The Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday bought 40 new trains for the North-South and East-West MRT lines (NSEWL), as renewal works for its two oldest train lines continue apace.
The trains, costing about $337.8 million, will replace the second-and third-generation trains supplied by Siemens and Kawasaki-Nippon Sharyo that have been running for at least two decades.
The first of these new trains will begin rolling on the tracks in 2024, and will have upgraded features such as more open spaces for strollers and wheelchair users, as well as new LCD screens displaying travel information.
This contract is the second such awarded to rail company Bombardier Transportation, which in 2018 was tasked to replace 66 trains on the NSEWL. This means that 106 of the 198 trains on these two lines, which have been in operation since 1987, will eventually be supplied by Bombardier Transportation.
With the latest move, the renewal project for Singapore's two oldest lines that began in 2012 has passed the halfway mark and the most difficult replacement processes have been completed, said Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung at the contract-signing event yesterday.
"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," Mr Ong said.
In the past decade, the signalling system, or the entire software of the MRT system, has been changed, allowing it to run trains at 100-second instead of 120-second intervals.
More than 100,000 track sleepers, or the parts on which the train wheels sit, have also been mechanically taken out and reinstalled during periods when the trains are not running. This enabled train services to be maintained despite some periods of higher frequencies of disruptions.
The Government's decision to work more closely with Bombardier Transportation is partly motivated by cost concerns, the LTA said yesterday. This way, trains can be bought at a cheaper price and the types of trains reduced, allowing engineers to know them more thoroughly and react better to faults.
SMRT also signed a 10-year contract with Bombardier Transportation for the company to provide technical support and spare parts for train repairs and system upgrades or replacements for the first 10 years.
This can be extended for another 20 years later.
The LTA, in noting the "significant economies of scale" of such a move, said: "Initiatives such as these are central to efforts by LTA and the rail operators to continue delivering reliable train services, while managing costs."
The Bombardier trains, all 106 of which are of the same design, will be assembled in China, with parts sourced from other countries including Sweden, France and Germany.
Mr Ong also noted the historical significance of the train replacement, with the latest move effectively phasing out the first three generations of trains by 2026.
Meanwhile, the LTA is exploring ways to keep some of the carriages of these old trains in institutions such as schools and government agencies to preserve the country's transport heritage.
It is also open to the carriages being converted for other uses, such as for decor at MRT-themed hotels or cafes, and interested parties can contact the LTA for more details.
Mr Ong said of the old trains: "These three generations of workhorses are important markers of the Singapore story, and we should find ways to commemorate their contributions.
"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."
Singapore has six MRT lines, with more lines, including the Jurong Region and Cross Island lines, set to open.
Earlier this month, the Government accepted the Public Transport Council's recommendation that fares not go up in the coming year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the council citing the affordability of train and bus rides as one of its key considerations.