Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed 3 weeks ago that the Bukit Panjang LRT system was built under political pressure.
Today, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng revealed in parliament that the design of the BPLRT system was not suited to the terrain of Bukit Panjang, but the government went ahead and built it anyway.
Said Mr Ng today:
“In the 1990s, LTA was exploring a pilot network to bridge the last-mile gap from the MRT system and ease vehicle congestion within housing estates where population growth had stretched the road capacity. Bukit Panjang was identified in 1994 for the pilot, even though it was planned and built without LRT in mind.”
But the government, according to Mr Khaw, was under “political pressure” – it had promised Bukit Panjang residents alternative public transport options to meet their needs.
When pressed by Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh to elaborate on the “political pressure” comment, Mr Ng said:
“The primary issue with the BPLRT is that the design was adapted from an airport system to a housing estate… It was a ‘straight-line’ design which had to be adapted to undulating terrain and sharp turns.”
As a result of the government’s attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole, the BPLRT’s design incorporating “sharp turns over undulating terrain” and over time this led to “power trips at the sharp bends where the trains’ collector shoes often dislodge from the power rail”.
Construction on the BPLRT began in 1996, with the 1997 General Election looming in the shadows.
The PAP at the time was riding on a clear majority in parliament, winning 77 out of 81 seats despite garnering 61 percent of the popular vote in the 1991 General Election.
Mah Bow Tan and Lim Hng Kiang went on to helm the Transport Ministry and National Development ministry respectively.
The train line was completed in 1999 at a cost of S$285 million.
Since then, it has arguably become Singapore’s most problematic train line ever.
To quote state media agency The Straits Times:
“Between 1999 and 2003, the service broke down about 50 times. One breakdown even lasted for five days. The system suffered from power failure, problems with the trains’ brakes and problems with the train system’s design and maintenance, including poor supervision. By 2012, it had suffered about 150 breakdowns.”
Mr Khaw took over the reins of Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport in 2015.
He has said that he didn’t enjoy the ride on the few occasions he rode the BPLRT, and that “no LRT is designed that way, in such a masochistic manner, where you force yourself up and down, twist and turn… It caused me dizziness … but that’s life.”