Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has set MRT operators a new reliability target this year - trains are to travel an average of 300,000km before a delay occurs.
The target will be a 72 per cent improvement over last year's average of 174,000km that trains travelled before encountering a delay of more than five minutes.
"And next year, we will shoot for 400,000. It can be done," he said yesterday during the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget.
He said Singapore's MRT reliability is "not yet where we want to be, but we will get there".
The mean kilometre before failure is used by many cities as an indicator of rail reliability.
The Taipei metro, for example, achieved 800,000 train-km in 2015 before a breakdown.
Responding to concerns raised by Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan about delays and breakdowns faced by commuters, Mr Khaw said raising train reliability is a "multi-year" effort as replacing ageing assets takes time.
He said that a number of projects to upgrade the 30-year-old North- South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) are under way or in the pipeline. The replacement of the power-supplying third-rail system of the trunk lines will be completed this year.
The upgrade of the North-South Line's signalling system - which will allow trains to run at up to 100-second intervals during peak hours, instead of 120 seconds - will also be completed soon, he added. For the East-West Line, this upgrade will be completed next year.
Tenders will be called soon for an overhaul of the NSEWL's power supply system, Mr Khaw said, adding that this has been a "source of many problems in the last few years".
He also warned commuters of potential problems when the MRT cuts over to the new signalling system. That has been the "painful experience" in London, Hong Kong and Taipei, he said.
"They warned us that we should expect many teething problems," said Mr Khaw.
Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said in his speech yesterday that the new trains and power supply system will have condition- monitoring sensors.
The power system, for example, will have instruments to monitor the temperature of the switchgear panel in real time to detect anomalies early. The switchgear is a device used to control, protect and isolate the electrical supply.
Mr Khaw said that to improve the maintenance regime of tracks, a new automatic track inspection system will be acquired.
This system will use imaging sensors and laser scanners fitted on the undercarriages of trains to monitor track conditions. For a start, four Downtown Line trains will be fitted with these devices.
Mr Ang also raised concerns about the recent delays between the Jurong East and Joo Koon MRT stations.
He said: "There were at least three major breakdowns... in January alone, and numerous incidents where residents had to add tens of minutes of travelling time between the two stations."
In reply, Mr Khaw said that there are very old signalling components which need to be replaced, but these works, along with maintenance, may not be completed during the limited off-service hours. This is why train service was occasionally impacted when planned works extended into revenue hours.
He added that he has asked the Land Transport Authority and operator SMRT to consider Mr Ang's suggestion of ending revenue service for that stretch of the EWL earlier to accommodate the works.