Opening Remarks by Acting Minister for Transport, Mr. Chee Hong Tat at the Completion Ceremony of North-South-East-West Line Renewal Works

25 Oct 2023Speeches
Mr Alan Chan, Chairman of LTA,
Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman of SMRT,
Friends and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,


1.     Good morning. I am happy to join you today to commemorate the completion of renewal works for the North-South-East-West Line. 

The North-South-East-West Line – the Origin of the MRT Network

2.     Today’s ceremony at Bishan Depot holds special significance. This is the first train depot in Singapore, and the cradle of our MRT system. Indeed, nearly 36 years ago, on 7 November 1987, it was from here that our very first MRT train set off to serve commuters, as part of the North-South-East-West Line. It was the fruit of nearly two decades of pioneering hard work by our planners and builders, and the vision of our government leaders to think long-term and prepare for the future.

3.     At its inception, the North-South-East-West Line cost us about S$9 billion in today’s terms. It was a big investment for Singapore, and some people at that time wondered if the benefits would be worth the cost.  There were also debates on whether we should build an MRT system or rely on buses for public transport.  

4.     With the passage of time, it is now clear to us that investing in the MRT system was the correct decision to support Singapore’s further growth and development, and to improve connectivity and quality of life for our people.

5.     Today, with 62 stations and spanning over 100 km, the North-South-East-West Line remains the backbone of our expanding public transport network. Each year, the line operates about 20 million train-km, enough to circle the Earth almost 500 times. Many of its stations have also grown into familiar icons and popular community venues for our residents, including Toa Payoh, Braddell and Bishan MRT stations in my constituency. 

Improving Rail Reliability and Services 

6.     After years of heavy usage, the line would need to be upgraded to ensure its continued reliability. In 2012, the government decided to embark on the long and arduous journey of renewing all six core systems on the North-South-East-West Line. 

7.     This renewal is much harder than it sounds, and requires years of preparation and hard work by the engineers and technicians from LTA and SMRT.  Let me highlight two challenges. First, time constraints to carry out the renewal works. To avoid disrupting daily rail operations, much of the renewal works could only be carried out during engineering hours from 1am to 4am. Every night was a race against time to complete as much as possible, before the train needs to resume operations to serve commuters.

8.     Second, how to minimize noise when we carry out the renewal works from 1am to 4am. Some parts of the train tracks are close to residential units and special precautions had to be taken to minimise disturbances to residents.  It was not possible to completely eliminate all noise, so I want to thank all affected residents for your kind understanding and patience to allow us to carry out the renewal works.

9.     Our rail engineers and technicians have taken these and many other challenges in their stride, worked relentlessly every night, for more than ten years. Today, thanks to their unwavering dedication and professionalism, and also the support from Singaporeans – we have finally completed the task.  Please join me in giving a big round of applause to our team of hardworking rail engineers and technicians!

10.    Let me share some of their stories. 

11.    We have Mr Krishnasamy Kotaraju, a power supply engineer who has been with SMRT since 1988. Mr Krishnasamy started out as an assistant maintenance engineer, maintaining the old power system that had various analog components. He reskilled himself through continuous education & training, and transitioned to the team that delivered the new power supply system, equipped with real-time condition monitoring capabilities.

12.    The power supply renewal works encompassed the replacement of 1,300 kilometres of power cables, 250 kilometres of fibre-optic cables, and hundreds of power transformers and switchboards. The total length of all the power cables is equivalent to almost six times the length of Singapore’s coastline. It is a massive effort, and we could not have done it without the determined and tenacious efforts of engineers like Mr Krishnasamy.  Thank you Mr Krishnasamy!

13.    We also have LTA senior project manager Mr Mohamad Ridhwan Bin Abdul Lazim, whose work was to replace sleepers and third rails on the MRT tracks over the past ten years. One of his key tasks was to closely coordinate the deployment of equipment and crew, and to carry out the works safely, while operating at night where visibility can be a challenge. Mr Ridhwan and his colleagues did an excellent job with the safe and efficient replacement of these essential components.  Thank you Mr Ridhwan!

14.    Other systems faced different challenges too. Take for example the renewal of our train fleet, which was carried out by engineers like Ms Wang Yizhen from the rolling stock team in LTA. 

15.    Even at the height of COVID-19, the team took turns to station themselves at the train factory in Changchun, China, to supervise the manufacturing and testing of our trains. They must have endured weeks of quarantine when they went to China, and likely many rounds of PCR tests.  Ms Wang was one of the first engineers deployed, and she spent more than six months in a single deployment and navigated the COVID-19 restrictions without letting up on the progress of the project. She worked closely with the contractors to ensure that the trains were built to a high quality, before signing them off for shipping to Singapore. 

16.    Thanks to the efforts of Ms Wang and her team, seven new trains successfully commenced passenger service on the North-South-East-West Line since June this year. Well done!

17.    We look forward to the rest of the new trains entering service in the coming years. 

Stewardship and Renewal

18.    All these system renewal works were a key pillar of our larger shared mission to improve the reliability of our rail system.  This is a collective goal and commitment by the Government, our public transport operators and our unions.  

19.    Back in 2012, the North-South-East-West Line was operating with a mean kilometres between failure, or “MKBF”, figure of about 65,000 train-kilometres. By 2019, we achieved our target of 1 million MKBF, and we have maintained this high level of reliability ever since. 

20.    Looking ahead, as our rail network continues to grow, different parts will also continue to age and have to be renewed. The scale and complexity of renewal works will only increase. Our commitment to the renewal and maintenance efforts for our rail network will become even more important to deliver a safe, efficient and reliable commuting experience for Singaporeans.

21.    I hope this difficult task ahead can also be a rallying call for our young engineers and technicians to come on board the journey.  We welcome our young men and women who have a passion for rail operations to take up this challenge, and join us by being part of the One Transport family. 


22.    To conclude, the MRT system is a precious legacy left to us by previous generations. It is our duty to renew this legacy, and to leave behind an even better system for future generations.  This is how we continue to develop Singapore, by building upon our strong foundations and providing a better life and brighter future for our children and grandchildren.  

23.    Today’s ceremony marks a collective achievement of the One Transport family. Our tripartite partners LTA, SMRT, contractors, and the National Transport Workers Union have worked closely to get us here. 

24.    To the thousands of men and women toiling everyday on the ground and behind the scenes, as well as in our train tunnels to renew our network and keep our trains running smoothly and safely, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you.

25.    Please keep safe and keep up the good work, and thank you very much for keeping our world moving.

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