Reliability levels of MRT here must match those of Hong Kong's MTR: Khaw Boon Wan

Two SMRT trains passing each other along the North-South line near the Woodlands MRT station. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit must seek to raise reliability levels of Singapore's MRT to match those of Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR), Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Friday.

He added that while the situation in Singapore has improved in recent years, it is "still not good enough".

He identified the MTR, run by MTR Corporation, as the system that the operators here should use as a benchmark for reliability and "close the gap" between its standards and those of the MRT here.

The average distance travelled before a delay of more than 5 minutes is 137,000 train-km for the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), but this is still far short of MTR's performance of about 300,000 train-km, he pointed out in a blog post.

He also noted that there were 10 major disruptions - defined as delays exceeding 30 minutes - across Singapore's rail network in 2014. These greatly inconvenienced and angered commuters, he said.

While there were 12 such incidents on the MTR, its network is significantly longer than Singapore's, Mr Khaw also said.

"The consensus view is that we have under-invested in rail maintenance, and our engineering capabilities in this area are still lacking. We will need to ramp up investment in this area. We will need to recruit and retain more skilled workers," he said.

However, Mr Khaw said it will take time to "turn around" and "stabilise" the situation.

"We should therefore be mentally prepared for the next disruption. We will be very disappointed when it happens, but we shall stand up, lick our wounds, examine the causes, and work very hard to prevent a repeat," he added.

He also announced on Friday that he had asked PUB chairman Tan Gee Paw to be his "Advisor on Rail Transformation", whose priority will be to ramp up rail reliability.

"This will require a serious re-focus on the part of every player (Ministry of Transport, Land Transport Authority, SMRT, SBST) that we are in the engineering business, founded on strong engineering expertise and capabilities," he said.

Mr Tan, he said, was someone who had built up a local core of engineers in PUB and also developed the water engineering field .

On July 7, a massive breakdown crippled both the North-South and East-West lines, which resulted in operator SMRT being fined $5.4 million. The incident affected about 413,000 commuters.

Mr Khaw has shared on his Facebook page that he has been using the MRT - in particular the Circle Line and NSEWL - to go to work and to attend meetings.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.