Upgrading of signalling system for NSL to be completed by March this year and EWL by 2018

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Minister for transport Khaw Boon Wan has announced that the upgrade of the signalling system for the North-South Line (NSL) will be completed by March this year, and that for the East-West Line (EWL) by 2018.

This is his response to the questions filed by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah MP of Nee Soon GRC who asked the Minister for Transport following the upgrade of the signalling system at the North-South and East-West MRT lines what improvements have been observed, what is the average interval between train arrivals during peak hours, and what maintenance protocols are in place to ensure that the signalling system on the newer lines are always in optimal working condition.

Mr Khaw stated that when the upgrade is completed, the operators will be able to run the trains closer together: one train every 100 seconds, compared to 120 seconds today.

He also said that the operators will run the trains at this improved frequency during peak hours, effectively increasing the capacity of the two lines by 20 percent. Therefore, he said, commuters can benefit from shorter waits and more comfortable rides.

"Changing the signalling system is however a complex undertaking and we have been advised by other MRT operators, including the London Underground, to expect significant teething problems in the process," Mr Khaw wrote.

Thus, he said that he had asked the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the operator SMRT to conduct much more extensive testing before switching to the new signalling system.

The Minister said that still, the experience elsewhere suggests that testing may not completely anticipate and eliminate the technical glitches that come when the system is fully loaded.

"We thus seek commuters' understanding and patience," he added.

Currently, he said that Thales, the signalling equipment manufacturer, is training SMRT staff on the operation and maintenance of the new system. They will also provide technical support in the initial years to resolve any teething issues.