Singapore’s first MRT train rolled out in 1987, and by 1995, we had North South and East West lines spanning the length and breadth across our island. We have two LRT lines, one was challenging as it is implemented within a matured residential estate. The other was planned and implemented together with our housing programme and it is a showcase of integrated town planning. The first driverless metro, the North-East line, was commissioned in 2003, setting the pace towards the continued implementation of driverless systems for the Circle line and now, the Downtown line.
From the initial two railway lines in Singapore– North-South Line and East-West Line, the metro network has grown rapidly with the inclusion of three new driverless lines (North-East Line, Downtown Line and Circle Line). The Thomson-East Coast Line under construction, and plans for new lines and extensions such as Jurong Regional Line, Cross Island Line and Circle Line/Northeast Line extensions are in the pipeline. The urban metro system will have a total network length of 360km, twice today’s capacity, by 2030 to cater for a projected daily ridership of 6 million passengers.
Overseeing the planning, design and implementation of all road and rail projects is Mr Chua Chong Kheng, the Deputy Chief Executive (Infrastructure and Development) of Land Transport Authority of Singapore. A rail veteran of over 30 years, Mr Chua Chong Kheng has played an integral role as one of the pioneers behind Singapore’s successful Mass Rapid Transit System. We had the great opportunity to interview Mr Chua to discuss the future of rail.
What are the key challenges facing the rail industry today?
Shortages of experienced rail resources, ageing rail systems and improving rail reliability are the key challenges facing the industry now.
In Singapore, the operating assets in the earlier lines are either due for upgrade or replacement. Adding to the difficulty, some of the equipment is already obsolete, causing reliability challenges in service. Learning from this, we need to have a holistic view of the issues and work closely with our rail operators and the industry to tackle the rail reliability challenge. This includes the need for a conscientious effort to improve overall rail maintenance quality. In this respect, we are exploring the use of more and advanced condition monitoring tools to help to identify signs of failure and aging before the actual fault occurs. Along with robust and resilient designs, these are keys to the goal of maximizing rail reliability and availability.
A concerted collaboration with our operators, academic institutions and other key partners is also needed to build up an adequate pool of rail engineers and technical staff, thus ensuring a continuous pipeline of resources with the relevant rail capability and competency to meet the needs of the efficient and reliable operations and maintenance of the various rail systems well into the future.
How do you see the industry evolving in the next 5-10 years?
I see continuous consolidation of the industry, and the wider recognition of the need for standardisation. It is becoming less tenable to continue having proprietary designs and systems which increase the cost of systems procurement and maintenance over their life cycles.
We have witnessed how technological advances and innovation have been impactful to the rail industry. There is the introduction of sophisticated systems such as driverless trains and development of condition based and real time monitoring devices for rolling stock and infrastructure. I believe there is more that systems and subsystems suppliers can and should do to tap on such technologies and incorporate them into their systems to improve maintainability and system performance.
Jared Diamond once wrote, “Technology has to be invented or adopted.” In the future, I hope to see rail industry players innovate and leverage on experience from other relevant industries such as aerospace and automation to create or adopt systems particularly in the areas of condition monitoring, predictive maintenance as well as provision of real time journey information.
What are the key areas that rail authorities (and/or operators) should/could improve on?
Both rail authorities and operators should work together to improve the collation of historical data of rail asset conditions, utilizing tools to chart predictive trends, conducting assessment on current condition and finally fine-tuning the maintenance regime and renewal works accordingly. There is also the increasing need to build trust and collaboration in the relationship. Operators should also see the importance of providing their operational inputs from the start of any new project or systems renewal as without a clear overall operational master plan, the eventual system will not be optimized and integrated for operational use.
What can attendees expect from your presentation?
Attendees can expect to get an overview of the status of Singapore’s rail network, the evolution and synthesis with city development, including LTA’s current and upcoming rail projects. In addition, my presentation will also shed light on LTA’s plans to improve overall rail and public transport experience as well as move up the value chain through the ownership of rail assets to integrate the entire lifecycle of the network.
What are you looking forward to at the Asia Pacific Rail 2016?
I look forward to meeting other key rail industry players such as fellow rail authorities, operators and system providers. Asia Pacific Rail 2016 is a good platform for the exchange of new ideas, experience sharing and networking. As we are currently embarking on asset replacement and refurbishment, in addition to developing new lines, I hope to hear from others with similar experience as well as look out for any innovative ideas that can help us on this.
 Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author.