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.

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.

Powering SMRT Trains on the NSEWL

In October 2015, SMRT released the inaugural edition of Your Journey Matters, outlining SMRT’s rail transformation efforts. Almost a year later, we have published Your Journey Matters – Edition 2, which continues the story of SMRT’s ongoing efforts to improve and renew the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) – Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily used MRT lines.

The multi-year, multi-project efforts described in Your Journey Matters underline SMRT’s commitment to serve you better. In this new edition, we also bring you updates on the ongoing station upgrades to escalators and platform screen doors, as well as a look into how the air-conditioning is maintained on our trains.

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.

The transformation of the NSEWL is a complex set of engineering projects. It represents the first major upgrade for the lines since they started operations in 1987. Indeed, the renewal of the NSEWL is said to be the biggest modernisation project on a “live” MRT system anywhere in the world.

This modernisation effort will lead to an updated and renewed railway system that will allow SMRT to run more trains, carry more passengers and serve our passengers better with faster connections across the MRT network. The multi-year, multi-project effort takes place seven days a week, all-year round. Much of the work takes place away from the public eye in train depots, deep underground in train tunnels or during the early hours of the morning when trains have stopped running. Progress is made every day to modernise the NSEWL to serve you better.

With just three hours every night for engineering staff to access the track when trains are not running, it is vital for SMRT to prioritise and allocate the engineering hours and resources properly across different projects. Since 5 June 2016, the implementation of later train service start times on Sundays for 13 stations along the East West Line have given the engineering team much needed additional time to work each night. These extra hours are maximised for urgent maintenance and repair tasks as well as upgrade and renewal projects.

Powering the North-South and East-West Lines

With more trains due to be added to the NSL and EWL, existing power cables have to be replaced with larger capacity cables to accommodate the increase in power demand. SMRT is working with LTA to address the rail network’s future power needs.

A number of measures are being implemented to minimise inconvenience to MRT passengers due to power-related faults. These measures tie in with recommendations made by the Independent Advisory Panel, approved by LTA, on rectification measures to improve the rail power supply system.

These measures include renewing power components that are nearing the end-of-life stage on the 30-year old network with completely new components, increasing the power capacity of the network and thirdly, improving the design of the power network.

In order to improve the design of the power network, Voltage Limiting Devices will replace the existing 64P Earth Fault Relay. Works will be done on the 750V DC Switchgear & DC Cables, Direct Current Group (Rectifiers and Inverter) and High Voltage Group (AC Switchgear & HV cables) in order to renew, upgrade and increase the power capacity.

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This is part of a series on SMRT’s rail improvement efforts. Read more:
SMRT- Track Improvements
SMRT- Airconditioning Improvements
SMRT- Platform Screen Door Maintenance
SMRT- Escalator Maintenance

SMRT Third Rail Maintenance to Prevent Disruptions

The third rail supplies electrical power to the trains operating on the rail line. It is elevated and runs parallel to the rest of the track. A part of the train known as the Current Collection Device (CCD) is in constant contact with the third rail through a component called the CCD shoe. If you imagine the third rail to be similar to the wall socket at home, the CCD is the plug. However, in the context of a train, the “plug” is sliding along a very long “socket”. As such, the alignment of the elevated third rail has to be very precise in order to power the trains at all times.

SMRT Conditioning Monitoring Device_LVDT

The Linear Variable Displacement Transducer (LVDT) helps monitor the alignment of the third rail. The LVDT measures the movement of the CCD shoe and through this data, the system can chart the precise height of every inch of the third rail.

Engineers compare the latest graphs with earlier ones to identify locations where the height of the third rail was recorded as too low, or where the height has changed too much from the last measurement. With this info, the Permanent Way maintenance team can quickly zoom in, inspect and rectify any potential Third Rail faults relating to misalignment.

SMRT Conditioning Monitoring Device_LVDT Graph

With the LVDT technology, the frequency of third rail inspection is increased and real time detection is possible, even during service hours. The degradation trend of the third rail can also be tracked.

The LVDT is the first of a few other condition monitoring devices we will be sharing on this blog. Check back again soon to find out more about the technologies we use to make maintenance of the track as efficient as possible.

Paving the Way for Better Journeys (Jun 2016)

“Paving the Way for Better Journeys” is part of continuing efforts by SMRT to inform, update and educate commuters of the several rail renewal projects.

SMRT Better Journeys Transforming the NSEWLSuch work on SMRT’s North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) involve multi-year, multi-programme efforts that include changing old wooden sleepers with concrete ones, replacing signalling systems and renewing the Third Rail, as well as introducing new trains to enhance the service and reliability of the NSEWL to bring Better Journeys to all our commuters.

The key benefits from each of these efforts to commuters include Smoother Rides, Shorter Waiting Times, a More Reliable Network and More Trains (which mean higher frequency).

SMRT Trains’ Managing Director, Mr Lee Ling Wee said, “In total, there are about 200km of track on NSEWL to be renewed and upgraded. Over the past two years, we have been able to carry out these renewal and upgrade work ahead of schedule, even as we continue to keep the network operational every day. We know that the work has caused inconvenience to both commuters and residents who live near MRT track. As such, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to you for your kind understanding, patience and support.”

SMRT Better Journeys Smoother RidesSMRT Better Journeys More Reliable Network

 

SMRT Better Journeys Shorter Waiting TimesSMRT Better Journeys More Trains

Keeping our cool

Air conditioning is a crucial component in keeping commuters cool on the train. Nothing irks us more than hoping to escape the humid Singapore weather by taking the train, only to find it stuffy and warm.

On all North-South and East-West Line trains, there are two air conditioning units per train car. With six cars making up a train, that’s 12 air conditioning units working keep the temperature within the train cool. There are 141 trains for the NSEWL, that’s 1,692 air con units! Excluding those undergoing maintenance on the workshop floor.

So how does SMRT maintain the air conditioning systems on the trains to help you keep cool and carry on?

keepcool

Here are some top reasons for aircon failure according to a recent analysis on data collected from December 2015 to February 2016.

Blown Fuses in the aircon motor

SMRT Technical Officer Hairul Bin Seradeen inpects the aircon unit for defects

SMRT Technical Officer Hairul Bin Seradeen inpects the aircon unit for defects

 

One of the most common reasons for failure was the aircon system fuse. A blown fuse indicates excessive current which could be a result of arcing caused by the carbon dust build up 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. Through normal operations, the carbon brush is wears down and carbon dust settles on the 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 in the long run.

Defective Microcards

Microcards are like the brains of the aircon unit. When there is a defective microcard, the aircon no longer functions the way it is supposed to. In some situations, the unit fails to activate when temperatures get too high.

While replacing the defective microcards with new ones from the manufacturer is one solution, SMRT has been working on a more sustainable solution. The Integrate Electronics Workshop team at SMRT have studied the microcard and have been refurbishing defective microcards.

Leaky tubing

Freon topping up machine

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 the 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.

 

 

 

Keeping an eye on things

The later models of trains on the NSEWL (KNS and KSF) are all equipped with the Trains Information Management System, or TIMS. TIMS is an entire system of sensors that measure various properties of the train during operations. The internal temperature of each car is one such property.

SMRT on board monitoring

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 to the reported aircon system will also be carried out when the train returns to the depot.

SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory Launch

SMRT NTU Corp Lab

From a commuter’s perspective, words like condition monitoring and prediction-analytical techniques may not matter much to their commuting experience.

What weighs heavily in their minds are questions like how crowded will the next train be, how long do I have to wait for my next train, and will I be able to reach my destination safely and on time?

At SMRT, we continue to have an unwavering commitment towards our commuters and have undivided focus towards solving present issues. We are fully aware that our rail system is an integral part of our lives, intricately weaved into our everyday lives.

Our current maintenance approach is targeted to solve present track or train related issues during engineering hours nightly. However, as our rail systems run 365 days without rest, we can no longer rely on traditional maintenance methodologies.

Today, the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (Corp-Lab) was officially launched by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr. Khaw Boon Wan.

Corp-Lab is a collaborative platform where SMRT partner academia and fellow industry partners for knowledge exchange. NTU’s scientific and renowned research capabilities; together with SMRT’s operational expertise will help deliver real-life customized solutions that will serve the needs and problems faced by our rail systems.

Till date, we have had success with the introduction of condition monitoring systems through preemptive failure warnings of critical components and systems. For example, the Third Rail Sag Alert system managed to capture 14 warning triggers in 2015.

Going forward, Corp-Lab will focus on two research tracks. The first aims to develop advanced condition monitoring system that will further enhance the resiliency and safety of our network. The second is targeted to enhance overall integrity and reliability of our rail assets.

Through Corp-Lab and NRF’s Corporate Lab @ University scheme, we aim to deliver customized solutions, strengthen our rail network by detecting potential faults earlier and increasing the pool of industry-ready experts.

When we are able to do so, this will translate into smoother and uninterrupted journeys for our commuters in our rail network.

Trains Vs Lightning

We spoke to our engineers to understand how our trains are protected from lightning strikes. Each train is protected by a “Faraday Cage”. This is an enclosure formed by conductive material that blocks electric fields and electric currents such as lightning strikes. The cage conducts current around the outside of the enclosed space with none passing through the interior.

SMRT Train cross section

In this case, the metallic exterior of our trains is the Faraday Cage that protects everyone inside from electric currents. Even if you’re holding onto the grab pole, you will still be safe as grab poles are attached securely to the train’s interior and are not connected to the external frame.  If lightning strikes, the electric current will travel through the outside shell of the train, not through the cabin, and pass through the wheels to the track. The train is grounded to the track.

This process of shielding is used in cars and planes as well.

Lightning Strike on 11 May

You may have read on the news that lightning struck a location between Yio Chu Kang and Khatib Stations along the North-South Line on 11 May 2016. This caused a train fault, affecting commuters travelling towards Yio Chu Kang Station. Commuters on board the affected train were safely disembarked at Yio Chu Kang Station. As a precaution, our engineers also tested the trackside equipment to ensure that it was safe for trains to move over the affected area.

Initial findings show no indication that our train was directly struck by lightning. We suspect that lightning could have hit a nearby area close to the train and indirectly affected the performance of electronics on the train which resulted in a train fault.

Lightning related incidents are a relatively rare occurrence. We have had an average of one or two such incidents in recent years. We would like to reassure all our commuters that our trains are designed to safely protect them in adverse weather conditions, such as lightning strikes.

SMRT Condition Monitoring Technologies

The North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) are two of Singapore’s oldest heavy rail lines. These lines carry almost 2.5 million passengers from as early as 6am to around midnight each day.

 

The Challenge

Maintenance teams have only a few hours each night to rectify any infrastructure faults that may cause interruption to train service the following day. Relying solely on the human eye to discover faults across the 200km length of track on the NSEWL would be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

SMRT_Train_Perspective

How do we overcome these challenges?

It was thus important for SMRT to develop a suite of condition monitoring systems to properly observe and gauge the status of the track and other components in the network, enabling maintenance teams to better plan maintenance schedules and priorities.

Multi-function Vehicle (MFV)

Multi-function Vehicle (MFV)

SMRT has been building its capabilities with condition monitoring technologies as early as 1995, with the introduction of the Multi-Function Vehicle (MFV). The MFV can scan long stretches of track, if not the entire line, to collect data that relates to track geometry, rail flaws and other measurements.

In this series of blog posts, we will introduce the rest of the condition monitoring technologies and how they help our maintenance teams.

 

To start off, here are ten quick facts about Condition Monitoring

# 1: Linear Variable Displacement Transducer (LVDT) was introduced in 2013

# 2: LVDT is also referred to as Third Rail Sag Detection System. It monitors the overall alignment of the power providing third rail.

#3: RailVision was introduced in 2009 and uses a combination of image capture and detection systems to identify faults on a track.

#4: RailVision is able to cover the entire NSEWL in a matter of hours. It would have taken days for patrol teams to cover the same distance.

#5: Multi-Function Vehicles (MFV) were first introduced in 1995 and has since been evolved under the Engineering Trains Branch team.

#6: MFV use other systems, such as one that utilises ultrasound technology, to detect rail condition.

#7: The Laser Trolley is one of the newer conditioning monitoring devices. It was introduced last year, in 2015

#8: In order to measure both rails at the same time, the Laser Trolley had to be customized according to SMRT’s specifications.

#9: The small rocks that the tracks rest on are known as the ballast and they have to be monitored as well.

#10: The conventional way for checking the ballast is to dig out and send samples to labs for testing.

Follow our series on Condition Monitoring as we go deeper into each condition monitoring device.