Speaking at an event yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that the Bukit Panjang LRT was built as an 'afterthought' to a built-up town
Bukit Panjang LRT built as an 'after-thought' and because of political pressure: Khaw Boon Wan Repair work being carried out on the Bukit Panjang LRT tracks. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - The Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT), which opened in 1999, was an "after-thought" to a built-up town, and constructed because of "political pressure", Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Tuesday (Sept 12).

"No LRT is designed that way, in such a masochistic manner, when you force yourself up and down (with) twists and turns," Mr Khaw said, alluding to the alignment of the BPLRT, which has several sharp bends over undulating terrain.

He said the disruption on the BPLRT last Saturday was caused by the system's design, with rail support brackets being "sheared off".

Mr Khaw was speaking at an event to commemorate the completion of a power-rail upgrading project for the North-South and East West Lines.

He also drew attention to the reliability of the 18-year-old BPLRT, which he said is on the Government's radar, and is due for a renewal of assets.

While the Government announced in March that the BPLRT will get a complete overhaul, with new trains, power rail, signalling system and various other critical components, Mr Khaw said efforts will be put in to boost its reliability first.

He said he hopes the BPLRT can double its current Mean Kilometre Between Failure (MKBF) standard to hit 100,000 car-km, adding that he has yet to discuss with operator SMRT about how to achieve this.

The MKBF is an industry standard that measures the average distance travelled by trains before encountering a delay of longer than five minutes.

Mr Khaw said the Sengkang-Punggol LRT has surpassed the mark, clocking an MKBF of 112,000 car-km in the first half of 2017.

But he acknowledged that its design was "much simpler" as it was a greenfield project. In comparison, the BPLRT was shoe-horned into an existing town.

Reiterating what he said in Parliament last year, Mr Khaw said on Tuesday that it was not feasible to scrap the BPLRT and do with a bus-only system for Bukit Panjang, as the capacity would be insufficient.

Quipping that the BPLRT is like a "roller-coaster", Mr Khaw also said: "I've taken the BPLRT a few times as a commuter. I won't say I enjoy the ride, (it) caused me dizziness also. But that is life."

The BPLRT was built at a cost of $285 million, and is 7.8km long with 14 stations. Construction started in 1996.

In 1991, when the Government announced that it would build the MRT line to Woodlands, residents of Bukit Panjang had asked for an extension to their town.

However, transport planners determined it was not feasible, but the Government promised the residents that it would explore alternative means to meet their commuting needs, said then Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam in a speech in 1996 during a ground-breaking for the BPLRT.