Coming: $600m upgrade for MRT system

SINGAPORE - Projects to upgrade older MRT lines and add trains to newer lines were unveiled yesterday by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and transport operator SMRT.

The changes will help the train system here accommodate more commuters and increase the frequency of trains, making Singapore's train system comparable to those of cities like Hong Kong, experts told my paper.

The projects, which will cost more than $600 million, are part of a comprehensive plan to enhance the MRT system.

SMRT said it will invest $195 million to upgrade the train-signalling system - which is more than 20 years old - on the North-South and East- West lines.

The current signalling system ensures that a distance of about 150m - called a "block" - is maintained between two moving trains.

The new signalling system will help reduce this distance and allow trains to run safely at intervals of 100secs, down from the current 120secs.

The new system, to be developed by information-systems firm Thales Solutions Asia, will let the train lines carry 20 per cent more commuters.

The design phase of the project starts today. The new signalling system is slated for completion in around 2016 on the North-South Line, and around 2018 on the East-West Line.

LTA also announced yesterday that French company Alstom will supply 18 North-East Line trains worth $234.9 million and 16 Circle Line trains worth $134 million.

The trains will arrive in batches from 2015. They will allow the North-East and Circle to accommodate 70 and 40 per cent more commuters, respectively during peak hours.

The LTA also awarded a $40.3-million deal to Thales to build the Tuas West Extension's signalling system.

Mr Cedric Foo, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said that while the move to add trains is a positive step, he feels "infrastructure capacity should always be introduced just ahead of demand".

"Don't wait for the crunch and then introduce the capacity, then there'll be a squeeze effect... Frankly, we are doing a little bit of a catch-up."

He said Singapore could deal with the difficulty in predicting demand by learning from the way airlines order new planes. This means placing orders for new trains "with options" to increase the number, albeit at a slightly higher cost.

"Had we had options, we could have got more trains earlier than manufacturers are prepared to take right now," Mr Foo added.

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