SINGAPORE: Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said resignalling works on the North-South Line (NSL) could be completed in the next few weeks, ahead of the December deadline initially set.
“I’m fairly confident (that) the original timeline that we can complete the resignalling of North-South Line before year-end; could even be earlier,” he said.
“I’m pushing them to get it out before December, meaning within the next few weeks. We have about 10 weeks left to December, and I see no reason why we could not deliver on this.”
Mr Khaw was responding in Parliament on Monday (Sep 11) to a question from Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah. She had asked about the progress of resignalling works on the NSL and how long more it would take for the system to stabilise.
Ms Lee said many of her residents had been inconvenienced by the train service disruption on Jun 28. Mr Khaw said the disruption was due to human error while the engineering team was installing radio devices for the East-West Line (EWL) re-signalling project.
Mr Khaw said he told SMRT to suspend all major EWL testing until the North-South Line has stabilised. Indeed since the incident, SMRT and the Land Transport Authority said testing for the EWL has started at some stations during engineering hours, and that more testing would begin once the NSL signalling system stabilises by December.
The minister pointed out that in May, there were 20 delays on the NSL due to resignalling issues. “It has since declined to only six last month, and continued to decline.”
He reiterated the complexities of the signalling project, which other train systems like the London Underground also implemented.
Said Mr Khaw of the London Underground's project for its Jubilee Line: “They were the first ones actually who warned us to expect problems, expect trouble; expect yourself to be public enemy number one. I brought their painful experience to this House and have been trying very hard to prepare the ground on all these various things that we may have to go through.”
He said authorities ended up changing their original schedule “substantially”. Where they had intended to start full testing “much earlier” than May 28, authorities ended up doing more testing during engineering hours before moving to testing during passenger hours.
Even then, Mr Khaw said testing during passenger service was done gradually. He said new software that has been installed since mid-July has been “very promising” and is stabilising.
But Mr Khaw said there are still a few hardware issues to be ironed out. “Some of the equipment which are on the trains are still causing some difficulties - not significant- but nevertheless, they are glitches which we have to fix,” Mr Khaw said.
“Some of the glitches are the doors not opening (in a) synchronised (manner) with the platform screen doors or the trains exceeding by a certain distance when it stops at the station.”
Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang asked if Mr Khaw has set specific targets for the improvement of train services, and what commuters could expect in the future. “How long more must they endure these inconveniences and how long until they see the light of day and have improved and efficient train services?” he asked.
In response, Mr Khaw said good progress has been made in raising rail reliability, which is measured by mean km between failure (MKBF). This, he explained, is the average distance travelled by a train before hitting a delay of more than five minutes.
Where trains in Singapore could previously not exceed 200,000km for MKBF, Mr Khaw said they are now almost meeting next year’s target of 400,000km. Mr Khaw said this is what prompted him to raise the target to 1 million km in 2020.
“That is ambitious, optimistic, but I have reason to be confident that even if we can’t reach it, we’ll be quite close to it,” he said.
“For a system like NS-EW Line, there are at least six critical core systems - the sleepers, third rail, signalling, trains, power supply and track circuits. Each one has to be replaced before you can hope to improve on the reliability,” Mr Khaw said.
He added that the replacement of sleepers, which hold train tracks in place, has been completed. The replacement of the third rail, which supplies power to trains, was also recently completed.
“We are halfway through the multi-year efforts. It’s a cup half full, but next year I’ll top it up even further,” Mr Khaw said.