SINGAPORE - Plans to fix the problematic Bukit Panjang LRT system once and for all have been set in motion, but commuters are likely to have to wait a few more years for a new and more reliable ride.
During the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget in Parliament on Wednesday (March 8), Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We target to call a tender this year for a complete replacement of its ageing components and an upgrade of its systems."
The Land Transport Authority said that it would be sourcing for new trains, power rail, signalling system and various other critical components.
Plans to fix the glitch-ridden system, which has been acting up since it first opened 18 years ago, were first revealed last October.
Mr Lee Ling Wee, managing director of operator SMRT Trains, had said in a blog that a few options were being considered.
One, to deploy self-powered, autonomous guided vehicles on the existing viaduct.
Two, build a new LRT system with significant design enhancements. Mr Lee then noted the current system is more suitable as an airport shuttle plying short distances on flat ground. The BPLRT trains have to tackle gradients.
The third option was to renew the existing Bombardier system with a more updated signalling system where trains could be tracked more accurately as they operated at higher frequencies.
If all three options are not feasible, there was another alternative - to scrap the system and revert to buses. The Government has ruled out this alternative, saying it would lead to heavy congestion on the roads.
The first option has also been ruled out.
Asked for more details on the renewal process of the BPLRT, the LTA would only say that it will be "a complex project".
"We also need to minimise any inconvenience to commuters as these works will have to be done on a 'live' and running system," said an LTA spokesman An announcement will be made at a later date, the LTA said.
National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng pointed out that the Taipei Metro went through a similarly challenging undertaking.
"The original design was for a two-car system, but over time, that was insufficient," he said. "They turned it into a four-car system, but they faced a lot of obstacles. But their engineers eventually overcame them."