On 16 September 2018, SMRT confirmed that it was discontinuing the ongoing mid-life upgrading (MLU) works being carried out on nineteen Siemens C651 trains.
These second-generation trains, which entered service in 1995 on the North-South Line (NSL) and East-West Line (EWL), are being overhauled by Singapore Rail Engineering (SRE), a subsidiary of SMRT Corporation. The news was announced in a response to an inquiry by local Mandarin news publication LianHe ZaoBao and later also carried by The Strats Times.
The nineteen Siemens C651 trains were manufactured from 1993 to 1994 by Siemens AG in Vienna, Austria. They have a design lifespan of 30 years.
Background – SRE
Singapore Rail Engineering (SRE) was incorporated in 2014 under SMRT Corporation, with the intention of growing an indigenous rail engineering capability contributing directly to rail reliability in Singapore. It develops and invests in core engineering expertise, and trains skilled personnel to provide a complete set of engineering services to support and maintain the SMRT metro network, while also making headway in opening up overseas engineering services markets.
The SMRT subsidiary mainly targets rail MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) activities arising from the maintenance cycle of rolling stock including the midlife upgrading and/or refurbishment of trains that have been in operation for 15 years or more.
SRE has since been refocused on deepening its capabilities in subway operation and maintenance engineering, in line with new requirements set up by the New Rail Financing Framework (more information below).
Background – C651 MLU
The Siemens C651 Mid-life Upgrading Project, or C651 MLU, was first mentioned in a blog on SMRT’s website in December 2015, mentioning that SMRT and SRE were “finalising the proposed improvements for the train design and will proceed with upgrading work and testing of a prototype train in 2016”. It was initially slated for completion in 2018.
In the August 2016 issue of Your Journey Matters by SMRT, it was mentioned that SRE had completed the upgrading of two prototype trains and would be proceeding with the upgrading works for the other C651 trains.
In November 2016, SMRT delivered a progress update on the C651 MLU project during a site visit to Bishan Train Depot as part of an annual meeting of CoMET (Community of Metros). The MLU programme would entail the replacement of almost all components of the train, such as the traction motors, air-conditioning systems, cabin lighting, door systems, and Auxiliary Power Systems (APS).
The upgrade includes the installation of Permanent magnet synchronous motors (PMSM), which offer greater energy savings and a quieter ride for commuters. Six C151 trains had also been installed with the new traction motors supplied by Toshiba.
All-around aesthetics were enhanced: the trains received a new exterior coat of paint in the form of SMRT’s pixel livery, similar to that used on the C151B trains. On the interior; flooring, wall panelling, windows, handrails and grab-poles were renewed for a cleaner and more spacious look. The upgraded train also featured two wheelchair bays per train car and an Active Route Map (STARiS 2.0) above each passenger door.
The November 2016 event showcased Train Car 2217 (Part of Train Set 216/217) with completed upgrading works. Since then, upgrading works continued for both Train Sets 217/218 and 227/228. In July 2018, a Train Operations Review published by SMRT Trains mentioned that the first prototype is undergoing extensive testing, while the project completion year was revised to 2019.
The announcement of the project’s termination came on 16 September 2018, which was considerably late considering that trains were already undergoing extensive testing in preparation for passenger service the following year.
Several reasons were cited by SMRT to the termination of the C651 MLU, including the transition to the New Rail Financing Framework (NRFF) in 2016 and recent changes in SMRT Corporation’s management structure. As part of the NRFF, which came into effect in October 2016 for the North South and East West lines, the LTA owns and make decisions on building-up, replacement and upgrading, while the Rail Operator (SMRT Trains) remains responsible for maintenance. Previously, before the NRFF, the Rail Operator owned, maintained and made decisions on building-up, replacement and upgrading, which was the basis for starting the C651 MLU project in the first place.
From an operational point of view, SRE’s mid-life upgrading work was thus excluded from the NRFF equation despite progress having already been made on the C651 MLU project, since asset upgrading was now under the purview of LTA. While the circumstances behind the dropping of the C651 MLU project are yet to be completely made known (and probably never will be), we suspect that it is likely due to a similar culmination of factors which resulted in the termination of the C151 upgrading several years prior.
As a result, the focus of SRE was diverted to deepening its capabilities in subway operation and maintenance engineering, in line with the NRFF’s expectations for Rail Operators. According to news articles reporting on the matter, SMRT had also notified the Land Transport Authority of its intentions to stop the C651 MLU project.
Gallery: (C651 train – Unrefurbished)
- SMRT Upgrades Older Trains on the North-South and East-West Lines – SMRT Blog
- SMRT Train Operations Review 2018 [PDF] – SMRT
- 20-year-old SMRT trains get upgrades – The Straits Times
- SMRT redirects subsidiary to focus on reliability at home, putting foreign joint ventures in limbo – The Straits Times
- SMRT决定停止 第二代地铁列车中期翻新工程 – Lianhe ZaoBao
- C651 Mid-life Upgrade Project – Singapore Rail Engineering