The LTA has announced that its contracts for new trains and railway systems will now ask suppliers to base servicing support in Singapore.
Singapore on track to service new trains Move will cut downtime of trains and bring more jobs and cost savings to Singapore PHOTO: ST FILE

New trains to ply the North-South and East-West MRT lines and the revamped Bukit Panjang LRT system are set to be serviced in Singapore.

This is a key step towards becoming self-sufficient in this field and bringing jobs and savings to Singapore, while cutting downtime.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on 2 October that its contracts for new trains and railway systems now ask suppliers to base servicing support in Singapore. This reduces the downtime of the trains, as faulty parts no longer have to be sent back to manufacturers overseas, such as in Japan and France. This also lowers the cost, bringing about savings that can trickle down to commuters.

"Under this agreement, suppliers are encouraged to set up local support offices in Singapore and provide Public Transport Operators (PTOs) with training, and technical and logistics support to ensure that the trains and other systems are rigorously serviced over their entire life cycle," LTA said.

This would apply to the 66 new trains to replace the first-generation vehicles on the North-South and East-West MRT lines, along with the new trains to be brought in as part of the Bukit Panjang LRT system revamp.

The supplier for both projects, Canadian engineering giant Bombardier, has already committed to setting up a Centre of Excellence here, which would provide maintenance support, allowing for faster rectifications and repairs.

A Bombardier spokesman said that the centre will be ready by the second half of next year. The growth of a train servicing industry here would also bring jobs.

During the signing of a memorandum of understanding between SMRT, SBS Transit and ST Engineering in June, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said such arrangements would create "attractive and stable jobs for our rail workers".

On 2 October, Mr. Khaw visited ST Engineering's Electronic Card Repair Facility for Rail in Boon Lay, which fixes the cards that control the speed and doors of the trains, among other things. An average train can have 800 such cards. SMRT Trains Chief Executive Officer Lee Ling Wee said rail operators benefit in three ways.

First, if the electronic cards are sent overseas, it could take months or even years to service them. "But if it is done in Singapore, it would take weeks or even days."

Second, the firms get a better handle on the fault and repairs when the cards are serviced locally. Otherwise, they would just have to rely on defect reports.

Lastly, settling the servicing locally means the cost structure is more flexible, helping operators optimise costs. "This in turn lowers the cost of running train services in Singapore, and therefore it is beneficial for commuters as well," said Mr. Lee.

Mr. Khaw said in his speech in June that electronic card repairs are just the first step that firms are taking to 'address technology gaps faced by the local industry'. The overall aim is the 'cost-effective development of engineering capabilities for rail operations and maintenance'.

National University of Singapore transport Infrastructure Expert Raymond Ong said it is 'very important' for Singapore to have its own train servicing capabilities.

The railway system is set to be the backbone of Singapore's public transport, said Dr. Ong. "We can't afford to have systems that are not reliable and prone to disruptions due to maintenance issues."

He said previous disruptions showed that Singapore did not have enough experts in the area, and LTA's move "puts ownership of railway reliability in our own hands". He said the issue would become urgent in a few years, when the new lines mature. "That is when maintenance will be heavily required, so better start now."