STARiS V1.0 & STARiS V2.0

I refer to the article posted in TechInAsia here.

As much as I want to change the STARiS V2.0 (it really does seem unprofessional), however the author does not seem to recognise other features that one could find inside a train. It could be potentially questionable to whether the author did even take said train before, as some of the “issues” the author pointed out are already a non-issue.

Let me take a breakdown of the points with reference to the above-mentioned article.


STARiS V1.0

STARiS V1.0 when it was implemented, the map display is actually already planned ahead, but the change that really required them to change this system is the Canberra MRT between Sembawang and Yishun.

However even it would only open in 2019, around the same time when Thomson-East Coast Line would open.

This would mean they could potentially use this system all the way till 2019, as the map also has DTL 3 stations labelled (Expo & Tampines).

Therefore they are not in a hurry to change the system, they have at least 2 years.


STARiS V2.0

1. Yes, I do agree it is ugly.

When it was first unveiled to the public via a press release in early 2016, I almost spat my covfefe (coffee).

However, the general public won’t give a damn about the font used (unless it’s Comic Sans), as long as they are legible and easy to read.

It could be improved in the future with possibly more modern themed icons, but as long as they are easy to understand, it’s fine.

2. Yes, it does not show the full train network most of the time.

However, there is a fatal flaw with this argument.

photo_2017-07-05_18-53-04.jpgc151a-ecb
Image credits to SgTrains.

Look closely to the two objects inside the red rectangle that’s pointed out in the first picture above. They’re static route maps.

What are their purpose? It’s to allow commuters to have something to refer to!

The panel map has an almost identical layout as the default map used in STARiS V1.0.
The smaller sticker has the most up-to-date system map.

There’s no excuse of having no maps to refer to, honestly.

No information is being removed, honestly.

3. Geographically accurate vs System diagram

Blah, blah blah. I’ve went through this already above. There’s already a system map available for people to refer to! It is there all the time as well!

I felt that the geographically accurate map is a nice touch for people to judge their travelling distance, and it points out the direction of the train as well.

4. Slideshow of nearby landmarks.

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Credits to Maxson Goh.

Ironically the images doesn’t need to be labelled because the pictures themselves are labelled.

Unless you couldn’t read “SEMBAWANG“, “SUN PLAZA“?

If you are unable to realise, all the images shown are either landmarks or pictures that label themselves.

They don’t just show any pictures taken by Tom, Dick or Harry. They’re all probably carefully chosen so that one can easily recognise the landmark if that were to be the commuter’s destination.

This is particularly useful for tourists who probably have seen many pictures of such said landmark but haven’t been there before.

5. I agree that the lack of carriage labelling makes that platform layout quite useless.

Only if you’re either in the first or last carriage, otherwise this won’t help at all.

6. Slow animations.

1-MI5APug6gx4xnXaofu3NXA.gif
Credits to Maxson Goh.

Yes the text animations are slow, but it’s animated to allow the text to be where the said way out, otherwise it’d just be all clashed together in a mess, like “ESCALATORSLIFTSESCALATORS”.

However, if you take a closer look, there’s icons denoting a lift, escalators, and stairs. These are easy to see and are always there.

7. Overly-detailed station maps.

1-WzSRqupy5vwuMNUs1H56sw.png

As much as a detailed map may frustrate someone, but it’s important to take a closer look to why they decide on showing you a detailed map.

One main purpose you could see is the Passenger Service Center (PSC) that’s labelled in a distinguishable green. That is important to note of, if you have a issue.

Another thing you could identify is the paid area. The gantries are easily seen as well and you could see where you would be facing once you tap out. This is good if you’re in a hurry.

As much as it may be overly-detailed, labelling of the PSC, escalators/lifts/stairs, gantries, paid area (by a shaded area) and the exits would be good enough.

Also, there is nothing wrong with the labelling. There is indeed a “Sri Mariamman Temple” at Khatib.

Capture.PNG
Google Maps

It is a cool 15 minutes walk, just opposite of Khatib Camp. But it’s there.

8. Multilingual Displays

Multilingual displays generally couldn’t work as well in Singapore as most of the places in Singapore are literally directly translated into one of the 4 languages.

May be helpful in the future, but not a direct requirement.

You can’t use Japan as a direct comparison because their main display language is foreign to most people, including tourists. In Singapore, everything is English by default.

9. Connecting Bus Services

There is no need for this as there is already a notice board dedicated to displaying all dedicated bus service routes linking each MRT station from that station.

It’s equally easy to just whip out your smartphone to find out about bus services at your MRT Station in just a matter of minutes, way before you even reach your MRT stop.


Conclusion

The STARiS V2.0 isn’t a perfect rendition, but however it isn’t the worst.

As much as it may be an annoyance and irritation during your travelling experience, just avoid the new trains, simple.

It’s more important for SMRT and LTA to focus on establishing the Thales CBTC system first before anything else, if I’m honest.

Debate: Travelling Time vs Waiting Time

Travelling by bus can get quite frustrating sometimes, as it involves mainly two variables which are both important, but however opposing of each other.

It is almost like a law, where one variable would usually stand out over the other. However, it is quite impossible to get both variables low. At least with the model employed in Singapore.


As a Commuter

Most people don’t give a damn on how you operate your bus services. As long as they get from point A to point B, within a set desired time limit.

You’d usually want both short waiting times and short travelling times. This equates to having a good bus frequency and have fast average travelling speed.

Unfortunately the real life doesn’t always work in your favour, and it always go lop-sided. If you’re unlucky, even both variables can take longer than usual.


Waiting Time

This is the main variable that the Land Transport Authority focuses on. They did several tell-tale signs by setting a requirement to have all bus services to operate with a set maximum frequency of 15 minutes per bus during weekdays. Obviously special services are exempted.

Usually high demand services would get a good bus frequency, around 3 to 7 minutes for a bus during weekday peak hours.

The bus services are controlled by a system employed by all current public bus operators known as Common Fleet Management System (CFMS).

You could read more about it at Land Transport Guru, however all you need to know is that the system determines how fast or slow your bus is required to travel by the headway, not schedule.

So, if your front bus speeds, you too, and so forth.
If your front bus slows, you too, and so forth.

It sounds good, except that it doesn’t work exceptionally well for services with very short headway, and even more exceptionally on services where it passes through congestion almost everyday (Stevens Road is a good example.).

As the system only updates with a set interval, some bus drivers could be receiving outdated information if the system hasn’t updated their timing. This would greatly impact high frequency services, and can cause a domino effect that could potentially last for several hours.

The system does not consider errant drivers as well, who decides to follow the schedule instead of maintaining headway.

This potentially can cause all the back buses to come close, and they would be ordered to slow down, effectively elongating the travelling time of the passengers in those buses, despite them following schedule as well.

In an attempt to maintain a good frequency (and headway), the travelling time of people in multiple buses had to be extended, even when there’s multiple buses all close to each other.

Another thing the system does not cover is departure times. The buses would depart usually on schedule (instead of headway), therefore carrying the long headway onward as well. However the frequencies of the buses behind are more or less regulated as well. But with the late bus requiring to handle the heavy passenger loads posed by the longer headway between itself and the front bus, it is bound to be delayed. The system does not take this into consideration as well, to deploy another bus closely behind to alleviate the crowd.


Travelling Time

Travelling fast could be considered both a luxury and a thrill.

You are less likely to be anxious about being late or be more concerned with the time if you were to be on a bus with a fast driver. However, Singapore lacks a system to manage average speeds, whereas in other countries they do.

The main concern is that faster speeds equate to more accidents. False.
Speeds have almost nothing to do with accidents. The reason why this is portrayed is simply because high speed accidents usually would result in a fatality whereas low speed accidents don’t. There’s way more low speed accidents in Singapore than fast speeds, just that fast speed crashes are more of a “newsworthy” material. It’s just an illusion brought up by the press.

However, the maximum speed of a bus in Singapore is already capped at 60kmh. It couldn’t get any faster even if it wanted to. It’s still considerably slow.

Either way, as everyone is armed with a smartphone, they can easily check for the timing for the next bus, and hence frequency becomes a non-concern – just simply leave your house to reach the bus stop when the bus is arriving soon, so you don’t have to spend any time waiting for the bus a the bus stop.

Therefore in theory, your total travelling time could be reduced quite drastically if the travelling time is reduced. But obviously there are some flaws with this as well.

If buses start to travel fast, heavy bunching could occur at congestion points.

But this would allow drivers to overtake errant drivers who drives at a constant low speed, and reduce the headway in front. Having a faster journey could even potentially allow more trips to be conducted throughout the day even with the same amount of break time. Talk about efficiency.


The Conclusion

But to be honest, buses bunching after a long headway really isn’t bad at all for passengers. I’d rather wait 20 minutes to still be able to get on a bus than to wait 7 minutes for a bus that I may not even be able to board.

Perhaps it is the operations where bunching is undesired. But being a public service, shouldn’t the service prioritise the passengers’ needs instead of operational needs?

Hong Kong could run fast bus services yet maintaining a good frequency. LTA needs to realise that several bus services are made to be a good alternative from the MRT. But with their current scheduling, it isn’t looking to be the best of options for now.

The North-South Line and Tuas West Extension Fiasco

Everyone should know about the fiasco going on about Communications-Based Train Control, or CBTC in short, that’s currently being on full-day trial on the North-South Line, and in normal operations on the Tuas West Extension.

On the Tuas West Extension, we couldn’t say much because it’s built with the new signalling equipment, without the old ones supplied by Westinghouse. (Which is basically now under Siemens.) However, we will talk about the Tuas West Extension later in the article. For now, let’s focus more on the North-South Line, as it serves basically more than 20% of the nation that’s living in the north (Yishun, Sembawang, Woodlands, Choa Chu Kang).


Thales SelTrac CBTC vs Westinghouse

What is the difference between CBTC and Westinghouse anyway?

The new CBTC signalling allows the trains to run at much shorter frequencies at 100 second intervals instead of 120 second intervals with the old Westinghouse signalling system.

It doesn’t sound as much when put into numbers, but it can greatly increase the amount of trains per hour by a significant amount. As the old system has been serving for over 30 years, a signalling change is required to replace the old system which could get more costly to maintain over time.

The two signalling systems operate quite differently as well. Imagine a straight one-lane road, with two traffic lights in-between.

Under Westinghouse, only one car can occupy a stretch of road between two traffic lights at any given time.

Whereas under CBTC, multiple cars can occupy that same stretch of road between the same two traffic lights at any given time.

The new system allows the Operations Control Centre (OCC) to identify the exact location of the train itself as well, whereas the old system only allowed them to know whether the stretch of tracks (usually between 800m to 1000m) is occupied, or not.


The North-South Line

Here’s a short timeline to recap about the commence of CBTC:

That’s the five main dates you’ll remember. In the chart in the first two links, you may be wondering why does it take 10+ months to complete just 7% of the re-signalling project?

My guess is probably just installation in Bishan Depot, and perhaps tests that were carried out as well. But you have to note that they are more dominantly occupied by the track sleeper replacement project that is prioritised over the re-signalling project. Why? Because residents kept complaining about the large amount of noise levels during late night.

However, another thing that baffles me is that they shifted from the last-hour operations to full Sunday operations in just 19 days of testing, which roughly equates to 19 hours or less of passenger hour testing. (They did not use the system when there’s train service extensions on public holiday eves.).

Alright, then let me list the incidents that occured between 28 Mar and 16 Apr along the North-South Line.

