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LTA rolls out new moves as rail reliability falls short

SINGAPORE — With rail reliability still not hitting the mark, measures are in the pipeline to improve the system and prevent breakdowns, including tapping on big data and sensors to pre-empt faults and commuter congestion.

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SINGAPORE — With rail reliability still not hitting the mark, measures are in the pipeline to improve the system and prevent breakdowns, including tapping on big data and sensors to pre-empt faults and commuter congestion. 

Among other initiatives, a new system will be developed by the end of this year to allow the authorities to quickly react to a surge in commuters during emergencies such as train disruptions. By using data analytics, when there is a train delay, the direction of escalators can be changed earlier, or additional buses can be called in faster. New sensors and lasers will also be installed to monitor the health of infrastructure and assets. 

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on his ministry’s budget, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also announced on Wednesday (March 8) the Government aims to call a tender this year to replace the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit’s ageing components and upgrade its systems.

The Government had previously set a Mean Kilometre Between Failure (MKBF) target of 400,000 train-km for the entire rail network next year. This means that trains will need to travel an average of 400,000km before experiencing a delay of more than five minutes. 

In the second half of last year, the MKBF was at 192,000 train-km — lower than the target of 200,000 train-km. Despite falling short of the goal, it will be raised to 300,000 train-km this year, Mr Khaw said. “Although we are not yet where we want to be, we will get there,” he added. 

The new Fusion Analytics for Public Transport Emergency (Faster) system will collect and analyse data on passenger volume and flow in real-time, from sources such as EZ-Link cards, cellular and Wi-Fi networks, as well as CCTV cameras.

The data will be combined to form a picture of commuting patterns to improve transport planning, and the system will also trigger early alerts of crowd surges and “transport incidents”, said the Land Transport Authority in a press release.

The Faster system will also be able to predict the impact of the incident in terms of the extent of the travel delay, the number of commuters affected, and recommend mitigating measures such as deploying additional trains and buses, the authority added.

Second Transport Minister Ng Chee Meng, who also spoke during the debate, noted that public bus operators are already tracking the location of all their buses, and using the information to direct bus captains to either slow down or speed up, so as to avoid bunching with other buses.

Eventually, real-time data from private cars could be used, through the in-vehicle units that are installed in all vehicles here, as well as Global Navigation Satellite System technology, he said.

Traffic data could also be collected from the next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, which will be rolled out progressively from 2020, so that the LTA can respond swiftly to traffic situations, such as by adjusting traffic light timings or providing traffic light priority to buses. 

On the rail network, sensors will be placed on all 66 new trains on the North-South East-West Lines as well as the new power supply system, and imaging sensors and lasers will be installed to scan the tracks of the entire Downtown Line to detect anomalies, so that any faults can be caught early. 

The authorities can then take a more “predictive approach” to maintenance, said Mr Ng.

Meanwhile, Mr Khaw said that upgrading works on the North-South Line’s signalling system would soon be completed, and similar works will begin on the East-West Line next year.

But he pointed out that cities such as Taipei that have undertaken re-signalling work had warned the Government to expect “many teething problems” when transiting to a new system.  

Calling re-signalling a complex engineering operation nearly impossible to carry out “flawlessly”, he said: “We’ll do our best to minimise inconvenience, but be prepared for some hitches. So please bear with us.” 

In addition, the authorities will soon call tenders to upgrade the North-South and East-West lines’ power-supply system — the source of “many problems” in the last few years. The Government is also working with SBS Transit to refurbish and upgrade first-generation trains on the North-East Line. 

Stressing that raising rail reliability was a “multi-year effort”, Mr Khaw said: “It’s not multi-week or multi-month … because (the) replacement of ageing assets takes years.”

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