SINGAPORE: President and CEO of SMRT, Desmond Kuek, said ensuring the reliability of the train network is the "surest way to restore public confidence".
Mr Kuek, the new man at the helm of the public transport operator, said this is the biggest challenge for him in the months ahead.
He was speaking to the media early Wednesday morning, during a visit to see how worn—out wooden sleepers of the ageing North—South and East—West lines are being replaced between Buona Vista and Commonwealth MRT stations.
The maintenance project is carried out after service hours from 1.30am.
It is a painstaking process as most of the work is done manually.
The rocks or track ballast have to be removed by hand. This is to make enough space for the sleepers, which are over 100kg each and 2.6m long, to be removed and replaced with new ones that can last 20 to 25 years.
Every night, workers are able to change out at least 50 wooden sleepers, within three hours.
At 4.30am, they will have to clear the tracks before service hours resume an hour later.
"We decided to prioritise on some of these segments because these are the areas where the sleepers are more badly worn out. We have got an immediate term, medium term and a longer term plan in place to change out all these sleepers over time. For the sake of safety and integrity of our track system, it is important that we change this out so that the system can be refreshed and upgraded for future needs," said Mr Kuek.
Since March, about 2,800 of the 180,000 sleepers on the line have been replaced.
SMRT aims to replace about 3,000 worn—out sleepers by the end of the year. All of the 180,000 sleepers on the line will be replaced under a major programme co—funded by the government and SMRT.
Mr Kuek said the project is making good progress.
But SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) are still discussing if there is a need to extend maintenance hours to speed up the process.
"We try not to disrupt the train services and inconvenience the commuters. We try and work within the hours that we have available but it is a severe constraint for us. If we do have to extend those hours for maintenance, we will discuss this with LTA, and do so," he said.
"We will let the residents’ community in the vicinity where the re—sleepering is going to be done know way in advance so that they can be better prepared for the inconvenience," he added.
It is understood that SMRT and the LTA are also assessing if the wooden sleepers should be replaced with concrete ones, which are cheaper and more durable.
The target is to complete the project by 2019. The project will be carried out in three stages.
The public transport operator said any planned service disruptions are most likely to take place in 2014 as the project enters its final stage.
The timber sleepers, or rail support, are being replaced on certain stretches of the MRT system along the North—South line, as part of stepped—up measures to improve service reliability following the major disruptions in December last year.
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