From the Red Line
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From the Red Line

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There may yet be some possibilities for conservation of resources.

Some of you looking out the back of TEL trains on the recently open Stage 2 might notice this just outside Bright Hill station — a track that leads seemingly to a dead end.

According to the Thomson Line blog, the plan for that may likely be to construct a future track connection to the CRL tracks beyond Bright Hill station (or in other words, towards Turf City and the west). For what, nobody knows, especially since the release of Contract CR159 all but confirms that CRL, like NEL, will be powered by an overhead electrification system.

How it can be built is probably not a problem. The URA Masterplan shows the CRL tunnels past Bright Hill continuing under Sin Ming Walk and onwards to the CCNR — there may be some disruption, but things are likely to have to be cut and cover in that area anyway, which means a third track for CRL, connecting to this stub, can also be thrown in.

There is some precedent. Before 2015, Downtown Line trains operating between Bugis and Chinatown didn’t have access to Gali Batu Depot, and there was clearly no space for a maintenance facility along the line. That might have been the impetus for the Circle Line Extension, where they can use all the space they want at Marina Bay to provide maintenance facilities for DTL trains, getting there through the connection tracks at Bayfront. And if necessary, things could also be escalated to Kim Chuan Depot.

Choo choo

The idea proposed by some quarters is that locomotives and other maintenance vehicles can be shared across the two lines using this spur track. But with what we know now, this is a relatively large concern because, well, what’s going to power the locomotives? Urban legends abound on how the DTL trains would get to Marina Bay or Kim Chuan, but it was presumably much easier with compatible train lengths and power systems, and ATP could always be bypassed to run the DTL trains on the CCL tracks. Those aren’t available here.

To sidetrack a bit, I think readers here all know that since NEL, we design our railway systems to be mostly isolated within the line itself. So it is entirely possible that not only do ATP systems differ across lines, the power systems can and do also differ. And on the JRL, this is taken to an extreme — even if the trains physically fit, the positioning of third rail may not be entirely compatible in order to feed the smaller JRL vehicles.

So even assuming you could move the locomotive along the tracks by bypassing the ATP protection systems, power will still need a solution. With the loads to be pulled, batteries may not be a very sustainable solution for getting to worksites. One solution could be to require the CRL locomotives to be dual-mode, able to function on both the third rail and overhead power supplies. But that might add a lot of complexity for not a lot of benefit, especially if their excursions to TEL are at the rate of once every few years.

That said, it may not be all. Rarely-used vehicles, such as rail grinders, can and also should be shared between lines. As mentioned previously, if RTS Operations is able to rent a rail grinder, for example, from SMRT TEL, it could reduce their capital and maintenance costs, since they can only pay for what they use. Such an arrangement could be similar to how the French TGV inspection train takes occasional visits to high speed lines in the UK and Belgium.

Another possibility is that costly condition analysis vehicles could also be shared, if a majority of the mileage they would otherwise cover can be covered by passenger trains with automatic track inspection systems. That would then leave such vehicles as only a second line of defense and would likely thus spend a lot of downtime in the depot. Sharing would keep the utilization of a single vehicle high and save plenty of money. It might be possible now, but would be a lot of trouble.

With the Circle and Downtown lines, the Bayfront track connection can already be reactivated for such uses today. With LTA as common asset owner, it could take the lead in negotiating some kind of cost-sharing or compensation agreement for each line to use equipment belonging to the other should the need arise, to pay for things such as training and supporting manpower.

Off road

The second benefit of track connections is a somewhat indirect one, but it depends on whether good connections can be provided.

As we all know, the ITTC is located at the same site as the future western depot of the CRL. It would not be surprising if a connection was built between the ITTC and the CRL west depot, and some facilities such as test tracks can be shared between both locations.

Access to TEL can then be obtained by proceeding down the CRL and to this connecting track at Bright Hill. From the TEL, one can then proceed to the RTS, or to the ECID where there are indications of potential connections being provided to the EWL tracks of Tanah Merah station, possibly in order to future-proof in advance the possible extension of TEL over the old Changi Airport Line tracks. If that doesn’t happen, it might still be worth keeping such connections anyway.

Locomotives can be subsequently used to haul trains across the various lines, at least just long enough that the receiving line can take over with its own locomotives (or just to dual fit multiple ATP systems). This is similar to Toei’s practice of using E5000 locomotives to transport Oedo Line trains along the Asakusa Line, for their heavy overhaul activities at the Asakusa Line’s depot.

We may not always be able to do exactly that, since we have a habit of generally ordering more trains than we can use, and vehicle age/overhaul cycles might stretch long enough that it’s enough to keep each depot’s overhaul workshop generally busy. And that’s including the occasional large scale repair (touch wood), so there’s not much of a point sharing the workshop itself.

But as always, as you will hear me say, care needs to be taken. If the connections are too indirect, it could turn into a three day trip just for EWL trains to cross the road to get to Tuas West Depot (as an example), which means hiring outriders and arranging for the special railway vehicle transporters will still be faster.

Though I guess some use may yet be better than little use.

Pack it up

Should we do that, it means four lines now have direct or indirect connections to the ITTC, which will make it more useful. Simpler arrangements can be put in to bring trains to the ITTC for testing to perform in-depth diagnosis on certain issues (such as that of increased TEL train noise) or to try out science experiments.

New trains can even be unloaded at the ITTC, put through their paces there, and then hauled onto the MRT system from there to their home line, restricting the bother of heavy transporter convoys to just the Tuas area. Or vice versa, with old trains towed to the ITTC and held there before going for disposal, allowing space to be freed up more quickly in the depots.

And better yet, the ITTC can also take on a role similar to Acton Works or the Tokyo Metro Shin-Kiba workshop (also accessed through interline links), providing a base for refurbishment of trains and other similar heavily invasive modifications to the rolling stock. Doing this elsewhere thus frees up valuable workshop space for the maintenance of the current fleet, especially should projects drag on for so long that they need to share the workshop tracks with a vehicle maintenance overhaul cycle.

The question now is, without a local company being able to dedicate itself to such work due to a lack of a steady stream, how this can be done. Sure, maybe if the NEL C751A refurbishment project drags on for long enough, CRRC Nanjing Puzhen may be able to move its workplace to the ITTC. They can be the first occupier, but I don’t anticipate them being there beyond 2026 with the C751A refurbishment likely to finish up by then.

Or the use of the site could just be offered to whatever company that tenders for such works, though what to do with the staff employed for such purposes between the various projects, would be another question altogether to handle.



Here to make you think about 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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