SINGAPORE - The North East Line (NEL), will undergo a major renewal project next year, to upgrade its trains, track components, and power and signalling systems.
As more engineering hours will be required to perform some of these works, the operating hours along stretches of the NEL will be shortened during certain periods, and commuters will have to use shuttle buses instead.
A similar early-closure late-opening programme was implemented for the North-South and East-West lines (NSEWL), the island's oldest lines, a year ago. The NEL is Singapore's third oldest MRT line.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who announced the NEL upgrading on Monday (Dec 17), said the former management of SMRT, the NSEWL's operator, "underinvested" and "did the minimum" when the lines needed upgrading and intensified maintenance.
"The cumulative effects of their decisions in those years were only corrected in recent years, at great inconvenience to commuters. We have learnt this hard lesson. We are determined not to have it repeated," Mr Khaw said.
The NEL, which is operated by SBS Transit, was opened in 2003. The NSEWL opened in 1987.
"When MRT lines are young, the current engineering hours of three to four hours per day, are enough. But as the lines age, we have to intensify maintenance," Mr Khaw said.
The extended engineering hours for the NEL will give rail engineers much needed time to renew parts of the power and signalling systems and to replace rail crossings and tracks, he added.
Mr Khaw said: "I know this will inconvenience commuters and I thank them for their support and hope to continue to have their kind understanding."
From Jan 4 to March 2, NEL stations between Serangoon and Punggol will close earlier at around 11pm on selected Fridays and Saturdays. Trains for the rest of the NEL will also run at longer intervals of about nine minutes during the early closures.
From March 8 to March 30, NEL stations between HarbourFront and Dhoby Ghaut will also close earlier on Fridays and Saturdays, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said more details on this will be announced later.
On Monday, the LTA also signed a $116.7 million contract with Chinese rail transport equipment company CRRC Nanjing Puzhen, to upgrade the NEL's 25 first-generation trains.
The LTA said that CRRC Nanjing Puzhen has a proven track record and has been part of several projects in Hong Kong and China that involved overhaul, assembly and mid-life upgrading. The company's upgrading solutions also meet the technical specifications in the tender.
The train upgrading works are scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2019 and are expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2024, the LTA added. Trains will be upgraded one at a time, at the NEL's Sengkang Depot.
With the overhaul, the trains' interior, such as seats, panels and flooring, will get a facelift, and the air-conditioning, ventilation and passenger information systems will be upgraded. Ageing electrical components and mechanical systems will also be replaced.
The LTA will also install condition monitoring systems on the trains to facilitate early warning of equipment deterioration.
Mr Khaw said the cost of the train upgrading will be fully paid for by the Government under the New Rail Financing Framework.
The enhancements will benefit the 600,000 commuters who take the NEL each day.
Mr Khaw said rail reliability has improved and the authorities and operators have "turned the corner", although it is still a work-in-progress.
"This is not to say that there will be no more train disruptions but train delays have become much less frequent and the situation continues to improve," he added.
In the past 11 months, trains on the North-South Line travelled an average of 824,000 train-kilometres before encountering a delay of longer than five minutes, improving 10 times from 89,000 train-km in 2017. Mr Khaw said this was a "highly commendable performance".
Meanwhile, the NEL has consistently exceeded the long-term "mean kilometres between failures" target of one million train-km this year, he noted.
The LTA said: "However, as the NEL ages, maintenance needs to be stepped up to sustain a high level of reliability."
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said that the move to upgrade the NEL is "timely and necessary".
Works to upgrade the trains' interior fittings, air conditioning and passenger information system will also bring greater travelling comfort and benefits to commuters, Mr Sitoh added. He said: "This is all consistent with the Government's overall plan and firm commitment to continually improve the reliability, sustainability and comfort of the entire MRT network."