SMRT to form special inspection teams, hire more rail engineers

It plans to add 200 rail engineers by 2020, for a total of 700, to boost its engineering capabilities ahead of the launch of the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open progressively from 2019.
It plans to add 200 rail engineers by 2020, for a total of 700, to boost its engineering capabilities ahead of the launch of the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open progressively from 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

To boost train reliability, SMRT will grow its ranks of rail engineers by 40 per cent in the next three years, and form special inspection teams whose key job will be to audit maintenance works.

A chief maintenance officer - a new position - was also appointed at the start of the month to take charge of all maintenance functions. SMRT has not publicly revealed who this is.

The slew of measures to improve MRT reliability was spelt out by SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming yesterday, as he told staff that there was a "long road ahead" in the drive towards "rail excellence".

"We must win back the public's trust and confidence in SMRT," said Mr Seah in his first remarks since last week's press conference on a recent tunnel flooding incident.

"That is why we need engineers with a high level of competency... This will help identify problems and gaps early and, more importantly, enable solutions to be implemented effectively."

He was speaking at Nanyang Technological University at one-north campus to some 250 SMRT engineers who are attending a postgraduate certificate course jointly run by SMRT and the University of Birmingham.

The three-year course, launched in October last year, will develop the capabilities of SMRT engineers.

SMRT has 500 rail engineers now, an increase of over 150 per cent from 2013. It plans to add 200 by 2020, for a total of 700, to boost its engineering capabilities ahead of the launch of the Thomson-East Coast Line, which will open progressively from 2019.

Mr Seah said that even as SMRT works with the Land Transport Authority to upgrade older rail lines and improve maintenance, engineering expertise will be needed to build resilience in the network.

With more "fail-safe" and "fail-soft" features in the event of a breakdown, safety is not compromised and there will not be a total failure, with back-ups in place, he said.

SMRT will also set up readiness inspection teams, which will report independently to an audit and risk committee, Mr Seah said. SMRT is expected to give more details later.

MP Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the inspection teams will perform on-the-ground checks to ensure train operations function smoothly.

Despite the reliability woes, engineering maintenance manager Rishan Balaskanda, 26, was undeterred when he joined SMRT three years ago. "As an engineer, you are always looking for a complex challenge to pursue... As a Singapore transport network (provider), (SMRT) plays a major role in keeping the economy moving," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'SMRT to form special inspection teams, hire more rail engineers'. Print Edition | Subscribe