Rail maintenance: Short-term pain for long-term gain

There are some ways train operators can raise their game ("Push train operators to raise their game" by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi; Tuesday).

First, the main reason for train delays has been poor track conditions. Thus, track conditions must be improved before we can have good and sustainable train performance.

To do this, we must give the train operators sufficient maintenance hours to allow them to do a proper and thorough job. Today, they are given only five hours from midnight. There is hardly enough time nor a good environment for proper maintenance. The poor lighting at night could hamper proper inspection and maintenance.

My suggestion is that train operators be allowed to progressively shut down two or more stations, and be given a sufficient number of days for proper maintenance.

The stations that are shut down can be serviced by shuttle buses. Over a period of time, perhaps in about six months, the entire MRT track can be given a thorough and complete servicing.

Of course, this may inconvenience commuters. But short-term pain for long-term gain will benefit everyone.

Once the tracks are fully serviced or replaced, properly planned maintenance shutdown over weekends or during non-peak hours can supplement maintenance done during the "graveyard shift" hours.

Second, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) should consider a new business model for train operators. Train operators should only be running operations.

The LTA should take on the maintenance functions and responsibilities of the trains and tracks. It could then outsource the maintenance to reputable foreign train operators with known track records, from Japan, Hong Kong or even Europe.

But, they must establish joint ventures with local companies. This is to facilitate knowledge transfers to local companies.

One final point is that comparing the performance of our trains with that of Hong Kong or Japan could be unfair.

One reason is that our trains run in different environmental and climatic conditions from theirs. Our hot and humid environment is conducive to corrosion and metal fatigue.

Hong Kong and Japan have months of cooler weather, and the terrain on which their tracks run may be totally different from Singapore's terrain.

Tony Lim Thiam Poh