Delivering the Downtown Line

Delivering the Downtown Line

17 Apr 2014

In December 2013, rail passengers in Singapore were welcomed onto the first 4.3-kilometre stretch of what will be the city’s fifth metro corridor – the Downtown Line (DTL).

Opening in three phases up to 2017, the line represents a new era in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system’s 27-year history. With the first major deadline met, focus now turns to phase two of the DTL – a 16.6-kilometre section with 12 new stations and a maintenance depot.

A major excavation effort to deliver the 42-kilometre long tunnel system began in 2008. With that completing in the next few years, the construction of the railway itself and associated electrical systems has taken a more central role.

Siemens was tasked with delivering, installing and commissioning the traction power system for the Downtown Line in January 2010. At the time, it was the biggest metro electrification project Siemens had ever looked to deliver. Leading the bid for the Downtown Line Electrification was Belgian engineer Eric Luyckfasseel, who since 2010 has project managed its delivery.

Taking you Downtown

Before being awarded the electrification contract for the Riyadh Metro project last year, the Downtown Line was the biggest electrification programme ever undertaken by Siemens.

“The scale was unusual,” said Eric. “We had to ramp up our team in Singapore to approximately 50 electrical engineers to embark on the project.”

It’s not just the size of the project that represents new ground for Siemens. Asia is a growing market for the company’s rail business and one with different structures and ways of working. Since starting on the project in 2010, Eric says he has found the level of engineering expertise within Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) very high compared to other customer’s project teams he has worked in around the world.

He said: “In Europe and other parts of the world, it is common to hire engineering consultants for large projects. When we dealt with LTA, we were dealing with highly-qualified engineers who were precise and very specific about what they want. This presents a different kind of challenge for us to manage and meet their requirements.”

Eric Singapore

Eric Luyckfasseel

Eric sees his role as a complicated balancing act between his customer, the management and his employees. His job has been done if all three are happy, but from a technical point of view electrifying an automated metro line presents many other challenges.

“I am in charge of coordinating the work activities so that we can deliver on our deadlines or fulfill a specification.  Not only that, we have to ensure that quality is also met. We also have to coordinate with our suppliers and with our interface partners.

“We have a lot of civil and electromechanical interface in this project.

“A metro project is complex. You have different elements; like ourselves in electrification, the train, the civil work for the stations, the signalling system. All of this, we need to integrate with. We need to interface with the customer of course and we need to interface with our headquarters since the project is a consortium between the headquarters and Siemens Singapore.”

Making the move

Since joining Siemens in 1998, Eric has spent time in France, where he was involved in the electrification of the Charles de Gaulle airport people mover and Caen tram system, before moving to Germany where he worked in various bid and projects around the world.

“I think Singapore is quite an easy place to adapt to if you’re coming from a European city,” said Eric. “In terms of organisation and day-to-day life, I would say it’s a very organised city. Everything is administratively in place so you don’t have to worry much about things like safety. In that sense moving here was pretty easy.

“Moving from France to Germany was a bigger culture shock than from Germany to Singapore, as there are a lot of similarities between Germans and Singaporeans.”

He added: “English is widely spoken across Singapore, which makes a big difference because you can basically go in the street and speak English with anybody and this makes integration much easier.”

For over a quarter of a century LTA has managed urban rail services in the city. Rail engineering expertise does exist in Singapore and not just within LTA. Operators SMRT and SBS Transit have engineering teams in house and there is a strong base of engineering graduates leaving university. But as in the UK, the demand exists for experienced senior engineers.

Beyond the Downtown Line, LTA is already deep into planning its sixth metro line – the Thomson line – and further beyond that, it is planning to complete a new 50-kilometre east-west link, called the Cross Island Line, by 2030.

Long term, there will be further opportunities to work on high-profile rail projects in Singapore.

“Of course being the project manager of such a project is something you will always be proud of,” said Eric. “Also the name of LTA across Asia is quite renowned, so having a customer like LTA is also something quite prestigious on the CV. A combination of all that is a big plus.”


Potential candidates looking to relocate to Singapore like Eric can call upon Contact Singapore. To find out more about working and living in Singapore:
To look up current vacancies click here.
Read more about life as a rail engineer in Singapore

This feature is sponsored by Contact Singapore

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