Bukit Panjang LRT revamp will tackle design issues

The Bukit Panjang LRT's design was adapted from an airport system to fit into an existing housing estate, said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng. The system is especially prone to power trips at sharp bends, he added.
The Bukit Panjang LRT's design was adapted from an airport system to fit into an existing housing estate, said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng. The system is especially prone to power trips at sharp bends, he added.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Govt to call tender later this year; operating hours may be cut for interim upgrades

A tender will be called later this year to overhaul the problematic Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) and tackle the flawed design behind its reliability woes.

Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng told Parliament yesterday that the BPLRT's design 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, noting that most disruptions on the 18-year-old line have been due to power-related faults.

"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," he added, without elaborating.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is expected to provide more details at a later date.

The tender will be awarded in the first half of next year, Mr Ng said.

In the meantime, he said the LTA and operator SMRT are looking to shorten the BPLRT's operating hours to give engineers more time to perform interim upgrades and maintenance work. These works, to be completed by this year, 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.

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

The BPLRT's design came under the spotlight after Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said last month 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 Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) yesterday, Mr Ng said the LTA was exploring a pilot Light Rail Transit (LRT) network in the 1990s to bridge the last-mile gap to the MRT system, and 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 system in mind, he 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.

Mr Liang asked if more buses could be deployed when the BPLRT is being overhauled. Mr Ng replied that SMRT will provide bus services to "alleviate commuters' inconveniences" during the 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.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Bukit Panjang LRT revamp will tackle design issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe