Public transport is a challenging portfolio because an essential service is involved, high standards have been set for it, and consequently public expectations are also high. In the case of running Singapore's trains, there is the considerable baggage of past experiences that will no doubt be also on the mind of former chief of the defence forces Neo Kian Hong, when he takes over as chief executive of rail operator SMRT from Mr Desmond Kuek in August. During Mr Kuek's 5½ year tenure, the public witnessed stalled trains and other disruptions (including four in a single week in March 2015), train collisions, flooded tunnels, fires, and the deaths of two technicians, who were hit by a train when they were on their way to fix a fault.
Some of these problems - notably, the rail disruptions - pre-dated Mr Kuek, but they intensified as the rail network expanded and aged. Mr Kuek took on the tough job of driving systemic changes that now augur well for the company's future. The de-listing and privatisation of SMRT in October 2016 relieved the rail operator of the commercial pressures associated with being a listed company, and allowed it more flexibility to deploy resources strategically. A new rail financing network, under which the Government took over the ownership of rail assets, will help free up SMRT to concentrate on providing the reliable transport services that people want.