Saturday, 20 December 2014

MRT 2014 progress report

Free Wi-Fi at 32 MRT stations by end-2015
Some upgrading works nearing completion, offering faster train rides
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2014

BY THE end of next year, all 16 MRT stations on the North-East Line (NEL) and 12 more on the North-South Line (NSL) and East-West Line (EWL) will offer free Wi-Fi access.

With this, 32 stations across the entire MRT system will offer free Wi-Fi, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday in a report. All such stations are located on these three lines.

Free Wi-Fi access is currently available at City Hall, Orchard, Raffles Place and some platforms at Bishan, Dhoby Ghaut and Outram Park.

Joining these will be the rest of the NEL, as well as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Batok, Buona Vista, Choa Chu Kang, Clementi, Eunos, Jurong East, Khatib, Paya Lebar, Sembawang and Yishun.

The LTA also gave updates on its upgrading works to make train services more reliable.

After a spate of breakdowns, including major ones in December 2011, the LTA began extensive renewal works for the NSL and EWL in 2012.

These included replacing timber sleepers with concrete ones. The replacement process requires trains to run slower while the new sleepers are stabilised.

Replacement work on the NSL is about 76 per cent complete and due to finish by the middle of next year. Trains are back to full speed from Yio Chu Kang to Khatib.

Quality assurance engineer Lu Huimin, 26, travels between Toa Payoh and Woodlands on weekdays. She looks forward to faster train rides after the works are done.

"It's a chore to have to spend so long sitting or standing in a train on the way home," she said.

The signalling system is being upgraded to let trains run more frequently. Works are 73 per cent complete for the NSL and will start early next year for the EWL.

Work will start next year to replace the power-supplying third rails of the NSL and EWL and is due to finish by the end of 2016.

Defective or sagging third rails have caused several train disruptions over the years.

On the NEL, wires and U-bolts are being replaced. These are part of the overhead system which supplies power to trains, and have caused breakdowns in the past when they corroded and snapped.

Meanwhile, construction on the Downtown Line's second stage is close to 90 per cent complete, with its 12 stations on schedule to open by the first quarter of 2016. The 16 stations in the final stage are on track to open by 2017.

Work has started on the northern stretch of the Thomson-East Coast Line, with tenders for civil works to be called early next year for its eastern stretch. It will be completed in stages from 2019 to 2024.

The LTA has also called a tender for Canberra station on the NSL between Sembawang and Yishun. Work will start in the second quarter of next year and finish in 2019.

Existing lines are getting greater capacity, with a 48 per cent increase in the train fleet under way. The first of 18 new NEL and 24 new Circle Line trains will enter service from the middle of next year. From 2016 to 2019, the NSL and EWL will get 57 new trains.

The LRT lines are also getting a boost, with 13 more train-cars for the Bukit Panjang LRT system and 16 more to arrive for the Sengkang-Punggol LRT from 2016.

MRT system: Targets for service and security
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew gave an overview of how the MRT system fared this year and what to look out for in the near future.
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Dec 2014

Fewer trains are being pulled out of service this year, as train withdrawal rates reach 2007 levels. In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew revealed he plans to better this by lowering the rate to 2006 levels next year – where under one train is withdrawn for every 100,000 km travelled.

Stage 2 of the Downtown Line, which passes through Bukit Timah, is close to 90 per cent complete. It is on track to open in early 2016.

Construction of Singapore's sixth MRT line – the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) – began in mid-2014. It will connect residents in the north, to the city, and the east. The first phase will open in 2019.

The TEL is expected to bring an extra 60 per cent capacity along the North-South corridor, and an extra 45 per cent to the East-West corridor. When fully operational in 2024, the 31 stations on the Line are expected to serve half a million commuters daily.

The line’s first phase will open much sooner – in 2019 – with three stations in the Woodlands area.


