Tender to be called for Bukit Panjang LRT overhaul
Tender to be awarded early next year for overhaul to improve reliability of system built as an 'afterthought'
Bukit Panjang residents can look forward to a more reliable Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, with the Government planning an overhaul to address its problematic design.
Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng told Parliament yesterday that a tender for a revamp of the 18-year-old line will be called later this year and awarded in the first quarter of next year.
The current design, said Mr Ng, was based on "an airport system", which gave rise to the problems that have plagued the 7.8km Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) line - Singapore's third-oldest after the North-South and East-West MRT lines.
"This straight-line design of the LRT was adapted into undulating terrain and sharp turns, causing the (trains') power collector shoes to dislodge from the power rail," said Mr Ng.
"We have taken a look at the design considerations, and this will be addressed in the upcoming tender to improve the reliability of the whole system."
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is expected to provide more details at a later date.
Meanwhile, the LTA and operator SMRT are considering adjusting its services to give engineers more time to carry out interim upgrades and maintenance work.
Mr Ng said that commuters might have to endure shorter operating hours and "short-term disruptions".
Where possible, bus services will be increased to minimise inconvenience, he added.
But since Bukit Panjang is a relatively "mature town", there is a limit to the number of buses that can run on its roads without aggravating congestion.
Mr Ng said: "We hope to have commuters' understanding."
As part of this, a new power source will be installed at the Ten Mile Junction substation as a back-up to the current one in Choa Chu Kang.
Power-related faults have been the cause of disruptions on the BPLRT and engineers from LTA and SMRT are carrying out checks on power rails and hotspot replacement works where necessary.
The new power source and interim upgrading work will be completed by the end of this year, said Mr Ng.
The BPLRT's design made the news last month when Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the line was built as an "after-thought" following "political pressure".
Comparing it to a "roller coaster", he said it was designed in a "masochistic manner".
Mr Ng explained that in the 1990s, the LTA explored a pilot LRT network to help ease traffic congestion in housing estates and to bridge the last-mile gap to the MRT system.
In 1994, Bukit Panjang was identified for the pilot, but the estate had been planned and built without an LRT in mind.
Replying to questions about the line by MPs Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), he said: "Over time, we discovered that this made the LRT prone to faults, especially power trips at the sharp bends."This year alone, there were two major delays, with the most recent on Sept 9 affecting services for more than six hours.
Mr Ng added that SMRT is forming a quick response team to attend to train faults and reduce service recovery times.
A Bukit Panjang resident who takes the BPLRT at least four times a week is looking forward to the overhaul. Mr Syamsul Maidin, 27, a bank officer, told The New Paper: "It can get very congested here and it gets worse with the disruptions.
"Hopefully, the overhaul will solve the big problems in the LRT, but I also hope the short-term solutions can help make my current commute less of a headache."