Bukit Panjang LRT Overhaul

An overhaul of the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT) Line was awarded to Bombardier (Singapore) for S$344.25 million on 7 March 2018. The contract covers new trains, power rails, signalling system and various other critical components to renew the ageing LRT system, which has been in operation since 1999 and is reaching the end of its useful life.

Bombardier, who is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the Innovia APM system deployed on the BPLRT, demonstrated that it would be able to renew the line with minimal disruption to existing services. The company is highly familiar with the current system, having gained experience from ongoing reliability improvement works carried out since 2016. It also promised a shorter completion timeline for renewal work, as compared to other suppliers.

Renewal work began in the first half of 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2024.


Ever since its opening in 1999, the reliability of the Bukit Panjang LRT has been “unsatisfactory” in the words of Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan, despite efforts by the LTA, SMRT and the train manufacturer, Bombardier, over many years to improve it. By “shoe-horning” the LRT system into a built-up town, the LRT has to make sharp bends and over undulating terrain, worsening the problem of misalignment between the power rail and the trains’ collector shoes which were responsible for 60% of major disruptions over the past three years.

Plans to fix the glitch-ridden system were first revealed in October 2016 in a blog post by Mr Lee Ling Wee, managing director of operator SMRT Trains. Three options were laid out, namely:

  1. To deploy self-powered, autonomous guided vehicles on the existing viaduct
  2. To build a new LRT system with significant design enhancements
  3. Upgrading the signalling system to deploy more trains at closer intervals, but retaining the current Bombardier guideway system.

Should all 3 options be unfeasible, the last alternative would be to scrap the system and revert to buses. However, that option was dismissed, as the road network in Bukit Panjang would not be able to cope with the increased congestion.

With the 20-year design lifespan of the BPLRT fast approaching, the complete overhaul is a sensible move, but the future of the new C801A LRT trainsets have been called into question. Introduced in November 2014 and still in good working condition, it would be a waste if these trains are discarded, in the likely scenario that they will be incompatible with the new system. The revamp could see a re-design of the Bukit Panjang Station, its track layout and the service routeing so that the trains do not have to constantly switch tracks, as the switch point is described as a ‘critical vulnerability’. At the same time, works to refit all BPLRT stations with fixed platform barriers were then in progress, and it was uncertain if the new system will be compatible with these barriers.

The overhaul of LRT systems is not unheard of. In the early 2000s, the Changi Airport Skytrain was refitted from the AdTranz/Bombardier system (similar to the BPLRT) to the Crystal Mover system (similar to the Punggol LRT and Sengkang LRT) prior to the opening of Terminal 3. A similarly challenging undertaking on the Taipei Metro Brown Line involved the tackling of many obstacles in converting the two-car system into a four-car system.

Contract Scope:

“After careful assessment, we have decided to award the contract to Bombardier as their proposal satisfied our key requirement, which is to minimise inconvenience to residents and commuters during the period of upgrading and improvement. Bombardier’s proposal does not require any modification to existing infrastructure and minimal disruption to rail services and hence, met our specifications. When the majority of works are completed by 2022, residents and commuters will be able to experience improvements in overall reliability and smoother train rides.”
– Mr Chua Chong Kheng, LTA’s Deputy Chief Executive for Infrastructure and Development

Upgrade to CBTC Signalling
CBTC antenna along the East West Line near Tuas Link
CBTC antenna along the East West Line

The renewal contract covers the replacement of the existing signalling system with a Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system (the Cityflo 650 model), which will offer better reliability and improve the robustness of the BPLRT when encountering a signalling fault.

At present, the Bukit Panjang LRT operates on a fixed-block signalling system relying on track circuits to detect the position of trains, much like the North South Line and East West Line prior to CBTC resignalling. With the CBTC signalling system in place, the fixed-block system will be decommissioned, with final works expected to be completed by 2024. The CBTC system will also improve the quality of ride with better speed control and offer more condition monitoring equipment.

New and Improved vehicles

Nineteen LRT trains which have been in use since the BPLRT commenced passenger service in 1999 will be replaced with new vehicles. These first-generation trains (Bombardier Innovia APM 100 (C801)), in their characteristic turquoise colour scheme, will be replaced by 19 new Bombardier Innovia APM 300 automated people mover cars, the most modern Light Rail Vehicle offered by Bombardier. In addition, the thirteen newer LRT trains introduced in 2015 (Bombardier Innovia APM 100 (C801A)) will be upgraded with the Cityflo 650 CBTC signalling system from Bombardier.

Train Introduced Numbers Outcome
Bombardier Innovia APM 100 (C801) 1999 19 Retired, replaced with new APM 300 vehicles
Bombardier Innovia APM 100 (C801A) 2014-15 13 Upgraded with new CBTC signalling system
Bombardier Innovia APM 300 ~2020 19 Replacement for 19 retired trains

The new cars will offer passengers greater comfort with improved air-conditioning performance. On the maintenance side, more efficient Alternating Current (AC) propulsion motor requiring less maintenance effort will be fitted, and interior LED lighting will be eco-friendly. Condition monitoring equipment is expected to be fitted to these vehicles as well, monitored by a Train Control Management System, to support system analytics and predictive maintenance over the life cycle of the system.

New power rails

The power rail which runs along the entire 7.8km length of the BPLRT will also be replaced with an enhanced version. More robust power brackets and condition-monitoring equipment will also be installed, allowing for the detection of rail alignment in real-time.

Renewal Timeline

2018 (1H) Rail renewal works begin during engineering hours
2018 (4Q) Termination of BPLRT Service C to facilitate replacement works
2019 (2Q) Manufacturing and on-site installation works
2020 (3Q) Delivery of the first two new Light Rail Vehicles for testing and commissioning
2022 (4Q) All Light Rail Vehicles to enter passenger service, system will operate fully on the CBTC system
2024 Completion of power rail replacement works and decommissioning of old track circuit systems
Ten Mile Junction LRT Station
Ten Mile Junction LRT Station

The rail renewal work will necessitate the closure of Ten Mile Junction station from the 4th Quarter of 2018. This is necessary to provide LTA and Bombardier with additional space to conduct the renewal work of the BPLRT system.

As a result, Service C (from Ten Mile Junction and looping around Bukit Panjang) will also be terminated. More information will be provided to commuters and residents ahead of time.

Long-Term Service Support from Bombardier

In addition to these upgrading and renewal works, SMRT will also trial a new arrangement by engaging Bombardier to provide a long-term service support for the BPLRT system for the next 10 years. This contract will allow Bombardier to provide more expedient technical and logistic support as well as spares supply to BPLRT. Bombardier will also provide training for BPLRT maintenance staff and crew to build up expertise and improve the maintenance regime for the new system.


External Links & References:

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