Push train operators to raise their game

Despite 30 years of operating experience and a Committee of Inquiry report on its operational weaknesses, SMRT has failed to improve efficiency in its rail operations ("SMRT's contingency plans need fixing"; July 30).

SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) have attributed rail service disruptions to ageing infrastructure, which is an unsatisfactory explanation.

The reliability of our rapid transit network pales in comparison with the similarly aged Hong Kong MTR, or the century-old Paris Metro.

The specific cause of the recent disruption has been identified as a water leak.

That this serious fault was not detected earlier during routine inspection calls into question the adequacy of current maintenance procedures.

Neglecting to carry out scheduled preventive maintenance can accelerate wear and tear in essential systems, as well as allow damaged and faulty equipment to go undetected. The inevitable result is premature failure.

The LTA needs to demand that two areas be improved.

First, maintenance regimes for rail network equipment should be stepped up, and standards tightened, to ensure that systems are properly installed and kept in good working condition.

Second, rail operators should be required to implement enhanced contingency plans to mitigate the impact of a service disruption.

The delays brought about by the recent breakdown highlight the inadequacy of SMRT's current response plans.

Enforcing practical remedial action would be more meaningful than a paltry fine in enhancing standards of rail service here.

Meanwhile, the LTA could expedite the implementation process using a deterrent.

Instead of paying fines, operators could be made to compensate inconvenienced commuters, paying out equitable damages for each service disruption. This could perhaps extend to providing free bus/train rides for a certain period.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Push train operators to raise their game'. Print Edition | Subscribe