SINGAPORE – New trains to ply the Bukit Panjang LRT system and North-South and East-West MRT lines will be able to be serviced in Singapore.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Wednesday (Oct 2) that its procurement process for new trains and railway systems now includes a necessary localised support arrangement in the contracts.

This reduces the downtime of the trains, as faulty parts no longer have to be sent back to manufacturers overseas, such as in Japan and France. This lowers the cost, bringing about savings that can trickle down to commuters.

“Under this agreement, suppliers are encouraged to set up local support offices in Singapore and provide PTOs (public transport operators) with training, technical and logistics support to ensure that the trains and other systems are rigorously serviced over their entire life cycle,” LTA said.

This would apply to the 66 new trains to replace the first-generation vehicles on the North-South and East-West lines, along with the new trains to be brought in as part of the Bukit Panjang LRT system revamp.

On Wednesday, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister of Transport, visited ST Engineering’s Electronic Card Repair Facility for Rail in Boon Lay. The facility has more than 60 engineers and technicians.

Electronic cards control functions such as the speed and the doors of trains.

On a North-South or East-West Line train, there are on average 800 such cards in its systems.

In 2017, ST Engineering signed a contract with SBS Transit to service the electronic cards on their trains.

In June this year, it signed another contract, and SMRT, which also has its own in-house electronic card repair capability, came on board the arrangement so that the industry players can share their expertise.

Prior to the arrangement, SBS Transit had to send faulty electronic cards back to their manufacturers overseas to be dealt with, which cost more and put affected trains out of service for longer.

It has since serviced a total of 483 electronic cards under the two contracts, and expect to save about $3.8 million between 2017 and 2020.

Mr Jeffrey Sim, SBS Transit’s head of rail development, said the company had been deciding whether to build up its own capabilities in servicing electronic cards, or to leverage some of the established electronics firms here, such as ST Engineering.

“We decided to go with the latter because they already have the capabilities,” he said. “It’s expensive setting up such capabilities in Singapore, therefore we work together with them leveraging their capabilities to afford outcomes for us.”

ST Engineering’s president of commercial business, Mr Tan Peng Kuan, said the company can repair electronic cards within two weeks. It would usually take around six to nine months if sent overseas.

“Our capability of the electronic cards started from the defence sector,” explained Mr Tan, adding that the company is leveraging that know-how in its foray into the rail sector.

SMRT Trains chief executive officer Lee Ling Wee said the rail operators benefit from the arrangement in three ways.

First, if the electronic cards are sent overseas, due to factors like travel time, it could take months or even years. “But if it’s done in Singapore, it would take weeks or even days.”

Second, when the cards are handled overseas, local firms rely only on the defect reports to know what the fault was and what was done to address it.

Having the servicing done in Singapore “gives us better assurance that the repairs are done well”, said Mr Lee.

Lastly, settling the servicing locally means the cost structure is more flexible, which helps the operators optimise their costs.

“This in turn lowers the cost of running train services in Singapore, and therefore it is beneficial for commuters as well.”