SINGAPORE: The Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (LRT) is prone to faults due to the system being designed to accommodate existing developments, said Second Transport Minister Ng Chee Meng in Parliament on Monday (Oct 2).
He was answering a question from Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Pritam Singh on whether the Bukit Panjang LRT was an “afterthought” built under “political pressure” - comments made by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan last month.
Mr Khaw had also taken issue with the “twists and turns” made by Bukit Panjang LRT - a point similarly acknowledged by Mr Ng in his response.
“In the 1990s, LTA was exploring a pilot network to bridge the last-mile gap from the MRT system and ease vehicle congestion within housing estates where population growth had stretched the road capacity. Bukit Panjang was identified in 1994 for the pilot, even though it was planned and built without LRT in mind,” he said.
This resulted in the LRT’s design incorporating “sharp turns over undulating terrain” and over time, leading to “power trips at the sharp bends where the trains’ collector shoes often dislodge from the power rail”, Mr Ng explained.
Mr Singh later pressed for an elaboration on the design flaws, saying that Mr Ng had not answered his question.
“The primary issue with the BPLRT is that the design was adapted from an airport system to a housing estate,” Mr Ng replied. “It was a ‘straight-line’ design which had to be adapted to undulating terrain and sharp turns.”
Mr Ng said these design considerations will be addressed when a tender to overhaul the LRT is called at the end of the year, with a contract to be awarded in the first quarter of 2018.
“In the immediate term, LTA (Land Transport Authority) and SMRT are carrying out detailed checks of the LRT’s power rails and performing hotspot replacement works where needed,” he added. “LTA will also install a new power source at Ten Mile Junction substation to provide a backup to the existing system at Choa Chu Kang.”
“Both exercises will be completed by year-end. In the meantime, LTA and SMRT are looking to extend engineering hours to cater to these additional works.”
Mr Ng said this would cause short-term disruptions and shorter operating hours. SMRT is forming a “quick response team” to rectify train faults and shorten service recovery times, and more bus services will be deployed from the new Bukit Panjang Integrated Transport Hub to alleviate commuter inconvenience.
“But Bukit Panjang is a relatively mature estate, and there are limits on the number of buses that can be put on the roads without causing further congestion,” he cautioned.
Later, in response to questions from MP Lee Bee Wah, Mr Ng acknowledged that “there have been a lot of engineering works” on the North-South Line (NSL).
“On the maintenance front we have upped reliability to almost 400,000 km before failure,” he said. “And in parallel, we have been doing signaling upgrading. Things have gone relatively well, short of major breakdowns in June and August.”
“We are fixing the software issues and by year-end, we hope to have a new operating signaling system for the NSL.”