Initial plans to expand Singapore's rail network by more than 50% will now be delayed as a result of the impact of COVID-19.
MRT network expansion plans to be delayed The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had said that it wanted to expand the rail network to about 360km by 2030. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's plans to expand its rail network by more than 50% will be delayed as a result of the impact of COVID-19.

But it still aims to hit this target by the early 2030s, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on 22 June 2020.

"There will be some delays because of COVID-induced impact on the availability of construction workers," he said, without elaborating on estimated lengths of the delays. "But the intent to significantly expand our MRT network remains unchanged."

Singapore's current rail network spans about 230km. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had said that it wanted to expand the rail network to about 360km by 2030, which would connect eight in 10 households to a train station within 10 minutes.

Rail lines that were due to be completed in the next decade include the remaining phases of the Thomson-East Coast Line, Jurong Region Line and the first part of the Cross Island Line. Stage two of Thomson-East Coast Line was set to be completed later this year. It would link up Woodlands to Caldecott via Mayflower. The Circle Line, Downtown Line and North East Line were also due to get additional stations in the next decade.

Mr. Khaw said on 22 June 2020 that measures to combat COVID-19 have resulted in a drop in usage of public transport, but demand will return with time. Public transport ridership is now at about 40% of pre-COVID-19 levels, after movement restrictions were eased on 19 June 2020. He was speaking at an event at the Bishan Depot on the morning of 22 June 2020 to start the decommissioning of Singapore's very first MRT trains.

The trains, made by Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki, have been used on the North-South and East-West Line for more than 30 years. The 66 first-generation trains will be progressively replaced by new trains from Bombardier from next year.

Mr. Khaw said ensuring rail reliability is another important task on top of expanding the rail network. "This ethos is now deeply embedded in the corporate culture of our operators," he said, adding that rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit are now among the most reliable rail operators in the world.

This is seen in how the entire MRT network consistently exceeds a Mean Kilometre Between Failures (MKBF) of one million train-km, noted Mr. Khaw. MKBF, a benchmark measurement of rail reliability, refers to the mean distance between a train fault of more than five minutes.

Between April last year and March this year, the MRT network achieved 1.4 million train-km between failures. Mr. Khaw said that based on data from last year, the East-West Line (EWL) was the most reliable line and the most improved line in terms of rail reliability.

"The East-West Line has come a very long way, especially from the 2017 train collision incident, for which all of us would never forget, the turnaround of EWL is a good story, that no matter how low we have fallen, with determination, we can rise again, to emerge stronger," he added.