be more circulation space for the passengers as all the electrical equipment will be below floor level. The design loading of each 8-coach train is 3,300 passengers with a headway of 2 minutes between trains. One of the limiting factors in operating the railway will be that of crowd dynamics-in particular, the efficient movement of people onto the platform and from platform to train. With this problem in view Mr. J. A. Broughall, Senior Consultant to Kennedy and Donkin (one of the consulting engineering partnerships advising the Hong Kong Government), approached the (College to see if we would help in some tests to be made on the time required to transfer people, under rush-hour conditions, on to and off a dummy train.

During the first week of term one coach of a dummy tram was erected in Kingsgate Park. It consisted of chain-link fenced enclosures to denote the coach and the platform areas and a system of lights to specify entrances and exits to the coach. On the 29th April, about 100 Wykehamists turned up to view the experimental enclosure but no timed tests were carried out as the light indicator system was incomplete. The following Thursday, 3rd May, about 280 men in the School assisted in the first set of tests. Each man was given a coloured card to identify him as a member of a group. The object of the tests was to see if any one system of crowd management to load and unload the train was significantly faster than any other for, if the time spent at each station can be reduced, the service can be operated with fewer trains and hence, the running costs of the railway are reduced. The tests in Kingsgate Park involved recording the time taken for varying numbers of boys (denoted by different groups of card holders) to board or leave the ' train ' enclosure.

It was clear from this series of tests that the time required to load and unload passengers did depend on the way in which the flow of passengers was directed. The analysis of the data presents a difficult problem since the station waiting time is a function of the crowd density, the entrance and exit arrangements and the ratios of the numbers boarding, alighting and remaining on the train, even if it is assumed that the station and train layouts have been optimised. The results of the tests on the 3rd May were encouraging and, from the small amount of data obtained, some analysis looked possible. However, the total number of people did not reach the maximum number envisaged for one coach and it was clearly desirable to obtain more data if possible.

On 7th June further tests were carried out and, on this occasion, the 250 Wykehamists involved were joined by a contingent from St.Swithun's School. Each participant was given a card (to denote his group) and two hats-a red one to wear on leaving the train and a white one to wear on boarding the train. Cine film was taken of all this series of tests and this shows clearly the flow of passengers on to and off the train. On this second occasion the numbers were nearer to the expected rush hour loading for the railway but the discipline which had been present in the crowd at the first tests, was lacking. The lack of concentration of some passengers, particularly the girls, on getting on with the tests was in direct contrast with the desire to get home quickly which motivates the average commuter. A lack of initiative by the participants resulted in the loading and unloading times being much longer than on 3rd May as passengers tended to congregate by the centre doors instead of using the ends of the coach-a typical London Transport situation. For these reasons the results of the second series of tests are difficult to correlate with the first set.

All this underlines the very real problems facing the engineers in trying to design a Mass Transit Railway. The tests were certainly worthwhile and the Consultants have now to decide whether they have enough data on which to form a judgement and what further tests, whether of the type with which we have helped or in some different form, are necessary.


Memories of HK MTR Transit Tests

Photograph taken of the HK  'Mass Transit Railway' tests, June 1973.


by Martin Gregory
(May 2020)

Today, most of the World’s largest cities have mass transit tramway or railway systems. Hong Kong was one of the first to be started from scratch 50 years ago, after the Second World War. The Hong Kong Government project aimed at doubling the passenger density of London Transport on short journeys with a population which was disciplined and cooperative. The date of the tests, 1973, was before computer simulations of multivariable flow problems so the Consultants came up with the tests in Kingsgate Park using Wykehamists. A suggested alternative was to involve the Green Jackets and construct the test venue at their barracks.

The tests investigated the time required, at a station, to load and unload passengers. At most stations on the London tube network passengers entered or left the platform at one entry or exit position and could use any train door. For the tests, the doors of the dummy train were designated entry or exit doors, as were the routes to and from the platform. Boys were given cards with the names of stations on the Bakerloo line for entry to and exit from the train. During a test, the train proceeded, in real time, along the Bakerloo line. When the name of a station was called out, boys with that station name at the top of their card boarded the train at an entrance door. Boys with that station name at the bottom of their card left the train via an exit door. During the supposed journey the boy was expected to diffuse along the train from an entrance door to an exit door.

A scaffolding tower was built to overlook the ‘train’ so that cine-film could be taken showing how long it took to load and unload the boys and how long it took for the different colours of hats to diffuse along the platform and through the train.

The Hong Kong MTR was successfully completed and placed in service forty years ago and has been much extended since. Hong Kong ceased to be a Crown Colony in 1997.

Kennedy & Donkin’s office was in Woking. Planning and discussing the analysis of the tests took place over dinner at Alan Broughall’s home in Ovington. It provided me with a snapshot of a very different approach to solving such a problem today.

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