Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Circle Line will not cope with a 6.9 million population

Even if the population figure remains constant for the next decade, likewise for the ridership, Circle Line is just coping with the current ridership.

Operational system 
 Circle Line trains operate at an off peak intervals of 7 min and peak hour interval at 4 min. Yes, exactly a FOUR MINUTE WAIT during peak hours. You might think that there is hardly anyone taking this line during peak hour, don't you? But SMRT wardens are being deployed at certain Circle Line stations during peak hours and that betrays the size of the peak hour crowd. Circle Line trains are operating with only 3 cabin capacity, half of that of NS and EW trains, yet with a frequency of 4 min for peak period and covering 4 interchanges along its route. 

And any regular train commuter can tell you about the extent of a 4 min peak hour crowd and how fast the commuters would form on the platform for every second of the 4 minute duration as demonstrated by AMK station. Of course, Circle Line is not as bad as the NS or EW line and definitely none of its current stations that are not interchange can be as bad as AMK station yet. But it could be considered bad as long as there runs the possibility of having to wait for subsequent trains before passengers get to board the train on the Circle Line. And that does happen on Circle Line at current population size.

And our Circle Line is currently operating for a 5.4 million population only.

The much hyped 77 new trains ad dreamed about commuters getting home sooner baffles me. The 77 figure alone will not achieve the desired outcome if it fails to translate into higher train frequency, higher travel speed, near zero train disruptions and a CONSTANT ridership (which means that ridership will not go up, well, of course that will be a dream) simultaneously. It is the combination of all these factors to achieve the desired outcome of  “get us home sooner”. And to be honest, I wouldn’t care if LTA was to bring in another half a peanut or hundred trains as long as my actual train travel time could be reduced without having to fight with fists and elbows to get on board a peak hour train. It doesn’t help if more trains come into existence when trains were to travel at 2/3 of the pre-2011 train speed; or if train ridership was to be increased by 50% when waiting time has been shortened; or if there were even more train disruptions when more trains were running. We can forget about the dream of getting home sooner if either one of the factors fail to effect.

To expect ridership to remain constant is a dream which LTA conveniently forgets to put it on its ad.

The policy makers are gearing for a 6.9 million or more population target. There is no info on the proportion of "poor" people which they intend to import from overseas who will further strain our current train system and the size of the spill of these “poor” onto Circle Line is also unknown. So when the 77 new trains are channelled into existing or future train lines, the effect of shorter wait time or higher train speed if they had been enforced by then can be completely eroded by the future growth of ridership. The effect might be even worse than now. We have no idea how concretely will that 77 brand new trains will deal with the increasing ridership. This ridership factor may be that single monstrous thing that will eat up whatever attempts that LTA or SMRT do to improve our current transport situations.

That will leave us with only two possibilities for the future: either the status quo train travelling experience or a worsening situation. No, I have absolutely no confidence that our train travel experience will ever see the light of the golden years of our train standard of the 90s under the current batch of policy makers.

Struggling hardware
Current fleet of Circle Line trains are the second newest of the entire train system. Its hardware quality is impressive in the sense that the air conditioning system is already failing to work efficiently even during off peak load. At its best, the flow of cool air is channelled into the cabins consistently which should be the standard we expect; at its worst, there is only cool air supply intermittently. It is tolerable in an enclosed area during off peak but definitely unpleasant during peak period.

To add on to the inconsistent conditioning system, the seats of the new trains will creak under the stress of weight and movements. That is unheard of on the older trains on EW and NS lines. But it has only been two and a half years since Circle Line went into operation.

Its current operation performance and hardware quality extinguish any faint hope that Circle Line will cope adequately for our 6.9 million population plan.

And mind you, this is just the Circle Line that I am talking about. EW and NS lines have been struggling for years to meet half of its service level of the early 2000s. It is an excruciating sight to witness for those who have seen the better standards of our train system.  

EW and NS lines
EW line will extend beyond Joo Koon very soon and will see more commuters adding on to the current peak hour load. 

Little imagination will be required to foresee the chaos at JE interchange when the extension actualizes. Current JE interchange is already devoting two platforms for NS bound trains to alleviate the load stress on NS bound trains during peak hours and yet barely accommodating all the waiting passengers heading towards NS line. If we think that it is coping, think of the time to come when new stations operate on EW line, it definitely will not be just a matter of one or two additional passengers from each of these new EW stations adding to the current load.

AMK station, despite not being an interchange, is handling excessive load. And its peak hour crush extends beyond 8pm where one may still have to wait for the next train to board. Possibility of boarding the train at the next station YCK is very, very slim after accommodating the load at AMK station. 

Train speed on certain segments on NS line is still painfully slow after a revamp of its wooden sleepers. One good example is the segment between YCK station and Khatib station. The distance that spans between these two stations is approximately 6km but train speed is only around 40km/hr even during peak period. Watch the video below on the pathetic peak-hour train heading for Khatib is being overtaken by trucks and vans. Unfortunately, this is a frequent sight on our trains. 

EW and NS lines are currently serving 5.4 million population only and commuters can vouch how well they are coping. Train disruption frequency shows no signs of abating two years after the removal of its former CEO. Train speed has certainly dropped. Getting home sooner remains an aspiration still. Alternatively, we can lower our expectation to the level where we should be grateful for not having the need to walk all the way home.

6.9 million and high speed rail
Think of the consequences when the population breaches the 6 million mark. Think of the consequences of the high speed rail that is set to connect Singapore and KL. Getting home sooner in the future will definitely be a nice but far-stretched dream.