Built at a cost of $285 million, Bukit Panjang LRT may be scrapped

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Describing it as an ‘aging system’ SMRT’s Managing Director of Trains, Lee Ling Wee, said in an internal blog that scrapping the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT) network is one of the ideas being considered by the public transport operator.

The Bukit Panjang LRT Line is a 7.8 kilometres light rail line opened on 6 Nov 1999 as part of Singapore’s LRT system. It is fully automated, and the project was contracted to Adtranz, Keppel Corporation and Gammon Construction.

BPLRT was bogged by problems almost from get-go. Just one year after opening, on the morning of 19 Nov 2000, two LRT cars had a head-to-tail collision. It was reported that the Train Controller initially had to attend to a train unable to depart from the depot. Operation control then received an alarm noting that 117 was missing from Phoenix LRT Station. The track circuit did not detect the train and the cause remains unknown to this day. The Train Controller ignored the alarm and allowed one car to depart for Phoenix while the other was still there. The trains collided at a speed of 16 kilometres per hour, injuring five passengers.

More recently, on 28 July 2016, a train departing from Segar sped past Jelepang, Senja and Bukit Panjang stations. One of the passengers said that the Emergency Stop Button was not working, and there was no response on the Emergency phone. According to a passenger, the train finally stopped before Phoenix Station after another passenger managed to make a call on her mobile phone. Subsequent investigations showed that the train had a faulty antenna which resulted in the stations not being able to receive information about the train and thus did not stop the train at the stations.

The fully automated light rail project was contracted to Adtranz, Keppel Corporation and Gammon Construction and built at a cost of $285million.

Mr Lee said that the “ageing system continues to test our mettle of our engineering staff and the patience of users of Singapore’s first light rail system”.  He referred in particular to the 8-hour service disruption on 28 Sep.

Lee further added that a joint SMRT-Land Transport Authority (LTA) team is reviewing the system.

In saying that the system is “fast approaching its 20-year lifespan”, Mr Lee listed three options being looked at for renewing the BPLRT.

  • To construct “autonomous guided vehicles that travel on the existing viaducts but do not draw on external power”.
  • To build a build a new conventional LRT system but with significant advancements in key areas such as power supply and signalling system.
  • To renew the existing “Bombardier system” but add a more advanced communications-based train control (CBTC) signalling system, which would allow more trains to operate on the network at faster speeds.

Mr Lee promised that BPLRT will improve its reliability in the meantime.