SMRT teams up with McLaren to trial F1 tech to monitor trains

McLaren's condition-monitoring suite for F1 race cars. SMRT and McLaren engineers are aiming to adapt race car condition-monitoring technology to assess MRT performance.
McLaren's condition-monitoring suite for F1 race cars. SMRT and McLaren engineers are aiming to adapt race car condition-monitoring technology to assess MRT performance.PHOTO: MCLAREN APPLIED TECHNOLOGIES

The same technology used to rigorously monitor the performance of Formula One (F1) racing cars, such as those driven by two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, could soon be used for MRT trains here.

Public transport operator SMRT said yesterday that it has entered a partnership with British-based McLaren Applied Technologies for this endeavour. The latter is part of the McLaren Group, which includes the F1 team and high-performance carmaker McLaren Automotive.

SMRT and McLaren engineers are aiming to adapt race car condition-monitoring technology to assess MRT performance. Such technology, used on F1 cars, provides information from data captured in real time. This allows the team to optimise on-track performance in races.

The McLaren F1 team boasts drivers such as Alonso, while four-time champion Lewis Hamilton, currently at Mercedes, also used to be on the books.

Over a Grand Prix season with around 20 races, the McLaren race team captures an average of more than 12 billion real-time data points from over 300 sensors embedded in its two race cars. The goal is to customise these to monitor train motors, brakes, pneumatic systems and gearboxes on a test train, set to be ready later this year.

The memorandum of understanding between SMRT and McLaren Applied Technologies was signed in Singapore on Feb 23.

SMRT declined to reveal the cost of the project.

The Straits Times understands that the monitoring of train systems is currently done in-house by SMRT, so there is no vendor being replaced.

As for how much more efficient the F1 monitoring system will be than the current one, it is understood that the results will be out with the test train later this year.

Transport experts such as Professor Lee Der-Horng of the National University of Singapore see merits in the move. It is the first time he has heard of F1 technology being used in public transportation.

He said that while it cuts across traditional industry borders, the technology used to monitor race cars can very well be applied to trains.

"During F1 races, the most advanced monitoring technologies are used," he said. "Such technology is mission critical - it cannot fail."

Prof Lee added: "Even with all the system upgrades and track renewals, it is important for the long term to have the most reliable monitoring technology."

He did not give an estimate of the new system's price tag, but hopes there will be a reasonable trade-off between performance and costs.

The move is among other measures to improve the train system here. Three of six major renewal programmes for the North-South (NSL) and East-West (EWL) MRT lines will be completed by mid-year, with the remaining three to be completed by the early 2020s.

Programmes to replace rail sleepers and the power-supplying third rail have been completed. A programme to replace the signalling system on the NSL has wrapped up, while that for the EWL will be done by June.

Three other programmes will be rolled out soon: Upgrading the power-supply system to cope with the higher train load, replacing a track circuit system (a system related to the signalling system) and replacing 66 first-generation trains.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2018, with the headline 'SMRT teams up with McLaren to trial F1 tech to monitor trains'. Print Edition | Subscribe