On track to solve rail woes

The MRT's worst breakdown, on the evening of July 7, was a power-related incident that shut down the North-South and East-West lines for more than two hours, affecting over 413,000 commuters.

Besides train and track issues, faults with the rail power system have accounted for their fair share of MRT disruptions, such as in October when North-East Line services were affected for over 1 1/2 hours, with blackouts occurring at several stations.

A comprehensive health check is in order.

On Wednesday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) appointed an independent advisory panel to review the resilience of the power supply system for the entire MRT and LRT network, and to submit recommendations on how to improve it.

The panel will look into all recent power-related disruptions, identify potential system gaps and fix the timing for the next upgrade.

The 13-member team comprises academics from three local universities; industry experts from local, Japanese and German firms; and a specialist from Hong Kong's MTR Corporation.

The review is a timely one, given the increased load on the power system as more trains were injected to boost capacity and shorten train intervals in response to growing ridership.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said that while operations are kept to within the capacity of the power system, and the LTA is in the midst of upgrading the infrastructure, there are now "thinner buffers" for faults .

While the new panel is expected to finish its review by month end, another one - the Expert Audit Panel - will be set up to review the rail system over a longer timeframe, with members to be drawn from German, Hong Kong and Japanese train operators.

Through the panels, the Government seeks to tap experts outside the rail industry and Singapore more regularly, rather than ad hoc in response to major breakdowns.

Having more, and different, eyes on the problems may finally yield the right medicine for the commuter bugbear of rail reliability.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'On track to solve rail woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe