SMRT Rail Renewal Milestone: 188,000 Sleepers Replaced

To enhance rail reliability and to provide better journeys for millions of commuters who travel with SMRT every day, we embarked on the biggest rail transformation programme since rail operations began in Singapore in 1987. The sleeper replacement project on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) began in 2013, where 188,000 ageing timber sleepers were to be replaced with concrete sleepers.

A joint team comprising SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was formed in June 2012 to look into reducing disruptions and increasing the reliability of the NSEWL. Other rail transformation projects, including re-signalling and third rail replacement programmes were carried out concurrently.

The Works

All rail renewal and maintenance works are carried out between 1.30 AM and 4.30 AM, after the last trains arrived at the depots, and before the first trains depart the depots for the start of service. Actual work hours are much more limited because of the time needed to transport machinery to the work site.

Starting with four road-rail vehicles (RRV) in 2013, before increasing the fleet to 14 in early 2016, these vehicles were used to mechanise the replacement of sleepers, a process which was initially done manually. The use of RRVs helped to accelerate the sleeper replacement schedule. In addition, fixed gantry cranes were brought in in early 2016. They were located at two ends of the EWL – at Pasir Ris overrun, and between Chinese Garden and Lakeside stations.

The gantry cranes, which were 20 metres in height and weighed 74 tonnes, were used to hoist the RRVs and concrete sleepers from the ground on to the tracks. They allowed the RRVs to deploy more quickly to the work front and thus allowing more sleepers to be replaced each night. Six Temporary Staging Areas (TSAs) were located at Kallang, Redhill, Chinese Garden, Pasir Ris, Changi, and Ulu Pandan to act as holding bays for RRVs and other heavy machinery.

Roger Lim, Project Director, Track and Infrastructure; and concurrently Vice President, Circle Line and Bukit Panjang LRT Projects, said “As we take apart parts of the track each night, we need to be very judicious on safety and quality checks when we put back everything within the three-hour engineering window. We have to make sure all systems are in order and ready for service each morning.

We had to look into the inter-operability within and across other work teams. Managing close to 1,000 personnel with 14 RRVs, two tamping machines and numerous mechanical handling equipment, the project team members must be cognisant of the various activities in the five work fronts. We had centralised planning to optimise the resources, while allowing decentralised execution for localised care and safety measures at the respective workfronts. Steely perseverance and steady pace helped us to work productively yet safely on the viaducts every night.”

Thank You for Your Understanding

In the last three years, measures such as speed restrictions and shorter operating hours were imposed. With the use of heavy machinery, moving of extremely heavy equipment and materials, and works such as welding and tamping, it was inevitable that noise would be generated. Our teams took all necessary steps to minimise noise and light pollution in the early hours of the morning- including using monitoring devices and barriers to keep noise levels to a minimum, and keeping night lights pointed away from residential homes.

20 December 2016

There was an unmistakeable sense of excitement and pride at Clementi MRT Station at 1AM. Representatives from SMRT, LTA and our contractors were in high spirits as the RRV appeared in sight for the final time. They watched the last wooden sleeper on the westbound track was removed. The final concrete sleeper was laid on 20 December 2016 – a full three years ahead of its original target of 2019.

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan officiated the completion of the sleeper replacement programme on 20 January 2017. Accompanied by President and Group CEO Desmond Kuek, the minister signed a commemorative plaque to be installed at Clementi MRT Station, where the last batch of wooden sleepers were replaced.

Better Journeys

The sleeper replacement programme is the first of many milestones to come. As speed restrictions are lifted, our commuters can enjoy safer, smoother and faster rides on our network. We also look forward to the completion of our re-signalling and third rail replacement projects which will improve the journey experience for all commuters.

SMRT Campaign featured in Europe

Many of our commuters would remember that we launched the ‘We’re Working On It’ campaign two years ago. Conceptualised in 2015, the campaign sought to inform the public of our rail transformation efforts. We featured our colleagues who were working tirelessly round the clock to provide better and more comfortable rides for our commuters.

Two years later, many inside and outside the organisation remember the slogan, and agree that it was a memorable campaign – one that went on to bag local and international awards. The campaign was recently highlighted in a publication by Union Internationale des Transports Publics (UITP), or the International Association of Public Transport. UITP is a non-profit international association, recognised for its work in advancing the development of sustainable mobility. It is the only worldwide network to bring together the whole public transport sector and all sustainable transport modes.

In a publication released this month, UITP sought to raise awareness and acknowledge the link between the attractiveness of public transport companies as mobility service providers for customers and the attractiveness of public transport companies as employers of choice for existing staff and potential candidates. It said that companies like SMRT had to pay close attention to its own branding, as well as the general perception of the industry, in order to attract the best talent.

While this was initially a commuter-targeted initiative, it noted that SMRT obtained improved recruitment results, as well as improved customer satisfaction. It was also observed that complaint rate dropped significantly despite more intensive track renewal work being carried out. The article highlighting the “We’re Working on It” campaign was subsequently carried in The Guardian, a newspaper in the United Kingdom.

“Employees can also be public transport’s finest champions as well as providing fuel for its greatest critics. A campaign by Singaporean operator SMRT shows how employees can be great brand ambassadors. The ‘We’re Working on It’campaign humanises SMRT by using employees to front its advertising, presenting staff as part of the community, so commuters can relate to them as a mother, father, brother or sister. It also expressed SMRT management’s recognition of employees’ hard work.”

SMRT partners NTU and JTC in Transport Research

Newer, and better urban solutions for the future, and integrating multiple modes of transportation for better connectivity and accessibility- that is what SMRT Corporation, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and JTC Corporation are hoping to achieve.

The three organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 13 February 2017 to form a new ‘Mobility-as-a-Service Lab’. It leverages the strengths of each partner – SMRT’s experience as a multi-modal transport operator, NTU Singapore’s capabilities in research and development, and JTC’s expertise in master planning and infrastructure development.

The ‘Mobility-as-a-Service Lab’ – a first in the region – aims to improve commuter travel experience by seamlessly integrating train and bus networks with next-generation transport modes. These include options which some members of the public are already familiar with –electric automated vehicles, bike sharing systems and personal mobility devices such as e-scooters. Commuters will be able to use multiple transport modes and travel to further locations conveniently, without relying on personal cars.

The trials will be carried out in NTU Singapore’s lush campus and CleanTech Park in Jurong Innovation District- a combined area of 250 hectares. There are plans to expand the initiative to Tengah, Behar and Bulim eventually. Users can test new technologies, and integrate multiple transportation options.

NTU Provost Professor Freddy Boey said that NTU has deep expertise in engineering and low-carbon transportation solutions, and is confident that the partnership will develop innovative transportation solutions, leading to a car-lite Singapore.

JTC Chief Executive Officer Png Cheong Boon said that these efforts will not only improve last mile connectivity in Jurong Innovation District, but also transform commuter experience.

SMRT President and Group Chief Executive Officer Desmond Kuek noted that the urban mobility landscape is changing rapidly. “We aim to facilitate more efficient and seamless commuter journeys through the integration of mass transport modes such as trains and buses with new personal mobility options. With the development of better tools for demand aggregation, SMRT looks forward to working with our partners at NTU and JTC for more synergistic planning, operations and management of their entire transport systems to fulfil their community’s needs.”

Press release on the launch of the SMRT, NTU and JTC Mobility-as-a-Service Lab here.

Re-signalling Project will significantly improve reliability

There were two disruptions on the East-West Line due to faulty track circuits in recent weeks. Commuters have asked if this is in any way related to the sleeper replacement project and what was the cause of it and what are we doing to rectify it?

The track circuit faults are unrelated to the sleeper replacement project completed recently for the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL). The track circuit system is part of the signalling system, and is not part of the sleeper infrastructure that supports the running rails which trains travel on.

Such track circuits are used to send signals to the operations control centre to monitor the speed, location and identity of trains passing the respective track signals. Track circuits are integral to the signalling system that is also ageing.

Rectifying track circuit faults

When a track circuit fails, trains have to travel at a lower speed over the affected stretch for safety reasons. During peak hours, the need to slow down trains causes congestion along the train line because trains must slow down as they cross the faulty track circuit and cannot bypass the stretch of track. MRT trains must also maintain a safety distance between one another. This can result in trains stopping momentarily for several hundred metres behind the fault track circuit.

There’s a knock-on effect on MRT stations too. As a result, platforms at MRT stations ahead of the faulty track circuit will get more congested during peak hours.

While train services are still available, this is deemed a degraded mode of service.

Ageing track circuits fail for two reasons. Firstly, a hardware failure of equipment at a Signal Equipment Room (SER) within a MRT station (that is, not on the actual track). Secondly, failures could occur at track side.

For faults within a SER, there is a good chance that we can rectify the failure within a reasonable period of time. This is because the equipment is more easily accessible than trackside infrastructure, where access would involve clearance for track access and possibly the shutting of power or the use of trains as standing protection for the work teams.

For trackside faults, engineering staff will have to access the track to investigate the root cause. This can be very challenging when the track is on a NSEWL viaduct, especially in the event of inclement weather and lightning risks.

As a process, when rectifying track circuit faults, our engineering staff rule out a SER equipment malfunction first before proceeding to investigate trackside faults. That is why the failure of trackside equipment tends to take a longer time to recover.

In the new signalling system that is currently being installed, the ageing track circuits will be replaced with a more advanced system that is more reliable as it is built with multiple redundancy for greater reliability. After we renew the signalling system, faulty track circuits will no longer cause prolonged delays for commuters. This is something we are looking forward to.

We will start operating the new signalling system progressively on North-South Line. In time to come, after we have addressed the initial teething problems of the new signaling system, we will be able to improve the journey for commuters. Please bear with us in the meantime.

Paving the Way for Better Journeys – Lucky Draw Winners

SMRT is renewing the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily utilised MRT lines. The multi-year, multi-project efforts underline SMRT’s commitment to serve our commuters better.

Last October, SMRT published Paving the Way for Better Journeys: Edition 2 to inform residents living along the North-South Line of our rail transformation efforts and benefits. These include smoother rides arising from sleeper replacement, shorter waiting times from new signalling systems, third rail replacement which boost network resilience and reliability, and higher train frequency as more trains are added into the network progressively.
Better Journeys
Survey Result
Nearly 90% of survey respondents could see the efforts SMRT put in to improve their travel experience.

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