An overhaul of the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT) Line, Contract 801B – Asset Replacement and Reliability Enhancement Works for Bukit Panjang Light Rapid Transit was awarded to Bombardier (Singapore) for S$344.25 million on 7 March 2018. The contract covers new trains, power rails, signalling systems 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. The project was supposed to be completed in 2024 but has since been delayed to 2026.
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:
- To deploy self-powered, autonomous guided vehicles on the existing viaduct
- To build a new LRT system with significant design enhancements
- 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, should they 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.
“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
The renewal contract covers the replacement of the existing signalling system with a Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system (model: Bombardier CITYFLO 650), 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.
|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|
|Alstom Innovia APM 300R (C801B)||~2020
|19||Replacement for 19 retired trains, with condition monitoring features|
The new cars will offer passengers greater comfort with improved air-conditioning performance. On the maintenance side, a more efficient Alternating Current (AC) propulsion motor requiring less maintenance effort will be fitted, and interior LED lighting will be eco-friendly. Condition monitoring systems for real-time detection of tail alignment and predictive maintenance will also 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.
C801A trainsets 128 and 131 were shipped to Bombardier in Saint Bruno, Canada for refitting of the new CBTC signalling system, and then on to the USA for dynamic testing before being returned to Singapore.
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.
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 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 the supply of spare parts 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.
|2018 (1H)||Rail renewal works begin during engineering hours|
|2019 (13 Jan)||Termination of BPLRT Service C to facilitate replacement works
Daily Early Closure at 11:30 pm
|2019 (2Q)||Manufacturing and on-site installation works|
|2019 (1 Dec)||BPLRT operates with Service B (via Petir) only during Weekday off-peak hours & during the entire day on Weekends & Public Holidays|
|2021 (Apr)||Delivery of CBTC-retrofitted LRT vehicles for testing and commissioning (Set 128 and 131)|
||Delivery of the first two new Light Rail Vehicles for testing and commissioning (Delayed)
(First unit was only delivered in April 2022)
|2021||Progressive introduction of new LRVs into revenue service (Delayed)|
|2022 (4Q)||All Light Rail Vehicles to enter passenger service, system will operate fully on the CBTC system (Delayed)|
|2023||Changing out of new power rail system (Delayed)|
|2024||Completion of power rail replacement works and decommissioning of old track circuit systems (Delayed to 2026)|
In November 2022, the Ministry of Transport said that the BPLRT Renewal project would be delayed to 2026. While progress had been made and part of the backend signalling system has already been upgraded, the project has also faced several challenges since 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19. These include manpower shortages, slower progress due to the lockdown of cities (as train manufacturing works are undertaken in China), and supply chain disruptions.
Bukit Panjang LRT Overhaul Activities
Closure of Ten Mile Junction Station & Cessation of Service C (Jan 2019)
The rail renewal work necessitated the closure of Ten Mile Junction station from 13 January 2019 (initially announced to be the in 4th Quarter of 2018) to provide LTA and Bombardier with additional space to conduct the renewal work of the BPLRT system.
The vacated station space would be converted into a stabling and testing ground for the new C801B trains for the Bukit Panjang LRT.
As a result, Service C (from Ten Mile Junction and looping around Bukit Panjang) was also terminated.
Early Closure & Late Opening (2018)
Shortened operating hours on the BPLRT were carried out to facilitate additional engineering hours for maintenance work. During the periods of planned closure, Shuttle Buses were provided.
- Bukit Panjang LRT – Sunday Closures (April – June 2018)
- Bukit Panjang LRT – Sunday Late Opening (July – October 2018)
Shortened Operating Hours (2019 onwards)
Operating hours for Bukit Panjang LRT were adjusted to end earlier at 11:30pm daily to facilitate renewal works from 13 January 2019.
Last Bus timings for Bus Services 920, 922, 973 & 974 were also extended to about 1:00am to support the change in BPLRT operating hours.
New Bus Service 976 & Discontinuation of Bus Parallel Service BPS1
From 10 November 2019, new SMRT Bus Service 976 plying between Bukit Panjang and Choa Chu Kang via the Bukit Panjang estate will be launched “to help minimise disruption for commuters” and “to serve as an additional travel option for commuters using the BPLRT network”.
In addition, as the new full-day Service 976 would be “upgraded” from the existing peak-hour bus service BPS1, bus service BPS1 would be discontinued on the same day, with the last day of operations on Friday, 8 November 2019.
One Loop BPLRT Service during Off-Peak Hours
From 1 December 2019, BPLRT will only operate with Service B (via Petir) during Weekday Off-Peak Hours & on the entire day during Weekends & Public Holidays.
Main Article: Reduced Operations of Bukit Panjang LRT during Off-Peak Periods from 1 Dec 2019
BPLRT Sunday Closures (Oct 2020)
Sunday Closures for the BPLRT were carried out in October 2020 to facilitate testing works for the introduction of the BPLRT new signalling system. Only LRT Shuttle B was provided during the periods of closure.
Main Article: Sunday Closure of Bukit Panjang LRT (October 2020)
External Links & References:
- Eye on the Future: Options for replacing or renewing the BPLRT system – SMRT Blog
- Scrapping Bukit Panjang LRT not feasible: Khaw – Straits Times
- Parliament: Bukit Panjang LRT to get complete overhaul and upgrading – Straits Times
- Automated People Movers – Bombardier
- Bombardier Wins Contract to Upgrade Singapore’s Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit Line – Bombardier
- Award of Contract to Renew the Bukit Panjang LRT System – LTA
- Joint News Release by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) & SMRT – New Operating Hours for the Bukit Panjang LRT from January 2019 as Planned Renewal Works Commence – LTA
- Written Reply to Parliamentary Question on Update on Progress of Upgrading Works on the Bukit Panjang LRT System (mot.gov.sg)
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