Older SMRT trains to get makeover for better ride

Commuters can expect wider seats, non-slip floors, more standing space

FROM wider seats and non-slip floors to new propulsion systems, rail operator SMRT will refurbish its older trains to give commuters a more comfortable and reliable ride.

These details were revealed yesterday during a joint briefing with the Land Transport Authority (LTA). They come nearly a year after a Committee of Inquiry (COI) made its recommendations in the wake of two major train disruptions in December 2011.

SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek said: "What we want to do is take a comprehensive view of the entire system to see how we can improve on system reliability, safety and capacity."

Trains will be upgraded to provide more standing space and handrails, wider seats, non-slip floors and better ventilation.

Key parts such as propulsion systems, which provide power, and air compressors, which control doors and brakes, will be replaced on all 19 second-generation trains by 2016, and the 66 first-generation trains by 2019.

SMRT, which began operating the rail system in 1987, is already into its fourth generation of trains, with 35 more trains to be added by 2016.

The Straits Times reported last week that SMRT and the LTA are speeding up and expanding an extensive programme to rejuvenate the ageing North-South and East-West lines.

This includes changing the entire power-supplying third rail system on both lines to improve reliability. Details are still being worked out, though this is expected to be completed by 2018.

The third-rail replacement will be coordinated with another programme to replace 188,000 wooden sleepers, which hold the metal rail track in place.

Doing this would optimise the speed of improvement works, said LTA deputy chief executive Chua Chong Kheng.

The sleepers were originally scheduled to be replaced by 2019. But SMRT now wants to complete the project by 2015 for the North-South Line, and by 2016 in the case of the East-West Line. To do that, the operator said it would need to close the tracks on several Sundays. Bus bridging services will be provided and the public will be informed in advance to minimise the inconvenience to commuters.

A joint team formed by LTA and SMRT engineers has already implemented various recommendations made by the COI, including installing sensors in trains to monitor the third rail. Issues with the third rail led to the 2011 disruptions.

There have been improvements in the system but it would take more time to address all the issues, said Mr Kuek.

LTA figures show that the number of trains withdrawn from service has dropped. The first four months of this year averaged 37 withdrawals each month, compared to 59 in the corresponding period last year.

The number of incidents that led to delays of more than 10 minutes also dipped from 0.20 to 0.16 per 100,000km of operation.

However, incidents that cause delays of 30 minutes or more continue to be an area of concern that the joint team will work on, said LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong.

Separately, Mr Chew said investigations into a rail crack that delayed services on the North- South Line last month are still ongoing. A lab report will be submitted to the LTA in a month's time.