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More will be done to improve rail reliability: Lui

SINGAPORE — The rail network has improved since 2011 in terms of reliability and capacity, but these improvements are not enough and more will be done to improve the maintenance culture and upgrade older rail lines, assured Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew today (Aug 6).

SINGAPORE — The rail network has improved since 2011 in terms of reliability and capacity, but these improvements are not enough and more will be done to improve the maintenance culture and upgrade older rail lines, assured Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew today (Aug 6).

After the July 7 North-South and East-West MRT lines breakdown left 250,000 commuters stranded across the island, Mr Lui said it was “natural” for commuters to question if reliability has improved since 2011, when two major breakdowns occurred within days of each other.

“My short answer is yes, it has improved, but not enough,” said Mr Lui, who spoke during a preview of phase two of the Downtown Line (DTL2) at Gali Batu Depot, where he announced the opening of 12 DTL2 stations on Dec 27.

There were about 60 fewer train delays of more than five minutes last year compared with 2011.

Trains now travel more than double the distance before experiencing a delay of more than five minutes than trains in 2011, and such delays have been reduced by a third.

Furthermore, in the past four years, the number of train trips has increased by 25 per cent, with 100 more trains to be added over the next three to four years, Mr Lui said.

Still, large scale or prolonged disruptions are happening more frequently than “what is acceptable”, he said. The Land Transport Authority has been working with the operators to shift the attitude towards maintenance from being “largely reactive” to a “predict and prevent” approach since 2012, but more can be done, he said.

“Problems due to leaks and worn-down insulators, for example, can surely be prevented with a more robust maintenance regime,” he said. The July 7 breakdown was found to have been set off by a water leak, investigators revealed last week.

Efforts to improve maintenance include a trial of a Mobile Operations Maintenance System by SMRT to
digitise maintenance checklists to help its staff. The LTA has also started a comprehensive audit of SMRT’s maintenance regime for the North-South East-West lines to identify areas of improvement.

The rail network’s older infrastructure is also being upgraded, with the replacement of 96,000 timber sleepers for concrete counterparts on the North-South Line completed in April this year. Similar upgrades on the East-West Line are slated to finish by the end of 2016. A tender was also called in April to conduct a check of the infrastructure and rail assets for the North-South and East-West lines. 

Capacity is also being improved in two ways: building more train lines and running more train trips.

With the opening of DTL2 in December, the growth in rail network since 2011 will have increased by 34 per cent, and Mr Lui said six in ten households will be within a 10 minute walk to an MRT station.

When Gali Batu Depot is ready in December, it will house the DTL trains and serve as a space for maintenance. The DTL trains now share a depot with the Circle Line trains in Kim Chuan. Rides on both DTL 1 and 2 will be free for a few days after the opening to “encourage commuters to try out the new line”, Mr Lui added.

A re-signalling upgrade for the North-South East-West line means that wait time, already down by a third since 2011, will be further reduced by about 20 per cent during peak hours.

Referring to a commentary that appeared in TODAY about what the MRT means to Singaporeans, Mr Lui agreed that Singaporeans look to the public transport system as a measure of what Singapore has achieved as a country, and as an emblem of national pride.

“We will spare no effort, and we will make sure that we continue to build on what we have done in the past four years to attain sustained overall improvement,” he said.

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