The renewal of the North-South and East-West lines' (NSEWL) power supply system will be a complex project which may require MRT service hours to be shortened to allow engineers more time to do the upgrading.
For commuters, this means stations closing earlier and opening later on certain days - a practice which has been on since December last year for maintenance work to be carried out.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that the upgrade of the power system, which kicks off later this year, will cost nearly $900 million and take five years to complete.
Speaking at a forum on infrastructure maintenance at the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Mr Khaw gave details of the extensive work needed for the project.
The power supply system is one of six core assets that are being replaced on the ageing NSEWL, which is more than 30 years old.
Mr Khaw said that temporary mobile substations must be set up before the existing power supply system can be removed.
DOING IT RIGHT
If necessary, we will seek commuters' understanding for more extended engineering hours to help us complete the power system renewal more quickly. If the renewal is not well executed, it can have a widespread impact on passenger service. No power, no train service.
TRANSPORT MINISTER KHAW BOON WAN
The new power system can then be installed and reconfigured to perform the same functions as the old system. A recommissioning test must also be done.
He said all these tasks must be completed satisfactorily before passenger service can resume the following morning. That is why the early closures and late openings of train stations are important.
"If necessary, we will seek commuters' understanding for more extended engineering hours to help us complete the power system renewal more quickly," Mr Khaw said.
"If the renewal is not well executed, it can have a widespread impact on passenger service. No power, no train service," he added.
Mr Khaw said the early closures and late openings have helped to speed up the upgrading of the East-West Line's signalling system, by giving engineers more time to test it out, without passengers on board.
In an update, he said full-day tests during passenger service, on the last two Sundays, have been smooth, and will continue for the next three Sundays.
He is optimistic that full-day tests can be done daily during the June school holidays.
Last year, there were teething issues during the testing of the North-South Line's signalling system, resulting in train service delays.
Mr Khaw said the early closures and late openings have also given rail engineers more time to do maintenance, and the reliability of the NSEWL has improved.
The MRT network is on track to achieve, by 2020, the target of having trains travel for an average of one million km before encountering a disruption of more than five minutes, he added.
In the first quarter of this year, this figure stood at 555,000 train-km.
Yesterday, Mr Khaw also launched a Minister for Transport Challenge Shield, which recognises the most reliable MRT line and the most improved line. This will be based on the "mean kilometre between failure" during a calendar year. Each award will come with a cash prize to be used for staff welfare and appreciation, Mr Khaw added.
"It is to remind ourselves per-manently why rail reliability is such a priority for us, how we have neglected it, and please, never to neglect it again going forward," he said.
Asked about the inconveniences faced by commuters during early closures and late openings, Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin said it allows the engineers more time to complete their work.
"This has proven effective so far, and rail reliability during maintenance or upgrading projects has improved," he said.