Are tipping up seats needed?

As part of the ongoing efforts to improve our MRT lines, 57 new trains were purchased and will be added progressively into passenger service on the North South & East West Lines (NSEWL) between 2017 and 2019. These additional trains have benefited commuters with a more comfortable ride and improved reliability to meet the increasing demand of passenger activity.

Lately, there has been some opinions when the last 12 trains have a slight enhancement on board with the tip-up seats which I feel could be expressed.

The views expressed are our own personal views based on our observations and does not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) or SMRT.

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About the Kawasaki Heavy Industries CSR-Sifang C151C

These 12 C151C trains will bear the NSEWL colours of red and green as well as the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) logo. The interior will resemble its counterparts, the C151A and C151B, but with slight enhancements to improve passenger experience on board.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries CSR-Sifang C151C trains with the NSEWL colours of red and green as well as the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) logo.

The new tip-up seats will be fitted in the middle section of each car. These new seats can be folded during peak periods and unfolded during off-peak periods. By folding the seats, which comes in 4 sets of 3 seats per car, the capacity of the train can be increased by approximately 100 passengers per train and cater to more standing space.

Tip-up seats on the Kawasaki Heavy Industries CSR-Sifang C151C on the NSEWL.

The trains will be rigorously tested before they are put into passenger service. The C151C trains will further enhance the capacity of the NSEWL once the new CBTC signalling system is fully commissioned from June 2018. The first of its 11 trains were delivered on 27 October 2017 and is currently housed at Tuas West Depot. The new trains are expected to be rolled out progressively, starting from the second half of 2018.

How does tip-up seats operate?

Only an authorised personnel can perform the seats adjustment by manually pressing a button located in each train car.

During peak hours, these seats will be folded and locked by a mechanism to deter passengers from forcing it down. With the seats folded up, it acts as a bum rest which is relatively comfortable to rest on.

During off-peak hours, these seats can be folded down and therefore increase seating capacity.

Each seat can take a maximum weight of 200 kg which is a total of 600 kg per row of 3 seats. The operational procedure of the seats adjustment has not been finalized and will be discussed with the train operator, SMRT. It is likely that the seats adjustment will be done by the train captain or the station staff at either the train depot or at the terminal stations.

Do any trains have seats removed on board?

Yes, other trains on the North South & East West and North East Lines have their seats removed. Opinions were voiced out on various social media platforms with regards to the tip-up seats causing a reduction in the number of seats on board these 12 trains.

To begin, an experimental program was done on the Siemens C651 in the late 90s and early 2000s. Green upholstered cushions were installed on 1 out of the 19 trains to improve passenger comfort on board some cars.

Green upholstered cushions on the Siemens C651 on the NSEWL. (Photo: Wikipedia)

During the refurbishment of the Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) between 2007 and 2009, the last 10 out of the 66 trains that were retrofitted has 2 rows of seats from the middle section of each car removed.

Extension and upgrading of the NSEWL, such as the new platforms at Jurong East, Marina South Pier and Tuas West stations, were announced. Together with an increase in population and increasing number of passengers deciding to switch to public transport, LTA and SMRT made the decision to purchase more trains so that demands of the new line extension can be met.

The new trains require a minimum of at least 5 years to arrive as time was required to design, manufacture, deliver and test the trains. Interim measures were executed in 2015, where the remaining 56 trains were retrofitted with the removal of 2 rows of seats from the middle section of each car.

2 rows of seats from the middle section of each car removed on the Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) on the NSEWL.

Following that, the middle four cars for each of the 6 trains on the North East Line (NEL), the Alstom Metropolis C751A, also had 2 rows of seats removed as these cars are near the escalators with higher passenger activity.

2 rows of seats removed on the Alstom Metropolis C751A on the NEL.

As these seats were removed, consideration was taken for the 72 trains to be equipped with a metal bar that is mounted on the wall to provide stability for passengers and act as a bum rest.

My thoughts

Presently, if you are on board any of these trains with the standing area, it is very uncomfortable and difficult to rest as the mounting is too high and you will keep sliding down due to its design and height.

The tip-up concept is innovative and refreshing as it is being introduced for the first time on board our MRT lines. In the next decade, more MRT lines and different varieties of train will be seen and having new features on board will improve the passenger experience. This will allow the regulator and operator to study the possibility of implementing these new features and determine if our culture can adapt to them.

It is likely that the Thomson-East Coast Line trains will have tip-up seats in certain cars as the train is also designed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. 66 first generation trains that will be replaced from 2022 may also see the tip-up seats if the tender is awarded to Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

From an operational perspective, the tip-up seats add on an additional task for the train captain or station staff. As one must manually adjust the position of all seats on board depending on the environment, it is a rigorous and time-consuming task to ensure all 24 seats are adjusted to its accurate position. Ultimately, there might be a likelihood that the seats will just be left folded down the whole day.

Likewise, the train operator will not allow these 12 trains to be deployed only during peak hours as it will interfere greatly with the maintenance schedule. This will defeat the purpose as trains need to hit a certain mileage of travel before it is due for overhaul, a similar case where your private vehicle is due for maintenance and needs to be sent to the workshop for inspection. Furthermore, the purchase of additional trains allows us to achieve the 90 seconds headway with the new CBTC signalling system. This will reduce the number of passengers on board each train and bring about a more comfortable and breathable ride.

With the rapidly changing technology today, the procedure of requiring the staff to manually adjust the position of the seats on board every train car is very out of date. A better solution would be to add a button in the train operator cabin for controlling the seat position such that a push of the button will activate all 24 seats to the appropriate position.

Another easier solution would be to reconfigure this button in every car to automate this process. However, there are other factors and considerations, such as the additional cost incurred. Designing the various electrical components and fitting the cables to enable the tip-up seats to be automated require extra time and cost which could delay the delivery of the trains.

In conclusion, these new seats are something that I appreciate as a passenger and look forward to sitting on them on board when these trains are rolled out for passenger service in the second half of 2018.

With these 12 new trains with the tip-up seat, it is a great improvement as one does not need to be deprived of a seat which is currently happening during the off-peak hours where more passengers are standing than sitting.

If there are more seats on board, why would I choose to stand during the off-peak hours? Given a choice, I would rather sit than stand during the commute to my destination.

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You Yuan

President of SGTrains since 2011. Studied Bachelor in Business Information System at University of Wollongong, Australia.