Invest in competent manpower, integrated equipment

Imposing large fines on train operators will not solve the fundamental problem behind the recent breakdowns, which would be poor operating efficiency ("Fines not the answer to MRT breakdowns" by Dr V. Subramaniam; Sept 25).

According to SMRT's 2014 annual report, on-time performance across the North-South and East-West lines has continually declined over the past five years.

This comes despite constant assurances from SMRT that measures have been taken to improve rail network performance. A more comprehensive solution is needed.

Keeping a system running like clockwork requires integrated services in various areas, such as rolling stock, safety systems, daily operations, effective monitoring and maintenance planning. Most of these basic functions must be executed and supervised by trained and competent in-house staff.

As our rail network moves towards driverless operations, it still pays to invest in competent manpower and equipment.

This is needed to achieve the benchmark of 99.9 per cent service availability set by comparable metro systems around the world, such as Hong Kong's MTR.

It is unwise to compromise on service quality and efficiency.

Lapses in maintenance can come about through errant sub-contractors, or poorly stated and poorly enforced standard operating procedures.

Besides boosting manpower and enhancing training to ensure that these tasks are carried out properly, SMRT should also review these areas to minimise "missing links".

For a more long-term solution, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) should reconsider the operating model of our national metro system.

Delegating the MRT network to profit-oriented companies was originally done in the interest of greater efficiency. Experience has shown that these benefits have not entirely manifested.

Financial penalties have not reduced the number of serious disruptions - in fact, they have become more common over the past few years.

The LTA's recent initiative to have MRT lines run on a contract tendering system, thereby compelling rail operators to be more accountable, is a step in the right direction, but the benefits of this switch will not be seen for some time.

In the meantime, it can engage independent metro system experts and rail equipment suppliers to form a troubleshooting team, scrutinising the current system and implementing more effective preventive maintenance regimes.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi