* LTA to buy assets at estimated net book value of S$991 mln
* LTA to take responsibility for renewal of assets (Adds SMRT statement)
SINGAPORE, July 15 (Reuters) - The Singapore government said on Friday that it will buy almost S$1 billion worth of metro train assets from SMRT so that the country's main rail operator can focus on providing reliable and well-maintained services for commuters.
Singapore's rapidly expanding Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines, run mainly by SMRT Corporation, have suffered a series of breakdowns in recent months and left thousands of commuters stranded each time.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore's transport regulator, will acquire SMRT's rail system, including trains, with an estimated total net book value of S$991 million ($737.13 million), the rail operator said in a separate statement.
The LTA will take over the responsibility for the addition, replacement and renewal of the operating assets for an expanded network. SMRT will pay a licence charge to the LTA.
The announcement comes a few days after news that Singapore was returning 26 of its metro trains to Chinese train maker CRRC Corp for repair just three years after they were delivered.
"Rail operators, relieved of heavy capital expenditure, can focus on providing reliable and well-maintained rail services for commuters," the LTA said.
SMRT plans to use part of the net proceeds from the proposed sale to retire some of its existing debt, which is expected to total S$762 million as of end-September. The deal requires SMRT shareholders' approval.
"This will put LTA in the driving seat to make timely investments in capacity expansion and the replacement and upgrading of operating assets," the LTA said.
Shares of SMRT were up 0.32 percent at S$1.545 in Singapore trading, before they were suspended ahead of the announcement.
Trading in shares of smaller rail operator SBS Transit Ltd - which is still in talks with the LTA on its rail assets - closed 8.87 percent higher at S$2.70. (Reporting By Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Ryan Woo)