A peak into lessons learnt from Singapore Rail Transport Conference

SRTC

Attended by more than 20 international railway experts, the inaugural Singapore Rail Transport Conference (SRTC) held in November 2016 provided a platform for sharing and potential collaboration in the area of technology development and innovation among operators of some of the world’s busiest metro lines. SMRT gained valuable insights as we strive to enhance rail performance and reliability.

The conference also provided us with an opportunity where we could benchmark ourselves against regional transport providers like Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR). Here are some key learning points shared by two of our guest speakers.

“Not everything needs to be in-house”

Professor Alfred Huan, Chairman, SMRT Technical Advisory Panel stated that SMRT has taken on “the very ambitious task and programme to upgrade its own engineering capabilities”. He added that this includes the company’s efforts to digitise data and adopt digital technology to coordinate our operations and maintenance.

Professor Huan, who is also the Executive Director of the Institute of High Performance Computing at A*STAR pointed out that as SMRT continually builds up its network of expertise, “not everything needs to be in-house”.

“Instead SMRT can tap on expertise within Singapore’s good eco-system of universities, A*STAR, and other research organisations”, said Huan, who was also a guest speaker at the conference.

“The important thing for SMRT is to be able to understand how to integrate all the different expertise around to promote its own objectives.”

Hong Kong MTR Vs SMRT – Adopting industry best practices

Speaking to reporters on technology advancement on the side lines of the event, Professor Lee Kang Kuen, Professor for Transportation at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said both Hong Kong MTR and SMRT have adopted continuous condition monitoring. This is currently seen as one of the best practices in the industry.

“I can see in Singapore, SMRT is adopting the same drive as MTR in really going along with the industry best practises. With all these on-going efforts, there will be a quantum leap in reliability improvements,” he added.

Hong Kong MTR’s experience achieving a high MKBF

The HKMTR reached 520,000 mean-kilometres between failure (MKBF) in the first quarter of 2016 while SMRT aspires to achieve 400,000 MKBF by 2018.

Professor Lee shared his confidence that SMRT would be able to achieve its rail reliability targets by improving from our experiences and lessons learnt in our 30 year history.

“MTR started operations back in 1979, so it is actually about 10 years prior to SMRT. MTR has improved through lessons learnt over the years. For each lesson learnt we adopted improvement measures. This is how excellence can be built up. I’m sure that with the same approach being adopted by SMRT that excellence can be achieved here,” he said.

“Exchange of experiences not “import”

When asked by a reporter what aspects of the HKMTR could be imported to Singapore, Professor Lee pointed out that each network has its own features, and it is important to share experiences and not “import”.

The professor, who has over 40 years’ experience in railway Operations and Maintenance (O&M), projects and consultancy, also stressed the importance of having these sharing sessions regularly.

“I am actually very delighted that this (the conference) has been done quite well where member railways get to share their experience so other members will not repeat what has gone wrong,” he said.

SMRT Improvements to Rail Engineering Capabilities

A few days ago, a group of young engineers who were attending a one-week course as part of STEP-IN* programme came back to the main maintenance depot at Bishan to help their more senior colleagues investigate the root cause of a technical problem on the train fleet operating on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) and discuss the recovery plan. That day, we had a spate of train-related defects that caused three trains to be taken out of service, when these trains completed their regular service runs at terminal stations. This is what we call “stock change” or “planned withdrawal at terminal stations”.

Journey to raise, train and sustain a robust rail engineering capability

There is nothing unusual about a group of engineers coming back to the office to work until 3am. What is unusual is that, they came back on their own accord, without being told to so. In fact, I have given specific instructions to their bosses, not to disturb the participants of the STEP-IN programme unless it is an emergency, so that the participants can focus on the one-week course. In this case, there was no service disruption. Although there was a need to get to the bottom of the issue because it had the potential of becoming a fleet issue, we did have other engineers to deal with the immediate concern.

I know exactly what these engineers, who have been with us for not more than two years, went through, as they went about their discussions and investigations that night. It is no different from what I went through as an engineer in the air force for 23 years: root cause analysis, digging out historical records to understand previous maintenance work done on the affected trains and components, etc. The thought process and mantra have been drilled into them. These young engineers demonstrated a thirsty curiosity to find out why things happened. They listed down every possibility, without jumping to conclusions. They repeatedly asked why the fault occurred (in the same way one might peel an onion), not accepting a case of “No-Fault-Found” (NFF) even if the fault “Can Not be Duplicated” (CND) after the affected trains returned to the depot. There was, in the air that night, an all-consuming desire to get to the root cause, leaving no stone unturned. For them to act together in unity, I am sure there was also esprit de corps and a sense that we are in this together.

Building a Robust Rail Engineering Capability

When I first joined SMRT, I set a goal of building a robust rail engineering capability within SMRT Trains. To do so, we aim to strengthen three key areas: people, process and technology. Three and a half years on, this goal is still an on-going journey. The two areas of process and technology are straightforward enough, as part of SMRT’s rail improvement efforts.

To strengthen our processes, we adopt a life cycle approach to all our critical assets in trains, track, traction power, signalling and communication systems. Such an approach requires us to work closely with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to better manage the timeliness of asset renewal for such hardware. Each renewal presents us with opportunities to improve the inherent design reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM) of the assets leveraging on the operational experience that our staff have accumulated over the past three decades. As part of process enhancement, we also decided to review our maintenance regime regularly over the asset life cycle. Instead of blindly following manufacturers’ maintenance manuals, the revised preventive maintenance tasks must take into account field experience and local operating context, such as asset age, utilisation patterns, environmental conditions and operational requirements.

To enhance the use of technology, we adopt a predictive maintenance approach. This means that we collect data and information on asset conditions and use analytical tools to project how long more the assets can last before they need to be replaced, what additional maintenance efforts are needed to ensure that the assets will continue to perform reliably until they are replaced. Traditional railway maintenance relies heavily on engineering hours to run specialised engineering vehicles on the rail network to collect these data and information. However, given the limited engineering window, the same track location is only surveyed once every few months. Today’s technology allows us to equip passenger trains with on-board sensors and survey the same track location at a much higher frequency. All these translate into opportunities for better maintenance performance.

Hardware and heartware

Hardware issues are being addressed through better work processes. At the same time, more extensive fielding of technology, such as railway condition monitoring devices, complement work processes so that maintenance and renewal efforts are done more efficiently and effectively.

But no less important is our drive to strengthen our heartware – our people. Indeed, the toughest and most complex part of building a robust rail engineering capability within SMRT Trains lies in the area of people development.

When we first started this journey three-and-a-half years ago, SMRT had about 180 rail engineers, and morale was low. Today, we have boosted the number to more than 400. Other than a small number of mid-careerists who have joined us, the majority of the new recruits are either fresh graduates from local universities or in their late twenties.

Numbers alone are not enough. We need to organise our technical workforce into a value chain spanning from maintenance and engineering, to plans and projects. Take for example, the Rolling Stock (this means trains in railway lingo) Engineering Centre. It has been organised into four departments: Rolling Stock Depot (RSD) and Rolling Stock Workshop (RSW), where staff perform maintenance and inspection tasks on trains and components respectively. With the data and information captured by RSD and RSW, Rolling Stock Engineering (RSE) staff analyse reliability trends and initiate engineering studies to review and improve reliability. Finally, Rolling Stock Project (RSP) staff follow up with the proposed reliability enhancement recommended by RSE and translate these recommendations into concrete plans by justifying for resource funding. They also follow through the plans by working closely with LTA to translate these plans into modification or renewal projects. When modified or renewed, the assets go back into the hands of RSD and RSW with a higher inherent reliability, availability and maintainability.

Participation in this cycle of value chain and staff rotation throughout the various parts of this value chain will not only allow our engineers to grow their competencies, knowledge, skills and experience, it will prevent silo thinking. Rotating in and out of all four departments means that all engineers will develop an empathy for the challenges facing their colleagues in other engineering centres. This not only allows us to deepen and broaden our rail engineering capability, it fosters the development of an esprit de corps.

I think this is value creation, and it is replicated in the other engineering centres in SMRT Trains: Signalling and Communication, Permanent Way, Power, Systems and Technology Integration, Integrated Facilities.

The right stuff

We have developed roadmaps for all three areas of people, process and technology. These are not just words and paper concepts. They are actions in different phases of execution. Following these roadmaps, we may well achieve a more robust rail engineering capability in SMRT Trains within the next few years. But, will it last? The life cycles of rail assets are measured in decades, not years. For it to last, I think we need to engender the right ethos and culture among our staff. Our newly recruited engineers must be groomed into good leaders, imbued with the right values and attitude so that they can set a good example for the rest of the technical workforce as they progress in their careers.

From this perspective, what happened a few days ago when the group of young engineers came back voluntarily to support a recovery effort is encouraging. I am heartened to see that these engineers have thoughts that lead them to curious and determined action to find root causes. In time to come, I hope that these actions will become habits across SMRT Trains. Working together with esprit de corps and over time, we can and will rewrite the destiny of SMRT Trains and the nation’s experience of the rail network.

“Watch your thoughts, for they will become actions. Watch your actions, for they’ll become… habits. Watch your habits for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.” – Margaret Thatcher

*SMRT Trains Engineering Professionalisation INduction or STEP-IN is an in-house five-year, on-the-job training programme in collaboration with local and overseas academic institutions. STEP-IN is conducted with short, regular doses of structured training to equip newly recruited engineers as they take their first steps into the rail industry with the necessary rail-related knowledge and experience. The programme is designed so that they can be accredited as chartered rail engineers at the end of their first 5 years with SMRT Trains. A related programme, STEP-UP, is intended for mid-career railway engineering staff to uplift their professional competencies after several years in the industry. Together, STEP-IN and STEP-UP develop railway engineering staff to their fullest potential.

SMRT Rail Performance Data

SMRT’s engineering team tracks closely the performance of all rail lines because the data collated allows the team to know which areas of the rail network need more attention.

Such data is shared with the public too. SMRT has been reporting quarterly statistics on the performance of the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) on SMRT’s corporate website. Doing so allows commuters to keep track of key performance indicators for our rail system, such as delays of more than five minutes, disruptions of more than 30 minutes and the train withdrawal rate.

Data on MRT station assets

We have recently included data on the reliability of MRT station assets used by commuters, such as escalators, lifts and fare gates. We will continue to publish key service performance indicators on a regular basis so that you can follow our journey in improving reliability on our network.

The re-sleepering, re-signalling, third-rail replacement and power network improvement project will contribute to better reliability on the NSEWL – Singapore’s longest, oldest and most heavily-used rail lines.

The mean kilometre between failure (MBKF) rate will improve, thanks to stepped up our maintenance efforts. Furthermore, our multi-year, multi-project renewal efforts for the NSEWL are on track.

While we acknowledge that the improvement in NSEWL service reliability may not seem to be significant in the first 10 months of 2016, we are quietly confident it will demonstrate clear improvements in the coming years. The better MKBF numbers will translate to better journeys for commuters with trains that run more reliably, and shorter waiting times as more trains are deployed on the NSEWL.

How MKBF will be improved

We have been tracking the sources of our service delays over the past three years and classifying them into categories such as third-rail, signalling, traction power and various types of train-related faults. For each category, we have a series of initiatives in place to address these faults in the immediate, medium and long term.

Improvements in MKBF rate will be achieved as we complete each of these initiatives. For example, we had a number of third-rail-related incidents in the first 10 months of the year that resulted in planned service delays. These are delays of not more than 10 minutes caused by engineering work that the engineers needed to carry out during traffic hours whenever sensors installed on selected passengers trains pick up defects that have the potential of causing more than 30 minutes delays. As part of our short term improvement initiatives, the use of these sensors allow us to identify an emerging issue and nip it in the bud before it caused a longer delay and inconvenienced commuters even more. With the completion of third-rail replacement by March 2017, as part of our long term improvement initiatives, we expect that such incidents will be significantly reduced.

As of November 2016, 33% of delays lasting more than five minutes were signal-related. We expect these to reduce significantly after we successfully migrate our ageing signalling system to the new Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) system. The CBTC system has a higher level of redundancies. The new signalling system will be activated on the NSL in 2017 and we are working hard to complete the EWL by end-2018.

We have intensified our efforts to renew the equipment that provides traction power to the network. There are also similar fleet-wide renewal of components to address propulsion, door and brake systems that constitute 90% of train-related delays.

All-out effort to improve NSEWL

These efforts take several years to complete because of the length of the NSEWL, and the size of the fleet. As we serve commuters nearly 20 hours a day, and 365 days a year, we have limited time to carry out renewal and maintenance works. For example, there are 188,000 30-year-old timber sleepers on NSEWL to be replaced. With 141 six-car trains and 24 doors on each train, there are 3,384 train doors for us to work on. Nonetheless, with a laser-sharp focus and a never-give-up determination to catch up with our counterparts in Hong Kong and Taipei, we believe that there is only one direction for NSEWL rail service reliability to go in the coming years: Up.

Commuters may wish to refer to Your Journey Matters – most recently updated in August 2016 and also available on our website– for a comprehensive primer on SMRT’s efforts to renew and improve the NSEWL.

Mercedes-Benz O405 – Fond Farewell

The Mercedes-Benz O405 Hispano was the workhorse in its heyday in the mid-1990s. Back in the days of Trans Island Bus Services (TIBS), 73 O405s were introduced into the fleet. The last remaining O405 was deregistered in September 2016. We pay homage to this classic bus model that has charmed many passengers and bus fans alike.

Senior Bus Captain (BC) Tan Boon Thian has been with SMRT since 1993 and he used to drive Service 960 from Woodlands to Marina Centre. Senior BC Tan drove the O405 for 15 years, long enough for him to recognise the bus by the noise the engine makes. “The buses were air-conditioned and were very stable,” he explained in Mandarin, adding that the O405 buses were much more comfortable compared to the old Nissan buses. “But the modern buses today are definitely more comfortable for the passengers.”

The O405 did have its drawbacks, despite being a very popular bus. “You have to have a certain body type to drive this bus. Too short and you can’t reach the pedal.” BC Tan also pointed to the steering wheel and then to his belly, “Too much here and you won’t fit in the seat”. Buses today have steering wheels that can be adjusted to the BC’s preference. While the O405 was still a very good bus, it was starting to show its age. The needs of the passengers were also changing. The O405 is not a wheelchair accessible bus and has been a training bus in recent years.

Senior Engineering Supervisor Mohamed Rafi Bin Syed Masood has been with SMRT since 2006 and has worked on O405 model servicing. From an automotive mechanic’s perspective, O405 is reliable because Auto Service has a strong maintenance regime. The new bus system is completely different from O405 and technicians are required to pick up more skills. The Preventive Maintenance team that services the buses are made up of five groups: Air Conditioning, Body, Undercarriage, Driveline and Vehicle Electrician.

Rafi can also identify the O405 just by the sound of the engine. “These buses are like my children. I have spent so many years with them. Of course I can tell how they sound like.” When comparing the O405 to the newer buses, Rafi felt that the old buses had their own character. “When you drive an old bus, it feels like driving a bus. Driving one of the newer buses feels like driving a car.” He was referring to how the older buses were slower to pick up while the new buses speed up quite easily.

Rafi said that he will miss the O405, “Old is Gold,” he said with a smile.

SMRT Chairman Address at Rail Engineering Seminar

Keynote Address by Mr Koh Yong Guan, Chairman SMRT Corporation Ltd, at the Launch of the Postgraduate Certificate in Urban Railway Engineering (Singapore) and Rail Engineering Seminar, Capitol Theatre, on 21 Oct 2016

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Good morning everyone, and a warm welcome to Professor Clive Roberts, Director, Birmingham Centre for Railway Research & Education, University of Birmingham; and to all our partners.

This venue brings back many fond memories. Firstly, I studied at Raffles Institution which was located across the road in the 1960s, and the Capitol was a favourite haunt where we “hanged out” after school in unproductive pursuits. Secondly, it is almost 50 years to the day that i entered the University of Toronto as a first year student in Mechanical Engineering. So, it is particularly gratifying for me to be talking to a group of our engineers today.

Land transport issues in Singapore, and in particular those pertaining to the MRT have attracted a disproportionate share of public interest and political attention in Singapore in recent years. The major disruptive events of December 2011 and more recently last year, have focused continued public interest and attention on the challenges we face. The plus, if you can consider it as such, is they have given the impetus for the Ministry of Transport, the Regulator and Public Transport Operators to re-examine how we finance and manage the whole public transport system. Recent milestones for SMRT in transiting to the New Rail Financing Framework and privatisation under Temasek Holdings should be viewed as steps in this direction, allowing SMRT to focus more sharply on delivering a safe, reliable and commuter-centric public transport service.

In addition, the imperative to rebuild trust and instil confidence in the commuting public on the reliability of the MRT as an option to private cars for daily commute has resulted in the recognition that more investments in engineering are needed in order to maintain and sustain the reliability of the ageing and new systems through their life cycles.

Numerous engineering infrastructure projects are underway to renew the North-South and East-West Lines, our oldest in the network, in what is regarded as the most massive renewal effort on a “live” system anywhere in the world. This includes:

Changing out all 188,000 old wooden sleepers to concrete ones;

Replacing and upgrading our Third Rail and Power systems;

Changing our legacy fixed block signalling system to a Communication-based train signalling system that can reduce the headway interval between trains to as short as 100 seconds; and

Refurbishing our older generations of trains and expanding our Rolling Stock with new trains.

Getting these done on time with the limited hours available each night and without unduly affecting commuter service is a tremendous engineering feat that our colleagues are embarked on. We are on track with all these projects, and most will be completed by 2018. Investing in hardware is not enough. We must also invest in our people, and the software and systems and processes to enable our people to do their work better. In this regard, we have intensified efforts to: (1) Build a Pipeline of Rail Professionals, (2) Operationalise the Maintenance Operations Centre, and (3) Adopt Predictive Maintenance through Condition Monitoring.

The effort to build a pipeline of Rail Professionals has become not just an SMRT, but an urgent industry effort. There is increasing recognition that the massive investments of some $60 billion that Singapore is making to double its rail network by 2030, must be supported by the building up of an indigenous rail engineering capability. SMRT alone will more than double our number of engineers to 400 by 2017, from the 191 we had in 2012. More than simply increasing the intake and number of Rail Engineers, we are committed to raising the competency levels of our professional workforce, which includes Senior Technicians, Line Managers, Senior Engineers, Principal Fellows and at the epitome of the profession, the Chartered Engineers.

It is in this context that I am pleased to launch the Postgraduate Certification in Urban Railway Engineering (Singapore) through SMRT’s collaboration with the University of Birmingham. The University of Birmingham is a leading university in the UK that offers degree courses in railway engineering. Our engineers can step up in their career and professional development by attaining this Postgraduate Certificate with the University.

Such a programme is most timely. We know that the challenges we face today are complex and multi-disciplinary. It is no longer tenable to solely depend and rely on OEM manuals for technical solutions to overcome and solve problems, as was possible in the early years of our network development. Our local operating conditions and challenges are becoming adaptive in nature. Often, there will be no ready answers. Relying on old mental models to solving problems is no longer sufficient as a formula. It is no longer just for Chief Engineers to be giving top-down engineering prescriptions to solve technical issues. Instead, it is more likely that Rail Engineering professionals at all levels must have the adaptive skills to identify and overcome current and future problems. We want to be able to do this proactively and predictively to avert faults even before they occur.

Besides effective teams, we also need effective corroboration across functional areas, and in the Singapore context across organisations, because the design and build responsibilities are with the LTA, and there is more than one operator. With better and constant data inflow and fusion from predictive and monitoring tools from multiple systems, rail engineers have the opportunity to provide the leadership to sense-make, corroborate findings, and devise innovative solutions collaboratively across functional departments.

Our partnership with the University of Birmingham is an important pillar for us to strengthen the calibre of our engineering professionals. A sound education and technical know-how among our Rail Engineers will be the basis for us to grow adaptive leaders who are ready and able to lead our workforce in solving tomorrow’s problems with confidence and innovation. Then, we will be better able to fulfil our mission of providing better journeys for commuters across our growing MRT network.

Thank you.

– Koh Yong Guan, Chairman SMRT Corporation Ltd

The Lost Boy


Station Managers Rashid, Khairi, Nasir

A Facebook post by a worried mother went viral on the evening of 17 October as her autistic son went missing in the Somerset/ Killiney area around 4pm. A message was sent from Somerset MRT Station to alert the network.

A Train Captain (TC) at Joo Koon MRT station saw the boy and approached him. Colleagues at Joo Koon confirmed his identity shortly after. Station managers Rashid, Khairi and Nasir sprang into action. Apart from informing the authorities and the rest of the network, they comforted the boy who had presumably went without food and drink for hours.

Khairi purchased food for the boy and tried to calm him down by providing drawing materials. The case was closed when the boy’s father arrived at Joo Koon with police officers.

Khairi said, “We felt relieved and happy because his parents must have been so worried about his whereabouts and safety.  The boy looked hungry and exhausted, and we wanted to make him as comfortable as we could, before his parents arrived.

Great teamwork between SMRT colleagues helped to safely reunite the lost boy with his mother. It’s yet another example of how we can all make a difference to people who use our transport services.

SMRT Rail Improvements – Updates

A tremendous amount of work is being put into renewing and upgrading the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily utilised MRT lines. The work takes place every day even as the rail network continues to serve passengers for around 20 hours a day and as the system copes with increased ridership. Following the inaugural publication in October 2015, Your Journey Matters – Edition 2 continues the story of SMRT’s rail transformation efforts on the NSEWL.

SLEEPER REPLACEMENT

Working closely with LTA and rail contractors, the SMRT team achieved a major milestone when we finished replacing wooden sleepers on the North-South Line (NSL) with concrete sleepers in April 2015. The NSEWL were built with wooden sleepers. These sleepers support the rails on which our trains run. Some 188,000 sleepers are nearing the end of their 25-year lifespan. Exposure to the sun and rain over the years, vibration from moving trains and the weight each sleeper has to bear when a train passes over it add to the wear and tear.

By renewing wooden sleepers with concrete sleepers that have a 50-year lifespan, journeys on the NSEWL will be safer and smoother for decades to come. Positive results from the sleeper replacement are already felt on the NSL. Journey times on the NSL have been reduced by around 10 per cent after the speed restrictions were fully lifted in May 2015.

Wooden sleepers along the East-West Line (EWL) are now being replaced nightly. Steady progress is being made thanks to the experience gained by our engineers while carrying out the NSL sleeper replacement project. When the work is completed by the end of 2016, passengers travelling from Pasir Ris to Joo Koon on the EWL will also experience smoother train rides.

RE-SIGNALLING

The project is progressing well with 98% of the NSL completed and 76% of the EWL re-signalling work done. We have started trials to test the new signalling system on the NSL. Re-signalling is expected to be completed on the NSL in 2017 and on the EWL in 2018.

The new signalling system will substantially improve the capacity of the NSEWL to run trains at shorter intervals. This would mean a shorter wait for trains, which would ease congestion at station platforms during peak periods. The capability will be maximised as the train fleet is progressively enlarged by end 2016 to allow more trains to be deployed on the NSEWL. More than half of the 57 new C151B trains for the NSEWL have been delivered by the middle of 2016. This underlines the importance of coordinating the multi-year, multi-project effort in rail renewal so that the combined benefits of these projects will give you a better journey on the rejuvenated NSEWL.

Under the re-signalling project, the new signalling system supplied by Thales will see one of the most advanced train signalling systems in the world installed on the NSEWL. The current signalling system, which dates back to the 1980s, keeps trains a safe distance from one another by dividing the rail network into fixed segments of track length called blocks, with only one train allowed into each block at any time. These blocks measure between 800m to 1,000m in length. This Fixed Block system protects passengers in one train from other trains operating along the same line.

The new signalling system uses advanced communications technology installed on trains to constantly update the traffic management system on the identity, location and speed of every train. The new system, which is more precise than the system it replaces, will lead to better use of the rail network because the footprint for each train, which includes the length of the train and the safety distance in front and behind the train, will be much smaller.

This Moving Block system can be imagined as a safety bubble that moves with and protects the train, and will automatically slow down when it approaches a train ahead. This shorter distance will allow us to deploy more trains at shorter intervals on the rail network while maximising safety for passengers. When fully operational, the new system will allow trains to be spaced 100 seconds apart, which is a significant improvement from the 120 seconds between trains under the current system. The new signalling system is also designed with more redundancies, which makes it more reliable because major disruptive signal faults are less likely to occur.

THIRD RAIL REPLACEMENT

SMRT passenger trains are powered by electricity supplied by a powered steel rail. This rail is called the Third Rail because it is fixed next to and slightly above the two running rails on which the train wheels travel. The Third Rail replacement project currently being carried out on the NSEWL marks the first network-wide replacement for the 200km-long NSEWL Third Rail since SMRT operations began in 1987. The trains draw electricity from the powered rails through Current Collector Devices (CCD) that make contact with the rail and transfer electricity to the train’s electrical system. Each six-car MRT train has 24 CCD shoes that are in constant contact with the Third Rail when in motion and even when it makes a stop at MRT stations.

Over the years, this constant contact adds to wear and tear of the Third Rail and the brackets that are used to support the weight of this steel rail. If the Third Rail sags due to worn out supports, power faults could occur. The Third Rail replacement project is timely as it will increase the reliability of the electrical system. The work involves turning off the power, unbolting the old Third Rails, replacing them with new ones and re-connecting the rails to the electricity network. We are making steady progress and expect to complete the work in early 2017.

UPGRADING OLDER TRAINS

The C151 Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) train entered service in 1987 while the C651 Siemens was introduced in 1994. SMRT is upgrading the 19 C651 Siemens trains as they have logged a higher number of train faults compared to other train models. Singapore Rail Engineering has completed two prototype trains and will be proceeding with the upgrade works on the C651 trains.

When completed in 2018, the upgraded C651 Siemens trains will have new or refurbished train sub-systems such as new air conditioning, electric doors, brakes and propulsion systems. These have been the primary causes of delays due to train faults. Upgraded trains will also have sensors that furnish the Train Captain and engineering staff with the train’s state of health, thus making it easier to operate and maintain the train. The upgrade will include a makeover that gives our passengers a new-look cabin.

NEW TRAINS INCREASE PASSENGER CAPACITY

Thirty new C151B trains, part of a fleet of 57 new trains for the NSEWL, have been delivered to Bishan and Tuas Depots where the trains are being fitted out and will be tested extensively. These trains, designed to operate with the new signalling system, will allow more trains to be run on the NSEWL.

Before a new train enters operational service, SMRT’s engineering staff will work closely with LTA and the train manufacturer to get the new train ready. It takes about a year to do this. The work involves testing the air-conditioning, automatic doors and sensors, propulsion and brakes, communication equipment as well as interior fittings like seats, poles and handles. Every item will be rigorously tested before it is certified safe for passenger service. More new trains are on their way to Singapore and more than half of the 57 trains will be delivered by the end of 2016.

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This is part of a series on SMRT’s rail improvement efforts. Read more:

Powering SMRT Trains on the North-South and East-West Lines
SMRT- Airconditioning Improvements
SMRT- Platform Screen Door Maintenance
SMRT- Escalator Maintenance

SMRT Air Conditioning Improvements

Your Journey Matters – Edition 2 was published in October 2016 to update commuters on SMRT’s rail tranformation efforts to improve and renew the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL)- Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily used MRT lines.

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Air conditioning is crucial in keeping commuters cool on the train. An analysis on the most frequent causes of aircon failure for NSEWL trains has shown that a key cause is fuses in the aircon motors blowing out as a result of arcing caused by build up of carbon dust inside the motor.

The source of the carbon dust is the carbon brush, a component in the aircon unit that is in contact with the aircon motor. A more effective cleaning method to remove excessive carbon dust build up has been implemented and new carbon brushes are being trialed to reduce the carbon build up.

Microcards are like the brains of the aircon unit. When there is a defective microcard, the aircon does not function properly. In some situations, the unit fails to activate when temperatures get too high. Replacing defective microcards with new ones from the manufacturer is one solution, but SMRT has been working on a more sustainable solution. The Integrated Electronics Workshop team at SMRT has studied the microcard and has been refurbishing defective microcards.

The trains’ aircon units use a gas known as freon as a refrigerant which cools the air. The freon gas cycles within the unit in a closed system of coils. If freon leaks from these coils, cooling efficiency is reduced. We are stepping up efforts to plug leaks in these tubes though a process known as “brazing”. The freon also needs to be topped up when leaks are discovered. The use of a recovery machine ensures that the precise composition of refrigerant is used to ensure cooling efficiency.

The later models of trains on the NSEWL are equipped with the Trains Information Management System, or TIMS. TIMS is a system of sensors that measures various properties of the train during operations, such as measuring the internal temperature of each car. During service, train captains can check TIMS for any aircon faults. When faults are detected, a field team is activated. The team will then verify the fault and where possible, rectify the issue immediately. Further inspections on the reported aircon system will also be carried out when the train returns to the depot.

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This is part of a series on SMRT’s rail improvement efforts. Read more:
SMRT- Track Improvements
Powering SMRT Trains on the North-South and East-West Lines
SMRT- Platform Screen Door Maintenance
SMRT- Escalator Maintenance

Eye on the future: Options for replacing or renewing the BPLRT system

The 8-hour disruption on the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT) on Wednesday 28 Sep 2016 shows that the ageing system continues to test the mettle of our engineering staff and the patience of users of Singapore’s first light rail system.

In March this year, we indicated that it is time to relook the BPLRT as the system is nearing the end of its design life. A joint team with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is currently reviewing the future of the BPLRT system with a view to completely transform the light rail system. It will be more than just a makeover.

Options for renewal

Aware of the design limitations of a light rail system which uses trains designed to function as airport shuttles on flat, short distance commutes between airport terminals, SMRT would like to share the options available for renewing the system. There are three options for the future of the BPLRT. The system has been operational since 1999 and is fast approaching its 20-year lifespan in 2019.

Option 1: A people-mover like autonomous guided vehicles that travel on the existing viaducts but do not draw on external power.

Option 2: A new conventional LRT system but with significant design enhancements in key infrastructure like power supply, signalling system, rolling stock as well as track and station assets.

Option 3: Renewing the existing Bombardier system, keeping the AC power design but with a more advanced communications-based train control (CBTC) signalling system. The CBTC system will allow trains to be more accurately controlled by the operations control centre, allowing more trains to be operated on the network, while moving at faster speeds and closer headways if necessary. This means more people can take the trains and enjoy faster journeys.

The rejuvenated BPLRT will be based on proven technology which is cost-effective to operate over its design life.

The LTA-SMRT study team is also keeping track of the development and public transport services of Bukit Panjang town. This includes monitoring how the BPLRT system can be better integrated with heavy rail systems at the North-South Line and the Downtown Line.

Another idea involves doing away with the 10.5km long, 14-station LRT network. The idea is for people in the Bukit Panjang area to be served by enhanced bus services. This is not far-fetched as a fully loaded high capacity bus like a double-decker bus can take 130 passengers, which is more than the 105-person capacity of a single Bombardier CX100 train car used on the BPLRT. These train cars are paired during peak hours, doubling capacity to 210 passengers. However, replacing the light rail with an all-bus option may lead to more congestion on the roads.

The disruption last week has driven home the urgency of planning for the future. It is the latest incident that has put the BPLRT system in the media’s glare. The Straits Times said the Bukit Panjang Line “isn’t a paragon of reliability and its design makes it prone to glitches”.

Stop-gap measures to improve reliability

As we look to the future, SMRT engineers have also proposed short-term measures to boost the reliability of the legacy system.

Key areas identified for renewal include the signalling system, the trains and track infrastructure. The last item includes the rail brackets that have given rise to problems on the line. These renewals will address recurring reliability issues involving track faults, traction power faults and signalling issues.

Owing to reliability issues, the driverless LRT system is not living up to its name as Rovers have to be deployed at the stations, which were designed for unmanned operations.

Meanwhile, near-term repair and maintenance measures of the system are being stepped up. This includes increased day-to-day system manning, and speedier recovery plans in event of disruption.

Near-term measures

Among the measures the BPLRT team has done:
– Replacement of rail brackets with fortified design at critical portions of the track
– Load testing of trains to be conducted to confirm tractive capability to reduce power faults
– Adjusted motor controller settings for better power reliability
– Installed camera systems on the underframe of four train cars to monitor the interface between trains and rails

Deploying staff across the network expedited assistance to passengers on Wednesday 28 Sep 2016 when passengers had to detrain to track at BP1 Choa Chu Kang station in the morning and at BP6 Bukit Panjang station around 5pm that day. A total of 26 additional staff have been added to the BPLRT team to enhance response time and assistance to commuters.

The range of near-term measures should be complemented by an in-depth review of the BPLRT to future-proof the transport system. This will enable the future system to serve Bukit Panjang residents years from now by providing transport options for safe, reliable, comfortable journeys that are cost-effective to operate and maintain.

Platform Screen Doors at SMRT MRT Stations

Your Journey Matters – Edition 2 was published in October 2016 to update commuters on SMRT’s rail tranformation efforts to improve and renew the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL)- Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily used MRT lines.

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There are 2,880 platform screen doors (PSD) across the North-South and East-West lines. A total of 816 of these are the original pneumatic PSD that were installed in underground stations. In addition, 144 electric PSDs were installed in three underground stations and all 1,920 half-height platform screen doors (HHPSD) were installed in aboveground stations in 2009, to elevate the level of safety for commuters.

As a safety feature, a train that has pulled into a station cannot depart if any of the 24 screen doors are detected as opened. Occasionally, this occurs as a false positive but there are times when the mechanisms inside the doors are faulty, resulting in the doors not closing tightly.

Each night, maintenance teams are dispatched across the island to carry out maintenance works on the screen doors. A typical work night involves checking all 24 screen doors on one side of the platform of the station, replacing worn out parts such as the rubber nose or guard, as well as cleaning and removing debris that may affect the smooth operation of the doors. The team also checks the emergency release lever, located on the train-facing side of the door to ensure that they work. The team will also test the simultaneous opening and shutting of all the doors and finally, when train service commences, the team will observe how the doors interact with incoming trains. This is known as preventive maintenance and all works are done from the platform.

Corrective maintenance on faulty doors will take longer and will require the team to access the track as works have to be done on the train-facing side of the doors. This will require close coordination with the Operations Control Centre to ensure a safe working environment for the team. Corrective maintenance for the HHPSD can be backbreaking work as the whole door has to be dismantled in order to gain access to the components that require fixing.

Concurrently, a project to replace ageing parts in all 816 pneumatic doors is underway. The pneumatic doors are almost 30 years old and ageing parts, like the actuator, are being replaced to improve its reliability. The project started in 2015 and is expected to complete in early 2017. A pre-emptive renewal project has started on the newer electrical HHPSD. Parts like the rollers and belts will be replaced ahead of the recommended end-of-life date to ensure smooth operations

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This is part of a series on SMRT’s rail improvement efforts. Read more:
SMRT- Track Improvements
Powering SMRT Trains on the North-South and East-West Lines
SMRT- Airconditioning Improvements
SMRT- Escalator Maintenance