A new bus model debuted on service in Singapore recently – the CRRC TEG6125BEV03. In view of the fact that it is also called the C12 online, I will be referring to it as the C12 for most of this article to save my fingers.
New to Singapore, CRRC (China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation) is a Chinese manufacturer of trains and buses – the long model code is a Chinese regulatory requirement, where all vehicle names must contain an alphabetical prefix and four digits. “TEG” is the manufacturer code for CRRC, while “6” is the code for buses. “12” denotes a 12-metre bus, while everything after that is the manufacturer’s internal naming convention.
Unlike the other electric bus models, it appears only one CRRC C12 unit (SG4006X) was built and delivered to Singapore, and there was no press release declaring CRRC the winner of a contract. Thus, I believe this should be a demonstrator unit delivered to LTA for consideration in line with its efforts to electrify the public bus fleet.
I have previously reviewed the Linkker LM312 as it happened to ply right outside my house on service 38. The Linkker LM312, similarly, is a 3-door electric bus. As I was able to catch a ride on the CRRC C12 on service 3, and I have previously compared 3-door double-deckers, I have embarked on this even more thoroughly unscientific (ie. more thorough and more unscientific) comparison of the two 3-door single-deck bus models.
Superficial Similarities and Differences
Both buses are similar in that they are 3-door electric single-deck buses, with bodies built by Gemilang Coachworks in Johor.
Twenty Linkker units, registered from SG3070R to SG3089M in the #3000 “ecobus series”, were delivered and assigned to SBS Transit and SMRT.
The one and only CRRC unit, registered SG4006X in the #4000 “demonstrator series”, was delivered and assigned to Go-Ahead Singapore.
Now let the fight begin!
Round 1: Naming
“Linkker LM312” is easy to remember. Although “Linkker” sounds remarkably similar to “zero” in Mandarin, and the model had a bit of an identity crisis and I didn’t always know whether to call this the “Linkker 12 LF” or “Linkker ST12MSD” or even “Strobo Series 12”.
“CRRC TEG6125BEV03” sounds like a cat walked all over my keyboard, while its alternative name “San Bus King” sounds like a durian. Thankfully, the alias “C12” exists, though that also describes the TEG6125BEV01 and TEG6125BEV02.
Winner: Linkker, because even “CRRC” is a mouthful.
Round 2: Exterior Aesthetics
Undeniably, the Linkker LM312 is more strikingly different from other buses on the road. It features large asymmetrical black patches and smaller wheels. EDS is supplied by Gorba, like other Euro 6 buses.
But with its asymmetrical designs sloping to the offside instead of the nearside, the Linkker LM312 looks like that one person at every gathering who wears their surgical mask backwards, with the folds facing up.
The CRRC C12 is styled much more conservatively, with a design clearly based on the Euro 6 MAN A22 but with updated design elements such as LED headlights that seem to blend the design of the Linkkers with Gemilang’s Magelys-esque coaches.
The EDS on SG4006X is from LECIP, but a different model from that used on other electric buses. Generally, the bus is much more symmetrical and the rear is more plain. From far, it may be mistaken for any other model.
Winner: CRRC, as while I admire asymmetrical designs, I’d take a symmetrical design over a design that faces the “wrong” way. Also, the Linkker’s wing mirrors block the route number in the EDS due to a combination of wider EDS housing and poorly placed mirrors; this is less of an issue with the CRRC.
Round 3: Interior aesthetics and Seating Layout
Both buses actually have a similar interior layout: 12 seats and two wheelchair bays between the front and middle doors, and 16 seats between the middle and rear doors.
The Linkker LM312 features a somewhat obnoxious number of rear-facing seats; 3/7 of the seats in the bus face backward if we are not even counting the wheelchair bays.
PIDS is the Luminator Group standard, with the rectangular vertical design. The interior is reminiscent of the Euro 6 MAN buses by Gemilang with green panels and dark window pillars. Older commuters would probably be reminded of the old Trans-Island look.
The CRRC C12, relative to the Linkker, rotated two of the six pairs of seats to face forward instead – the pair opposite the wheelchair bays, and the pair opposite the rear door. This makes the ride much less dizzying.
