SINGAPORE: Rail operator SMRT on Monday (Apr 24) said plans to renew and upgrade its ageing rail network over the past few years have seen “steady results”. Acknowledging a recent string of delays on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) as well as some “teething problems” accompanying the introduction of a new signalling system in March, the company added that there was “some way to go to be best in class in the world”.
Speaking to the media at the company's first official rail reliability briefing after delisting from the Singapore Exchange in October last year, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek said: “Our assets have mostly reached end-of-life, others (are) in need of a midlife upgrade. This is not unexpected, as this year we are marking our 30th year of MRT operations.
"When all our systems have been renewed, and with a comprehensive preventive and predictive maintenance regime in place, we can look forward to higher system resilience, and even better train reliability and availability," he added.
Together with Managing Director of Trains Lee Ling Wee, Mr Kuek on Monday gave an update on SMRT’s various plans and projects to improve train performance.
Based on SMRT statistics - which measures the number of kilometres trains clock before a delay of more than five minutes occurs - overall rail reliability improved for the North-South and Circle Lines, but not for the East-West Line over the past year.
From March 2016 to March 2017, trains on the North-South Line travelled an average of 180,000km before a delay of five minutes or more, compared to 155,821km, 121,471,km and 90,818km in 2016, 2015, and 2014 respectively.
Trains on the Circle Line clocked 282,000km before such a delay, higher than 2016’s 228,000km.
East-West Line trains travelled an average of 145,000km before a delay, similar to 144,913 in 2016. Mr Kuek said this was due to the line “lagging behind” the North-South Line in terms of renewal works. Re-signalling works on the North-South Line have been completed, but this will only be done on the East-West Line in 2018.
In 2016, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave operators a target of 400,000km before a delay, by 2018.
There was a major disruption on the NSEWL in the first quarter of this year, after additional time needed to replace a switch rail between Joo Koon and Pioneer MRT stations caused congestion and a service delay of more than 30 minutes - the benchmark authorities use for a “major disruption”.
According to SMRT statistics, there were four major disruptions on the North-South Line and five on the East-West Line in 2016, and five on the North-South Line and three on the East-West Line in 2015. Since 2011, the bulk of major disruptions were caused by power issues, and “chiefly due to parts of the rail network awaiting replacement”, Mr Kuek said, referring to items such as track circuits and train parts.
RENEWAL AND UPGRADES
Mr Kuek and Mr Lee also gave a progress update on SMRT’s rail renewal projects, including resignalling works, sleeper and power rail replacements, as well as the delivery of new trains.
In December 2016, SMRT replaced 188,000 wooden sleepers with more durable concrete ones on both the North-South and East-West Lines. Replacement works on the Third Rail, which powers the trains, and other track works are expected to be completed by May 2017.
SMRT has conducted trials with the upgraded signalling system during passenger service Sundays since March. It aims to shorten the intervals between trains through a new communication system - reducing waiting time for commuters. But there have been several issues so far, including platform screen doors not closing.
“There will be teething problems,” Mr Lee said. “But this will not be a show-stopper.”
SMRT intends to gradually increase the number of trains during the Sunday trials, he added.
The trial also featured the first of 57 new trains on the NSEWL, which will be put into service by 2019, SMRT said. Refurbished Siemens trains will also be introduced by this year.
IS SMRT SELLING ITS TAXI BUSINESS?
In his concluding remarks, Mr Kuek said SMRT would continue working with the Land Transport Authority as the company “broadens its urban mobility portfolio”. Last week, the Straits Times reported that SMRT was in talks to sell its taxi business with private hire operator Grab. When asked to confirm the deal, Mr Kuek said: “I can’t comment on market speculation and rumours with regards to this.”
“You do know that we have a very good partnership with Grab, with Strides, our private-hire services as well as with our taxi business, and we continue to look for all sorts of ways to partner and co-operate with them,” he said.