Mr Fix-It knuckles down to his task

Khaw goes on the ground to get to know transport workers and gather feedback

Mr Khaw Boon Wan (centre) during his visit to the SMRT's Bishan depot yesterday. He said he will be visiting depots and workshops to get to know the staff and gather feedback.
Mr Khaw Boon Wan (centre) during his visit to the SMRT's Bishan depot yesterday. He said he will be visiting depots and workshops to get to know the staff and gather feedback. PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF KHAW BOON WAN

The man on whom Singapore has pinned its hopes to fix its transport system has sunk his teeth into the task. His first move was to get to know the people who will help him - the maintenance staff.

Newly-minted Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan visited the Bishan depot yesterday - the first of what he says will be many trips to SMRT's and SBS Transit's depots and workshops. He intends to do this over the next few days, to get to know maintenance staff and gather feedback from them, he said on his blog Moving News yesterday.

Mr Khaw said that while Singapore's rail networks are "very costly, multi-billion-dollar assets", they are not "our most precious".

Instead, he paid tribute to the engineers, mechanics and maintenance crew, who toil day and night to ensure that trains, tracks, and electrical systems are in good serviceable condition, so that trains can run reliably and on schedule.

"They deserve our tender loving care and, in turn, they look after the assets with similar passion," wrote Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

Recounting his past role as a hospital chief executive, Mr Khaw said he spent "thousands of hours" getting to know nurses, paramedics and attendants.

Through this, he occasionally received "gems of advice and suggestions", which he in turn implemented to better patient-care service.

"I look forward to a similar working and social relationship with the crew of our rail operators," said Mr Khaw, who had been CEO of several hospitals - the National University Hospital, Kandang Kerbau Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

Mr Khaw's appointment as Transport Minister three days ago was widely expected. He has earned a reputation as being a Mr Fix-It, for work done in his previous ministerial portfolios of national development and health.

The role of Transport Minister is seen by observers as a hot seat, with predecessor Lui Tuck Yew leaving politics after taking on the Cabinet position for one term. Mr Raymond Lim, who was minister from 2006 to 2011, left the Cabinet after helming the position.

Following his appointment, Mr Khaw said he took on the portfolio - despite being advised by friends against it - because of his beliefs, one of which is to raise Singaporeans' quality of life further in a city where public transport is so convenient, accessible and reliable, so Singapore can be "car-lite".

He also said he believed train lines could be made more reliable, if engineering and maintenance were prioritised.

Yesterday, he said he hopes to build more than just a working relationship with the maintenance staff. "Over time, I hope they will accept me as their friend," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline Mr Fix-It knuckles down to his task. Subscribe