From the Red Line
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From the Red Line

On new trains and Bomb(ed)ardier

Some interesting news came out of Hampshire Road a while ago, which I thought I’d talk about since rumour has it that interesting things are going to happen soon anyway.

Bombardier Transportation has been selected to deliver the R151 trains that will replace the current Kawasaki C151s plying the compass lines since 1987.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m not sure how it will turn out, although I’m not going to be waiting with bated breath to find out. Trains are just trains, after all, and we all have a job or school to get to.

I did write previously on how fleet management on the compass lines isn’t entirely the best situation, and with that I’ve been asked a while ago what Contract R151 will mean for that. This is a bit late, owing to some personal circumstances that have kept me from writing for a while, but I’ll try my best.

66 reasons why (not)

It’s interesting to see the choice of another builder besides Kawasaki (with consortium partners CRRC Qingdao Sifang). Considering that Kawasaki would basically be producing more of the same trains that are part of the C151A/B/C contracts, part commonality would be guaranteed if they went with Kawasaki.

However, if you recall, the consortium suffered a big blowback with news that 26 out of 35 C151A trains had to be returned to China for rebuilds after substandard steel was used in their construction. There should consequently have been some pushback (not just among the public, internally as well) after the incident where we had to return some trains from the Kawasaki-Sifang consortium to China for repairs. With public confidence shaken, that’s minus point number one.

Another minus point is that Kawasaki was asking for almost a billion dollars, if you check the LTA’s tenders site. That’s easily 15–20% more expensive than Bombardier’s offer, and 30% more than Alstom. There was no way guanxi and compatible trains was going to swing the bid in their favour, especially when AGO and MOF is being extremely anal about things lately, and no one wants to be audited. Just ask NAC and the $900k bin centre.

It can’t happen here

On the other hand, Bombardier have had their share of problems as well. While their joint venture with CRRC Changchun did successfully deliver the 276-car Downtown Line fleet, that’s just a spot of optimism amongst their many worldwide troubles. I can’t say for sure that those issues will happen here, but I thought it was worth a look.

A few months ago, the New Yorkers decided to ban Bombardier from participating in their massive R211 contract, worth about S$ 5 billion. Why? To cut a long story short, Bombardier had been selected to deliver 300 train cars to New York, all due by end-2017. Repeated production troubles meant that the first vehicles were delayed for 2 years, and didn’t enter service until end-2017, and increased the costs incurred by NYC by about 20%.

In Toronto, we hear a similar tale of woe. Welding problems in Bombardier’s supply chains resulted in delayed deliveries of new streetcars to Toronto, and even after they were delivered, they had to be sent back for modifications not unlike our C151A incident.

Why do I mention these? While I understand that these manufacturing troubles are largely contained to Bombardier’s North American operations, as a global company there’s a chance that they could affect other parts of their operations as well. I personally wouldn’t be too optimistic, especially when it was revealed that the issues with the C151A was a result of Kawasaki not providing enough oversight on Qingdao Sifang, who were actually building the trains. With Bombardier’s troubles in their own house, how much attention can they pay to Changchun?

Fleet for the future?

Even assuming these new vehicles arrive, what will they mean for the compass lines’ operations? I don’t think it’ll do much to resolve the problem of having multiple vehicle types, unless there are future options LTA can exercise, in order to replace some of the other train classes. Remember, only 66 x 6 vehicles were ordered, allowing only a one for one replacement of the existing Kawasaki C151s, and there was no talk about options for any more. There doesn’t seem to be any room for fleet expansion without calling a separate contract.

But as discussed earlier, assuming a separate contract is called, what should that separate contract contain? New trains alone aren’t good enough, prices get jacked up unnecessary, as we saw previously with both the C830C and TfL’s aborted train order. It would be best to combine these with a replacement contract. So which should go out the window?

I’m thinking the C751B, which should be up for replacement by the time R151 deliveries complete, and perhaps the C151A as well, which we had to send back to China for repairs. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think the repairs will hold for the next 20-odd years. And at the end of the line, maybe the old C651s (old white trains) could also go too, but they’re planned to undergo a refurbishment so they could hang on a while more.

For the C751B, a “consultancy assessment” tender was put out by LTA. I guess they’re making the decision internally on whether they should refurbish or scrap the trains, I guess.

Of course, they could still surprise us, but I’m not waiting with bated breath to find out.

EDIT: Looks like they did

A few days after I posted this article, it was silently announced that SMRT had dropped the C651 refurbishment project. I’m not a fan of the project, mainly because of personal distaste for the old honkers, but cancelling the refurbishment does raise some questions, including how the two already-refurbished sets are going to be dealt with. The C651s will run out of shelf life in 2022, so what will replace them? More R151s?

I hope that’s what LTA plans, but we might have some issues with contract law, government procurement and whatnot, which I’m probably not qualified to discuss…




A blog on transport issues in the Garden City of Singapore. You can say that I love controversy. Posts can get technical! Abuse of comments may be blocked. Subscribe to Telegram for updates:

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