Rail operators from 16 cities share recipes for success at four-day meeting

A London Underground train arrives at Oxford Circus station in central London on Aug 20, 2016, following the launch of the 24 hour night tube service.
A London Underground train arrives at Oxford Circus station in central London on Aug 20, 2016, following the launch of the 24 hour night tube service.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Ample and timely investment in asset renewal, a structured and disciplined maintenance regimen, and a suitable operating and financial model make successful MRT networks.

These were some of the key findings of rail operators from around the world.

Operators from 16 cities - members of the Community of Metros (CoMet) - convened in Singapore on Wednesday for a four-day meeting to share operational experiences, assess how their metros have performed, identify best practices, and learn from one another as part of an effort to uplift standards of service around the world.

This year's meeting is hosted by SMRT Corp.

London Underground managing director Mark Wild said: "When customers got a certain expectation of reliability, it's very difficult for them to take it down."

He cited the example of London Underground upgrading the signalling system of a few of its lines, commuters using other lines started clamouring for an upgrade too.

"Electrical assets, rail, sleepers, just like everything else, wear out with use," he said. "We need to develop the skill to actually renew these at the same time as when you are carrying a lot of people, that means a lot of investment in technology, integrated testing, making every hour of track access you have count."

Mr Wild said London Underground ploughs "every pound" of revenue surplus back into the system. "We invest £1.5 billion (S$2.65 billion) in our capital and £1 billion in renewal, so £2.5 billion a year goes back into the system."

He added that the short hours available for maintenance each day meant that "we operate like a Formula One pitstop, where every second counts".

London Underground has five metro lines high-technology, highly reliable lines are on 24/7.

New York City Transit senior director (service & planning) Judy McClain said multiple parallel tracks allows New York's subway to operate round the clock.

"Many of the lines have three or four tracks. So when we're about to reroute the trains to an adjacent track, some people may have to go the wrong direction for a couple of stops, but we've been doing this since we started," she said, adding that the operator communicates service changes through its website, social media and newspaper advertisements so that commuters can plan their trips better.

Taipei Rapid Transit Corp vice-president Kuo Tsair-Ming said being a nationalised entity contributes to its success. Taipei has the most reliable system in the world, with one delay for every 800,000 train-kilometre operated, compared with 133,000km for Singapore and 360,000km for Hong Kong.

"There's nothing particularly special about us," he said. "But being nationalised is like being a tenant who does not have to pay rent. The rent in this case, is a special fund we can draw upon for the system, to supplement our fare revenue."

Because of that, "we don't have to worry too much about budget".

Mr Richard Anderson, managing director of Railway & Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London, which administers CoMet, noted that Singapore's performance had improved significantly in recent years.

"You've seen a doubling of reliability since 2011, which is one of the most significant improvements worldwide," he said. "There's a limited amount of resources, but you have good value for money as fares are relatively low in Singapore."

He said "there's always that balance" between available resources to be reinvested back into the system and fare levels.

SMRT Trains managing director Lee Ling Wee said we need to complete our projects to renew our (operating) assets. Personally, we could have done that earlier. Learning from this, it is important that all our asset management and asset renewal be done in a more timely manner.

"That's one of the takeaways after visiting the Taipei and Hong Kong metros - they had a more systematic renewal plan."