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SINGAPORE will spend more than S$1 billion upfront to buy 99 new trains in what Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan described on Wednesday as a "worthy" investment necessary to achieve higher rail reliability.
Mr Khaw, who took over the transport portfolio to improve rail reliability in the city-state following repeated breakdowns and public furore, wrote in his blog post that the new trains have improved propulsion systems and more reliable and durable AC synchronous motors, which require less maintenance.
"These 99 trains will cost us over a billion dollars upfront, but they will be a worthy investment. They will be more cost-effective in the longer run. Most of all, they will help us achieve higher rail reliability,'' he wrote.
The trains will be added between this year and 2019: 57 will be for Singapore's oldest North-South and East-West Line (NSEWL) which are nearing their 30th year, 18 will be for the North East Line and 24, the Circle Line.
Mr Khaw noted that train disruptions were rooted in equipment and component failure, operation and maintenance lapses by operators and contractors, passenger action and design issues.
But when external factors such as passenger action are excluded, almost half the major disruptions on the NSEWL were due to train issues; other factors such as track or power faults cause the remaining disruptions.
As trains age, they must be maintained properly and refurbished at the right time, he said.
"Eventually, we must decide when to replace them with new trains. Fortunately, with time, better train models with enhanced reliability features have become available in the market. These trains are also easier to operate and maintain. Adding them to our fleet can therefore make a difference to the overall performance of the rail network and in turn, better our service delivery,'' he said.
The new NSEWL trains will have electric train doors that need lower maintenance and will eliminate the air-leakage problems associated with the older pneumatic doors. The operations data for each train door will be logged and stored for the maintenance crew to pre-empt door faults before they occur.
Under the purchase package, rail engineers and technical staff will be posted to the overseas factories where the trains are being built, to monitor the assembly process and to take part in train testing.
Mr Khaw said: "This helps our officers gain valuable experience and enhance their technical understanding of the trains.''
The minister has been a strong advocate of rail engineers continuing to upgrade their knowledge so that they keep abreast of evolving rail technology.
The government recently said it would work with National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University to include rail engineering among their final-year engineering modules, to ensure that Singapore has a ready pool of expertise it can tap.