Parliament: Overhaul of Bukit Panjang LRT to address design issues, tender to be called later this year

LTA and SMRT are looking to shorten the operating hours of the BPLRT so engineers have more time during off-service hours to perform interim upgrades and maintenance work.
LTA and SMRT are looking to shorten the operating hours of the BPLRT so engineers have more time during off-service hours to perform interim upgrades and maintenance work.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - A planned overhaul of the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) will tackle its problematic design, which has been the primary source of its reliability problems.

The Government will call a tender for the project later this year.

Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said on Monday (Oct 2) that the design of the 18-year-old BPLRT was adapted from an airport system to fit into an existing housing estate.

"This straight-line design of the LRT was adapted into undulating terrain and sharp turns, causing the (trains') power collector shoes to dislodge from the power rail," he said in Parliament.

"We have taken a look at the design considerations, and this will be addressed in the upcoming tender to improve the reliability of the whole system."

In the meantime, said Mr Ng, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and operator SMRT are looking to shorten the operating hours of the BPLRT so engineers have more time during off-service hours to perform interim upgrades and maintenance work.

These works, to be completed by the year end, include the installation of a new power source at the Ten Mile Junction substation to provide a back-up to the existing power system at Choa Chu Kang.

Engineers from LTA and SMRT are also carrying out detailed checks on the LRT's power rails, identifying "hot spots" and replacing components.

The issue of the BPLRT's design came under the spotlight after Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in September that the system was built as an "after-thought" and due to "political pressure".

Mr Khaw also said the 7.8km line was designed in a "masochistic manner", and likened the ride to a "roller coaster".

Replying to questions from MPs Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on Monday, Mr Ng explained that in the 1990s, the LTA was exploring a pilot Light Rail Transit (LRT) network to bridge the last-mile gap to the MRT system, and to ease vehicular congestion in housing estates.

Bukit Panjang was identified in 1994 for the pilot.

But the estate had been planned and built without an LRT in mind, Mr Ng said.

"Over time, we discovered that this made the LRT prone to faults, especially power trips at the sharp bends," he added.

 
 

To tackle the disruptions, SMRT is forming a quick response team to rectify train faults and shorten service recovery times, he said.

The tender to overhaul the BPLRT will be awarded by the LTA in the first half of 2018. "When completed, reliability will improve substantially," Mr Ng said.

Mr Liang later asked if more buses can be deployed when the BPLRT is undergoing the overhaul.

Mr Ng said SMRT will provide bus services to "alleviate commuters' inconveniences" during the upgrading process.

"But because Bukit Panjang is a relatively mature estate, there are limits to how many buses we can put on the roads without causing further congestion," he added.

MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also asked if there are plans to build an LRT system in Yishun, to which Mr Ng replied that there are none.