Impossible to find every flaw: SMRT chief Desmond Kuek

Long queues at City Hall MRT station after the major train disruptions on the North-South and East-West lines on July 7, 2015.
Long queues at City Hall MRT station after the major train disruptions on the North-South and East-West lines on July 7, 2015.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
TUESDAY NIGHT: City Hall station was empty as services stopped during the disruption.
YESTERDAY MORNING: The scene at Ang Mo Kio station. Some commuters left home earlier so they had more time to get to work.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
City Hall station was empty as services stopped during the disruption on July 7, 2015.
City Hall station was empty as services stopped during the disruption on July 7, 2015.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek said the operator will not be able to catch every potential fault even if it stepped up maintenance.

"So one solution is to completely renew the system," he said. Another would be to put in place condition monitoring systems.

Mr Kuek said SMRT was doing all it could to make the network more reliable, but priority had to be given to the third rail, sleepers and signalling system.

"All these are multi-year programmes," he said. "And all these are being done while new trains are introduced into the system that need to be tested."

At the same time, SMRT is focusing maintenance efforts on "hot spots" such as the problematic Yew Tee-Kranji stretch.

PM HOPES FAULTS WILL BE FIXED FAST

Am very concerned at the major disruption to train services last night. I had just recently visited the SMRT Bishan Depot, to see their maintenance operations and teams. So I went to the LTA Ops Centre this afternoon, to be briefed on the situation.

We are still trying to find out the cause of the problem. LTA and SMRT staff and engineers worked through the night checking trains, tracks and cables. Today fortunately trains ran without a glitch, so far. But because we have not identified the root cause of the power trips, we are still very worried that the problem may recur.

Hope we identify and resolve the faults quickly, to prevent further inconvenience to commuters.

PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, a Facebook post yesterday

"All these are conflicting sets of priority in terms of resources, time and manpower," Mr Kuek noted.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said a maintenance regimen had to be "codified" (arranged into a systematic code).

"For example, in aviation, there are very specific checks, namely A, B, C checks... It should become a drill of sorts with strict objective standards to be achieved and regular compliance assurance."

Meanwhile, SMRT is racing against the clock to uncover the exact cause of Tuesday's devastating disruption. The operator said a fault in a train, track or power system could have caused the electrical anomaly that triggered power trips across the North-South and East-West lines.

On this point, Mr Foo said it was "troubling" that when a relay tripped, it affected the whole network. "The question on people's minds is whether the relay can be wired such that the trip is isolated. Whether some 'redundancy' can be incorporated?

"Is it possible to fit a diagnostic system so that faults can be identified quickly? There are more questions than answers at this stage, and SMRT needs to do more."

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said the latest breakdown "exposed the weak resilience of the system". "Why was the system configured in such a way in the first place?" he said.

Christopher Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'Impossible to find every flaw: SMRT head'. Print Edition | Subscribe