Longer wait for trains during off-peak hours possible in future: Khaw Boon Wan

Noting that demand for train services is not uniform throughout the day, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that managing headways better will help to reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the system.
Noting that demand for train services is not uniform throughout the day, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that managing headways better will help to reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the system.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Commuters may in the future have to wait longer for trains during off-peak hours, as part of efforts to better match demand and supply.

Noting that demand for train services is not uniform throughout the day, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that managing headways better will help to reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the system.

Mr Khaw, who was speaking on Friday (Aug 30) at the SBS Transit (SBST) Sengkang Depot to celebrate improvements in rail reliability, noted that in July, the MRT network recorded a mean kilometres between failure (MKBF) of over 1 million train-km. This measures the distance travelled before a train fault that lasts more than five minutes.

It is now time to extend the focus from immediate fixes to also include longer-term sustainability, he said.

On longer intervals between trains, Mr Khaw said there is scope for this during off-peak hours, and that he will encourage the rail operators to experiment with such measures in their train lines.

Matching of supply with demand "should lead to better customer service", he said.

Citing the example of Taipei Metro and Hong Kong MTR, which have train intervals of up to 10 and 14 minutes respectively during off-peak hours, he said: "By adjusting train frequencies based on commuter demand, they optimise the use of resources.

"This also reduces unnecessary wear and tear on the system that drive up downstream maintenance costs."

Currently, SMRT and SBST trains arrive at stations every five to seven minutes during off-peak hours.

Mr Khaw noted that longer intervals between trains is already the case for the Changi Airport and Tuas West Extension lines.

It is the same for bus services.

Cost-efficiency is another key area of focus, Mr Khaw said, adding that new efforts and initiatives by SMRT and SBST have led to total savings of more than $25 million.

One such initiative is an SMRT-developed simulator that allows the train operator to more effectively repair their tracks. SMRT said the machine, which was introduced in 2018, can reap about $70,000 worth of savings a year.

Train operators have, in recent years, expressed concerns about higher operating costs.

 
 
 
 

In July, SMRT Trains reported mounting losses on the back of higher operating expenses. In the 12 months to end-March this year, losses hit $155 million - almost double from a year ago.

Spending on repairs and maintenance accounted for about 71 per cent of rail-fare revenue, up from just 45 per cent three years ago.

Meanwhile, SBS Transit's Downtown Line has registered losses of $125 million over the past three years, while its train division also lost tens of millions of dollars.

The Transport Ministry had said that such losses were not sustainable and that higher fares would be needed in the face of rising subsidies for public transport.

Beyond cost savings, Mr Khaw said train operators are also looking to boost non-rail revenues.

The Land Transport Authority recently outsourced the rights for retail and advertising on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) as part of efforts to improve the line's financial sustainability.

This marks the first time non-fare businesses, which are currently run by MRT operators, have been outsourced.

The move is expected to bring over $164 million in concession fees for the LTA over the 16-year concession term.

Mr Khaw said: "The two appointed non-fare operators are expected to bring in significantly more non-fare revenue per rider as compared to today.

"Given this promising outcome, LTA is exploring how we can expand the outsourcing framework to other train lines."