Why It Matters

Much riding on rail engineers

Rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit, together with the Land Transport Authority, need almost 1,000 rail engineers and technicians over the next three years. A total of 5,000 is needed by 2030.

Meeting this need is an uphill task as engineering has lost its lustre in recent years. A recent report by The Straits Times found that engineering graduates were leaving the industry for other fields where they can earn more in the comfort of an air-conditioned office.

But much rides on having these people stay on. The MRT network here is expected to double to 360km by 2030 ,with the expansion of the existing East-West, Circle and Downtown lines and the introduction of the Thomson-East Coast and Cross Island lines.

Rail reliability also remains an issue, with four disruptions on the ageing East-West Line in a week last month.

Taipei's metro hit 800,000 train-km between breakdowns last year, a target that Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said he hopes Singapore's MRT operators will achieve by 2020.

This is a lofty standard, given that last year, Singapore's rail network hit only 133,000 train-km between breakdowns.

It also had 29 disruptions of more than half an hour last year, compared with only eight for Hong Kong's mass transit railway.

To their credit, the operators and the LTA have tried to address the two issues of rail network expansion and reliability by wooing engineers with better pay, more training and greater career advancement opportunities.

The LTA also signed a pact with a German rail engineering firm to share information and cooperate in areas such as customer service and operations. And SMRT launched a postgraduate certificate course in urban railway engineering, together with the University of Birmingham.

But it remains to be seen whether these efforts will ensure that Singapore's MRT meets its ambitious targets and provides smoother rides for the millions of commuters who depend on it every day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2016, with the headline 'Much riding on rail engineers'. Print Edition | Subscribe