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First of 19 new Bukit Panjang LRT trains being tested

Residents in Bukit Panjang and Choa Chu Kang can look forward to new LRT trains promising higher reliability as early as this Christmas.

The first of 19 new trains on the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) has arrived and is undergoing testing before it is put into service.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) was unable to say how long testing will take, but industry sources said the local testing of trains typically takes "three to six months if the regulator and operator conduct the tests together".

This means the first of the new trains should go into service by around December, if not sooner.

LTA said the second train is due in June, and the rest will follow over the next few months.

The new trains are from French transport giant Alstom but manufactured in China. In 2021, Alstom acquired Canadian rival Bombadier Transportation, which supplied the first trains when the BPLRT opened 23 years ago.

The new trains are part of a $344 million overhaul of the 14-station LRT, which has consistently been the least reliable rail line here since it started operating.

In May alone, commuters faced two major disruptions on the line, with 48 passengers stranded on a stalled train last Tuesday (May 24) having to disembark and walk on the elevated tracks to the nearest station.

Despite the pandemic, LTA said the overhaul is on schedule to be completed by 2024 - the original target when the overhaul contract involving replacing the line's signalling and power systems, among other things, was awarded in 2018.

The 19 new trains are equipped with features such as high-ventilation air-conditioner and LED lights.

They will run alongside 13 existing trains which were put into service in 2015. LTA said these trains are also being upgraded.

"Two of these retrofitted trains arrived in April 2021," an LTA spokesman said, adding that they are also undergoing testing here. "We are focused on ensuring the reliability and safety of the vehicles before putting them into passenger service."

The spokesman revealed that the remaining 11 seven-year-old trains will be refurbished in Singapore by Alstom "when the first two retrofitted prototypes have passed testing".

Since it opened 23 years ago, the BPLRT, operated by Temasek-owned SMRT, has had a series of breakdowns caused by mechanical, electrical and operator faults.

Some had resulted in serious incidents such as a collision, fire, a train skipping stations and not responding to the emergency stop button, a train wheel falling off, and staff fatality.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the system clocked 64,000 car-km between delays, - up from 33,000 car-km in 2015, but trailing the 300,000 car-km between delays posted by the Sengkang-Punggol LRT.

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