Tuesday 22 November 2011

30 new MRT trains on the way

They will arrive in the next four years to ease overcrowding
By Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times,  22 Nov 2011

A TOTAL of 30 new trains will arrive in the next four years to ease the MRT squeeze, with 17 of them coming next year.

The other 13 will be here only in 2014 and 2015.

Another batch is due from 2016, said Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo without disclosing the number.

She gave the delivery timetable of the trains for the North-South and East-West lines yesterday, during which she also explained why they could not arrive any earlier.

One major reason is that manufacturers start building the trains only after receiving the orders, because these have to be custom-built to fit the design of the line and platform.

She also said that with the 30 new trains, plus the five delivered in May this year, the capacity of the North-South and East-West lines will be improved by 25 per cent.

New trains will also be arriving for the North-East (NEL) and Circle (CCL) lines, where ridership has risen as well.

But they will be delivered only in four to five years, she said.

A total of 12 trains have been ordered for the NEL and 16 for the CCL.

The additions, she added, will increase the NEL's capacity by up to 50 per cent and the CCL's capacity by up to 40 per cent.

The world has only a handful of train makers and they include Siemens, Alstom and Bombardier.

It is not possible to jump the queue for the purchases as the manufacturers have to fulfil their contractual commitments to earlier buyers, said Mrs Teo.

The new trains they make, when coupled with improvements to the signalling system, will allow for the interval between trains to be shortened.

This would allow the trains to run more often to ease congestion during peak hours, an achievement that is not possible with the current fleet, said Mrs Teo to a suggestion from Mr Giam.

He had asked whether the Government would consider running trains at two- minute intervals over a longer period of time during the morning and evening peak periods to reduce overcrowding.

At present, the trains run at two- minute intervals between Yishun and Marina Bay stations, on the North-South Line, for about 45 minutes.

This period can be extended on both the North-South and East-West lines when the new trains are introduced on the improved Jurong East platforms.

The bigger fleet can also take advantage of a new signalling system from 2016 that will let trains safely travel closer to each other.

Work on this new system is set to start next year and is slated to be completed by 2016 for the North-South Line, and 2018 for the East-West Line.

Mr Giam asked if there was 'no forward planning done', seeing that commuters will have to put up with current situation for quite a long time before new trains arrive and the signalling system is upgraded.

Replying, Mrs Teo said there was advance planning: The need to order the first 22 trains, which include the five already here, was mooted in 2007.

The MRT operators have also been adding more train trips every week since 2008.

But she added: 'Projecting demand and ridership ahead of time is always going to be a tricky business. It's going to be very difficult to get it 100 per cent right every time.'

Responding to a question by Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Mrs Teo said the opening of the new Downtown Line is expected to significantly reduce the overcrowding on the current lines.

The 42km line links the Bukit Timah corridor as well as the eastern region like Bedok and Pasir Ris to the downtown area.

Due to open in stages from 2013, the Downtown Line will pass through areas such as Chinatown, Bugis and Telok Ayer.

Other ways to solve peak-hour crush?

Parallel bus services

MANY commuters prefer to wait for a train at peak hours than take a bus whose route mirrors the train line.

The behaviour is 'rather rational' because missing one or two trains adds about five or six minutes to the total journey time.

But a bus journey could potentially be longer depending on road conditions, said Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo.

She was replying to Government Parliamentary Committee (Transport) chairman Cedric Foo, who had asked whether it was possible to have bus services running alongside MRT tracks during peak hours.

Early morning rebates

THE early morning MRT discount introduced on Oct 10 has not resulted in many commuters shifting their travel to the pre-peak period.

Those travelling before 7.45am on weekdays get a 30-cent discount on their fare.

But feedback shows that often commuters 'value their sleep more than what they have to pay', said Mrs Teo, replying to Mr Foo who wanted to know what can be done to make pre-peak travel more attractive.

She also said the Land Transport Authority is studying the issue and will announce soon some ideas on ways to manage demand.

Tokyo's oshiyas

LOOKING ahead, Singapore is not likely to go the way of Japan and hire oshiyas to push passengers into packed trains. Singapore's goal is to raise capacity as soon as possible and 'fortunately, financial constraints are not what is holding us back from adding the capacity', said Mrs Teo. She was replying to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam, who asked whether it was foreseeable that Singapore would be like Tokyo with its oshiyas.

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