Monday 23 December 2013

Downtown Line Stage 1 officially opened by PM Lee Hsien Loong

'Little things' can ease commute
Social graces like giving up a seat and queueing can make journeys more pleasant: PM Lee
By Royston Sim, The Sunday Times, 22 Dec 2013

Commuters can do many little things to make journeys more pleasant even as they await improvements to public transport infrastructure to be completed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of the Downtown Line Stage 1, he urged commuters to give up their seats to those who need them more and queue for trains instead of jostling at the doors to enter.

Citing train passengers in Tokyo and Seoul as positive examples, he said he is glad that more Singaporeans are giving up seats for others, and queuing even at crowded stations such as City Hall. Displaying such social graces makes commuting more pleasant, he said.

The six-station, 4.3km Downtown Line 1 begins operating today from Chinatown to Bugis.

The trains boast several new features, including priority seats with bright designs. Referring to the latter, Mr Lee said: "Once in a while, you find a young man pretending to be asleep when a pregnant lady is standing by or an old gentleman.

"So, just to remind them before they fall asleep not to use that chair, the trains on the Downtown Line have now got special chairs. There is no reason you won't notice when you sit down there."

The issue of graciousness has come to the fore in recent years, amid a steady growth in ridership that often leads to overcrowded trains and buses.

Mr Lee noted that the Government is continuing to invest in public transport infrastructure to make Singapore a more convenient, business-friendly city, and to raise the quality of life.

In the immediate term, the ongoing Bus Service Enhancement Programme has helped bring down waiting times and improve bus service standards.

The investment of more resources to boost the existing MRT network is paying off, as service levels and reliability are improving. More trains are on the way, and the signalling system is being upgraded so commuters can enjoy a more comfortable ride.

"You still have an interruption from time to time... but if you look at the statistics and trends, steadily but surely, we are improving things," he said.

The Downtown Line 1 opening marks the start of plans to double the rail network to 360km by 2030. Future lines include the Thomson Line, Eastern Region Line and Cross Island Line.

By 2030, the rail network will be larger, denser and more integrated than Hong Kong and New York today, Mr Lee said. "I hope you will be patient, you will support what we are doing, and you will enjoy the progress and the services in the network year by year."

He recalled the debate in the early 1980s on whether Singapore should build a train network at all. The Government eventually decided to go for a combination of buses and trains.

Commuters can ride on the Downtown Line 1 for free until Jan 1. They will have to use their fare cards to exit at a Downtown Line interchange station and enter it again to ride for free along the six-station stretch.

Downtown Line digging a delicate operation
Contractors had to consider existing MRT line, road traffic and buildings
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2013

DIGGING a tunnel just 70cm away from a live MRT line on which trains filled with passengers run - that was just one of the many challenges that had to be overcome in constructing Downtown Line 1 (DTL1).

The six-station, 4.3km DTL1, which passes through the Central Business District and the Marina financial district, gives commuters a more convenient route from Chinatown to Bugis when it opens tomorrow.

On Wednesday, Land Transport Authority deputy director for DTL1 Tan Kok Jin told The Straits Times just how much work went into it, especially since it had to be constructed in an area already densely built up, and down.

For one thing, contractors had to build a section of the new line's tunnel on top of another through which trains on the East-West Line run.

Given that the space between tunnels was only 0.7m, engineers had to take special care not to hit the existing shaft when inserting steel pipes that was to form the foundation of the new one.

There was no margin for error, said Mr Tan. "Monitoring instruments were set to see if there was any displacement of the East-West tunnel."

At one point, contractors had to mine under the Bugis MRT station and part of Beach Road. That required them to pump cement into the soft ground first, explained Mr Tan, before inserting large pipes to hold up the land before starting excavations.

Tunnel-boring machines also could not be used in many areas as there was no room to build the entry and exit shafts needed.

Instead, the digging had to be done from the surface down. Once the tunnel was created, the area had to be resurfaced.

Space, or a lack of it, was a common issue. Near Chinatown, construction took place just 1.5m away from pre-war shophouses.

"There was a store selling porcelain, and its shelves would vibrate when we were pounding the ground," said Mr Tan. "Our guys helped carry its products to the floor."

Building the new Telok Ayer station and its tunnels under busy Cross Street took the space problem to a new level. "The traffic volume at Cross Street is very high, so we couldn't close even a single lane," said Mr Tan.

But because of buildings on both sides of the street, there was no room for additional lanes. The solution was to divert the traffic upwards, by building a two-lane, 720m-long viaduct passing over the construction area - the first time this was ever done here.

Removing the viaduct, which was built in 2008, posed its own challenge, requiring a 200-tonne crane to dismantle it.

But engineers faced an even bigger diversion project when it came to DTL3, the final stage of the 42km, $21 billion Downtown Line, expected to be ready in 2017. They had to re-route part of the Singapore River to bore two train tunnels under it.


THE DTL1 team faced constraints in the dense downtown area.
Problem: Insufficient space to divert traffic, unable to close lanes due to heavy traffic flow

Solution: Build temporary viaduct


Problem: Insufficient headroom for foundation work due to bridge linking OG Building and People's Park Centre

Solution: Use a specialised low-headroom machine


Problem: Need to mine under existing East-West Line

Solution: Pump cement into ground to solidify it, then insert large pipes to hold up ground before excavation.

Emergency plans, drills to help ensure smooth running of DTL trains
By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 19 Dec 2013

No effort's been spared to ensure that commuters have a smooth journey as the Downtown Line 1 rail network opens this Sunday -- emergency plans have been rigorously tested in the last three months, with over 180 drills conducted in the lead-up to the opening on December 22.

Some drills involved multiple agencies, and included the simulation of train breakdown scenarios.

The Operations Control Centre lies at the heart of Singapore's Downtown Line 1 rail network.

The chief controller acts as a conductor of the entire orchestra -- making sure trains run in concert with each other.

He is assisted by the maintenance coordinator, who oversees all faults; the traffic controller, who keeps the trains running; and the power facilities regulator, who looks after some of the emergency systems.

The centre itself is able to remotely control equipment at different train stations from one location, and has been busy with exercises to test staff on their emergency readiness.

Alex Goei, senior vice-president of rail operations with SBS Transit, said: "For operating staff, it is to test them in how they handle failures so that response time is kept to a minimum while ensuring the safety of passengers. For the engineering staff, it gives our technicians and our engineers the chance to check on the equipment performance."

The Operations Control Centre is able to monitor train stations through cameras, and can remotely reset trains if faults are detected. Alarms are raised to the centre if faults are detected, and station staff can also report on problems.

A DTL "Open House" event held prior to the Downtown Line 1's official launch helped test how stations coped with passenger loads.

In drills conducted at other times, community partners were roped in to test how staff directed passengers off trains and onto the tracks, if required, during a breakdown. Shuttle bus service routes to facilitate transport if such a situation occurred were also tested.

Exercises involved both public transport operators SBS Transit and SMRT, and also the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Trains themselves have automated mechanisms which can bring them to a halt at the next station if there is a problem with the signalling system.

Before revenue service begins every morning, trains go through a "waking up" process to get them ready for the day. The whole waking up process, which is automated, takes about 20 minutes.

During this time, brakes, air-conditioning, lighting and battery systems are tested. Customer service officers will double-check the trains before they are launched.

Downtown Line 1's trains will run at four-minute intervals during peak hours, and five minutes apart during off-peak periods.

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