SMRT must grow in-house rail engineering expertise, says panel

SMRT train outside Nanyang Polytechnic on July 31, 2017.
SMRT train outside Nanyang Polytechnic on July 31, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

More rail engineering talent is needed as Singapore's rail system expands and becomes more complex, said representatives of SMRT's technical advisory panel, following a two-day meeting that ended yesterday.

The nine-member panel - first formed four years ago to beef up SMRT's engineering capabilities - includes those with expertise working on the Hong Kong MTR and London Underground.

Training more rail professionals and bringing up the rail engineering profession within SMRT was one of the matters the panel discussed, said Nanyang Technological University (NTU) physics professor Alfred Huan, who has chaired the panel since its inception.

Professor Kristin Wood, co-director of the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said the rail operator must continue to grow its in-house engineering expertise, which he noted had grown "very significantly" in recent years.

SMRT Trains currently has more than 400 engineers, an increase of about 96 per cent since 2014.

"Nurturing our people to the fullest potential is essential for SMRT to grow our capacity and capability to operate an enlarged train network," said SMRT chief technology officer Ng Bor Kiat.

Prof Wood said: "It is essential for the future of SMRT not to rely on vendor capabilities, but to be able to solve problems as they arise."

National University of Singapore engineering dean Chua Kee Chaing said what is needed are engineers with "deep engineering expertise" in all areas - such as the trains, as well as the signalling and power systems - in addition to those with "system-wide knowledge" of all aspects of rail engineering.

"Developing that deep engineering expertise is extremely important as you are dealing with a very complex system," he added, noting that it was a positive step that SMRT had hired "quite a lot of young engineers".

Engineering students from the universities here need to be directed to join the two rail operators here - SMRT and SBS Transit - as well as the Land Transport Authority, so that the knowledge can have a tangible effect on the rail network, said SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory director See Kye Yak.

Other topics discussed by the panel included the use of condition monitoring devices and data analytics to improve SMRT's predictive maintenance processes.

Noting commuter dissatisfaction with delays following the testing of the new signalling system, Hong Kong Polytechnic University transportation practice professor Lee Kang Kuen said "teething issues" were a common experience among rail systems that had gone through similar upgrades.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'SMRT must grow in-house rail engineering expertise, says panel'. Subscribe