Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sought to give the beleaguered MRT system a boost yesterday when he pointed out that it ranks among the top four metro systems worldwide for reliability.
Citing a Nov 18 New York Times article that slammed New York City's subway, he said data on the world's 20 biggest metros shows that Singapore ranks with Taipei, Hong Kong and Los Angeles as cities with trains arriving on time more than 99 per cent of the time.
Singapore's MRT network has been hit by a spate of serious incidents, including the train collision at Joo Koon station last week which left 38 people injured.
In his first comments on the matter at the annual People's Action Party convention, PM Lee said such disruptions "loom large in the public consciousness", and are one reason commuters do not feel rail reliability has improved, even as statistics show there are "fewer delays and breakdowns than before".
He also said it will take time to improve the rail system, as improving train reliability "is a very complicated problem".
Apart from complex technical issues, there is also a need to strengthen the operators to deliver consistent high performance, he said. It requires them to reinforce their engineering and maintenance teams, and keep staff morale high.
The ongoing upgrading of the signalling systems on the older North-South and East-West lines will cause their own set of delays, he noted, adding: "Once the signalling upgrade is fully completed, hopefully within a year's time, these delays should go away."
Commuters should then see train reliability improve, he said.
"The Transport Minister has one of the toughest jobs," he said. "I want Boon Wan and his team to know they have our full support and confidence," he added, referring to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
"The best thing we can now do is to give our transport team the time and the space to work these problems out."
Besides improving reliability, the Government is expanding the rail network and investing in major infrastructure projects like the High Speed Rail line to Kuala Lumpur, said PM Lee.
Singapore will double the capacities of its air and sea ports as well, with Changi's Terminal 5 and a mega port in Tuas. Shifting the sea ports from Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang to Tuas will free up an area thrice the size of Marina Bay for future developments, he said.
Earlier, Mr Khaw, PAP's chairman, said he promised commuters the Government would complete its work on the MRT. He said he took the North-South Line to the convention, and commuters had encouraged him.
"I thanked and promised them, we shall complete this work. And we will. This is a promise."