Conduct train maintenance during the day

Various media reports have enabled the public to understand the tremendous efforts put in to manage the maintenance of the MRT trains and rail network in the short window of service closure during the wee hours of the night.

However, despite the best efforts of the Ministry of Transport (MOT), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the MRT operators, train disruptions due to technical defects are still happening ("Traction power fault caused 2-hour train service disruption on Wednesday morning: LTA"; ST Online, yesterday).

It may thus be in the best interests of all concerned that certain stretches of the railway lines be closed between the two main rush hour periods so that certain tedious MRT maintenance operations can be performed during the day.

This gives technicians a longer window of time to perform their required maintenance.

Many studies have also shown that working in the silent hours of the night disrupts the body's natural circadian rhythm. Hence, the technicians working on the rail assets might not be at their optimal best.

Together with the challenging conditions of working in the open on the rails, the risk of human error in such a setting will surely increase.

The short window of time for the maintenance work also limits the technicians' ability to perform a full comprehensive assessment of the rail assets.

But how do we manage the passenger flow during the day? Parallel bus services that run from station to station can be provided. Additional parallel bus services can also be designed to run from hub to hub to allow a better flow of commuters to hub locations where they can change to connecting bus services or separate MRT lines.

These services should also correspond with the measures during an actual breakdown.

Other than reaping the benefits of an expanded maintenance window, the closure during the day would give the MRT operators an opportunity to refine their parallel bus service operations.

Commuters would also become more familiar with the parallel bus services.

Their experience with the parallel bus services in such controlled settings would also enhance their ability to seek alternative transport options in the event of an unexpected emergency.

A detailed study into the logistical feasibility of the proposed measures needs to be conducted.

However, what is imperative is that a rethink of how we approach MRT maintenance should be conducted.

Ang Kheng Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Conduct train maintenance during the day'. Print Edition | Subscribe