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SMRT studying option to suspend Bukit Panjang LRT during off-peak hours: Khaw

SINGAPORE — Transport operator SMRT is studying options on the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) network, such as whether to suspend it during off-peak hours and replace the service with buses, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Friday (Aug 30).

SMRT is studying options on the Bukit Panjang LRT network, such as whether to suspend it during off-peak hours and replace the service with buses, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

SMRT is studying options on the Bukit Panjang LRT network, such as whether to suspend it during off-peak hours and replace the service with buses, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

SINGAPORE — Transport operator SMRT is studying options on the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) network, such as whether to suspend it during off-peak hours and replace the service with buses, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Friday (Aug 30).

Speaking to rail executives and rank-and-file workers at the SBS Transit (SBST) Sengkang Depot, Mr Khaw said while maintenance across the MRT lines has to be intensified, there are limits for ageing trains.

“If we are pushing assets till the end of their productive life, the risk of failure is high. So I have been encouraging SMRT to think of ways that, in off-peak periods when the load for the BPLRT is low, if they could serve the same demand quite adequately with buses,” said Mr Khaw, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

SMRT is studying this option, he added, though he did not give details on when such an arrangement would be rolled out. After Mr Khaw's speech, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT, however, told reporters that SMRT was looking at the operational details of the BPLRT, with the possibility of lengthening the waiting times between trains.

There has been much public discussion over what to do with the BPLRT, with various ideas being bandied about.

For example, in October 2016, SMRT said in a blog post that several options were being weighed to “completely transform” the LRT line, including scrapping the network and returning to the use of buses — though the LTA had then said the idea was “not likely to be practical”. 

A month later, in November 2016, Mr Khaw said the system would be overhauled, rather than ditched. 

Subsequently, in September 2017, Mr Khaw had described the BPLRT system as an “afterthought” that was built under “political pressure”, resulting in a design that makes for uncomfortable rides. “No LRT is designed that way, in such a masochistic manner, where you force yourself up and down, twist and turn,” he had said then, adding that the few occasions he had taken the LRT left him dizzy.

Renewal works on the ageing line began last year and are expected to take four years to complete, as the BPLRT’s original equipment manufacturer Bombardier upgrades the rail’s parts and ageing fleet of trains which have been in use since 1999. The line is still being operated by SMRT, albeit for fewer hours to accommodate the works.

In response to TODAY's queries, an LTA spokesperson said that most design works have been completed and installation works have commenced.

"For example, commuters may notice antennas for the new Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system have been installed along the trackside," the spokesperson said.

"Brand new LRT trains will also be delivered progressively from late 2020. Residents can look forward to more reliable rides from 2022."

On Friday, Mr Khaw was speaking at an event to thank the MRT staff from both SMRT and SBST for reaching a milestone of more than 1 million mean kilometres between failure (MKBF) for the entire MRT network in July.

In his speech, he said that it may be better for commuters living along the BPLRT to take the bus instead of the LRT during off-peak hours, given that the BPLRT assets are nearing the end of their active period.

By suspending the BPLRT during off-peak hours and offering bus transportation instead, there will be no loss of service to commuters and the risk of failure for the line is lower, said Mr Khaw.

Bukit Panjang resident Isabelle Kim, 27, said she already takes the bus to get to the Bukit Panjang MRT station on the Downtown Line, as the travel time and comfort of the buses are better than what the LRT provides.

Recalling a breakdown that happened in 2018, when commuters ended up walking on the tracks, Ms Kim said: “Sometimes, it may even be faster to go on foot instead.”

Related topics

Bukit Panjang LRT Khaw Boon Wan Ministry of Transport

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