SMRT and NTU launch joint research laboratory to boost rail reliability

SMRT and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have launched a joint research laboratory to develop technology-driven solutions to build an urban rail system that is even more resilient and reliable as Singapore moves towards a car-lite future. The new SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory was officially launched today by the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan. The $60 million Corporate Laboratory will integrate the rail operations and engineering capabilities of SMRT with NTU’s research strengths in engineering.

The joint laboratory is supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore under its Corporate Laboratory@University Scheme, which funds key corporate laboratories set up through public-private partnerships. It is aimed at driving the effective translation of research into solutions that have direct relevance in addressing our national needs and meeting global challenges. The SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory is the first laboratory under this scheme to focus on rail transport capabilities.

NRF Chief Executive Officer Prof Low Teck Seng said, “The SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory is yet another collaboration under NRF’s Corporate Laboratory@University Scheme that will enable Singapore universities to carry out industry-relevant research. We are hopeful that the two partners will establish a strong collaboration that enables research to be translated into eventual benefits not just for the industry, but also Singaporeans.”

NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson said, “Singapore’s rail system is an important pillar supporting public transportation and economic growth, and it is important that it remains reliable and sustainable. This joint lab will leverage NTU’s established strengths in engineering and technology to develop innovative rail solutions that will not only enhance Singapore’s rail system but benefit the global transportation industry.”

SMRT President and Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Desmond Kuek, said, “The SMRT-NTU Corporate Laboratory marks a significant milestone in SMRT’s journey to improving rail reliability and delivering commuter-centric services. It is an excellent collaborative platform that brings together the operational and engineering experience of SMRT, and the scientific and research capabilities of NTU to deliver operational solutions that better serve the needs of our ageing and expanding rail transport network. These innovations will help solve some of the more intractable problems faced today, as well as proactively address the anticipated future challenges of a sustainable rail system that is safe and reliable for all.”

The SMRT-NTU Corporate Laboratory will focus on two complementary research tracks in the development of innovative urban rail solutions. Projects include developing real-time condition monitoring systems and enhancing the reliability of rail infrastructure and assets.

Track One: Eliminating problems before they occur
The first research track focuses on developing better detection methods and monitoring systems so that potential issues can be addressed quickly and accurately, even before they happen. With real-time data from sensors which monitor critical rail equipment, timely and accurate decisions can be made to address a fault before a potential service delay.
For example, new condition monitoring sensors such as thermo-acoustic sensors which detect temperature fluctuations within materials, can be used to find cracks and defects that lie deep within components such as rail foots and joints.
Through 3D printing, these sensors can also be customised to fit inaccessible spots.
This research track aims to allow components and parts to be repaired or replaced immediately on the same day. This greatly reduces the need to disrupt train services during operation hours and prevents technical issues from escalating into a problem.

Track Two: Enhancing reliability of existing rail assets
The second research track aims to enhance the reliability of existing rail assets by optimising maintenance and servicing processes. By using prediction methodologies and analytical tools to produce accurate data, the life span of train components and systems can be better assessed.
For example, prediction-analytical methods will be used to accurately assess wheel-rail wear and fatigue, and vibration and structural stresses that affect the longevity of critical rail and train components.
Track Two’s research projects will help in refining maintenance schedules to reduce potential problems, and ensure that train and track components are performing at their best.
Professor Lam Khin Yong, NTU’s Chief of Staff and Vice President for Research, said, “The new SMRT-NTU corporate lab will pave the way towards developing next-generation urban rail technologies and nurturing professionals that will contribute to Singapore’s smart mobility eco-system and network. This partnership also builds on NTU’s strong track record of collaboration with local and multinational companies including ST Engineering, Rolls-Royce, and BMW Group.”
Managing Director, SMRT Trains, Mr Lee Ling Wee, said, “Both research tracks supported by the SMRT-NTU Corporate Laboratory aim to strengthen the operational resilience of our rail network.
“By leveraging on the expertise of NTU, we hope to strengthen our current condition monitoring system capabilities and enhance the resilience of our rail infrastructure and trains. SMRT intends to integrate techniques from both complementary research tracks to improve rail reliability and better serve our commuters. The collaborative effort will also provide an opportunity to nurture our rail engineers and instil greater engineering passion while acquiring new knowledge and skills.”

Nurturing next-gen professional engineers
NRF’s Corporate Laboratory@University Scheme ensures that universities achieve impact by developing cutting edge solutions for problems faced by industries. The scheme, which promotes multi-party collaboration, also seeks to create employment opportunities in technology-driven industries and train a pool of industry-ready research manpower who can push the technology boundaries for these industries.
The SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory will nurture engineering specialists in the rail industry who are prepared to tackle future national transportation challenges and develop innovative transportation solutions that can be used globally.
The joint lab will provide training opportunities for over 100 undergraduates, 35 graduate students and 60 researchers, across a broad range of specialisations.

