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Photo source: sgtrains.com

EWL curtailed operation hours gave rail operator SMRT and additional 40 nights of extra time to test and install new signalling system

Second Transport Minister Ng Chee Meng told Parliament on Monday (19 February) that he curtailed operation hours on the East-West Line (EWL) over the past two months gave rail operator SMRT the equivalent of 40 nights of extra time to test and install the new signalling system, which would have otherwise taken another 1.5 months to complete.

He was responding to MP for Nee Soon GRC Kwek Hian Chuan Henry who asked whether an update can be provided on the shutting down of train lines for scheduled maintenance, how much additional work has been done during this period, and how many manhours of effort have been achieved during this time.

Mr Ng stressed that the restricted hours also helped the embattled rail company manage 2.5 times the usual volume of maintenance work along the affected stretches each weekend, adding that the installation of noise barriers has also been sped up to roughly 1.5 times the usual pace, with workers finishing the equivalent of three or four nights of work every weekend.

According to the minister, the Government is currently studying on how further downtime on the MRT lines could help speed up the renewal of other equipment on the North-South Lines (NSL) and East-West lines (EWL), which are the oldest MRT lines in Singapore. These include the upcoming replacement and upgrade of the power-supply system.

Land Transport Authority (LTA) has announced earlier this month the award of contracts to upgrade the power-supply and track-circuit systems of the two lines, which will begin this year and is targeted to wrap up by the early 2020s.

In December, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) began the shortened operation hours on the EWL, which affected 19 stops on the western section of the line — including two on the North-South Line. While,between last month and early this month, 10 stations on the eastern stretch of the EWL also had their operation hours trimmed on weekends.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the affected stations shut earlier at 11pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, they opened later at 8am. On Sundays, there were also several all-day closures of the affected stations.

Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) has announced earlier that train service hours will be shortened on selected days in March along all 35 East-West Line (EWL) MRT Stations.

Shortened operational hours for the month of March will involve all 35 MRT stations along the EWL (Pasir Ris to Tuas Link, Tanah Merah to Changi Airport). In addition to shorter operational hours on weekends, the early closure and late opening arrangements will include Monday, 12 March and Wednesday, 14 March during the week-long school holiday.

This was announced last November after the high-profile collision of two trains at Joo Koon MRT Station, which will hasten work to get a new signalling system going on the EWL by June, instead of year’s end.

Mr Ng notes that the authorities will continue with this regime for the foreseeable future to expedite the upgrading and improvement works, saying, "We will minimise inconvenience to commuters by (making) early announcements of the scheduling of either early closures of the line or entire closure of stretches, so that commuters can make alternate transport plans. Buses and other alternatives will be made available to commuters."

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera from the Workers’ Party also asked Minister for Transport (MOT) for each year over the past five years, how many instances have occurred of MRT or LRT trains undergoing irregular and sudden acceleration and train doors closing without warning, and whether there is any mechanism for collating data on such incidents if they are not reported by commuters.

Responding to the questions, Mr Ng said the bulk of such cases over the last five years happened on the North-South and East-West lines.

He said that there were an average of 20 cases of irregular and sudden acceleration reported by commuters each year on MRT trains and two cases a year on the LRT, adding that the shifts in speed resulted from temporary speed restrictions owing to continuing track maintenance and renewal work.

On train doors closing without warning, the minister said that passengers reported an average of 125 cases yearly on the MRT, and fewer than one case each year on the LRT.

He said that currently, train captains close the doors manually only on the North-South and East-West lines, which creates room for human error.

"The new communications-based train control signalling system will address this by automating the announcement and closing of train doors," he said.

He then noted that data is derived primarily from reports by commuters, and every case is investigated thoroughly, adding that MOT, which already publishes various sets of data, will consider releasing such information in time as the renewal of the train systems was still underway.

Terry's note: It is very interesting to see that Mr Ng speaks about the closure of rails for maintenance work as something which is scheduled and acceptable. Reason being, the mad rush to complete maintenance work is due to the poor planning or lapse of the transport company. There was no catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist attack which had damaged the lines but the simply the lack of attention on maintenance and upgrading of the railway system. But of course, given that SMRT is now 100% owned by Temasek Holdings, it is no different from a government entity and who can find fault with a government entity, right?