Commuters look forward to Bukit Panjang LRT upgrade

A train arrives at Bukit Panjang LRT Station.
A train arrives at Bukit Panjang LRT Station. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

With the problematic Bukit Panjang LRT set for a major overhaul, engineering experts The Straits Times spoke to said the most critical parts to upgrade are the trains and signalling system.

And having endured numerous breakdowns since the LRT opened 18 years ago - including 10 in 2015 alone - commuters said they welcomed the planned upgrade.

SMRT, which operates the LRT, has said that the current system is more suited for short distances on flat terrain, rather than gradients - which it passes through in the Bukit Panjang area now.

The Transport Ministry announced during its Budget debate last Wednesday that it would call for a tender to upgrade the LRT's trains, power rail, signalling system, and other critical components.

Singapore Institute of Technology Assistant Professor Zhou Yi said that short of building new rail tracks, redesigning the signalling system might help solve problems.

"A more precise signalling system will provide greater flexibility and control of the speed when tackling the slopes," said the engineer.

Meanwhile, National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Raymond Ong said that deploying self-powered trains could address the gradient issue. Instead of relying on a network - as is the case now - such trains would be able to "draw their own additional power needed to clear the gradients easily", said the engineer.

Ms Lew Pei Xia, an 18-year-old student who travels on the Bukit Panjang LRT daily, said: "There have been too many malfunctions over the years.

"It is necessary to change the system."

In the Bukit Panjang SMC, where four of the LRT stations are located, similar concerns have been reflected to MP Teo Ho Pin .

"The system is ageing and not suitable for the type of terrain and passenger load. Thus, an overhaul is necessary," said Dr Teo.

Commuters also told The Straits Times they wanted the upgrade to address comfort and safety issues.

Mr Hang Shou Kit, 18, a student who travels on the LRT to school every day, said of the train's brakes: "The LRT is old and the journey is not smooth.

"Sometimes it is like a roller-coaster ride."

Madam Shirline Ching, who commutes with her toddler to and from pre-school occasionally, felt more could also be done to prevent people, especially children, from running onto the LRT tracks.

"They should erect barriers like the ones in MRT stations," said Madam Ching.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2017, with the headline 'Commuters look forward to Bukit Panjang LRT upgrade'. Subscribe