Alright, so neither of those two faults were related to the new signalling as both did not occur during CBTC operations.

So let us look to the next period: Full Day operations during Sundays.

Seems good, no major faults reported during CBTC operations. But little did they know…
Alright. Time for the finale: The Full Day Trial.

Wow. What the heck happened?


The Crackdown

Most people would’ve compared how terrible Land Transport Authority did to introduce the CBTC system to the grid as compared to how UK did it, with their Jubilee and Northern Lines both equipped with CBTC (TBTC on the Jubilee Line).

Admittedly…yes. I felt that Land Transport Authority did rush a bit, for a couple of reasons.

Here are some reasons why I think the faults were occurring on the North-South Line, and why LTA kept rushing the project.

  1.  They already exceeded the deadline set back in 2012.
    The original deadline for the new system to be fully implemented on the North-South Line is in 2016. However, sleeper replacement works took priority and hence the re-signalling project is delayed.
  2.  They couldn’t wait to test the new C151B trains.
    Dubbed the B-Trains, they came lavished in clean, white livery with 1 new feature which is STARiS v2.0, a.k.a. the TV screens you see on top of every door. Manufactured in China by Kawasaki and CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co, every aspect of the train is exactly the same as their C151A counterparts that were already in service in 2011. But what makes them different is that they do not come installed with the Westinghouse signalling equipment. That’s right. It means these pretty new trains has been sleeping in the train depot for nearly over a year, unable to be put on service (or even on testing!) as none of the train lines were using CBTC.
  3.  The diversity of the trains on the North-South Line.
    This is more of a theory than something factual, I may be completely wrong, but I remembered LTA mentioned it somewhere. As the North-South Line have many different types of trains, and each train using a different (or same) traction motor, it requires time for the system to time the time required for that particular train to stop nicely in the station.
  4.  The old Singaporean enemy: Rain.
    In the UK, you don’t get as much rain as here in Singapore. When it rains, it pours here. The tracks get very slippery and as the system is fully automatic in the rain as well, something is bound to go wrong. I’ve heard many, MANY incidents of trains overrunning stations by a few doors during rainy weather. When a train overruns, it needs to reverse back into the station, costing precious time. The train frequencies therefore got bad (really, really bad) when the back trains begin to bunch. Take a look at this visualisation to how bunching can occur even with a small delay. Even though it’s about buses, the trains travel at the same speed and several factors such as passengers rushing last-minute into trains could potentially cause a ripple effect and cause a massive train bunch up.
  5.  There are many bugs with the new system that are not fixed.
    I have noticed several of these as well, and some goes from minor to even perhaps able to disrupt services. The most minor bug would be that the train doors and the Platform-Screen Doors would close simultaneously without any announcement. It may seem minor, but it could delay the train if there is… let’s say, a human sandwich, with the bread being the doors and the human being the meat. The doors are fully automatically controlled as well. The more breaking bug would be at Jurong East. I’ve seen it before, where the train would just casually coast over the crossover while the front train is still inside the station. The result is that the train need to reverse out of the crossover to allow the front train out of Jurong East. It becomes total gridlock if there’s massive bunching behind.
  6.  It’s the holidays.
    They could either wait until December or… June! Admittedly, they wanted to avoid having the system still be in testing phase when school reopens. However, implementing the new signalling system didn’t sound as good as it went, and the testing phase went right over the school opening. People were complaining, asking SMRT and LTA to conduct tests at night. However, residents would complain of loud noises and being unable to sleep at night, which already happened many times before. That is why they didn’t conduct intensive testing during off service hours. The trains need to undergo maintenance as well during non-revenue hours as well. Track maintenance is at high priority as well. They can’t keep testing the new signalling system to have you all complaining again because of track fault. The UK had a luxury of a period of time with reduced frequency train services, Singapore don’t.
  7.  They could have needed Tuas Depot to free up space for more maintenance work on trains.
    Tuas Depot is probably filled with more than 20 B-Trains when they were all delivered to Singapore. Most of the parking space is probably taken up by these dust-pickers which probably just slept inside the depot for nearly a year. Tuas Depot is said to be a major depot which maintenance and overhaul can be carried out in, aside from Bishan Depot. Freeing up a depot for more maintenance work could allow Bishan Depot to have lesser workload on maintenance and to focus more on Signalling checks, and fixing critical issues with the B-Trains, if one were to appear.

