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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Overcoming Singapore’s capacity challenge

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Metro systems worldwide are in desperate need of extra capacity. Building new lines is the most obvious solution and in Singapore new routes are being constructed as you read this very article. But how do you squeeze additional capacity from what already exists?

Singapore’s North-South and East-West (NSEW) Lines are currently undergoing a major CBTC signalling upgrade which aims to reduce headways between trains and increase service frequencies to meet the predicted increase in passenger numbers.

The new signalling system will need to support a 40 per cent increase in trains, with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) and operator SMRT recently announcing plans to procure an additional 29 new trains for the NSEW Lines by 2019.

When the resignalling project is completed in 2018, the time between trains will be reduced from 120 seconds to 100 seconds. That’s an increase from 30 trains an hour to 36 trains an hour.

Upgrading an existing system is unfamiliar territory for engineers in Singapore. The entire project is being delivered in limited 3-4 hour slots whilst the railway is closed and even that is tailored to work around other maintenance and repair work. On top of that, the system has to be restored every night so that everything is working correctly before services start up again the following morning.

Supported by more than 300 different contractors, the project team is a joint effort between LTA and SMRT.

Robert Cooke is the principal signalling manager in the systems and rail assets group at LTA.

He said: “All works are carefully planned and staff are briefed before each shift to ensure everyone knows what they are doing.”

“The challenges so far have been the conversion of automatic trains from one system to another and finding room for the new trackside equipment at stations whilst the old equipment is still working.”

On managing so many different contractors and teams, Robert added: “Many in the LTA and SMRT have worked together before, so good working relationships exist. SMRT also has experience of working with modern CBTC systems but had a steep learning curve with regards to how a system could be changed over as they had no experience of such projects.”


Robert, who is originally from the UK, has spent 24 years in the rail industry. Prior to working on the resignalling of the NSEW Lines, Robert led the technical evaluation of the tenders for the signalling and platform screen doors contract for the Thomson-East Coast Line project and, while working for Invensys Rail, helped deliver the first phase of the Downtown Line.

Before moving to Singapore, much of Robert’s career was spent upgrading London’s Victorian-era Underground metro system. This included working on the Victoria line upgrade for which London Underground required its new modern signalling technology to operate alongside a 50-year-old system until all of the old rolling stock had been retired and replaced.

Comparing his work in the UK with Singapore, Robert said: “The projects are very similar with demanding programmes, complex specifications, but ultimately having to meet the same international standards to achieve a safe and reliable system.

“Working in Singapore is a great opportunity to gain experience working on unmanned systems, which presents different challenges to working on driver-based systems like the London Underground. This has been a great learning area for me.”

Projects like the Downtown Line and Thomson-East Coast Line are visible additions to the network. Passengers may not realise the change taking place on the NSEW lines, but the result will be as significant to the network as adding to or extending the lines themselves.

Robert added: “The aim of resignalling projects is to bring systems up to the modern standards of new lines such as the Thomson-East Coast or Downtown Lines. Enhancing the Line’s performance means more trains for passengers and reduced crowding on trains.

“New railways are very expensive to build and so it is essential to maximise the return from all assets and the provision of a modern CBTC signalling system does that.”


Potential candidates looking for opportunities or to relocate to Singapore like Robert can get in touch with Contact Singapore. Contact Singapore is a government organisation which engages global talent to work, invest and live in Singapore. To find out more about working and living in Singapore, visit the Contact Singapore website. To explore current vacancies, visit www.contactsingapore.sg/jobs 


This feature is sponsored by Contact Singapore



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