SBS Transit hiring 1,200 to operate Downtown Line

Full team in place by 2017 will represent 15% jump in staff strength

Transport operator SBS Transit has hired more than 200 people to operate the Downtown Line (DTL). And the number is expected to double when the first stage of the new MRT line starts running by year-end.

This was revealed by its chairman, Mr Lim Jit Poh, in the company's latest annual report, which was distributed at its annual general meeting yesterday.

The Straits Times understands that the ComfortDelGro-owned company will have about 1,200 people in its DTL team when the 42km line is fully opened in 2017.

The number - about 10 per cent more than what analysts were expecting - represents a 15 per cent increase to SBS Transit's total staff strength of 6,821.

Mr Lim said the new team is familiarising itself with the China-assembled Bombardier trains that they will operate, and some members have travelled to the manufacturer's plant in Changchun "to test the new trains".

He announced that five out of the eight trains planned for DTL Stage 1 - a six-station arc in the Marina downtown - have arrived, and "are currently undergoing integrated testing".

This is to check that the trains, along with the line's other systems, are working well.

In total, the line - which will have 34 stations and carry about 500,000 people a day - will have 88 three-car trains.

This is 15 more than originally planned, as the Land Transport Authority wants the operator to have the capacity to run trains at a higher frequency during peak periods.

This may have implications on the line's profitability.

Nomura researcher Chan Wen Jie had projected that the line would start to contribute positively to SBS Transit's bottom line from financial year 2016, but added that he may have to revise his forecast based on the line's actual frequency, staff strength and fares.

Mr Lim said in the company's annual report that SBS Transit had recommended to the Fare Review Mechanism Committee headed by former senior district judge Richard Magnus that "costs - specifically fuel and electricity costs - be taken into consideration" for future fare revision exercises.

Asked to elaborate on this by a shareholder present at the AGM, Mr Lim said "it would not be wise for us to say anything more as the committee may not like it".

Shareholders yesterday passed resolutions to re-elect a number of directors, including deputy chairman Kua Hong Pak, who is also chief executive of ComfortDelGro. At 69, Mr Kua is one of the oldest helmsmen of a company here that is not family-owned.

christan@sph.com.sg