SMRT tests upgraded signalling system on NSEWL for 5 hours

Large-scale trial involved 95 trains running on upgraded system for five hours

For about five hours early yesterday, trains on both the North-South and East-West lines (NSEWL) ran fully on an upgraded signalling system in a large-scale trial involving more than 100 train drivers.

It was the first time the entire NSEWL network was controlled by the new communications-based train control signalling system.

The system allows trains to run more frequently, thus increasing capacity and easing congestion.

The trial, which saw 50 trains running on the East-West Line (EWL) and another 45 on the North-South Line (NSL), was conducted from 1am to 6am.

This was more than double the usual duration available for tests. On regular days, tests are carried out from 2am to 4am.

Stations along the NSL and EWL have had their operational hours shortened on weekends since December to give engineering staff more time to carry out renewal and maintenance work, including trials for the new signalling system on stretches of the EWL. The new system is already operating on the NSL.

When The Straits Times visited Jurong East MRT station late on Saturday night, train captains were being briefed on the testing requirements for the trial.

They included current train captains and former ones who have assumed non-driving roles in crew management, operations, and training and supervision, as well as Circle Line staff who are trained to drive when support is needed.

Some employees sacrificed their days off and family time to be involved in the trial.

Train captain Mohamad Rezza Abdul Malek, who has been with SMRT for more than three years, has a two-month-old baby daughter but came back on his day off to help with the testing.

He believes such trials allow him to better understand the new system when it is used to run the entire network.

"Every day is a learning process for us, so we try to be better at what we do," said the 31-year-old, who also discusses his experiences with his colleagues.

Mr Ramli Rahmat, who has been with SMRT for over 30 years, supports the trials with the planning of manpower resources. His role ensures they are properly deployed, so such tests run smoothly without any hiccups.

It is challenging, said the 55-year-old.

"We want to make sure that each night, we don't put it to waste.

"We inform our train captains to take note of whatever is irregular, so that they can report them."

More than 30 signalling engineers and technicians were also deployed around the network to respond to faults during the trial.

Mr Chung Swee Hiang, chief engineer for signals and communications maintenance at SMRT, said this allowed faults to be rectified as quickly as possible.

The trial also offered an opportunity for his team to familiarise themselves with the new system, he added.

"We want to maximise the early closure and late opening hours given to us, and not waste it."

Meanwhile, Singapore's driverless MRT lines are now being manned to raise reliability.

SBS Transit, which operates the North East and Downtown lines, told The Straits Times it started manning every North East Line train last October. NEL was the world's first driverless heavy-rail system when it opened in 2003.

SBS Transit spokesman Tammy Tan said: "We have staff on board our driverless trains not only as a reassurance to commuters but also for operational contingency."

SMRT is also doing the same for the Circle Line - the other driverless MRT system in Singapore. - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRISTOPHER TAN