Desmond Kuek's tenure at SMRT: A detailed look

SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek assumed leadership following a turbulent time for the company, when two massive MRT breakdowns in December 2011 led to a Committee of Inquiry.
SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek assumed leadership following a turbulent time for the company, when two massive MRT breakdowns in December 2011 led to a Committee of Inquiry.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek will hand over the reins of the company to former chief of defence force Neo Kian Hong on Aug 1, the transport operator announced on Wednesday (April 18).

Mr Kuek joined the company in October 2012, taking over from Ms Saw Phaik Hwa, who was at SMRT for a decade.

Mr Kuek, also a former chief of defence force, assumed the leadership following a turbulent time for the company, when two massive MRT breakdowns in December 2011 led to a Committee of Inquiry.

Here are some key events during Mr Kuek's tenure in SMRT.

October 2012

Mr Kuek, whose last appointment was permanent secretary at the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resource, takes over from SMRT's interim CEO, Tan Ek Kia, who assumed the role after Ms Saw resigned in January 2012.

Spelling out his priorities for the company, Mr Kuek said SMRT must excel in its core business as a public transport operator and added that the focus will be on strengthening SMRT's operations as well as engineering and maintenance capabilities.

On Oct 25, a Circle Line train stalls between Bayfront and Promenade stations, with commuters having to walk on the tracks to Promenade station. It is the first major rail disruption for Mr Kuek, who apologised for the inconvenience.

November 2012

A group of SMRT bus captains from China go on strike for two days, protesting against salary, work and living conditions.

December 2012

In an interview with The Straits Times, Mr Kuek admitted to "deep-seated issues" within the firm's management, and vowed to address them. In a bid to bolster company ranks, Mr Kuek hires eight key managers. Four of the new arrivals were once high-ranking officers in the Singapore Armed Forces.

February 2013

Mr Kuek gives SMRT a B-rating for reliability and availability compared to other rail operators, adding that his goal was to hit an A or A* rating.

May 2013

Mr Lee Ling Wee, who headed the air engineering and logistics department at the Republic of Singapore Air Force, joins SMRT, to lead a new maintenance and engineering division for trains. The LTA and SMRT also announce plans to accelerate the upgrading of the ageing North-South and East-West Lines.

January 2014

SMRT adopts an international set of standards for the management of its assets, such as train and rail systems.

February 2014

Following three MRT disruptions in January 2014, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew expresses his disappointment with SMRT.

July 2014

SMRT rolls out a new career scheme that will provide about 4,000 staff with better career paths, a broader job scope and higher pay.

March 2015

Mr Kuek apologies for a spate of four separate rail disruptions to hit the operator in a week, involving the North-South Line, Bukit Panjang LRT, and Circle Line.

Mr Kuek later announces plans to have a central team of experts who will be in touch with the maintenance staff on the ground, giving them advice to hasten the recovery of affected train services.

July 2015

Intermittent tripping of the rail power system at multiple locations results in a system-wide disruption on the North-South and East-West Lines on July 7, affecting 413,000 commuters.

November 2015

SMRT launches an integrated maintenance operations centre to coordinate its recovery efforts in the event of disruptions and reduce response time.

December 2015

SMRT partners the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) to develop technologies to improve Singapore's transport network reliability and performance.

March 2016

Two SMRT technicians are killed by a train while on the way to fix a fault near Pasir Ris station.

July 2016

The Government and SMRT reach a deal for the LTA to take over all operating assets of the North-South, East-West and Circle lines, as well as the Bukit Panjang LRT Line, from SMRT for $1.06 billion. Mr Kuek said the new framework will allow the company "to better focus on fulfilling its role as a public transport operator".

October 2016

SMRT is delisted from the Singapore stock exchange, with the company being bought out by Temasek.

September 2017

SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia sign a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture company to finance, build and operate the Johor Baru-Singapore rail .

October 2017

Train tunnels near Bishan MRT station are flooded, due to a lack of maintenance of flood prevention measures. Mr Kuek admitted that many of SMRT's major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure.

November 2017

Two trains collide on the tracks near Joo Koon MRT station, as a result of a software glitch in the East-West Line's new signalling system.

January 2018

Mr Kuek dismisses talk that he will be stepping down.

February 2018

SMRT announces that it is raising starting salaries, by more than 10 per cent in some cases, and will offer five-year re-employment contracts to attract and retain staff.

March 2018

In an annual performance review, Mr Kuek sets bold targets for SMRT's network - to be at least three times as reliable by 2020, and to eliminate major delays (those exceeding 30 minutes) altogether.

April 2018


On April 18, SMRT confirms that Neo Kian Hong will succeed Desmond Kuek as chief executive from Aug 1.