Speech by SMRT President and Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek, at the Official Opening of SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory on 20 May 2016

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan
NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson
NRF Chief Executive Officer, Professor Low Teck Seng
SMRT Board Chairman, Mr Koh Yong Guan
Distinguished Guests, Industry Partners, and Colleagues.

A very good morning. I join Bertil in welcoming you to the opening ceremony of the SMRT–NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (or in short, the Corp Lab).

Last month, Minister Khaw blogged about the North-South Line clearing 100 days without any major incident. The clock unfortunately had to be reset on the 25th of April, when both lines were affected by a power fault. So we start again. Achieving a high level of service and reliability is an ongoing effort, requiring consistent management and staff attention, close scrutiny of processes, sensing and sense-making of problem areas preventively and predictively across the entire system, and an indomitable will by all parties to drive toward excellence.
Even as we do so, the North-South and East-West lines are undergoing a complete renewal in its sleepers, signaling, third rail and power systems, station infrastructure, as well as refurbishing old trains and bringing in new ones to meet higher ridership demands.  It is a massive undertaking because it is all being done while the system is live – with only 3-4 hours each night to squeeze in as much engineering and maintenance work as possible before the line is cleared on time for commuter service at dawn the next day.  A doctor friend of mine remarked to me that we are doing an open heart surgery on a patient while he is still awake – and complaining of the pain.
Meanwhile, SMRT Train’s ridership continues to grow with a daily average of over 2 million passenger journeys on our North-South, East-West and Circle lines. Our trains cumulatively travel the distance of nearly twice round the equator every single day, and we strive to do so while ensuring that there is no single delay that affects commuters for more than 5 minutes.

It is a phenomenal effort. The network expansion and growing operational demands place even greater impetus on SMRT to examine new ways to make the rail system more robust, more resilient to failure, and quicker and more nimble to recovery if it should.
To this end, we must leverage on technological advancements through close collaboration with industry partners and academia, to introduce solutions that can enhance our preventive and predictive rail maintenance capabilities. One key effort is in condition monitoring to diagnose and arrest root causes of problems before they occur. This enables us to capture accurate health status of operating train and track equipment without affecting regular train services. Timely remedial actions and time-critical decisions can then be made, preventing any single but critical fault from cascading into a major service disruption. We have had success with the recent introduction of some such condition monitoring systems. One example is the Third Rail Sag Alert system, which has managed to capture 14 warning triggers in 2015.
So the first track in our research collaboration under the Corp Lab is to further explore and implement technological solutions for a more advanced condition monitoring system that will enhance the resilience and safety of our rail network. One specific project is the defect detection of the rail electrification system through non-contact radio frequency induction coupling technology. This allows us to identify and localise a train’s electrification defects on the third rail safely and remotely, so that early rectification can be done. Another project, which will create an “Automated Inspection System for train wheel and axle defects”, integrates automated testing and monitoring methodologies for undercarriage components with data analysis software. Being able to screen the structural integrity of the components allows accurate identification of problem areas for more detailed inspections.
The second track in research collaboration in Corp Lab is targeted at enhancing the integrity and reliability of our rail assets through re-manufacturing processes and failure mode analysis. An example is the project on wear life characterization and enhancement of rail and train wheel performance. This project enables us to optimize wear performance and enhance the resistance between the rail and train wheels. This means that we can better assess the remaining life of our rail and train assets, which translates to better prevention of potential faults through a refined maintenance schedule. What all these efforts lead to is smoother and uninterrupted journeys for all our commuters.

The Corp Lab is an excellent collaborative platform where industry meets academia for meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise, with the view to implementable solutions for today’s more intractable problems and in anticipation of tomorrow’s challenges.  NTU’s scientific and research capabilities will augment the operational and engineering experience of SMRT, and working together, we look forward to innovative solutions that will help ensure the sustainability and high performance of our rail network, one that is safe and reliable for all, and to serve the needs and problems faced by our rail transport network.

I would like to express my appreciation to all our partners and stakeholders who have contributed to the realization of the Corp Lab today. It’s been nearly two years of working through to reach this point in the Corp Lab. A lot of hard work has gone into making the Corp Lab possible, and I would like to thank the dedicated staff from NTU and SMRT for showing the way in forging this partnership.  We are also grateful to the National Research Foundation for their assistance in funding this collaboration.  Thank you, Minister Khaw, for your strong support given to this collaboration, by your gracing this occasion.  We look forward to many successful, implementable solutions from the Corp Lab that will help SMRT in its vision of moving people and enhancing lives, as we work together with the Ministry of Transport and Land Transport Authority toward an MRT system that is best in class in the world.

Thank you.