The PIDS is the LECIP design with the curved line that makes the bottom-up arrangement of stops more intuitively understood. The interior feels brighter with grey window pillars, a white patterned ceiling and wood-panelled flooring.
Winner: CRRC, because I’m not a fan of seeing where the bus has already been. Also, the wood-panel flooring is a nice premium touch, and the LECIP PIDS is better.
Round 4: Propulsion and Charging
The Linkker LM312 is charged primarily by overheard pantograph charging in a system known as “opportunity charging”. This means that the chargers are installed en-route (in this case, at the bus interchange) and the bus is fast-charged during its layovers. The capacity of the Linkker batteries is 177.5kWh, and the charging power is up to 450kW.
The CRRC C12, SG4006X, is charged by overnight plug-in charging at the depot. It features 338.4kWh battery, using a 90kW DC charger supplied by NARI. This charger is also used to charge Yutong E12 and E12DD buses at Loyang Depot.
Winner: CRRC, because the Linkkers need to have the entire roster replanned to accommodate their layover charging and even then half the time they run out of charge. I keep seeing them need to be towed back to the depot.
Round 5: Third Door and Rear Section
Both bus models feature a third door at the rear, which is accessed via a fully low floor. This is made possible by the electric drivetrain which takes up less space in the bus. The battery compartment takes up the back of the bus and so there is no last row. In both models, the doors are supplied by Masats and the third door is dual-leaf (full size).
The Linkker’s third door extends past the battery compartment, meaning that not all of it is usable space. From the front of the bus, it isn’t actually that prominent. I didn’t see it being used much except by people sitting at the rear rows.
I like the poles on the side though, and the yellow-striped warning tape to caution passengers on the low headroom. Not sure why they needed to stick a “mind your step” sticker, though they may have copied from the 3-door MAN A95s which did need it.
Meanwhile, the CRRC’s third door has its entire surface area usable, as the battery does not protrude too much into the doorway.
On the other hand, the grabpoles blend a little too well into the surroundings and passengers may not think to use them.
There is also an unusual step highlighted in yellow beside the final pair of seats – this is because their floor is much higher. Passengers must be careful not to trip on it. However, I think the step highlights the curved path to the third door well. Many passengers were seen using it.
Winner: CRRC, because the full-width door aids passenger flow better and the rear door seems more prominent and inviting.
Round 6: Seats
Seating in the Linkker LM312 is the standard Vogel Industrie System 750/3 in blue seat covers, the standard in most LTA Gemilang Euro 6 buses. As such, the comfort is mostly average but the seat covers are rough and sticky due to the non-slip and anti-heat feature. Legroom is also lacking throughout the bus.
The seats in the CRRC C12, SG4006X, are Ster 8MM seats. No other public bus model features this type of seat, but Ster NewCity seats are used in the Yutong E12 and NTU Yutong ZK6126HGAs. The seats are not shaped as ergonomically, and felt rather thin. Legroom, however, is better.
Winner: Linkker, because the seats are more comfortable, though the legroom and arrangement gave me a lot of second thoughts.
In this fight, the CRRC C12 is the clear winner over the Linkker LM312 with a score of 4-2. Operationally, it is a conventional plug-in type electric bus (I never imagined I would be using conventional to describe electric buses) which makes it easier to deploy than the Linkkers with their erratic charging schedules.
The ride experience is also better, as the bus feels brighter and less cramped, making it more welcoming to passengers. The third door was also better utilised from my observations.
I imagine that in terms of finding spares, the Linkkers may be somewhat easier to maintain due to parts commonality. But since SG4006X is a demonstrator, a production batch order of CRRC C12s could use more mainstream specifications.
Nevertheless, the CRRC C12 has yet to prove its reliability. Early reports suggest that faults are common, with SG4006X apparently declaring a breakdown later the same day that I gave it a try. This, coupled with residual memories of cracks in Chinese-built trains by CRRC, casts some doubt on the build quality of the bus. But then again, it’s not like the Linkkers have been perfectly reliable either.
Hopefully, the quality issues with SG4006X will be ironed out soon. I think the CRRC C12 design has potential to capture the bus market in Singapore, as it seems better suited to the requirements of a 3-door single decker. All the best to CRRC!