SINGAPORE: Increased maintenance efforts on the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) are bearing fruit, with reliability on the line doubling over the last four years.
Between October last year and September this year, figures from the Land Transport Authority showed the 20-year-old light rail line clocked 64,000km between delays of more than five minutes.
This was due to enhanced maintenance works by rail operator SMRT, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said on Tuesday (Dec 3) during a visit to the Bukit Panjang LRT Depot.
This was up from 33,000km between such delays in 2015, when he first took over the helm of the Transport Ministry.
"Not bad, but can be much better," said Mr Khaw, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.
In contrast, Singapore's other light rail line, the Sengkang-Punggol LRT - which is operated by SBS Transit - hit 340,000km between delays across the same period.
The beleaguered BPLRT has been hit by a number of disruptions since it first opened in 1999.
In January 2018, service was disrupted for five hours after a piece of trackside equipment was damaged by a train.
In his speech, Mr Khaw said he had to defend the reliability of the BPLRT early on in his political career, when he was the Senior Minister of State for Transport.
"The MPs were not too convinced," he recalled.
In 2017, Mr Khaw had himself compared riding on the LRT to a "roller-coaster".
He added he was determined to address the problems facing the BPLRT "decisively" when he became Transport Minister four years ago.
The approach taken was to completely renew the LRT line, he said.
READ: Five-hour disruption on Bukit Panjang LRT line due to broken rail support brackets
Last year, Canadian firm Bombardier - the original supplier for the BPLRT - was awarded a S$344 million contract to renew the ageing line, including the replacement of existing signalling system with a new communications-based train control signalling system and the replacement of 19 light rapid vehicles.
These vehicles will be delivered by the third quarter of next year, and will be tested before being progressively introduced beginning in 2021.
The new signalling system is expected to be ready by 2022, with the new power rail system in place the following year.
These renewal works are on track to be fully completed by 2024, and allow the BPLRT to close the reliability gap with the Sengkang-Punggol LRT line, said Mr Khaw.
Separately from Bombardier's efforts, SMRT has introduced its own initiatives to improve reliability on the BPLRT.
These include the replacement of 34 sets of switch rails - which guide the direction of the light rail vehicles - reducing the likelihood of power trips.
The SMRT maintenance team also designed a workaround that prevented collector shoes - which connect the light rail vehicles to the power rails - from dislodging, which caused a number of power trips and disruptions to LRT services in the past.
Extended engineering hours resting from the closure of the lines as well as late openings on certain weekends allowed for a more intensive maintenance regimen, SMRT said.