Khaw Boon Wan confident overhauled Bukit Panjang LRT will live up to expectations

A train at Bukit Panjang LRT’s (BPLRT) depot on Dec 3, 2019. When upgrading works are completed by 2024, the BPLRT “should be able to close the gap" with the Sengkang-Punggol LRT, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.
A train at Bukit Panjang LRT’s (BPLRT) depot on Dec 3, 2019. When upgrading works are completed by 2024, the BPLRT “should be able to close the gap" with the Sengkang-Punggol LRT, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The problematic Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) should be able to match the Sengkang-Punggol LRT (SPLRT) in reliability by 2024, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan indicated on Tuesday (Dec 3) afternoon.

Currently, the 20-year-old BPLRT, operated by SMRT, clocks 64,000 car-km between delays, up from 33,000 car-km  in 2015, which Mr Khaw described as “not bad, but could be much better”.

Noting that the 16-year-old SPLRT, operated by SBS Transit, clocks more than 300,000 car-km between delays, the minister said that when upgrading works are completed by 2024, the BPLRT “should be able to close the gap" with the SPLRT.

The BPLRT started running in 1999 as Singapore’s first LRT line and the first driverless system here. It  connected commuters in Bukit Panjang to the Choa Chu Kang MRT station on the North-South line.

“Residents looked to the BPLRT with great expectations,” Mr Khaw recalled during a visit to the BPLRT’s depot.

But they were soon disappointed, as the system’s reliability proved patchy from the start. Over the years, there were disruptions  caused by numerous mechanical, electrical and operator issues. Some resulted  in serious incidents such as a collision, fire, train skipping stations and not responding to emergency stop button, train wheel falling off, and staff fatality.

Many reasons were offered to explain the BPLRT’s dismal record, including it having been built in an already developed township, challenging terrain and the fact that it was built as “an after-thought”.

Mr Khaw remembered that when he entered politics in 2001, and was senior minister of state for transport, he had to “defend the BPLRT’s reliability record”.

“The local MPs were not too convinced,” he said. “When I returned to Ministry of Transport in 2015, I was determined to address the BPLRT problem decisively.”


Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling during a visit to the Bukit Panjang LRT's depot on Dec 3, 2019. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

 
 
 
 

Canadian engineering firm Bombardier, which supplied the original system in 1999, was awarded a $344 million contract last year  to overhaul it.

Work is underway to replace trains, signalling system and power rails, as well as to equip the LRT with a condition-monitoring system, which is able to constantly check the well-being of the line.

This will allow the operator to move  from preventive and corrective to predictive maintenance.

When all the upgrading works are done by 2024, “residents can look forward to BPLRT version 2.0 with greater confidence this time”.

"I am sure their confidence will not be misplaced," he added.