Project Management Institute

Automation express

Singapore is living up to its high-tech reputation through deployment of the world’s most advanced automated subway system




Since the launch of its “Intelligent Island” strategy more than 10 years ago, Singapore has built an enviable reputation as the world's most wired nation.

Now, to the delight of the country's more than 1 million public transport users, that penchant for high-tech solutions includes the national rail network, where a new state-of-the-art mass rapid transit (MRT) system featuring fully automated driverless trains soon will link all major residential, commercial and industrial districts.

Work on the expanded MRT network, which is being carried out under the auspices of the Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA), began with the announcement back in the 1990s of two new high-tech lines: a radial North East Line in 1996 and, more recently, a longer orbital Circle Line that will link existing lines leading into the country's bustling central business district.

Nervous System

The “brains” of the high-tech driverless rail network is the Operation Control Center (OCC), which will house approximately 20 system computers and servers in addition to operators' own workstations.

The Center's new Integrated Supervisory Control System eventually will serve as the sensory interface for fully automated operation, monitoring the progress of dozens of high-speed driverless trains along with the functioning of platform and onboard information systems and passenger safety systems.

The communication backbone linking the OCC with other systems is built around a super-redundant synchronous digital hierarchy optical platform incorporating exceptionally high levels of network availability, to ensure that local faults, should they occur, don't affect operations elsewhere.


With the on-schedule opening of the North East Line last June, activity is focused on the S$6.66 billion (US$3.9 billion) Circle Line, which comprises 33 kilometers of track, 29 stations and some of the most advanced automated transport control and management systems ever developed.

Alstom Transport and leading electronics specialist Singapore Technologies Electronics (ST Electronics) will work alongside a range of LTA-appointed third-party systemwide and civil contractors. Project duration is targeted at approximately six years, with Stages 1 and 2 set to open in 2007, and Stage 5 sometime in 2010.

Yong Thiam Chong, president of ST Electronics' Large-Scale Systems Group, says the project's high level of complexity demands particularly tight monitoring and control. “In practical terms, that means breaking major project components up into smaller, more manageable pieces, securing early agreement on clearly defined milestones, taking a highly proactive approach to risk identification and management, and maintaining regular communications through meetings and video conferences, all of which are scrupulously documented and circulated for reference and action,” he says.

The project is being overseen by a chief project director, supported by a team of project managers who—depending on the complexity of the systems concerned—are directly responsible for one or more project components.

Using Primavera Project Planner, the team began work in January 2001 on the project management plan. To avoid delays, Chong says the team worked hard to identify potential risks early in the planning phase, backing this up with strict monitoring and control processes to keep things quite literally on track. “Delays have a tendency to snowball, so it's crucial to detect them early and apply the appropriate corrective action,” he says. “If, for any reason, delays continue to occur in spite of this, we have prepared recovery plans that can be put in place until activities are back on schedule.”

Individual project managers also are responsible for preparing plans for their own project areas. To streamline and simplify management, the project's seven principal phases—design; procurement, manufacturing and testing; off-site testing; installation; onsite testing; integrated testing and commissioning; and testing and trial running—have been further pared down into bite-sized chunks.

Chong says regular weekly meetings of the ST Electronics project team to monitor progress and discuss resource allocation, future activities and customer-related issues are essential, adding that e-mail exchange is key because of the project's complex technical nature and the number of parties involved. In addition, the team has set up a centralized database containing all project documents, technical specifications and other relevant information.

Externally, Chong's project managers also meet with LTA's systemwide and civil contractors at each work site to ensure work proceeds without a glitch.

The most challenging aspect of the project to date? “The design phase involved planning and scheduling the entire six-year project, including future operation scenarios and their impact on ongoing work as the line opens for operation stage by stage,” Chong says. “From Stage 3 onwards, we expect management to be much more straightforward, thanks to the extensive experience our teams are gaining on these first two stages.” PM

Sarah Parkes is a regular contributor to a number of U.S. and European publications, including London's Financial Times.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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