Qingdao Sifang breaks silence, saying trains were still safe

The SMRT train built in China by a joint venture between Kawasaki Heavy Industries and CSR Qingdao Sifang.
The SMRT train built in China by a joint venture between Kawasaki Heavy Industries and CSR Qingdao Sifang. PHOTO: SMRT CORP

The Qingdao Sifang Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company has broken its silence on the issue of defects in 26 of 35 MRT trains, saying that they did not pose safety risks and that the trains could have continued to run safely.

But Qingdao Sifang said in a statement on Wednesday that it took the initiative to recall the trains for repairs "owing to its sense of responsibility to its clients and its products".

The century-old Chinese company is known as the cradle of China's railway sector.

Founded in 1900 by Germany when it leased the coastal city of Qingdao from the Qing government, it produced China's first steam locomotive train in 1952.

Today, Qingdao Sifang is a powerhouse behind China's railway expansion both domestically and overseas, reportedly accounting for more than half of the high-speed train carriages produced in China.

The company has supplied over 30,000 rail transportation products to more than 20 countries. This includes the 35 trains delivered to Singapore, of which 26 have been found to have defects.

Qingdao Sifang is one of three state-owned manufacturers of subway and high-speed trains in China. The others are Tangshan Railway Vehicle and Changchun Railway Vehicle.

All three are subsidiaries under the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), formed through a merger of the China CNR Corporation and CSR Corporation in June last year.

The registered capital of Qingdao Sifang is reported to be around 4 billion yuan (S$808 million).

Though it is part of a consortium with Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries to build Singapore's MRT trains, Qingdao Sifang appears to have only one joint venture with Canada's Bombardier Corp.

The faulty Singapore trains have been recalled in batches since 2014 after defects were discovered in 2013. Five have been returned to service in Singapore and notched up 300,000km of safe operations, said the company.

Citing its 116-year history in train manufacturing, Qingdao Sifang added that it felt deeply hurt over the saga and had taken steps to ensure a satisfactory resolution, including communicating with the clients and coming up with solutions.

"The company has also analysed the issues and rectified the procedures, and conducted a thorough examination of our internal operations and quality control," it added.

Qingdao Sifang said it would also improve the management of its suppliers and procedures in procurement, research and development, and production.

The company has run into other troubles in recent years, however. Last year, China's National Railway Administration described Qingdao Sifang's management of its suppliers and outsourcing of projects as "chaotic".

It also said the company lacked "clear reasons and policies for changing suppliers".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Qingdao Sifang breaks silence, saying trains were still safe'. Print Edition | Subscribe