Suspending Bukit Panjang LRT's off-peak service may reduce stress: Khaw Boon Wan

SBS Transit trainer Renzo Chua, 48, conducting training with the help of a train driving simulator for drivers, in order to prepare them for emergency situations on the North East Line or Downtown Line. The simulator is among initiatives aimed at boo
SBS Transit trainer Renzo Chua, 48, conducting training with the help of a train driving simulator for drivers, in order to prepare them for emergency situations on the North East Line or Downtown Line. The simulator is among initiatives aimed at boosting the productivity and cost-effectiveness of the rail operator.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan serving ice cream to SBS Transit staff yesterday to thank them for their work in achieving the record of one million train-km mean kilometre before failure. Flanking him are SBS Transit chairman Lim Jit Poh (at far ri
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan serving ice cream to SBS Transit staff yesterday to thank them for their work in achieving the record of one million train-km mean kilometre before failure. Flanking him are SBS Transit chairman Lim Jit Poh (at far right) and National Transport Workers' Union executive secretary Melvin Yong.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

As the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) undergoes an extensive multi-year overhaul, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has suggested that service on the light rail line could be suspended during "certain off-peak hours" to reduce the stress on it.

Speaking yesterday at SBS Transit's Sengkang Depot, Mr Khaw said that he had encouraged operator SMRT to consider the option, as the "risk of failure" is high for the ageing line.

"When (ridership) is very low on the BPLRT, you can serve the same demand quite adequately with buses," he said, adding this would help ease the load on the line with no loss of service to commuters.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) later told reporters that SMRT is reviewing the "operational details" of the line.

Three years ago, SMRT had said on its corporate blog that scrapping the 20-year-old BPLRT and replacing it with buses was a possibility as part of a review of the disruption-plagued line, although the LTA later said this was not practical.

Mr Khaw himself had said in Parliament in May last year that completely replacing the LRT system with buses was not feasible as the road network in Bukit Panjang would not be able to cope.

In March last year, LTA signed a $344.25 million contract with supplier Bombardier for an overhaul of the BPLRT that includes replacing the signalling system and 19 trains and it is expected to be completed by 2024.

 
 

The light rail line has been plagued by disruptions since it began service in 1999. In January last year, service was disrupted for almost five hours after a train damaged a piece of trackside equipment.

Figures from LTA show that the BPLRT currently clocks some 66,000km between delays of more than five minutes.

In comparison, the SBS Transit-operated Sengkang-Punggol LRT line hits 353,000km between such delays.


Efforts to reduce costs

Initiatives to boost productivity and cost-effectiveness have helped rail operators SBS Transit and SMRT net combined savings of more than $25 million in recent years, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday. This, even as operating costs continue to increase with enhanced maintenance efforts.

Some of the initiatives include:

JOINT TRACK CIRCUIT SIMULATOR

Introduced by SMRT last year, the simulator helps make repairs of track circuit components more effective. Parts needing repair are inserted into this circuit simulator to see how they interact with other circuit parts.

The system is estimated to bring about $70,000 in man-hour cost savings a year.

The previous circuit tester could only test parts separately from each other. This resulted in technicians needing more time to identify faults.

'CAT EYE' SYSTEM

Monitoring of the overhead catenary system - which supplies electricity to trains on the North East Line - used to take seven workers, with scaffolding, 45 nights to complete.

In 2015, SBS Transit introduced the catenary eye system - or "cat eye" system.

Fixed on the top of maintenance vehicles, the new system allows the work to be done in just two hours with six men and no scaffolding.

With the new technology, SBS Transit saves about $320,000 a year, and is also able to do the checks more frequently and efficiently.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2019, with the headline 'Suspending Bt Panjang LRT's off-peak service may reduce stress: Khaw'. Print Edition | Subscribe