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Teething issues related to NSL’s new signalling system similar to those faced by overseas metros

SINGAPORE – Teething issues that surfaced during the re-signalling work on the North-South Line (NSL) are comparable to the experiences of overseas metros, such as the Hong Kong MTR and London Underground, said international experts tapped to advise rail operator SMRT.

SINGAPORE – Teething issues that surfaced during the re-signalling work on the North-South Line (NSL) are comparable to the experiences of overseas metros, such as the Hong Kong MTR and London Underground, said international experts tapped to advise rail operator SMRT.

Amid public criticism as to why the project is taking so long to complete, the experts pointed out that the nine-month period required to switch to the new signalling system is in line with the time taken by those metros to complete their own re-signalling projects.

Professor Alfred Huan from Nanyang Technological University, who chairs the SMRT Technical Advisory Panel, told a media briefing on Friday (Sept 22) that as it is the first time that both SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) are going through an “asset renewal phase”, there are some adjustments that have to be made.

The briefing was held following the panel’s sixth meeting in Singapore over the last two days.

And the move to renew its assets, including installing a new signalling system, is necessary for future planning to ensure a more efficient rail network, Prof Huan added.

In recent months, several train delays due to the ongoing re-signalling work have sparked public anger. For instance, there were train delays for four straight days towards the end of June.

However, Professor Lee Kang-kuen, from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that the trip-ups that had arisen, which were caused by failures of the systems on-board the train, trackside or equipment in the headquarters, were consistent with the problems encountered by the Hong Kong MTR and London Underground when they carried out re-signalling works.

“It is very natural that when commuters are facing with all these disruptions, they’re unhappy. They would express their dissatisfaction,” said Prof Lee, who previously played a role in developing the Hong Kong MTR.

“The railway corporation just have to explain to them that these sort of things are really unavoidable and the corporation are trying their best to resolve them and adopting the best practices in the industry.”

The timeline taken for SMRT to complete testing the new signalling system is also consistent with that of other metros. Testing of the new signalling system - which promises speedier rides on the NSL – started in March.

Last week, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that the project is expected to wrap up by the end of November, ahead of its original year-end target.

Professor Clive Roberts, from the University of Birmingham, said that as there are more train lines in the British rail network, it could afford to shut down some of the lines to allow proper testing of the signalling system.

Even then, it takes up to nine months to complete the project, he added. Prof Lee noted that that it also took about the same period to complete signalling works in the Hong Kong MTR.

To conduct its maintenance works, SMRT also sets aside three-and-a-half hours before and after revenue- service ends daily.

Although Prof Roberts proposed that maintenance hours be extended, he acknowledged that it is a challenge for Singapore since, unlike in Britain, it cannot afford to close down a single line the entire day as each line is a vital transportation link.

“There’s obviously a trade-off here. You can shut the line for a week and you can get it all done very quickly, but that just doesn’t work as a solution in Singapore,” said Prof Roberts.

“The Singapore metro is a vital transport link and there’s no redundant networks and parallel lines which others can use. I think in the future as the network expands, there may be that opportunity which will allow those things to happen,” he added.

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