What could have been done better?

Well, as another 19-year-old had pointed out, make full use of shadow mode like what the Tube did with the Jubilee Line.

However, I am actually unsure if LTA/SMRT did perform a shadow mode with CBTC on the North-South Line. But looking at how bad things are going, either they tested it too little, or they did not test at all.

One key difference between Singapore and UK is that the CBTC in Singapore is 100% automatic – including door operations; whereas in the Tube, it’s manual even in Automatic. Hence the notices you see on the platforms regarding the automatic doors.

Some did point out they could have performed the signalling upgrade to the short Changi Airport Extension, but unfortunately as the 19-year-old (damn it!) had already pointed out, the depot is going to move to a newer facility, it is just a waste of money to install the new signalling inside the entire Changi Depot as well. Furthermore, delaying people on the way to catch their flights isn’t the best idea either.

Testing in phases really did seem to be the best choice in theory, however it would mean that the new B-Trains can’t be put on service. It’s very difficult to perform phase testing for North-South Line either as passenger demand for the entire line is quite high.

Hence that’s maybe the reason why LTA dove straight for full-line testing. I don’t really blame them either, just that they are too rushed and failed to properly educate the public.

Honestly, I don’t feel like being treated as a guinea pig, contrary to what people have been saying in various social medias. Not that I support LTA, but I just felt that suffering for this period of time may prove to be a huge improvement to the big latter part of your life.

One contingency plan they could have made in place is to deploy more Service Ambassadors at high-flow stations, and prepare buses and maybe ask SBS Transit to assist them to provide a train shuttle if the train line were to completely fail.

I felt like LTA could have done better in terms of communicating the possible train delays. Explaining to the public about the rush for new train system, DOs and DON’Ts need to be emphasised as well.

When there is a delay or fault, the issue needs to be immediately conveyed to all passengers and platform staff, and the general public as fast as possible.

If you can’t prevent an incident from occurring, make yourself shine by being the best at solving them.

Introduction

Greetings everyone!

This is a blog made by fellow transport enthusiasts in Singapore.

The aim of this blog is to attempt to explain what is going on in Singapore, so therefore you could maybe think of this blog as a “latest news blog”. (However we can’t beat the guys at Land Transport Guru to be the first to post about new buses.)

Anyways, being the first to post about the latest news probably won’t be the main purpose of this blog. As a transport enthusiast, usually we would delve more into the transport subject before making assumptions that would just seem absurdly out-of-the-world, like those you’d see on the comment sections of Strait Times or TODAY on Facebook.

Or, complaining a train service delay to SMRT (or Feedback) on Facebook, but then the train line in question is however the North-East Line. (Trust me guys, this happened more often that you’d imagine.)

But over here, those are just minor concerns, as this blog is also made for venting anger at the incompetency of the transport ministry. I must admit, they did not do all bad, but what they were trying to do currently isn’t helping their image of us and the world.

Unfortunately Singaporeans are born to be all critics and it does get quite difficult when the press would publish a coverage on the latest incidents, and people just look at the title and criticise. It really made me felt like a fool, wanting to shy off from them. But they’re not wrong either.

Therefore, the birth of this blog. Mostly from frustration from reading the comment section on Facebook.

Don’t worry, I’ll try to cite as much as possible to make articles here more relevant and more truthful.

Thanks for taking your time to read all these, and maybe my future ramblings.
Goodbye and have a good stay here!