SINGAPORE: The Government will raise its rail reliability standards for this year, announced Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday (Mar 8).
Speaking in Parliament during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate, Mr Khaw set a new Mean Kilometre Between Failure (MKBF) target of 300,000 train-kilometres for the overall MRT network this year. This means that trains will need to travel an average of 300,000 kilometres before experiencing a service delay of more than five minutes.
Mr Khaw noted that in the first half of last year, the MKBF crossed 160,000 train-kilometres, and further improved to 192,000 train-kilometres in the second half of last year. This is close to his target of 200,000, he said. Next year, the target will be raised even higher, to 400,000.
But he stressed that raising train reliability is a “multi-year effort”, and the Government needs time, because replacing ageing assets takes time.
He said the Government has replaced all the old sleepers and will replace the old third rail system this year. He added that the upgrade of the North-South Line’s signalling system will soon be completed and the same will be done next year for the East-West Line.
“But let me sound a precautionary alert,” he said. “Re-signalling is a complex operation. Getting it done perfectly, flawlessly, is almost impossible. That has been the painful experience of London, Hong Kong and Taipei. They warned us that we should expect many teething problems when we cut over the signalling system to the new one this year.”
“We will do our best to minimise inconvenience, but be prepared for some hitches. So, please bear with us.”
EXPANSION OF RAIL SYSTEM ON TRACK
In his speech, Mr Khaw added that the expansion of the rail system is “on track”, with the rail network growing by 1km every month on average. This year, the East-West Line will be extended by four stations to Tuas West, and the Downtown Line by 16 stations to Singapore Expo, he said.
He also described the opening of the Downtown Line 3 as a “game changer” for residents in the East of Singapore, just as the Downtown Line 2 was for residents in the West and North-West of Singapore.
He said: “A recent study found that one out of six rides on the Downtown Line was made using new EZ-Link cards. This suggests that a sizeable number of commuters living along the Bukit Timah corridor are switching to rail.
“The experience of the Downtown Line gives us confidence that car-lite Singapore is achievable.”
Mr Khaw added that the Government will soon call tenders to upgrade the North-South and East-West Lines' power supply system, and to replace its first-generation MRT fleet with 66 new trains.
The Government has also started the process for renewing the Bukit Panjang LRT, he said, and they target to call a tender this year for a complete replacement of the Bukit Panjang LRT’s ageing components and an upgrade of its systems.
IMPROVING PUBLIC BUS SERVICES
Mr Khaw also gave an update on the public bus system.
All bus operators have been moved to the Bus Contracting Model, where the Land Transport Authority has taken over bus assets and infrastructure. “This is a major transformation for the transport sector and the bus industry,” he said.
He added that the Government will award the tender for the third bus package at Seletar next month, and later this year, they will call the tender for a fourth bus package at Bukit Merah. “With competition, bus operators are working harder to improve their service,” he said. “This is good for commuters.”
In response to feedback from Members of Parliament (MPs) Low Yen Ling and Lee Bee Wah on bus services, Mr Khaw said the Government has added 850 buses and introduced 70 new or amended routes under the Bus Service Enhancement Programme. Improvement has been felt on the ground, he added.
He said the Government will see what else can be done.
“But let me seek MPs' understanding that for financial prudence, bus service provision requires a minimum ridership,” he said. “And if ridership goes down as commuters switch to rail, we have to remove or amend existing bus services.”
“Otherwise, we will have half-empty buses running on the roads ... which is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”