Singapore rail system needs more street-smart engineers: Khaw Boon Wan

A service disruption poster seen at Serangoon station. A two-hour train disruption on the NEL on Monday morning was caused by a new train undergoing testing, the LTA said.
A service disruption poster seen at Serangoon station. A two-hour train disruption on the NEL on Monday morning was caused by a new train undergoing testing, the LTA said. PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - Singapore's rail system needs more "rat catchers" - a reference to street-smart engineers, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post following a train disruption on Monday (Oct 26) morning.

Addressing the two-hour train breakdown on the North-East Line, Mr Khaw wrote in a blog post titled Catching Rats that "such breakdowns tarnish our reputation, and we are re-doubling our efforts to improve train reliability".

"Singaporeans deserve better," he added.

In the post, he shared an e-mail that he had received from Mr Tan Gee Paw, the chairman of national water agency PUB. Mr Khaw recently asked Mr Tan to be his adviser on rail transformation.

 

In the e-mail, Mr Tan wrote that to deal with frequent breakdowns, the agencies involved have to "go beyond codes of practice and do preventive risk analysis on the entire system".

 

He wrote: "To do this, we need to engage street-smart, sharp-eyed practising engineers in systems engineering for rails alongside the third party consultant.

"They are the ones who will walk through the system and spot the risky parts of the system, beyond the codes of practice and alert us on what modifications must be made urgently."

Mr Tan calls these engineers "rat catchers", due to an experience in the 1980s.

"We worked alongside top German consultants to design our first refuse incineration plant that generates electricity. All parts were meticulously designed to the established codes of practice. A year later, the whole plant suffered a massive total shut down. A rat had tried to jump across two bus bars and short circuited the entire plant. The bus bars were spaced according to standards, but no one was sharp-eyed enough to think a rat would jump across," he said in his e-mail.

Engineers who know what needs to be done beyond the standard codes of practice help the PUB maintain the sewerage system, Mr Tan added.

Mr Khaw concluded in his blog post: "That is why I asked Mr Tan to be our adviser. With his assistance, we will tackle this problem of rail reliability."

Mr Tan drew up the masterplan to clean the Singapore River, helped to diversify Singapore's water sources and oversaw the development of Newater, Singapore's brand of reclaimed water.

Read Mr Khaw's full blog post here.