SMRT trains travelled further with fewer delays in 2017 compared to the year before, said SMRT at a press conference on Wednesday (Mar 28).
For the North-South Line (NSL), mean-kilometre between failure (MKBF), which measures delays of more than five minutes, has doubled from 156,000km in December 2016 to 336,000km in December 2017.
In the same period, the MKBF for the East-West Line (EWL) increased from 145,000km to 278,000km, while the Circle Line’s (CCL) MKBF increased from 228,000km to 523,000km.
For the first two months of this year, SMRT said that the MKBF for NSL and CCL has already exceeded next year’s target of 600,000km and credits this to the completion of sleeper and third rail replacement as well as the stabilisation of the new Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system.
The EWL is expected to catch up after it settles into the new signalling system, which will be fast-tracked to be implemented by June instead of end-2018, said SMRT.
“The reliability statistics show steady improvement especially in the last two to three years. But we acknowledge that they do not seem to square with commuters’ experience on the North-South and East-West Lines last year,” said Mr Desmond Kuek, president and Group CEO of SMRT.
“This is because of project-related disruptions faced between May to October in the implementation of the new CBTC signalling system. This data is not captured in the MKBF numbers because MKBF data is used for comparing the intrinsic reliability of the network from year to year, without the temporal and possibly distortive effect of short-term projects,” Mr Kuek added.
SMRT said that a majority of faults caused by the new CBTC were caused by a loss of train-to-trackside signal. When this happens, emergency brakes immediately kick in as a safety precaution. The affected train has to be reset causing an initial delay.
More software patches and hardware changes will continue to be made in the coming months, before SMRT moves entirely onto the new CBTC system at the end of May 2018.
GETTING TO ZERO TRAIN INCIDENTS
Mr Kuek said that the organisation is “gunning for zero safety breaches and zero delays of more than 30 minutes” but did not indicate a timeline as to when SMRT will realise this target.
However, SMRT has set the target of achieving 1 million in MKBF by 2020. Calling this a "bold" target, Mr Kuek said this works out to an average of less than one delay lasting more than five minutes each month, based on the estimation that trains on the NSL travel about 900,000km a month.
Two incidents in 2017, Mr Kuek said, shook public confidence in train safety and reliability - flooding in the Bishan-Braddell tunnel and a collision at Joo Koon MRT station.
“Both incidents were most regrettable, and gave us cause to pause, reflect on shortcomings and resolve to do better to address underlying discipline and process issues that led to the breaches,” he said.
Last year, there were nine incidents that lasted more than 30 mins, excluding CBTC-related delays. This is three fewer than in 2016, SMRT said.
“Our goal is to reduce any delay to less than five minutes and in the worst, ensure that it does not last longer than 30 minutes. It is these major incidents, lasting longer than 30 minutes that we must strenuously avoid,” Mr Kuek said.
Singapore Management University transport economist Terence Fan said that the goal of achieving 1 million in MKBF is "not entirely impossible but at the same time not something SMRT has done before".
"By (each MRT) line separately, it'll be a lot more achievable than by the whole system. If you look at the CCL, it's already hitting 500,000km MKBF. As long as nothing is happening, that MKBF will just keep increasing," Dr Fan said.
Dr Fan added that the MKBF only captures how many kilometres a train has clocked before a disruption and does not measure how long the disruption is, which may not reflect fully commuters' experience.
Mr Kuek also said that SMRT will continue to disclose "salient developments" in the company despite being privatised in November 2016. Its group review of 2017, released online this week, showed a 68 per cent plunge in earnings.