Meanwhile, work is underway to improve existing infrastructure. On the North-South Line, 76 per cent of the wooden sleepers, which support the rails, have been replaced with concrete ones, and 73 per cent of the line has a new signalling system, allowing train frequencies to be under two minutes.

As for the East-West Line, new signalling equipment will be installed by early 2015, followed by sleeper replacement works from mid-year.

A third rail, which supplies power to trains, is also due to be replaced from the second quarter of 2015. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said doing so will improve train reliability.

Mr Cedric Foo, Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: "It is very clear that both the Government, the regulator, and the Public Transport Operators (PTO) are very focused on this because as I said, if we do not have a comprehensive, reliable and affordable public transport network then the case for curtailing motor vehicles will be a weak one, because clearly commuters need alternatives.”

“So if we cannot grow the private motor vehicle at a fast enough clip that motorists expect, then the alternative obviously must be a very reliable, comprehensive public transport system,” he added.

Mr Lui has also set a target to bring train withdrawal rates for the North-South and East-West Lines to the level in 2006, which was below one withdrawal every 100,000 km.

The train withdrawal rate refers to the number of trains pulled out of service for every 100,000 kilometres travelled. He said train withdrawal rates peaked to 3.2 in 2011 and 3.32 in 2012, but has been on a downward trend since.

In 2013, train withdrawal rates stood at 2.2. For the first three quarters of 2014, the rate fell to 1.1, and Mr Lui believes it can go under one by 2015.


But even as authorities are pulling all stops to keep trains going, service delays remain an issue. There were eight delays of more than 30 minutes in 2013. But in the first three quarters of 2014, there have been 12 such delays.

The Transport Minister said it is important to focus on the falling number of delays that are greater than five minutes. These fell from 1.18 per 100,000 km in 2013, to 1.12 for the first nine months of 2014.

Mr Lui said: "If you look at peak hours, morning or evening, a train withdrawal or a delay greater than five minutes can be just as adverse as a 30-minute delay late at night or in the middle of the afternoon. We of course must pay attention to the 30-minute delays but as far as I am concerned, if you look at the impact, during peak hours, withdrawals or delays greater than five minutes can have the same adverse impact.”

“Therefore, these are the areas that we need to pay close attention to. I think if we are able to address the withdrawals and delays that are greater than five minutes, then correspondingly, I think it should lead to an improvement in the greater-than-30-minute delays,” he added.

But Professor Lee Der-Horng, from the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering at the National University of Singapore, believes all delays should be treated with equal importance, and more needs to be done to reduce the numbers. 

“The major incidents may register a stronger impression in the minds of passengers, and this will hurt overall reliability for sure, as well as the credibility of the system," he said. "The moment you have major disruptions, it will take a much longer time for you to wash away this kind of perception and the impression from passengers’ memories.”


The security of train depots was again under the spotlight this year, with SMRT hit by two cases of vandalism six months apart at its Bishan depot.

Even though SMRT pointed out that the network of canals and drains running underneath the Bishan depot presents unique vulnerabilities, Mr Lui said these are at best "a mitigating factor".

Initial investigations have not revealed any breaches in the depot's perimeter fence. Mr Lui said it is not enough to pay attention to perimeter security only. There should also be "layered security", including rigorous pre-deployment checks.

Mr Lui said: “For a number of years now, they have been doing that scanning, the outside of the trains, and the inside of the trains, because the greater worry is not so much somebody spraying paint and everything – that is an embarrassment. The greater worry is somebody leaving an object inside the train. It could be any device, given the kind of security climate that we are dealing with.

“Therefore pre-deployment checks are yet another layer and one of the most critical layers to make sure that your train captains check outside and inside the trains before they deploy every morning. We hope to be able to cover all the gaps where people can enter but if you can't cover all those gaps, then at the very least, you make sure that even if they have been able to get near the trains, they have not left anything in the trains that will undermine the safety of the commuters. You will be able to pick that up with a proper check through inside the train,” he added.

Mr Lui said he is assured train captains are already doing their checks, which is how the graffiti was discovered in the first place.

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