Parliament: Replacing Bukit Panjang LRT with bus-only transport system not feasible, says Khaw

Replacing the Bukit Panjang LRT with a bus-only alternative is not feasible, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Nov 9, 2016.
Replacing the Bukit Panjang LRT with a bus-only alternative is not feasible, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Nov 9, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Replacing the problematic Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) system with a bus-only transport system is not a feasible option, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 9).

This is because the road network in Bukit Panjang will not be able to cope with the increased congestion, he added.

Instead, a study is ongoing to see how the 17-year-old system can be re-designed and upgraded to boost reliability and performance, he told the House, in reply to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

The future of the BPLRT was on the table last month (Oct 2016), after an SMRT blog said several options were being considered by the rail operator and Land Transport Authority (LTA), which include scrapping it.

Mr Khaw, however, dismissed this possibility on Wednesday, saying that it is not feasible. He said that many key components of the BPLRT, including the trains, power rail and the signalling system, are coming to the end of their design lives in about four to five years' time, and will have to be replaced.

"We are taking this opportunity to re-do the BPLRT to enable a step jump in reliability. Fortunately, there are now better technology and designs available compared to 17 years ago," Mr Khaw noted.

The revamp could see a re-design of the LRT's Bukit Panjang Station and its track layout, to reduce the need to switch tracks.

Currently, service routing requires trains leaving that station to constantly switch tracks, making the switch point a "critical vulnerability", Mr Khaw added.

The authorities are also sourcing for new trains, power rail, signalling system and other critical components to replace the first-generation assets, he said.

Mr Khaw said that while LRT systems are typically deployed for straight-forward, point-to-point connections on flat terrain, the BPLRT required "shoe-horning" an LRT system into a built-up town.

"This has posed significant engineering challenges, requiring the LRT to make sharp bends and over undulating terrain," Mr Khaw noted.

"The BPLRT's reliability has therefore been unsatisfactory, despite significant efforts by LTA, SMRT and the train manufacturer, Bombardier, over many years," he said.

With the upgrades and re-design, Mr Khaw said he was confident on tackling the reliability problems faced by the BPLRT.

"I'm reasonably confident that we can tackle this problem. I'm more confident about this than my bet on who is the next American president," he quipped, referring to the ongoing US presidential election results, which were being progressively released as he spoke.