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Khaw: NEL to undergo renewal after 'hard lesson' learnt

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Operating hours to be shortened during certain periods

The North East Line (NEL) will undergo a major renewal from next year to upgrade its trains, track components and power and signalling systems.

While the third-oldest MRT line is currently one of the island's most reliable, maintenance is being stepped up to ensure the system continues to run well with age.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that a "hard lesson" was learnt when the upgrading of the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) was neglected.

Mr Khaw said the former management of SMRT, the NSEWL's operator, "underinvested" and "did the minimum" when the lines needed intensified maintenance.

"The cumulative effects of their decisions in those years were only corrected in recent years, at great inconvenience to commuters. We have learnt this hard lesson. We are determined not to have it repeated," he added.

NSEWL, which opened in 1987, suffered major disruptions in 2011 and 2015. The NEL, which is operated by SBS Transit, was opened in 2003.

As more engineering hours will be required to perform some of the NEL's upgrading works, operating hours along stretches of the NEL will be shortened during certain periods, and commuters will have to use shuttle buses instead.

From Jan 4 to March 2, NEL stations between Serangoon and Punggol will close earlier at around 11pm on selected Fridays and Saturdays.

Trains for the rest of the NEL will also run at longer intervals of about nine minutes during the early closures.

"When MRT lines are young, the current engineering hours of three to four hours per day are enough. But as the lines age, we have to intensify maintenance," Mr Khaw said.

A similar early-closure late-opening programme has been implemented for the NSEWL from a year ago.

The extended engineering hours for the NEL will be used to renew parts of the power and signalling systems and to replace rail crossings and tracks

Yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) signed a $116.7 million contract with Chinese rail transport equipment company CRRC Nanjing Puzhen, to upgrade the NEL's 25 first-generation trains.

The works are scheduled to start in the first quarter of next year and finish by the third quarter of 2024. Trains will be upgraded one at a time, at the NEL's Sengkang Depot, LTA said.

The trains' interior, such as seats, panels and flooring, will get a facelift, and the air-conditioning, ventilation and passenger information systems will be upgraded. Ageing electrical components and mechanical systems will also be replaced.

The LTA will also install condition monitoring systems on the trains. The cost of the train upgrading will be fully paid for by the Government under the New Rail Financing Framework.

Mr Khaw also gave an update on rail reliability yesterday.

For the first 11 months of this year, trains on the MRT network travelled an average of 670,000km before encountering a delay of longer than five minutes.

The mean kilometres between failures (MKBF) figure for last year was 181,000 train-km, and this is a "significant improvement", said Mr Khaw.

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Transport