Bukit Panjang LRT getting renewed after 19 years of “masochistic” rides

We also explain how we ended up with an LRT system not suited for Bukit Panjang.

By Joshua Lee | March 7, 2018

Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan announced during the ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on March 7, 2018 that the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT) will be undergoing a renewal in the first half of 2018.

Bukit Panjang peeps rejoice, tender for LRT overhaul to be called by end-2017

The renewal contract was awarded to Bombardier (Singapore), the original manufacturer of the LRT trains. Renewal works will be conducted during engineering hours with minimal disruptions to passenger service and is expected to be completed in 2022.

What to expect in 2022

The renewed LRT system will come equipped with the new Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) System that is currently being rolled out on the North-South East-West Line. This enables better speed control and more robust monitoring features.

19 first-generation BPLRT Light Rail Vehicles (LRV) will be replaced while 13 second-generation LRVs will be upgraded to have better air-conditioning performance, eco-friendly LED lights, and a Train Control Management System.

The entire length of the BPLRT track will have its old power rail system replaced with a newer system that supports system analytics and predictive maintenance over the life cycle of the system.

However, there is no talk on the main culprit of the problems – the design of the ‘rollercoaster’ LRT system that is wholly unsuited for Bukit Panjang town.

How did we end up with a rollercoaster BPLRT?

Bukit Panjang town (then named Zhenghua New Town) was designed and first populated in 1986.

It was (and still is) a town built on hilly terrain. The name Bukit Panjang means ‘long hill’ in Malay and refers to the undulating ridges that run from Bukit Panjang to Bukit Timah.

Population boomed and by the late 1980s, Bukit Panjang was experiencing traffic congestion that posed problems for Bukit Panjang residents from accessing the nearest MRT station, Choa Chu Kang.

This could possibly be the ‘political pressure’ that Khaw referred to in September 2017 which prompted the authorities to pitch the LRT system in 1991.

Now, the BPLRT system was adapted from a ‘straight-line’ airport system, as mentioned by Second Transport Minister Ng Chee Meng in October 2017, and forced onto the hilly Bukit Panjang terrain.

You can see where we’re going with this.

“No LRT is designed that way, in such a masochistic manner, when you force yourself up and down (with) twists and turns”

– Khaw, September 2017

The ups and down and sharp turns in the BPLRT system not only make for very uncomfortable rides (Khaw himself said they caused him dizziness), but also frequent breakdowns because the rail brackets get ‘sheared off’ at these ‘masochistic’ turns.

For comparison, here is the Changi Airport Skytrain which travels on a straight, non-undulating line:

Via LandTransportGuru.com.

The Sengkang LRT system also travels without drastic turns:

Via LandTransportGuru.com.

To be fair, demolishing the entire LRT network would not work since Bukit Panjang town cannot be serviced by a bus system alone. Thankfully with this renewal programme, at least we’ll be getting smaller doses of masochistic rides.

Here’s a Bukit Panjang resident’s experience with the BPLRT:

I hate the Bukit Panjang LRT system, but I’d hate it more if it got scrapped


Top image taken from SG Trains.

About Joshua Lee

Josh has found the perfect Nasi Padang combination. Ask him about it.

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later