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Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Ong Ye Kung at the Signing Ceremony for the Award of 40 New NSEWL Trains and Long Term Service Support at Bishan Depot

28 Sep 2020 Speeches

Friends and colleagues
1.     I am very happy to join everyone here for today’s meaningful event. It is not just a commercial ceremony that we are witnessing, but also a historically meaningful one. 
2.     In 1987, we commissioned the MRT system – the North-South, and East-West lines. At that time, we called it the Compass Line. This was preceded by a big public debate. The debate was over whether to even build an MRT system because of the enormous resources it would require. The alternative was to run more buses, even dedicated lanes.
3.     The system came at a high cost of $5 billion, and in today’s terms, $11 billion. But our pioneer leaders convinced Singaporeans of the social and economic benefits that the MRT would bring to Singaporeans. The rest is history. Singapore grew into the thriving and prosperous city it is today on the back of the North-South and East-West Lines. 
4.     People and machines combined to work hard to make the MRT system a success. In the initial years of running the system, we benefitted from the services of 106 work horses. They have served the Singapore train journey through many ups and downs. They toiled for decades, bringing Singaporeans to work, to school, to home, to leisure. And who are these 106 work horses? 
5.     They comprised 66 first generation Kawasaki trains which have been plying the North-South and East-West Lines since its opening in 1987; 19 second generation Siemens trains; and 21 third generation Kawasaki-Nippon Sharyo trains.
6.     Two years ago, we announced the replacement of the 66 first generation trains with new ones to be supplied by Bombardier. Today, I am pleased to announce that we have also decided to replace the 40 second and third generation MRT trains on the North-South and East-West Lines.  
7.     These 40 MRT trains will also be supplied by Bombardier. By combining the purchases of the replacement trains, we achieve economies of scale which lowers the purchase and operating costs of the trains. Once the replacement exercise is completed, we will have fewer train types, which helps our engineers to develop deeper expertise in each train type. 
8.     Later, we will witness the signing of the Long Term Service Support contract by SMRT and Bombardier for these new trains. This arrangement will help keep train maintenance costs low and allow us to tap on experts around the world to keep our trains safe and to keep our trains reliable. 
9.     These three generations of workhorses are important markers of Singapore history, and we should find ways to commemorate their contributions. It is not really just about the trains. These 106 trains represent the toil and hard work of generations and tens of thousands of engineers and everyone who worked hard on the MRT system. Many Singaporeans feel strongly about this, writing to me frequently asking me what will happen to our pioneering trains, hoping that they would be given alternate new leases of life. 
10.    Indeed, we should do something to demonstrate our values of honouring our past, as the Chinese saying goes ‘饮水思源’ – literally it means when you drink water, you must remember the source of the water. 
11.    LTA is exploring ways to keep some of the carriages on its premises for posterity. A few schools, institutes of higher learning and government agencies have also expressed interest to re-employ the trains for education and training purposes. 
12.    I welcome more ideas from companies and organisations and also government agencies on creative yet meaningful ways to use the pioneering trains. This could be for education, for heritage, for leisure or even as an MRT themed hotel or café. Interested parties can contact LTA for further details. 
13.    Even as we饮水思源, we also need to sediakan payung sebelum hujan – it literally means prepare your umbrella before the rain. We must continue to renew our systems to keep it safe, reliable and efficient. LTA and our transport operators have been working closely together to renew six core systems on the North-South and East-West Lines.  
14.    The objectives of this renewal are to replace major parts of the system that have been subjected to wear and tear, and also to improve the capability and performance of the system. The Government and rail operators have invested billions of dollars and countless hours into this journey of renewal which started from 2012, and today we have passed the halfway mark. I would say the most difficult is over.
15.    Let me give you a status update on these six core systems renewal. 

- First, the replacement of over 100,000 worn-out railway track sleepers.  This is patient and hard work - workers going onto the tracks during the narrow off-service window to replace the sleepers. We started with replacing 90 sleepers every night, but with better equipment, better methods, that number increased to more than 400 per night.  By 2016, the project was completed. 

- Second, is the replacement of the third rail. I have a short section of it in my office to remind me of the importance of the third rail. This runs the entire length of the MRT tracks, is where the trains draw electricity from, and has to be in good operating condition. The replacement was completed in 2017. 

- Third, resignalling works – I think probably the hardest. This was an extremely complex project. The signalling system is essentially the entire software of the MRT system, and we had to change the system while ensuring service is not interrupted. We always hear the cliché, we must repair the ship while it is sailing. This is literally doing it and you have done it. The process led to a higher number of disruptions, unfortunately, but we quickly learnt from experience, and the operations stabilised. The project was finally completed in 2018. Amongst other benefits, the new system will enable us to run trains at 100-second instead of 120-second interval, if demand justifies it. 

- Fourth, the power supply replacement works, and it is currently ongoing, and on track to be completed by 2023. It will enable better real-time monitoring, to predict and detect faults. If there is a power outage, the system will automatically switch to an alternative source of power supply, improving overall resilience of the MRT system. 

- Fifth, the replacement of track circuit system. The new system will provide early warning and quick recovery for signalling system failures. The works are on-going and will be completed by 2024.

- Finally, the replacement of trains, which I have just made a further announcement on. The 106 new MRT trains will enter passenger service from 2022 to 2026. When fully introduced, 53% of the NSEWL trains will be brand new. We are setting up a Train Testing Centre at Tuas, to ensure that the new trains are acclimatized to the local environment before they enter service. 

16.    We now have a very reliable and affordable MRT system. We will remain steadfast in our goal of delivering a reliable, safe and affordable rail service. We have achieved this for today’s commuters, but must now focus our efforts on sustaining this for generations to come. 
17.    The rail system keeps Singapore moving, and keeps Singapore green, sustainable and healthy. As we go about our mission, we must always bear in mind, this is the effort of the One Transport family – including all our rail operators, contractors, LTA, and the support and understanding of Singaporeans. 
18.    And the work straddles across generations, from the policy makers, planners, engineers and workers that developed the North-South and East-West Lines in 1987, and to those working on Thomson-East Coast, Jurong Region and Cross Island lines today. From those operating the 106 early generation workhorses, to those preparing for the introduction of the new generation Bombardier trains. Our pledge is to keep renewing, keep improving, and keep moving.   
19.    Thank you very much.