The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced in a press release on Wednesday (12 December) that Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) network will close earlier at 11.30 pm daily starting from Sunday (13 January) to enable SMRT to intensify and accelerate maintenance and system renewal works.
Bombardier, BPLRT’s original equipment manufacturer, will upgrade the network’s power rails system, replace the existing signalling system with a new Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system for higher rail reliability, replace all 19 first generation Light Rapid Vehicles (LRVs), which have been in use since BPLRT services began in 1999, with new and improved vehicles, and equip LRVs and CBTC signalling system with condition monitoring systems for real-time detection of tail alignment and predictive maintenance as part of the planned renewal works commencing in the first quarter of 2019.
As previously announced on 3 March 2018, the authority stated that the BPLRT Service C commencing and terminating at Ten Mile Junction Station will be permanently closed from 13 January 2019. The vacated station space in Ten Mile Junction Station will thereafter be converted into a stabling and testing ground for the BPLRT’s new LRVs.
Since November 2017, periodic Full Sunday Closures and Sunday Late Openings have been implemented for the BPLRT network. These have enabled accelerated maintenance works.
LTA Chief Executive, Mr Ngien Hoon Ping, said, "Over the past year, our engineering teams have made use of additional engineering hours to intensify and speed up the replacement of the BPLRT’s ageing infrastructure. The upcoming enhancement works will see extensive works carried out on the BPLRT network to implement a new signalling system and renew train cars. These are part of our efforts to improve the BPLRT’s reliability and commuters’ travel experience."
"We are grateful for residents’ patience in allowing us this extra time to carry out enhancement works, and seek their understanding as we continue to strive towards more reliable journeys on the BPLRT for all commuters," he added.
SMRT Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Neo Kian Hong, said, "We are working very closely with LTA and Bombardier to ensure that these renewal works are carried out well, on schedule and safely. Even as works to renew and upgrade the BPLRT network’s key components are being carried out over the next few years, we will continue our efforts to improve our operations and maintenance of the system, so that commuters can continue to enjoy reliable and comfortable journeys on the BPLRT."
To support the change in the BPLRT’s operating hours, LTA stated that bus services 920, 922, 973 and 974 will run for longer hours until around 1.00am, to serve commuters within the Bukit Panjang township. Commuters can also continue to access Junction 10 via the Downtown Line’s Bukit Panjang MRT Station, Phoenix or Bukit Panjang LRT stations, as well as bus services plying the bus stop opposite Junction 10.
On October this year, SMRT Train’s managing director Lee Ling Wee wrote a blog posted by SMRT, saying that the company and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) are jointly reviewing the future of the 10.5km, 14-station Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT).
The BPLRT was said had been dogged by problems, including a breakdown just last week, and ongoing issues with the trains’ air-conditioning system.
While it continues to “test the mettle of our engineering staff and the patience of users”, Mr Lee wrote that SMRT and the LTA are looking for a solution that will be “more than just a makeover” and will “completely transform the light rail system.”
Several options are being considered to “completely transform” BPLRT, including scrapping the network and returning to the use of buses.
Netizens, however, especially those who live at Bukit Panjang, voiced their disagreement on the option to return to the use of buses.
A month later, Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan stated that replacing the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) with a bus-only transport system is not a feasible option as the road network in Bukit Panjang will not be able to cope.
He said that the decision to implement the BPLRT required shoe-horning an LRT system into a built-up town. This has posed significant engineering challenges, requiring the LRT to make sharp bends and over undulating terrain. The BPLRT's reliability has therefore been unsatisfactory, despite significant efforts by all parties involved.
Just last Sunday (9 December), the line experienced breakdown due to power failure. And in November alone, the line experienced three delays.
On 5 November morning, the train service was disrupted and at about the same time along the Circle Line (CCL) due to a system fault. However, the information were obtained from commuters' posts on social media platforms while SMRT remained silent with no official announcement on its media platforms.
Only two days later (7 November), late train commuters along the line experienced delays on Wednesday (7 Nov) evening due to a power failure. However, only about an hour since the fault began, SMRT officially informed about the disruption on its media social platforms.
On 14 November morning, the line experienced another delay following delay on the North South Line (NSL) a few hours before delay on BPLRT. There were no official information from SMRT on the BPLRT disruption; however, commuters' post on TATA SMRT Facebook informing that there were announcement and ground reports in the station, which stated that the delay was due to track fault.