North-South Line re-signalling project could finish before year-end: Khaw Boon Wan

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
An SMRT train arriving at a station in Singapore July 19, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The re-signalling project for the North-South Line (NSL) could be completed before the year-end deadline, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in Parliament on Monday (11 September).

In response to a question from Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah about complaints from commuters on the frequent MRT breakdowns, Khaw said that the project is entering its last phase of testing.

The number of delays due to re-signalling had been on the decline in recent months, Khaw revealed. He said despite the preparations for the project, there would still be delays but the system is stabilising.

“At its peak for the North South Line, the number of delays due to re-signalling peaked at about 20, this was in the month of May. It has since declined to only six last month, and continued to decline.

“So I’m fairly confident the original timeline that we can complete the re-signalling of NSL before year end could even be earlier. I am pushing them to get it out by December meaning the next few weeks… I see no reason why we could not deliver on this.”

SMRT, the operator of the NSL, has been hit by a recent spate of train faults and delays. The operator warned that it would need up to six months to stabilise the new signalling system and said in July that it had “no choice” but to test the system during peak hours.

Elaborating on the challenges of the re-signalling project, Khaw explained that there are four generations of trains running on the NSL. For a re-signalling project, every train has to be completely rewired, and each train has “its own idiosyncrasies” requiring plenty of time to “calibrate and recalibrate”, he explained.

Khaw added that the London Underground took a whole year to stabilise when they underwent a re-signalling project. “I think if we can complete it by the end of November, it would be quite an achievement,” said Khaw.

‘On the ground in the trenches’

Khaw said he was optimistic that the multi-year project to improve rail reliability would be completed within four years.

In response, Melvin Yong, Tanjong Pagar GRC MP, highlighted that hundreds of technicians and rail engineers are hard at work to upgrade the MRT system to meet the year-end deadline.

Yong, who is also the Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers Union, hoped the minister would give the assurance that the well-being of rail workers is being taken care of, and that it would be a “top priority” of his ministry.

Khaw replied to say that he has spent a lot of time “with our troops on the ground in the trenches within the tunnels” day and night.

He said, “Each time there’s something to celebrate, I go down, celebrate with them, buy them some durians, buy them some curry puffs.

“Little, small gestures but I think it makes some difference to them as well as to me because I want to satisfy myself that people are not lazing around giving excuses, but actually putting their hearts and soul into the project and they do.”

Khaw said he felt for the staff who have been putting in “heart, sweat and tears” into the project.

“I think the minimum they hope is that people will cheer them on rather than jeer them.”