Integrated model for rail system the way to go

I share Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan's view that we should begin the process of building up a core engineering team within the Land Transport Authority (LTA), such that it is able to take over the rail system should the need arise ("LTA must be ready to take over MRT ops: Khaw", Dec 5).

As Mr Khaw pointed out, the current operating model does not facilitate the integration of design, operation and maintenance, so as to run an efficient metro system.

This is despite Singapore having completed a sprawling rapid transit network, with over 30 years of operating experience.

The Singapore model of divorcing public transport planners from public transport operators is at odds with many other established metro networks.

For example, RATP, the agency in charge of the Paris Metro, is actively involved in proposing network expansion and undertaking improvement works, as does the Tokyo Metro Company that runs the city's rapid transit system.

Notably, both RATP and Tokyo Metro are state-linked entities where the governments exercise more or less direct control.

The success of these agencies lends credence to the proposal for LTA to take over MRT operations.

In order to achieve this, it is a given that LTA must work closely with our current public transport operators.

Establishing an engineering team and deploying members to work with maintenance crews of both SMRT and SBS Transit, gaining hands-on experience in the process, is the first step.

I am sure the training will include stints with train manufacturers and transport industry consultants, to learn what makes a robust and reliable metro system, and how to monitor, control and prevent trouble spots.

In the long run, the accumulation of expertise and best practices from this transitional process could allow LTA to embark on the natural progression that many transit operators around the world have undergone, including the aforementioned RATP - setting up a metro consultancy firm to serve the transport needs of other cities.

Ultimately, it is in the interests of the travelling public that LTA pursue the vertical integration of rail operations, overseeing the entire process from drawing board to system management, so as to achieve optimal performance.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Integrated model for rail system the way to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe