SMRT needs someone with train system experience

That SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek is stepping down is no surprise given that he has been ineffective in addressing our train system's safety and reliability issues (SMRT chief stepping down after 5½ years in charge; April 18).

But what is surprising is that his successor seems to be someone cut from the same cloth as Mr Kuek.

Following a global search, SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming gave reasons for the choice of former general Neo Kian Hong as successor, including his appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as his vision and experience in leveraging new technologies for public service (SMRT confirms ex-general Neo Kian Hong as new CEO; ST Online, April 18).

Unfortunately, none of these address directly the deep-seated cultural issues with SMRT's workforce that Mr Kuek, who is of the same pedigree, failed to fix after 5 1/2 years on the job.

A good engineer from another industry would be stymied as well, as the engineering challenges in train systems are complex.

Mr Tan Gee Paw, an engineering expert from national water agency PUB, was appointed as the adviser on rail transformation in October 2015. It was reported he had discussions on the problem of rail disruptions, its possible causes and how to make the rail service as reliable as PUB services.

Unfortunately, more than two years have passed and rail disruptions are still a regular occurrence.

So that begs the question of why the SMRT board did not take this opportunity to pick someone who has direct experience with running a train system to be its new CEO.

Liu Fook Thim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2018, with the headline 'SMRT needs someone with train system experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe